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Bad Wolf Rises

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Previously…

After a thorough examination, all of the results indicated Rose was perfectly healthy. The Doctor was perplexed. Surely, she should have suffered some kind of damage from holding the entire time vortex in her mind. But there was no bruising, no arrhythmia, no fever — nothing. He shook his head in confusion and pulled up a chair to watch over her until she woke. With steepled fingers, the Doctor rested his elbows on his thighs and waited.

He waited for one full day before he began to panic.

Rose never opened her eyes.

What was he going to do now?

~*~

The Doctor normally loved puzzles — thrived on them. There was no code he couldn't eventually crack, no equation beyond his knowledge to solve, and no nefarious alien clever enough to escape his wrath.

When the problem was Rose, however, the Doctor took no joy in the quest for answers.

He ran a hand through his short hair, wishing for the longer locks he'd had as John for something to pull on in frustration. Rose should have woken by now. The repeated tests he had run had indicated she wasn't in a coma, but he had been unable to wake her for twenty-four hours. This was turning into an enigma he couldn't solve alone.

He could go to Planet Tilraun: biggest medical facility on this side of the universe. There was equipment on site that had been outlawed in 4,534 galaxies, but desperate times sometimes required illegal measures. He’d never been a law-abiding citizen, anyway.

With a nod of determination, he cradled Rose's face in his palms and kissed her forehead. “I'll figure this out. You're not dyin’ on my watch.”

After gently lifting her limp body into his arms, the Doctor marched to the console room to input the coordinates for Tilraun. He braced himself against the railing for a hard impact, but the usual shakes and quakes of the Tardis landing were absent. With a calming breath, he readjusted his precious cargo and opened the door.

Instead of the vast, yellow grass of Tilraun, he was greeted by the scowling face of Jackie Tyler.

~*~

Jackie Tyler hummed merrily while decorating her bright-white, plastic Christmas tree. Most people would probably think the decoration was dreadfully tacky, but Rose had loved the glossy shine of the tree as a little girl, and she was unwilling to replace it. She picked up a sparkly-red bauble and placed it on one of the remaining empty branches. Even though it was the last ornament, the tree looked like it was missing something.

Oh, presents! Jackie laughed and smacked a hand to her forehead. She grabbed a few wrapped gifts from the coffee table to place under the tree, staring at the glittery-red package for Rose. As she held it, Jackie wondered if she could expect a holiday visit from her daughter and the daft alien she traveled with; Rose had promised to visit more often, after all.

A loud wheezing and groaning suddenly infiltrated the quiet flat, and Jackie instantly recognized it as the sound of the Tardis materializing. Ready to scold the alien for landing inside, she turned around to face the giant, blue box obstructing her meticulously decorated tree. Despite being annoyed by the parking choice, a huge smile lit her face; Rose had decided to keep her promise and come home. Although, it would have been nice of her to call before they had landed in the middle of the living room.

Jackie rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “You could’ve phoned! Doesn’t that machine of yours have a one?” she shouted at the blue doors. “Just show up outta the—”

She clicked her jaw shut as the Tardis doors opened. The Doctor stood frozen in the entrance, tense and wide-eyed, holding Rose in a bridal carry. Her daughter’s arm was dangling uselessly from her body, and her head was anchored in place by the Doctor’s cheek. Jackie’s heart skipped a beat in alarm before she leveled a glare at the alien.

“What did you do?” Jackie growled.

“Um…” The Doctor’s eyes darted around the flat, “this isn’t Tilraun.”

“Til— What?” She uncrossed her arms and reached out to smooth a few hairs away from Rose’s slightly pale face. “What’s the matter? What have you done to her?”

“Er…” He smiled sheepishly and averted his gaze. “Just a bump on the head. Rough landin’. Can I put her down somewhere?”

“Yes, yes. In you get.” Jackie moved aside to allow the Doctor to exit the Tardis with Rose and ushered him down the hall to the spare bedroom. “Does she need anythin’? Paracetamol? Ice pack?”

The Doctor carefully lowered Rose onto the bed as Jackie pulled back the covers. “No, no need for any medicine. Won’t help.”

Jackie tucked the sheets around Rose, kissed her cheek, and turned around to face the alien in the room. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him fidget on his feet and stare at her daughter with far more concern than a simple bump on the head would warrant.

“So…” the Doctor tucked his hands in his pockets and surveyed the room, attempting to look nonchalant, “what happened to Rose’s stuff?”

“I redecorated. She doesn’t exactly live here anymore, does she?” Jackie refolded her arms over her chest and cocked a hip. “What aren’t you tellin’ me?”

The leather of his jacket creaked as he crossed his arms to mirror her intimidating stance. “What do you mean?”

She jutted her chin at Rose’s form. “This isn’t just a bump on the head, is it?”

“‘Course it is. That’s what I said happened, didn’t I?”

Jackie pursed her lips and glared. “Don’t you lie to me. I got to know you pretty well while you were human. You may be alien again, but your poker face hasn’t improved.”

“Fine.” He sighed in defeat and rubbed his hands down his face. “We were in danger. I sent her home to keep her safe.”

“What? When? I didn’t see her!” she ranted, hurt that Rose had come home without her knowing.

“I don’t know what she did when the ship landed. The point is, she didn’t stay put. She used the Tardis to come back to me.”

“On her own? How’d she do that?” Jackie furrowed her eyebrows.

“I don’t know, but she looked into the Heart of the Tardis — the entire time vortex. No one is meant to do that. Not even a Time Lord.” He looked at Rose and frowned deeply.

Jackie’s eyes went wide, and she sat on the corner of the bed. “Is she gonna die?”

The Doctor shook his head, a solemn expression falling over his face. “I don’t know.”

Directing a concerned gaze toward Rose’s slumbering form, Jackie wrung her hands and stood. She took a deep breath and faced the Doctor. Her face was deeply distraught before it morphed into a motherly rage. Her nostrils flared, and she smacked him hard on the shoulder.

“Fix it!” Jackie commanded.

“Ow!” the Doctor scowled at her and clutched his arm. “Don’t you think I tried fixin’ it? Do you really think I didn’t do everythin’ I could to help her?”

“Do better!” she shrieked. “Use that great, big brain you like to brag about!”

With an irritated glare, the Doctor stomped out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. He acted on autopilot, born from moving comfortably around the flat when he had been John. Before he had realized exactly what he was doing, the Doctor had made him and Jackie a cup of tea — he had even remembered how she fixed her cup.

He directed his sour countenance at the offending mug, piercing it with the full force of the Oncoming Storm. How dare she insinuate he hadn’t done everything in his power to help her daughter! Did she really think so little of him? They may have had their differences in the past, but he had proven himself capable of taking care of Rose… hadn’t he?

Maybe he hadn’t. After all, since she had started traveling with him, she had nearly been roasted on Platform One, crushed by a Slitheen, and blown up on the Family’s ship. And that wasn’t even half of the danger she had encountered. Rose was undeniably safer without him.

The Doctor jumped when a hand landed on his shoulder. He whipped around and found the concerned face of Jackie in his eye line. She didn’t say a word —  simply picked up one of the mugs, shoved it in his hand, and took hers with her to the living room. He stared, baffled, at his cooling cup of tea and then joined Jackie on the sofa. She had flicked on the local news and was enjoying the beverage he had made for her. Memories flitted through his mind of him, Rose, and Jackie taking comfort in this exact routine many times: tea and news.

He shook the recollections from his head and turned his attention to the telly. “Is that Harriet Jones?”

Jackie took a sip from her cup and smacked her lips. “She's Prime Minister now. I'm eighteen quid a week better off. They're callin’ it Britain's Golden Age.” She smiled softly. “I keep on sayin’ my Rose has met her.”

“Oh, we did more than that,” the Doctor stated, recalling the events with the Slitheen. “We stopped World War Three with her, Harriet Jones.”

On the screen, a reporter called out a question to Harriet, “Prime Minister, what about those calling the Guinevere One Space Probe a waste of money?”

“Now, that's where you're wrong,” Harriet asserted. “I completely disagree if you don't mind. The Guinevere One Space Probe represents this country's limitless ambition. British workmanship sailing up there among the stars.”

The feed switched to a nervous man, Danny Llewellyn, speaking behind a podium. “This is the spirit of Christmas, birth and rejoicing, and the dawn of a new age.” He beamed proudly. “And that is what we're achieving fifteen million miles away — our very own miracle.”

The program switched a final time to a computer animated recreation of the probe. A voice-over described the event, “The unmanned probe, Guinevere One, is about to make its final descent. Photographs of the Martian landscape should be received by midnight tonight.”

The Doctor scoffed. “Pointless. Won’t find much now. The atmosphere is too hostile.”

Jackie turned her head with an inquisitive eyebrow. “Did there used to be somethin’ there?”

He shrugged. “Used to be Gandorans but they left hundreds of years ago. The ecosystem couldn’t sustain life anymore.”

Jackie hummed and drained her tea then leaned over to place the empty mug on the coffee table. They watched the rest of the program in silence; their worry over Rose’s condition stymied any further attempt at friendly conversation. But then a commercial with a mother and daughter interrupted the show, and the Doctor heard Jackie sniffle quietly.

“What if she never wakes up?” Jackie whispered.

The Doctor swallowed heavily. “I don’t know.”

With an awkward cough to hide his own rising tears, the Doctor stood and strolled back to the spare bedroom to check on Rose. He spared a few moments to simply look at her, tucked comfortably in the fresh sheets on the bed. The memories he had as John were still fresh in his mind and tortured him whenever she was around — which was constantly. If he were John right now, and Rose wasn't suffering from an invisible ailment, they would definitely be curled up on that bed and watching a film, content to simply be holding one another. He would probably be running his fingers through her blonde hair as she rubbed her thumb in lazy circles across his knuckles. He'd never had that kind of intimacy, where two people were so desperate to be near one another that it was impossible to figure out where one started and the other ended.

Shaking the reverie from his head, the Doctor pulled out his sonic and sat on the bed by her hip. Her lips were slightly parted, inhaling and exhaling in a steady rhythm. A quick scan with his screwdriver showed no change; she was still in limbo between dreams and reality. At least, he hoped she was dreaming. He’d hate to think she was somehow stuck in a form of purgatory and forever locked away from the land of the living.

With a weary sigh, the Doctor tucked the sonic back in his leather jacket and yawned. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept. If he didn’t get a few hours of rest now, he would keel over any minute. Scratching his head, he peered out the bedroom door at Jackie. He couldn’t lay on the sofa while she was parked there, and he certainly wasn’t going to climb into her bed across the hall.

He refused to leave Rose alone at the moment, anyway. The Doctor leaned over to untie his boots then shrugged his jacket from his shoulders as he toed off his footwear. There wasn’t a lot of room next to her in the bed, but he managed to accommodate his larger frame, tucking himself on his side so he could watch her breathing. The consistent rise and fall of her chest lulled his eyelids closed, and he fell into a fitful sleep.

~*~

The Doctor woke, groggy and disoriented, without the normal background hum of the Tardis. He stiffened briefly in alarm before his brain kicked in and reminded him he had fallen asleep next to Rose in Jackie’s spare bedroom. Judging by his dark surroundings, he had slept well past sunset.

Rose suddenly let out a tiny sigh next to him, and he bolted upright.

“Rose! Rose, are you awake?” He cupped her cheek and frantically darted his eyes over her face for any sign of consciousness.

But she didn’t make another noise or open her eyes.

The Doctor’s shoulders drooped, and he laid down next to her with his palm glued to her skin.

“Please, wake up,” he whispered. “I can’t lose you. Who will make fun of me when I cut myself shavin’?”

He allowed his thumb to briefly stroke the apple of Rose’s cheek before he got off the bed and rejoined Jackie in the living room. The telly was blaring, and Jackie was still stationed on the cushions. She lazily consumed another cup of tea, attempting to occupy her mind with the latest drivel on the screen. Gently, so as not to disturb her cocoon of normality, the Doctor sat next to her. She wordlessly passed him a plate of biscuits, acknowledging his presence.

A commentator on the program relayed the latest news of the probe. “Scientists in charge of Britain's mission to Mars have re-established contact with the Guinevere One Space Probe. They're expecting the first transmission from the planet's surface in the next few minutes.”

Llewellyn appeared on the screen. “Yes, we are. W-we're back on schedule. We've received the signal from Guinevere One. The Mars landing would seem to be an unqualified success.”

“But is it true that you completely lost contact earlier tonight?” a reporter questioned.

“Yes, we had a bit of a scare. Guinevere seemed to fall off the scope, b-but it was just a blip. Only disappeared for a few seconds,” Llewellyn answered nervously. “She is fine now, absolutely fine. We're getting the first pictures transmitted live any minute now. I'd better get back to it, thanks.” He disappeared from the screen among a cacophony of questions from the room of journalists.

“Won’t find anythin’,” the Doctor said, breaking the silence in the living room.

Jackie snatched the plate of biscuits back. “Do you know everythin’?”

“Yep.”

She turned her head to look at him for the first time since he had sat down. “Then why don’t you know what’s wrong with Rose?”

The Doctor didn’t meet her piercing gaze and stood instead. “More tea?”

He hastily escaped to the kitchen to avoid her question. The last thing he needed was Jackie Tyler making him feel more useless than he already felt on his own.

Sounds from the television floated to his hiding spot, “...martian landscape of rocks...”

“Funny sort of rocks,” Jackie said.

Curious, the Doctor re-entered the living room to investigate the transmission from Mars. “Those aren't rocks.”

A static picture filled the screen as the narrator droned on again. “This image is being transmitted via mission control, coming live from the depths of space on Christmas morning.”

The image on the television cleared and revealed a red-eyed, ugly alien with a head that resembled a goat's skull. Jackie jumped when it growled and gurgled menacingly from the screen.

The Doctor groaned. “Never an ordinary holiday with you lot.”

“What in the bleedin’ hell is that thing?!” Jackie screeched.

“No idea. Back in two ticks.”

He marched over to the Tardis, opened the doors, and headed up the ramp. The time rotor brightened in greeting as the Doctor swiveled the scanner over and typed in a few commands. After a quick search, the results indicated the signal was being broadcasted from a point 5,000 miles above Mars. It was moving quickly, and he estimated it would enter Earth’s atmosphere in less than five hours.

He hacked into UNIT and discovered the agency had intercepted the signal and had also received a second transmission from the aliens. They appeared to be trying to translate the foreign message, but, of course, he already knew what the strange, goat-headed beings were saying thanks to the Tardis.

The leader spoke in an abrasive voice, “People, you belong to us, to the Sycorax. We own you. We now possess your land, your minerals, your precious stones. You will surrender or they will die. Sycorax strong, Sycorax mighty, Sycorax rock.”

The Doctor barked out a laugh. “Quite an ego on this bunch. Right.” He straightened and clapped his hands together. “Guess that's my cue.”

Flinging open the Tardis doors, he popped his head out and located Jackie on the couch. “Quick trip. Keep an eye on Rose,” he instructed.

Before he could shut the doors, Jackie piped up, “Are you comin’ back?”

The Doctor stuck his head out again and met her eye. “Always.”

With a reassuring grin, he closed the doors once more and walked back up to the console to send the ship into the Vortex. He quickly materialized on the foreign vessel hovering above Mars, took a calming breath, and opened the door with a loud creak.

He really ought to oil that hinge.

The squeaky sound alerted the aliens to his presence, and all of their ugly heads snapped their necks around to glare at him. Immune to threatening stares, the Doctor stepped onto the ship and took a quick look around; the inside resembled a giant cave and housed a large audience of the Sycorax in a stadium-like arena.

A particularly ghastly alien snarled at the sight of him and shouted in rage as it cracked a luminous whip into the air. The Doctor easily defended the oncoming blow with a raised forearm and ripped the crackling cord from the other alien’s hand.

“You’ll poke an eye out with that,” the Doctor casually commented, tossing the whip aside.

“How dare you!” bellowed the leading Sycorax. “Who are you? How did you get onboard?”

“You’re threatenin’ Earth and its inhabitants. I’ll ask the questions, thanks.”

The menacing alien howled and charged at him with a raised staff. The Doctor quickly blocked it, snatched the weapon from the attacker’s grasp, and broke it over his knee. With a shout of indignation, the alien ripped off its goat-like mask to reveal an ugly, sinewy face beneath.

The Doctor pointed a threatening finger at him. “Quit attackin’ me! What do you want with Earth?”

“Simple conquest,” growled the Sycorax. “They are nothing but wailing children. Their world will be gutted and their people enslaved to serve the mighty Sycorax.”

“Ah, then I’m afraid we’ve got a bit of a problem.” The Doctor crossed his arms with a wry grin.

“Why do you care?” the ugly man spat. “They are like animals.”

The Doctor shrugged. “Maybe they are, but that doesn't matter. They're only just gettin’ started. The human race is capable of so much more. So, you'll leave them be.”

The large audience around him laughed, and the leading Sycorax cackled along. “Why would we do that?”

“According to Convention 15 of the Shadow Proclamation, I insist you cease all threat.” The Doctor clasped his hands behind his back and rocked on the balls of his feet. “Haven't had to bring up the intergalactic police in a while. Didn't end well the last time when the Nestene Consciousness was threatenin’ Earth, same as you.”

The leader raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “You defeated the Nestene Consciousness?”

“Yep.”

“You and that blue box?”

The Doctor nodded gleefully. “Yep.”

The Sycorax scowled. “If we leave, what guarantee do I have that you won't come after us?”

“You don't.” The Doctor swiveled on the balls of his feet and pointed to a device in the distance. “But that blood control you've got there won't work either. Cheap bit of voodoo, that. I'll leave right now, but if you use that device I'll be back here before you can say Raxacoricofallapatorius. And then you'll discover why the Nestene failed in their mission. Play nice, and I'll play nice as well.”

The leader listened intently to the Doctor’s babble and let out a disgusted sigh. “Fine. But if you follow us we will pillage the human race and dance on their bones on the battlefield.”

“Fair enough,” the Doctor conceded.

The two aliens glared at each other for a few moments before the Doctor was satisfied his point had been made. With a parting smirk, he reboarded the Tardis and disembarked from the Sycorax’s ship. Before he left, however, he hovered above Mars to ensure the alien threat disappeared into space. When the Sycorax were far enough off in the distance, the Doctor let out a breath of air in relief and piloted his ship back to Jackie’s.

The woman was glaring at him with her hands on her hips when he walked out of the Tardis. “Do you have to park in front of the tree?” she demanded.

He gave her a sheepish grin. “I tried not to.”

Her glare softened, and she tilted her head toward the spare bedroom. “Rose just woke up.”

The Doctor froze for two seconds before he bolted down the hallway with Jackie close on his tail. He whirled around before they both entered the room, causing the woman to crash into him with a yelp.

“Jackie, please don’t tell her what I told you,” he whispered urgently.

“What? Why not?” she hissed back. “You want me to lie to my own daughter?”

“I don’t know if she is aware of what happened, and I don’t know if it’s dangerous for her to remember. Please, until I figure out if it’s safe, just button it,” he implored.

Jackie pursed her lips but nodded her head in reluctant agreement. They both entered the bedroom to find Rose sitting up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with a large yawn. The Doctor melted inside at the sight of her and smiled broadly. He had hated seeing her lay there inert when she was normally so full of life.

“What happened? When did we get to Mum’s?” Rose furrowed her brows in concentration. “I remember askin’ the Tardis to go back… There was this singin’…”

“That’s right,” the Doctor agreed, interrupting her train of thought. “I sang a song and the Daleks ran away.”

“Why am I in bed?” She looked around her in confusion.

“Bumped your head on our rough landin’. You had a bit of a faint.”

“But you’re alright now,” Jackie chimed in and settled onto the bed next to Rose to sweep her into a relieved hug.

The Doctor had to force himself to remain rooted to the ground. He wanted nothing more than to gather her into his arms and examine every square inch of her skin to double-check and triple-check that she was alright. He dug his nails into his palms instead and planted a daft grin on his face.

Rose pulled away from her mother and looked at him. “Where's Jack?”

Bollocks, the Doctor thought. The Captain and his impossible time line had slipped from his mind.

He scratched the back of his neck and avoided her eye. “Um, he stayed behind to help rebuild the Earth. Ran into a nice bloke. You know how he is.”

“Alright.” Rose narrowed her eyes slightly but didn't question him. “Well, I'm starved.”

“I'll make you a sandwich for now. We’ll have a proper roast for Christmas tomorrow.” Jackie patted her hand and left the room, eager to fill her daughter’s stomach with food.

“It's Christmas? We came home for the holidays?” Rose asked the Doctor with a raised brow.

He nodded briefly. “Yep. I was full of merriment and had to spread the good cheer.”

She laughed and threw back the covers, getting out of bed to stretch. A tiny slip of skin peeked through as she lifted her arms over her head, and the Doctor averted his eyes with a blush. After all, he now knew exactly what that expanse of flesh looked like and exactly how to elicit goosebumps from it with his fingers.

Rose dropped her arms with a sigh and then jumped unexpectedly into his chest, threading her arms around his waist and squeezing him tightly. The Doctor staggered a bit at the force of the hug before he wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

“You’re ok?” she mumbled into the fabric of his jumper. “I got the Tardis back to you?”

“Yes, you did.” He tried not to enjoy the feel of her in his arms, but he failed and held her tighter.

She looked up at him with her chin on his chest. “How’d I do that?”

“You asked nicely.” It wasn’t the entire truth, but it was good enough for now.

Rose hummed thoughtfully before disentangling herself from his embrace. There was an adorable smile on her face that he couldn’t help but return. However, her grin quickly turned down into a harsh frown, and she swatted him hard on the shoulder.

“You sent me away!” she cried angrily.

For the second time in one day, the Doctor clutched his arm.“Oi! What am I, a punchin’ bag?!”

“S’long as you decide to trick me into leavin’ you, then yeah, you’re a punchin’ bag!”

“I had to,” he retorted. “I was about to kill us all!”

“I decide if I stay or go, not you!”

“Not when your life is at stake!”

They glared at each other for a few moments before Rose aimed an angry finger at his face. “Don’t do it again.”

“I’m not promisin’ that, not if you could get killed,” the Doctor gritted out, furious that she would choose to put her own life in peril.

“This conversation isn’t over.” She frowned and scrunched up her nose. “I feel a bit manky. Think I’ll wash up. Are you stayin’ here or are you disappearin’ into the Tardis?”

“I'll sleep on the ship, but otherwise, I'll be in the flat.” He nodded his head towards the doorway. “Tardis is parked in the livin’ room.”

With an angry glare still fixed on her face, Rose skirted by him to head to the loo. She seemed to be in perfect health, but he would be observing her every spare moment he could. For her health, of course — no ulterior motive there.

The Doctor blew out his cheeks and sat on the bed. A bit of his tension fell away now that she was awake, but he still had no idea if she had suffered any lasting damage — only time would tell.

Despite having slept for nearly two days straight, Rose still felt tired and went to bed shortly after she had eaten the snack Jackie had prepared for her. The Doctor had scanned her again with the sonic before she had fallen asleep, but his trusty screwdriver had insisted nothing was wrong with her.

~*~

Rose blinked her eyes open the following morning. She wished she could remember what had happened after she asked the Tardis to fly back to the Doctor, but at least she felt well rested. In fact, she felt better than she had ever remembered feeling in her entire life.

She must have gotten the bump on her head on the return trip to the Game Station. After that, everything was hazy — like there was a veil in her mind shrouding certain details from her. They were there but not currently accessible.

She had promised her mum the previous evening that she would help prepare Christmas dinner, so she hopped out of bed and got ready for the day. It was still slightly surprising that the Doctor had agreed to bring her home for the holiday, but her mum had insisted it was all his idea. Maybe he still felt a bit domesticated from his time as John.

A pang of longing shot through her as she thought about John. He wasn’t gone, not really. But the Doctor seemed hell bent on not discussing his few months as a human. He had dismissed her questions a few days ago after he had changed back, but she was too stubborn to let it slide. He had insisted in his video message that he would still be the same man, and she had experienced the truth of it firsthand. There was too much evidence stacked against him for his entire time as John to have been a lie, and Rose was determined to try questioning him again.

Just as she had promised, Rose had spent the day helping Jackie cook. The Doctor had secluded himself in the Tardis, insisting he had repairs to tend to. She only half-believed him; she did understand the old girl needed a few bits mended, but she also recognized the Doctor’s avoidance tactics when she saw them.

When the roast was out of the oven and the was table set, Rose knocked on the Tardis door and poked her head in. “Dinner’s ready,” she shouted into the cavernous interior.

A muffled curse drifted from under the console, and the Doctor popped up from under the grating. “Is there wine?” he asked.

The question threw her off guard, and she cocked an eyebrow. “Since when do you drink?”

“Developed a taste for it as a human,” he mumbled.

Rose shook her head and joined Jackie at the dinner table. The Doctor followed shortly after.

“John, do you want to carve?” Jackie asked, holding a knife out to him.

The Doctor froze in his seat and glanced warily at Rose. She knew her mum had already had a few glasses of wine before dinner, so Rose excused her slip-up. It was even more understandable considering the scene at the table was eerily familiar. They’d had many family meals together just like this when the Doctor had been John.

Rose swallowed and took the knife from Jackie. “I’ll do it, Mum.”

Jackie never realized she had made a mistake, and the meal progress normally from there. Although, there was less talking compared to when the Doctor had been Rose’s boyfriend. The Time Lord was unnervingly silent and barely made eye contact with either her or Jackie. Rose wasn’t sure if he was still concerned about her accident or if he was brooding over her mum’s earlier slip of the tongue.

Jackie had drunk nearly an entire bottle of wine all on her own before she retired for the evening, leaving Rose and the Doctor at the table. Having had a few glasses of alcohol herself, Rose decided to take advantage of her liquid courage.

She cleared her throat in the silence. “We never did talk about what happened while you were John.”

The Doctor took a sip from his glass before he answered. “S’pose we didn’t. Not much to talk about, though. I was a human. Now I’m not.”

She tried to meet his eye, but his gaze was trained on the leftover dishes on the table. “So… Was it true when you said in the video ‘It’s still me, Rose’?”

This was his chance to lie and say the human had been a complete fabrication, but the Doctor didn’t trust himself to be convincing enough to fool her. He frowned and continued to stare at the table. “Yes. That was true.”

Rose bit her lip, unsure of how to broach the next subject. If it was him all along, did that mean they were still together?

“So…” she fidgeted in her seat, “are we—”

The Doctor interrupted her. “I can only be your friend, Rose. Nothin’ more.”

She blinked rapidly to hold off her sudden tears, unwilling to crumble in front of him. “Why? Are you mad about… Um, did I do somethin’ wrong?”

“No, I’m not mad,” he gently assured her. “And you did nothin’ wrong.”

“I, um… I don’t understand.” She instinctively reached for his hand but pulled it back. “We were… and now we’re just not?”

He finally turned to look at her, his own eyes slightly glassy. “I’m sorry.”

Silence stretched out between them until Rose decided to speak again. “Can I still travel with you?” she asked timidly, discreetly wiping away a fallen tear.

The Doctor smiled tightly but looked relieved. “Yes, of course. For as long as you want.”

She looked away as a few silent tears tumbled down her cheek. Her worst fear had come true. She had fretted endlessly that the Doctor would return and John’s affections would cease to exist. But, she had also vowed that she would live in the moment and enjoy her time with John while it had lasted. She was an idiot for thinking she could withstand the blow to her heart.

But she couldn't let the Doctor think her feelings had changed. She didn't want him to believe she had only loved him because he had been human like her.

Rose met his gaze again. “I meant what I said, ya know. When I wanted you to remember that I—” She cut herself off and bit her lip. “Just… don’t forget that.”

He looked visibly pained and opened and closed his mouth before he found his voice. “I won’t.”

Rose couldn’t deny that she was heartbroken. But if the Doctor believed he had acted true to himself then why couldn't they continue being together? If she had done nothing wrong then why was he so upset?

She was tired and confused, but the Doctor didn't appear to want to discuss it further. Maybe he had valid reasons, and maybe she was naive to continue to stand by his side, but Rose loved him too much to leave him. She could be his friend — for now. After all, no one abandons the love of their life.

~*~

Rose had gone to bed shortly after their conversation, and the Doctor had dragged his feet back to the Tardis. He hated himself for breaking her heart. It had physically pained him to have to witness her holding back tears as he had insisted they could only be friends. He had itched to take her in his arms and kiss her senseless, but he had to put some physical distance between them. If he allowed himself the same liberties he’d had as John, he would never be able to let her go.

Because she would go, eventually — either from old age, injury… death. Or, perhaps she would realize how truly broken and hopeless he was and leave for greener pastures. And if that day came, he wouldn’t blame her. She deserved the best. She deserved better than him.

A relationship with a Time Lord always involved telepathy — there was no way to avoid it. If she were to have even the briefest glimpse of the horrors that were etched into his brain, she would run for the hills and never return. He couldn’t taint her beauty with the ugliness he held inside, no matter how much he longed for that type of intimacy with her. She was already radiant on the outside, and he could only imagine the endless wonders her soul contained.

~*~

The Doctor had agreed to remain at Jackie’s for a few days so mother and daughter could spend some time together. Rose and Jackie had spent their time shopping, watching telly, and whatever other rituals human females practiced. He had sequestered himself inside his ship, repairing parts that weren’t broken.

He was reprogramming the scanner when Jackie opened the Tardis door and strolled up the ramp. The Doctor was taken aback; she had only ever been on the ship once, and it had frightened her so much she had called the authorities and reported him. She remained silent for a while, holding him hostage with her eyes.

Jackie slowly shook her head. “You’re all the same, whether you’re human or alien. Men. Giant pillocks, the lot of ya.”

“Oi!” he yelled in defense, straightening up from his work. “I’m not a giant pillock.”

“Yes, you are.” Somehow, her glare turned even more menacing. “Rose told me not to bother you about this, but I’m her mother. What happened to John?”

The Doctor rolled his eyes, avoiding her true question. “He was just a human that I had to turn into, Jackie. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a Time Lord again.”

“Don’t get cheeky! You know what I mean.” She angrily crossed her arms over her chest. “I felt it when you touched that watch. Don’t lie to me.”

He tried to intimidate her with an angrier glare, but the Tyler woman was not backing down. With a weary sigh, he dragged his palms down his face. He reluctantly admitted to himself that Jackie Tyler deserved more than lame excuses from him. After all, without her, he may have never opened the watch and transformed back into a Time Lord.

“Fine. I won’t lie, Jackie,” he said. “But I also can’t be John anymore. I just… can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” she challenged.

“I could," he swallowed heavily, “but I won’t.”

The matriarch fell silent for a few frightening minutes, not once releasing him from her furious gaze.

“You’re not so different from Jimmy, are ya? Just another arrogant arse with promises of somethin’ better,” Jackie growled at him through clenched teeth. “She’s given you her whole heart… And you’re choosin’ to turn your back on it.”

She spun furiously on her heel to leave the Tardis at the same time Rose opened the door.

“Ready to go?” Rose asked, dragging her luggage behind her.

“Yep, all set.” The Doctor forced a cheery grin.

“You better come back for a visit soon,” Jackie threatened both of them with a wave of her finger.

Rose rolled her eyes and gathered her mother into a goodbye hug. “I will, promise. He brought me back for Christmas, didn’t he?”

Jackie nodded and sent the Doctor one last glare over Rose’s shoulder before disappearing out the door. Rose lugged her suitcase up the ramp and plopped onto the jumpseat with a contented sigh, delighted to be back onboard.

“So, where are we goin’?” she asked, swinging her legs.

The Doctor smiled brightly at her. “No idea yet, but I'll think of somethin’ fantastic.”

“Ok.” Rose grinned and hopped off her perch. “I think Mum dragged me to every shop in London these past few days. Mind if I head to bed? M’knackered.”

He nodded and watched her stroll happily out of the console room. He waited until she was far enough down the corridor and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. For reasons he wouldn’t admit out loud, he had kept the mobile he had used as John. Scrolling through the text messages, he read a conversation they'd had a week before the Family had discovered them.

 

Rose: Dinner at yours?

John: Sounds good. We can rent that comedy you were talking about earlier.

Rose: Really? Will we finish the film this time?

John: You could try not wearing a skirt, but I'm not making any promises.

 

The Doctor had never had a life like that — a simple evening full of flirting and snogging. There hadn’t been one thing his human self had done that he hadn’t been longing to do with Rose for ages. He smiled sadly to himself and tucked the mobile back in his pocket. The fond memories he had from his time as John might haunt him forever, but he wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Chapter Text

Rose threw open the Tardis doors and smiled brightly as she observed the alien terrain; there was a gleaming cityscape in the distance, cars zooming overhead, and a lush, green field spread out before her. She had sorely missed traveling while stuck on Earth hiding from the Family, and she was beyond excited to see different worlds again.

The Doctor stepped out after her and shut the door. “So, it’s the year five billion and twenty-three, we’re in galaxy M87, and this is New Earth.”

Rose was in awe. A sudden gust of wind caused several hairs to fly into her face and whip her eye with a harsh sting. The strong breeze was annoying, but it was hard to care about such a trivial thing when gazing at a new planet in a different galaxy.

“That’s just… that’s just…” She stopped and laughed at her loss of words.

The Doctor smiled at her jubilant face. “Not bad?”

“Not bad at all!” she exclaimed while hopping up and down. “I missed this! Different ground beneath my feet — different sky! And what do I smell?”

He bent over and plucked a few pieces of vegetation from the ground and brought it up for a sniff. With a daft grin, he held it under her nose.

“Apple grass!” they said in gleeful unison.

Rose sighed in contentment and looked up at the Doctor. “I love this, travelin’ with you.”

“Me, too,” he agreed and met her gaze.

The Doctor’s hearts skipped a beat as she radiated pure joy. This was what kept him going — the utter euphoria exuding from her eyes as he took her to new, wondrous worlds. It breathed new life into him, and he was beyond thankful she had wanted to continue exploring space by his side. He had been worried his time as John had ruined everything, and she wouldn’t be able to tolerate his presence any longer.

Tentatively, the Doctor held out his hand. He hadn’t felt her hand in his since before he had opened the watch, and the lack of contact had created an itchiness in his skin. A zing of pleasure raced through his veins when she accepted his proffered palm and twined their fingers together.

He smiled gratefully and pulled her along to a spot to observe the city. A perfect space presented itself not far from the Tardis, and he shrugged off his jacket for Rose to use as an impromptu blanket. She grinned and settled down next to him, watching the cars racing overhead with child-life fascination. Reclining fully in the grass, the Doctor laced his hands behind his head and gazed at the clear-blue sky above him.

“So, in the year five billion, the sun expanded and the Earth got roasted. Remember that?” the Doctor asked.

“How could I forget? Nearly got roasted myself.” Rose leaned back on her elbows, squinting in the bright sunlight.

“Don’t remind me.” He shook the grim image out of his head. “Anyway, planet’s gone but the human race lived on — spread across the stars. They get all nostalgic when the Earth burns up and find this place: same size, same air, same orbit. So, the humans flocked in as soon as it opened for business.”

“What’s this city called?”

“New New York.”

“Oh, come on.” Rose stared at him in disbelief, convinced he was pulling her leg.

“It is!” His voice rose in mock offense. “It’s the city of New New York. If you want to get technical, it’s the fifteenth New York since the original. So, that makes it New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York.”

“Guess we never learned to be original,” she mumbled. “Well, can we go and visit New New York, so good they named it twice?”

Rose bounced up to her feet, eager to explore the vast, shiny city across the river. The Doctor stood as well and pulled his jacket back on.

“Actually, I thought we might go there first.” He pointed to a pair of skyscrapers far off to their right.

“Why? What is it?” She observed the tall buildings as they sparkled in the sunlight.

“Some sort of hospital. See the green moon on the side? That's the universal symbol for hospitals.”

“Oh, ok. Quick pit-stop, then?”

“Yep. I got this message.” The Doctor pulled the psychic paper from his pocket and showed her the writing. “‘Ward 26, Please Come.’ Someone wants to see me.”

“It’s never just sight-seein’ with you.” Rose threaded her arm through his elbow and tugged. “C’mon, then.”

Warmth bloomed in his chest at the familiar touch. The Doctor tried hard not to enjoy her body pressed tightly to his; he was supposed to be limiting their physical contact, after all. It was pointless, really. She was his drug, and he was hopelessly addicted.

Rose was trying desperately to keep things normal between them. One day, she was going to have to address their relationship again, but she was afraid the Doctor would get upset if she pushed him too soon. She still didn’t know what was holding him back when his human alter-ego had been so eager to be with her. So, she put on a brave face and walked with him across the apple grass, striking up inane chatter along the way.

“I never did like hospitals,” the Doctor complained as he held open the door for her.

Rose laughed. “That’s a bit rich, comin’ from you.”

“I can't help it,” he griped. “How do they not give you the creeps, too? You remember that hospital full of gas-mask zombies. Down right spooky, that was.”

They strolled across the expansive lobby as an announcement rang through the air from the PA system. “The Pleasure Gardens will now take visitors carrying green or blue identification cards for the next fifteen minutes. Visitors are reminded that cuttings from the gardens are not permitted.”

Rose took in the clean, polished interior as she spun in a circle. “I thought this far in the future, they’d have cured everythin’. No need for hospitals.”

The Doctor shook his head. “Humans evolve and so do the viruses. Never endin’ war.”

A nurse passed by Rose, and she froze on the spot. The staff member was wearing a nun-like wimple and habit — odd enough, if you overlooked the fact that the nurse was also a cat. Rose looked around and realized all of the hospital staff were feline.

“They're cats,” she whispered and glanced at the Doctor.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t stare. What do you think you look like to them, all…” he paused and raked his gaze over her body, voice pitching low, “all pink and yellow.”

The Doctor’s stare felt like a physical caress, and Rose shivered. He coughed, forced his eyes away from her, and resumed his trek to the lifts. Rose remained rooted to the floor with goosebumps erupting over her skin as she remembered John ogling her in the exact same manner. The consequences of that particular gaze had always resulted in her back being slammed against the next available surface for a heated snog.

Across the lobby, the Doctor walked into a lift alone, unaware that Rose wasn’t following him. “Ward 26,” he barked at the interface.

Rose finally found her feet and fled across the lobby to catch up. “Hold on!” she shouted.

He finally realized she wasn’t next to him and tried to stop the lift from closing its doors, but he was too slow. “Sorry!” he yelled from inside the lift. “I’m goin’ up. Ward 26!”

“It’s alright. There’s another lift,” she called from the other side of the doors.

“Watch out for the disinfectant!” he warned.

“Watch out for what?”

“The disinfectant!”

“The what?”

“The disin—! Oh, you'll find out,” the Doctor grumbled.

His voice drifted away as he moved up into the building. Rose stepped into her lift when the doors opened, and she glanced around the interior, unsure of how to get to her destination.

She decided to try asking out loud. “Er, Ward 26. Thanks.” To her relief, her first instinct worked, and the lift began to move.

After a few moments, a voice on the intercom spoke, “Commence stage one disinfection.”

A warning beep resonated around her and green lights flashed overhead. Rose shrieked as a forceful spray of frigid water rained down on her from the ceiling. It quickly soaked her to the bone, and she fumbled around uselessly for a knob to turn it off. She breathed a sigh of relief when it stopped, but the respite was short lived as a powder was suddenly dispersed into her face. Rose grimaced and coughed as fine particulates lodged into her nose. A large fan started up next, whipping air around her like a jet turbine. She shrugged her shoulders and gave in, using the hot air to straighten her quickly drying hair.

The lift finally reached its destination, and the doors dinged as they opened. Rose stepped out and crinkled her brow as she took in her new surroundings; it was rather dingy and dirty on this floor. She had expected it to be as immaculate as the hospital lobby had been, but this looked like a basement. There was also no one else around.

A sudden voice in the silence startled her. “The human child is clean.”

There was a man standing at the end of the dim hallway, and Rose squinted her eyes to see him better; he was wearing a bright-white shirt and trousers, and he had odd markings decorating his exposed skin. She couldn’t decipher what the designs were from this distance, but it looked like swirly tattoos.

“Um,” she called out uncertainly, “is this Ward 26?”

“This way, Rose Tyler,” the stranger ordered and scurried down the hall, assuming she would follow him.

Rose stiffened slightly. How did he know her name? Narrowing her eyes, she spotted a metal bar on the ground, picked it up, and cautiously proceeded down the corridor.

As she got closer to the room at the end, she could hear indistinct sounds of conversation. Rose pushed passed a plastic curtain and discovered an ancient film projector; it was playing a recording of a fancy party on the wall. While watching the movie, she noticed one of the women on the tape looked eerily familiar.

The blonde woman on the screen was flirting with a group of men. “I mean, you never know what your life is going to be like, ever. I'm bored with this drink. Anyway. Oh, hello, darling! Now, don't. Stop it.”

“Wait a minute,” Rose mumbled to herself. “That's—”

Suddenly realizing who it was on the video, Rose whirled around the room to find the man that had lured her here. When she found him, he was standing next to the bitchy trampoline that had tried to fry her on Platform One.

“Peekaboo!” sang Cassandra, smiling wickedly.

Rose raised her metal bar up in self-defense and flattened herself against the nearest wall. “Don't you come anywhere near me, Cassandra.”

“Why?” Cassandra sneered. “What do you think I'm going to do? Flap you to death?”

“Yeah, but what about Gollum?” She pointed to the odd man standing vigil by the woman’s side.

Cassandra laughed lightly. “Oh, that's just Chip. He's my pet.”

The man stepped forward from the shadows with a determined look on his face. “I worship the mistress.”

“Moisturize me, moisturize me,” Cassandra commanded, and Chip immediately picked up a sprayer to do her bidding. “He's not even a proper life form. He's a force-grown clone. I modeled him on my favorite pattern. He's so faithful. Chip sees to my physical needs.”

Rose grimaced as she watched Chip lovingly apply lotion to the stretched skin. “I hope that means food. How are you still alive?”

“After you murdered me?” Cassandra seethed and glared at her.

Rose stepped forward to challenge her with an evil stare of her own. “That was your fault.”

“The brain of my mistress survived,” Chip chimed in, held head high. “And her pretty blue eyes were salvaged from the bin.”

He gazed tenderly at Cassandra, and the jar that held her brain bubbled underneath her, delighted to hear the devotions of her willing supplicant. Swallowing down vomit at the display, Rose still wondered how the narcissist was here.

“But what about the skin? I saw it.” Rose snickered as she recalled the incident. “You got ripped apart.”

“That piece of skin was taken from the front of my body. This piece is the back,” Cassandra stated proudly.

Rose howled in laughter. “Right! So you're talking out of your as—”

“Ask not,” Cassandra interrupted with a forceful tone.

“The mistress was lucky to survive. Chip secreted m'lady into the hospital,” Chip said, referring to himself in the third person.

“So they don't know you're here?” Rose waved a finger between Gollum and the Skin.

“Chip steals medicine. Helps m'lady. Soothes her and strokes her.” He seductively ran a hand down the back of Cassandra’s skin.

Rose’s face twisted into another grimace. “You can stop right there, Chip.”

“But I'm so alone, hidden down here,” lamented Cassandra. “The last human in existence.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Don't start that again. They've called this planet New Earth.”

“A vegetable patch,” groaned Cassandra.

“And there's millions of humans out there. Millions of them.”

“Mutant stock.” Cassandra continued to sneer, sure of her superiority.

“They evolved, Cassandra, they just evolved. As they should, but you stayed still. You got yourself all pickled and preserved, and what good did it do ya?”

Laughter and cheers from the video recording interrupted the conversation. Rose saw the Cassandra on screen receive a kiss on the hand from a handsome gentleman, and the woman laughed demurely.

“Oh, I remember that night.” Cassandra sighed as she watched herself on the screen. “Drinks for the Ambassador of Thrace. That was the last time anyone told me I was beautiful. After that, it all became such hard work.” Her voice rose to a slight growl.

“Well, you've got a knack for survival. I'll give you that,” Rose conceded, folding her arms across her chest.

Cassandra darted her eyes from the video to Rose. “But I've not been idle, tucked away underneath this hospital. I've been listening. The Sisters are hiding something.”

“What do you mean?” Rose asked.

“Oh, these cats have secrets. Hush. Let me whisper. Come close.”

Rose barked out a laugh at her audacity. “You must be jokin’ if you think I'm comin’ anywhere near you.”

Deciding she’d had enough of the crazy lady’s antics, Rose backed away to find the Doctor so he could deal with Cassandra. After only taking a few steps, Rose was halted in her path by twin beams of energy. The crackling lights shot out of a device from the walls and grabbed her hands, freezing her in place.

“Chip, activate the psychograft,” Cassandra instructed.

Obligated to follow his lady’s orders, Chip leaped into action and grabbed two levers on the wall. Rose felt her heart start to race as she watched the man prepare the device that had ensnared her. She tried to struggle but found she couldn’t move an inch in the energy’s tight grasp.

“I can't move. Cassandra, let me go!” Rose shouted in panic.

Chip flicked the switches, and a bright, blue light cascaded over her, surrounding her entire body in another halo of energy.

“W-what are you doin’?” Rose's voice shook with trepidation.

“The lady's moving on,” Cassandra cackled. “It's goodbye trampoline, and hello blondie!”

Rose watched in horror as a red glow floated across the room from Cassandra. In only a few seconds time, she felt the energy as it collided with the power of the device and insinuated itself into her brain. Instinctively, Rose fought against the sinister spirit of the bitchy trampoline and attempted to shield herself from the physic attack. But it still slithered like a snake across her mind, and Cassandra laughed as she took control of Rose’s body.

The machine switched off, and Rose collapsed to the ground.

Chip cautiously tiptoed over to the fallen woman, not knowing what to do next. Should he shake her? Splash cold water on her? He breathed out a sigh of relief when she began to stir. “Mistress?” he whispered and fluttered his hands above her, unsure if she needed help.

“Moisturize me,” Cassandra groaned from Rose's lips.

Chip ran to grab the moisturizer as his mistress came to full awareness. With wide eyes, Cassandra stared at her new skin.

“How bizarre. Arms, fingers, hair! Let me see! Let me see!” She scrambled to her feet, eager to discover her new beauty but frowned as soon as she looked in the mirror. “Oh my god! I'm a chav!”

Inside her mind, Rose was seething. She had no idea how Cassandra had overtaken her body, but she was still able to think and see what the woman was doing. A chav?! Well, alright, that may be technically true, but it was still rude.

“Look at me! From class to brass!” Cassandra fretted, still staring at her body in the mirror. She ran her hands over her form to discover the new terrain, until her frown disappeared and turned into a delighted smile. “Although, oh , curves. Oh, baby, it's like living inside a bouncy castle!”

Rose rolled her mental eyes as Cassandra bounced up and down on the spot, giddy over her body’s reaction to gravity.

“The mistress is beautiful,” Chip cheered, jumping on his toes in excitement.

“Absolument!” Cassandra smiled, but her grin fell when she saw her old, metal frame. “Oh, but look.”

Following her line of sight, Chip eyed the forgotten equipment. It looked odd now without the skin of his mistress stretched across the bars. The brain in the jar was no longer bubbling.

“Oh, the brain meat expired.” He pouted. “My old mistress has gone.”

Cassandra’s smile grew again, and she tapped her temple. “But safe and sound in here.”

“But what of the Rose child's mind?”

“Oh, tucked away,” Cassandra said dismissively. “I should be able to access surface memories, but something is blocking them. Lucky we had our little spiders spy on her and the Doctor outside the hospital. Time to find that insufferable man.”  

She marched back over to the mirror and assessed her outfit once more. Pursing her lips in contemplation, Cassandra shed the light jacket she was wearing and popped open a few buttons on the shirt underneath to display her assets. It wasn’t glamorous, but it would have to do.

“This body could use a little work,” she mused, rubbing her new backside. “Although, nice rear bumper. Hmm.”

A sudden ringing startled her as she fondled her bum. “Oh, it seems to be ringing. Is it meant to ring?” She pulled a device out of the back pocket with a confused look.

“A primitive communications device,” Chip informed her.

Cassandra nodded and brought the phone to her ear.

A voice drifted out from the receiver, “Rose, where are you?”

“How does she speak?” she whispered to Chip.

“Old Earth cockney.”

“Um... wotcha?” she said uncertainly into the mobile.

The Doctor sighed on the other end. “Seriously, where are you? How long does it take to get to Ward 26? You were right behind me!”

“I'm on my way, guv’nah,” Cassandra spoke in an exaggerated accent. “I shall proceed up the apples and pears.”

“What are you on about? Nevermind, you’ll never guess who sent that message. It was the Face of Boe. Remember him?”

She faked a laugh. “Of course, I do! That big old... boat race.”

“Boat race? Wha—?” The Doctor was interrupted by a commotion in the background. “Just hurry up, will ya?”

He hung up without another word, and Cassandra stared at the mobile in her hands with a frown.

Apples and pears?! Rose internally fumed, locked away and unable to do a thing about Cassandra’s abhorrent behavior. There had to be a way to force her out! She wasn't sure how to do it, but she was already tired of the woman making her look like a moron.

“This Doctor man is dangerous,” Chip advised his mistress.

Cassandra hummed and tapped the mobile against her chin. “Dangerous and clever. I might need a mind like his. The Sisterhood is up to something. Remember that Old Earth saying, never trust a nun? Well, never trust a nurse and never trust a cat. Perfume?”

She held out her hand, and Chip placed a small, glass vial in her palm. With a smirk, Cassandra tucked the bottle into her decolletage. She whirled around on her toes and strode determinedly out of the dingy basement.

What the hell did she put in my boobs?! Rose mentally screamed, but it was useless. The former bitchy trampoline had complete control of her motor functions. She hoped the Doctor was as smart as he claimed and saw through the ruse.

~*~

The Doctor exited his lift and proceeded directly into the patient rooms. He needed a few moments to stew quietly to himself before Rose caught up with him, and he couldn’t be bothered to announce himself to a nurse.

What had he been thinking, leering at her like that? One misguided eye wander over her body and he had found himself desperate to push her up against the nearest wall to snog the life out of her. This was ridiculous! Before he had been human, he’d had no problem controlling his body’s reactions to her. Now, he had to mentally and physically restrain himself.

He scowled and shook the image of her delightful curves from his head. This was not the time to let his libido take charge.

A large, ailing man to his left wailed in pain, and he refocused his attention to the task at hand. There was a fierce looking blonde woman comforting him, and she scowled as the Doctor gawked at the man’s gray, stone-like pallor.

“Excuse me!” snapped the woman. “Members of the public may only gaze upon the Duke of Manhattan with written permission from the Senate of New New York.”

The Doctor ignored her warning and nodded his head at the sick Duke. “Isn’t that petrifold regression?”

“I'm dying, sir,” the Duke wailed. “A lifetime of charity and abstinence and it ends like this.”

The blonde harridan scowled further. “Any statements made by the Duke of Manhattan may not be made public without official clearance.”

“Frau Clovis! I'm so weak.” The Duke reached out for the woman, Clovis, and sagged back into bed when she took his hand.

Clovis darted her eyes to a nearby nurse. “Sister Jatt! A little privacy, please! You’re allowing strangers to interfere with your healing.”

The nurse, Sister Jatt, calmly walked over and smiled reassuringly at Clovis. “Don’t worry, he'll be up and about in no time.”

With a snort of derision, the Doctor focused his attention away from the sick man and to the nurse with the absurd medical claim. “Up and about with petrifold regression? Have you not noticed he’s turnin’ to stone? There won’t be a cure for another thousand years. He’ll be a statue by then.”

Sister Jatt closed the curtains and frowned at the Doctor. “Everyone here has faith in the Sisterhood of Plentitude. And who are you? What are you doing up on this floor without an escort?”

He shrugged. “I got a message to come to Ward 26. No idea who sent it.”

The Sister sighed and waved a hand around the room. “Is there no one here you recognize? It’s rather unusual to visit without knowing the patient.”

The Doctor surveyed the area until he spotted a familiar face. In the last patient bed, by a large set of windows, was the Face of Boe. The last time he had seen the giant face was during Rose’s first trip on the Tardis. He had taken her to Platform One to witness the Earth burn and fizzle away. If anyone here had sent him a psychic message, it was most certainly Boe.

“Ah, found him.” The Doctor smiled briefly at Sister Jatt before strolling over to the man without waiting to be escorted down the corridor.

Sister Jatt huffed and hurried along beside him. “I’ll leave you in the care of Novice Hame then. She’s been taking care of your friend.”

“Speakin’ of friends, I’ve got one missin’. Rose Tyler? She should have been here by now. Could you see if you can locate her?”

“There’s another visitor wandering around unescorted? Yes, I’ll see if I can find her.” She plastered on a sweet smile before leaving him with Novice Hame and the Face of Boe.

The Doctor fixed a fake grin on his face as well. The mystery of the message sender had been solved, but now he was wondering what trouble Rose had gotten into. She definitely should have caught up to him by now since she had taken the lift at the same time he had. 

The novice fidgeted in his silence. “I'm afraid the Face of Boe's asleep. That's all he tends to do these days. Are you a friend?”

He forced thoughts of Rose from his head and acknowledged the nurse. “Not really. I only met him once. What’s wrong with him?”

A sympathetic look washed over her face. “I'm so sorry, I thought you knew. The Face of Boe is dying.”

“Of what?”

“Old age. The one thing we can't cure. He's thousands of years old. Some people say millions, although that's impossible.” She let out a tiny laugh at the silly claims she had heard.

“I like impossible, me.” He knelt down to be level with Boe’s face. “Got your message. I’m here.”

A tiny groan escaped from Boe as the Doctor placed his hand up to the glass, but the big head was otherwise silent. What did the old, obscure creature call him to the hospital for? He could help relieve many ailments, but no one could cure old age.

The Doctor stood and turned to the novice. “What does he need?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “There’s not much to do, really. Just maintain his smoke. I suppose I’m company. I hear him singing, sometimes, in my mind. Such ancient songs.”

“Am I the only visitor?” He asked as he looked over the various devices hooked up to Boe, attempting to be of some use.

“The rest of Boe-kind became extinct long ago. He's the only one left.” She smiled fondly at her patient. “Legend says that the Face of Boe has watched the universe grow old. There's all sorts of superstitions around him. One story says that just before his death, the Face of Boe will impart his great secret. That he will speak those words only to one like himself.”

With a quizzical eyebrow, the Doctor returned his attention to the young woman. “What’s that mean?”

“It's just a story.”

“So, tell me the rest,” he insisted, folding his arms across his chest.

“It’s said he'll talk to a wanderer. To the man without a home. The lonely God.” The novice stared at him with a peculiar look on her face.

The Doctor’s eyebrows furrowed deeper, but he didn’t comment on the legend. There was no guarantee it was referring to him. After all, he had a home — the Tardis. And he wasn’t lonely! He had Rose… for now. Although, he couldn’t argue the wandering part as he never stood still.

Since there was nothing he could do for the Face of Boe at the moment, the Doctor went looking for a phone. Rose had her mobile, so he decided to call her and find out why she was lollygagging around the hospital. He quickly located one and dialed her number.

The line connected, and he spoke impatiently into the receiver, “Rose, where are you?”

After a few moments of silence, Rose finally responded, “Um... wotcha?”

The Doctor sighed heavily. “Seriously, where are you? How long does it take to get to Ward 26? You were right behind me!”

“I'm on my way, guv’nah,” she claimed in an odd accent. “I shall proceed up the apples and pears.”

“What are you on about? Nevermind, you’ll never guess who sent that message. It was the Face of Boe. Remember him?”

She laughed. “Of course, I do! That big old... boat race.”

“Boat race? Wha—?” The Doctor was interrupted by a jubilant chuckle coming from the Duke of Manhattan. “Just hurry up, will ya?”

He hung up and strolled over to the Duke, curious what had made the dying man suddenly so happy. Both Clovis and the Duke chatted in glee and sipped champagne.

“Didn't think I was going to make it.” The Duke spotted the Doctor and smiled broadly. “It's that man again! He's my good luck charm. Come in! Don't be shy.”

“Any friendship expressed by the Duke of Manhattan does not constitute a form of legal contract,” Clovis warned around her own grin.

“Winch me up,” the Duke asked, and Clovis pressed a button to raise his bed. “Up! Look at me. No sign of infection.”

A waiter walked over to the Doctor with a tray. “Champagne, sir?”

“No, thanks.” He waved the butler away and scrutinized the healed man. “You had petrifold regression.”

‘Had’ being the operative word: past tense. Completely cured!” The Duke cheered and laughed merrily.

“But that's impossible!” the Doctor asserted.

A hospital employee walked over with a tiny smile on her face. “Primitive species would accuse us of magic, but it's merely the tender application of science.”

The Doctor scowled at the newcomer. “How on Earth did you cure him?”

“How on New Earth, you might say.”

“What's in that solution?” He pointed to a bag full of a colorful liquid hooked up to the Duke’s I.V. line.

“A simple remedy.”

“Then tell me what it is.” The Doctor folded his arms across his body and attempted to intimidate the woman into spilling her secret.

“I'm sorry, patient confidentiality.” She balked at his arrogance and narrowed her eyes. “I don't believe we've met. My name is Matron Casp.”

“I'm the Doctor,” he stated with a tight grin.

“I think you'll find that we're the doctors here.”

Sister Jatt walked over and interrupted their tense conversation. “Matron Casp, you're needed in Intensive Care.”

“If you’ll excuse me.” Matron Casp assessed him one last time with an untrusting eye before she walked away with the other nurse.

“It's happened again,” Sister Jatt whispered. “One of the patients is conscious.”

Matron Casp clicked her tongue impatiently. “Oh, we can't have that.”

The Doctor glared at their retreating backs, having heard their hushed words. It sounded like he needed to pay a visit to intensive care. But first, he decided to take a closer look at the patients in the room with him.

He visited each cubicle, scrutinizing the monitors, charts, and I.V. bags. Nothing sinister popped out at him, but they had cured petrifold regression; he knew for a fact there was no cure for that disease during this time in human history. Something was amiss and he was determined to solve it. He didn’t like the smug matron and her supposed healing powers.

A flash of blonde caught his eye, and the Doctor lifted his head from the I.V. bag he was investigating; he knew that shade of blonde anywhere. Ready to scold Rose for being so tardy, he opened his mouth but froze when he took in her appearance.

She’s tryin’ to kill me, he groaned to himself.

As if her mere presence wasn’t enough to make him drool, Rose had decided to shed her outer jacket and now had only a tiny shirt covering her top half — a tiny shirt with far too many buttons undone. To add insult to injury, she fixed him with a dazzling smile and sauntered over with an extra sway in her hips. The Doctor blinked rapidly and managed to calm himself before she arrived at his side.

“Took you long enough,” he grumbled and averted his eyes as he guided her to one of the patient’s floating in mid-air. “Look, this is Marconi's disease. Should take years to recover, he’s cured in two days. I've never seen anythin’ like it. They've invented a cell washin’ cascade. This medical science is advanced — too advanced.”

Rose opened her mouth to speak, but the Doctor cut her off and pointed to a man with a bright-white complexion. “And this one! Pallidome pancrosis. Kills you in ten minutes, but he's fine! I need to find a terminal. I've got to see how they do this.”

The Doctor placed a hand on Rose’s back, steering her gently into the corridor in search of a computer.

“If they've got the best medicine in the world, why is it such a secret?” he mused, darting his eyes everywhere in his quest for a terminal and studiously ignoring the decolletage of the woman next to him.

“I can't Adam and Eve it,” Rose said in that weird voice she had used on the phone.

There she goes again with those bizarre phrases, the real Rose glowered. Although, she had to admit it was slightly amusing to see the Doctor’s red-tinged ears as he tried in vain not stare at her cleavage.

The Doctor pursed his lips and finally looked at her. “What’s with the voice? Are you gettin’ sick?”

“Oh, I don't know, just larkin’ about. New Earth. New me,” the fake Rose purred and placed her hands on her hips.

The movement drew the Doctor’s eyes down to her now prominently displayed chest, and he swallowed heavily. A million thoughts raced through his mind, none of them suitable for polite company. John would take advantage of this. John would make some sort of innuendo-laced comment and chase her tongue into her mouth. He bit back a groan and gaped like a goldfish, attempting to say something to cover up his indecent stare.

Rose smirked. “Cat got your tongue?”

Oh, don't you dare! The true Rose raged in her mind, realizing exactly what the woman was about to do.

Before the Doctor could come up with a witty response, she grabbed the lapels of his leather jacket and slammed her mouth against his. He froze in shock for a heartsbeat before he eagerly met her demanding kiss. Instead of allowing rational thought to stop his actions, his mind had gone blank, and his body responded to her with a will of its own. With a muscle memory learned from hours of snogging her as John, the Doctor moaned low in his throat and trapped her top lip between his own. He attempted to keep up with her frenzied pace but gave up control as she ran her fingers over his head like a greedy octopus. She seemed to be trying to devour his entire mouth in one go and had a firm grip on his short hair to keep him in place. He was just about to wrap his arms around her when Rose pulled away with a loud, wet pop.

“T-terminal's this way,” she stuttered and blew out a breath, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she sashayed away.

Rose grimaced inside her head. I sincerely hope I never kissed him like that!

The Doctor remained stuck in place, staring like a buffoon at the blank expanse of wall in front of him. Finally feeling the urge to move, he let out a puff of air and cleared his throat. Well, he was failing miserably at his no touching rule. Straightening his jacket, he turned to follow Rose. He took two steps before a thought occurred to him, and he froze in place once again.

That is definitely not how Rose kisses.

He had been John for two, glorious months. John had extensive knowledge of Rose’s lip maneuvers. That was not Rose. Something or someone had taken control of her mind and body.

The Doctor balled his fist in rage and stomped off in search of her. She had located a terminal and was fervently scrolling through the various menus. The mind was a very fragile thing, and if Rose’s brain really had been invaded, then this situation needed to be handled delicately. He couldn’t just waltz up to her and accuse her of being body-snatched.

With an air of nonchalance, the Doctor walked over and took over the controls. “Nope, nothin’ odd. Surgery, post-op, nano-dentistry. Nothin’.”

Rose pushed him away impatiently. “No, it's missing something else. When I was downstairs, those nurse-cat-nuns were talking about Intensive Care. Where is it?”

He gave her a conciliatory nod. “Yep, well done.”

“Why would they hide a whole department?” She licked her lips as she searched, an action the Doctor had never seen Rose do. “It's got to be there somewhere. Search the sub-frame.”

He clenched his jaw as her fake, lofty accent grated on his nerves. “And what if the sub-frame's locked?”

“Try the installation protocol.” She rolled her eyes as if it should be obvious.

“Yep, of course, sorry. Here we are then.”

Rose wouldn’t know any of these terms or how to hack a computer terminal to find what she was seeking. Not that he didn’t think she was brilliant, but this was definitely an area where she lacked expertise. He watched her carefully out of the corner of his eye as he used the sonic screwdriver on the interface.

Suddenly, a loud metal clang reverberated in front of them, and the entire wall slid down to reveal a dark corridor. Rose’s lips formed a predatory smile, and she stalked through the opening without sparing him a glance. 

The Doctor glared at her retreating form and pursued her down the hallway. “Intensive Care, I gather. Certainly looks intensive.”

Rose walked down a metal staircase and along a path in front of odd, glowing capsules. With a sickeningly feeling in his gut, the Doctor followed closely at her heel and observed the row of suspicious pods. He stepped up to a nearby railing and peered over; there was a thousand feet up and a thousand feet down of rows upon rows of the same green vessels.

The Doctor roughly pushed away from the railing and stormed down a nearby aisle to see what was behind the glass of the pods. Rose stifled a gasp as he opened one of the vessels to reveal a severely diseased human trapped within. The specimen whimpered in pain and lifted a mangled arm towards them, seeking comfort.  

Oh, my God, the real Rose lamented, that poor man.

The imposter Rose made a retching sound behind him as she peered at the man over his shoulder. “That’s disgusting. What’s wrong with him?”

“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said to the man in the pod before he softly shut the glass door.

He blew out his cheeks in frustration as he used the sonic screwdriver to open another door. An equally sick woman was contained inside; her eyes were glassy and barely opened, silently screaming in pain.

“What disease is that?” Rose asked.

“All of them,” he gritted out through his teeth. “Every single disease in the galaxy. They’re all infected with everythin’.”

Her eyes widened in alarm. “What about us? Are we safe?”

“The air's sterile. Just don't touch them,” he solemnly advised her, noting the real Rose would not normally think of herself first.

“How many patients are there?”

“These aren’t patients.”

“But they're sick.”

“They were born sick. They're meant to be sick. They exist to be sick.” He attempted to take a calming breath but raged on. “Lab rats. No wonder the Sisters have got a cure for everythin’. They've built the ultimate research laboratory — a human farm!”

“Why don't they just die?” Rose asked unsympathetically.

“Plague carriers are always the last to go.”

“It's for the greater cause,” chimed a voice down the corridor.

The Doctor turned to see Novice Hame standing in the shadows, and he fixed her with a steely glare. “Novice Hame, enlighten me. When you took your vows did you agree to this?”

“The Sisterhood has sworn to help,” she calmly explained.

“Help? You call this help? This is murder!” the Doctor bellowed, causing Hame to flinch under his wrath.

“But they're not real people,” she callously clarified. “They're specially grown. They have no proper existence.”

“What's the turnover here?” he demanded, marching over to the supposed nurse. “A thousand a day? A thousand the next? How many thousands have you murdered? How many?!”

The Doctor’s facade of calm was thrown out of the proverbial window as he roared at the novice. This hospital had killed untold numbers of humans all in the name of healing and science. It was backward and wrong and he would not stand for it, not for one second longer.

“Mankind needed us. They came to this planet with so many illnesses… we couldn't cope. We did try,” Novice Hame reasoned. “We tried everything. We tried using clone-meat and bio-cattle, but the results were too slow. So the Sisterhood grew its own flesh. That's all they are — flesh.”

“They’re not just flesh . These people are alive,” the Doctor growled.

“But think of those humans out there, healthy and happy, because of us.”

“If they live because of this, then life isn’t worth livin’.”

Novice Hame gazed at him with a stunned expression. “But who are you to decide that?”

“Who am I? I'm the Doctor.” He folded his arms across his chest and pierced the nurse with the full force of the Oncoming Storm. “If you don't like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, just know that there isn't one. It stops with me.”

“Just to confirm,” Rose piped up in her irritatingly fake accent, “none of the humans in the city actually know about this?”

“We thought it best not,” Novice Hame answered her.

The Doctor cracked his neck. He’d had enough of this. The time for explanations was over.

He glanced at Rose and back at the novice. “I understand the bodies. I understand this disgustin’ experiment. I understand your so-called vows. But there’s still one thing I don’t understand; what have you done to Rose?”

Hame wrinkled her eyebrows. “I don't know what you mean.”

The Doctor forcefully lowered his voice to a simmer instead of a full boil. “You should know that I am bein’ very calm. This is me bein’ very, very calm. The only reason that I am so utterly calm right now is because the brain is a very delicate organ. Whatever you have done to Rose’s head, I want it reversed. Now.”

“We haven't done anything,” Novice Hame insisted.

“I'm perfectly fine.” Rose smiled sweetly.

The Doctor ignored the false grin plastered on Rose’s face. “These people are dyin’, and my Rose would care.”

Rose rolled her eyes and turned him forcefully around to face her. “Oh, all right, clever clogs.” She ran her palms seductively along his chest, and purred, “Smarty pants…” She gripped his jacket to inch him closer. “Lady killer.”

The phony come-ons paired with the odd look of enticement on her face was highly disturbing. The Doctor knew how the real Rose flirted; it was adorable. This display was repulsive and creepy.

“What's wrong with you? Where’s Rose?” He stared into her eyes, trying in vain to discover what had happened to her.

I'm sorry, Doctor. I didn't mean to get trapped like this. The real Rose stared apologetically right back into those blue eyes she loved so much.

“I knew something was going on in this hospital, but I needed this body and your mind to find it out.” The false Rose continued slithering her fingers along his jacket until they rested on his shoulders.

“Who are you?” the Doctor demanded.

With a predatory smile, Rose stood on her toes and placed her mouth near his ear. “The last human,” she whispered.

“Cassandra?” the Doctor guessed, baffled.

“Wake up and smell the perfume.” The imposter quickly pulled a vial from between her breasts and sprayed a fine mist directly into his face.

He coughed a bit at the invasive smell. But before the Doctor could categorize the aerosol, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he crumpled to the ground.

Doctor! Rose internally shouted. So that's what that damn vial was for! 

“You've hurt him!” Novice Hame exclaimed, bending to aid the fallen man. “I don't understand. I'll have to fetch the Matron.”

“You do that because I want to see her. Now, run along. Sound the alarm!” Cassandra commanded.

Hame stared at her in shock before she quickly got to her feet to find her boss. Cassandra smirked as the cowardly woman scurried away and reached out a hand to pull a few cables from the wall. A loud alarm blared overhead, and she cocked a hip while she waited patiently for the Matron to come running. This investigation was over; it was time to strike a deal.

Chapter Text

Previously…

“You've hurt him!” Novice Hame exclaimed, bending to aid the fallen Doctor. “I don't understand. I'll have to fetch the Matron.”

“You do that because I want to see her. Now, run along. Sound the alarm!” Cassandra commanded.

Hame stared at her in shock before she quickly got to her feet to find her boss. Cassandra smirked as the cowardly woman scurried away and reached out a hand to pull a few cables from the wall. A loud alarm blared overhead, and she cocked a hip while she waited patiently for the Matron to come running. This investigation was over; it was time to strike a deal.

~*~

With a low groan, the Doctor slowly came back to consciousness. The acrid smell of the perfume still lingered in his nostrils, and there was a dull ache on the side of his head. He blearily opened his eyes and jerked fully awake when he realized he was stuffed inside one of the medical pods.

“Oi! Let me out of here!” he shouted.

“Aren’t you lucky there was a spare?” Cassandra taunted as she peered at him through the murky, green glass. “Standing room only.”

“You’ve stolen Rose’s body. Give her back to me,” the Doctor growled through a clenched jaw, even though he was stuck behind a firmly locked door.

“Over the years, I’ve thought of a thousand ways to kill you, Doctor,” she sneered. “And now that’s exactly what I’ve got — one thousand diseases. They pump the patients with a top-up every ten minutes. You’ve got about three minutes left. Enjoy.”

“Fine! Kill me, but let Rose go, Cassandra. She never harmed you.”

“I will as soon as I find someone younger and less… common,” she muttered, looking over Rose’s body in disdain. “Then I’ll junk her with the waste. Now hush-a-bye, baby, it’s showtime.”

Junk me with the waste?! Rose raged and mustered every ounce of mental strength she could to force Cassandra out of her brain. It was the only thing she could do since her limbs were currently being puppeteered by a mad woman.

The Doctor’s hearts raced as he thought of Rose’s beautiful body being discarded like rubbish. There had to be a way out of this cursed pod! Before he could yell at Cassandra some more, she disappeared from view to stand by a strange man and greet two newcomers.

“Anything we can do to help?” asked Matron Casp, followed by Sister Jatt.

Cassandra flipped her blonde hair over her shoulders and jutted a hip. “Straight to the point, whiskers. I want money.”

“The Sisterhood is a charity. We don’t give money. We only accept,” Matron Casp explained with a haughty stare.

“The humans across the water pay you a fortune, and that’s exactly what I need.” Cassandra stalked over to the two felines, confident she had ensnared them in her trap. “A one-off payment, that’s all I want. Oh, and perhaps a yacht. In return, I will tell the city nothing of your institutional murder.” She paused and stared at the Matron. “Is that a deal?”

“I’m afraid not,” Matron Casp calmly stated.

“I’d really advise you to think about this.”

“Oh, there’s no need.” Casp huffed a tiny laugh. “I have to decline.”

“I’ll tell them! And you have no way of stopping me.” Cassandra placed her hands on her hips, annoyed by the nun’s refusal. “You’re not exactly nuns with guns. You’re not even armed!”

“Who needs guns when we have claws?” Casp hissed and raised her paw to extend her razor-sharp talons.

“Well, nice try.” Cassandra laughed nervously and whipped around to face her servant. “Chip, plan B!”

Chip nodded eagerly, ready and willing to do his mistress’ bidding, and rushed over to pull a lever on the wall. Sirens blared and the medical pods opened simultaneously, releasing all of the prisoners. The Doctor was freed as well, and he sprang out of his pod as quickly as possible. He scanned the corridor and watched, in horror, as all of the diseased humans were free to infect the world.

He spotted Cassandra making an escape. “What have you done?!”

“Gave the system a shot of adrenaline, just to wake them up. See ya!” Cassandra darted away from him before he could stop her.

The Doctor briefly locked eyes with the two Sisters at the end of the hall. “Don’t touch them!” he shouted in warning. “Whatever you do, do not touch!”

He wanted to stay and help them, but he had to catch Cassandra before she escaped with Rose’s body. Dashing down the hallway, he caught up with her and the strange man just as the pods around them began to explode. They came to a halt by a staircase and watched, wide-eyed, as every single container in the entire building opened.

“Oh, my God!” Cassandra shrieked.

“Look what you did!” the Doctor shouted.

“It wasn’t me!”

“One touch and you get every disease in the world!” He turned his head and glared at her. “I want that body safe, Cassandra! C’mon!”

He rushed down the staircase, but Cassandra and Chip were frozen on the spot, quickly being swarmed by hundreds of patients.

“But there’s thousands of them!” Cassandra gripped her hair in panic.

“RUN! Down, down, go now!” the Doctor bellowed and reached out to yank her down the staircase. He’d die before he let anything happen to Rose’s body.

The PA system blared in the background as they sprinted for their lives, “This building is under quarantine. Repeat, this building is under quarantine. No one may leave the premises. Repeat, no one may leave the premises.”

The Doctor and his two running companions managed to reach the basement unscathed and skidded to a stop by the lifts. Cassandra frantically pressed the button on the machine.

“The lifts have closed down. There’s a quarantine — nothing’s movin’,” the Doctor informed her as he hastily searched for a way out.

“This way!” she yelled in a panic and ran passed him.

Chip and the Doctor rushed after her, but Chip became separated from them as a group of patients rushed in through a side door. The man wailed in fear and backed away.

“Don’t let them touch you!” The Doctor tried to think of a way to save him, but the mass of humans was surrounding Chip too quickly.

“Leave him! This is a clone thing. He’s only got a half-life. C’mon!” Cassandra exclaimed, uncaring of Chip’s plight.

“Mistress!” Chip sobbed on the other side of the gathering horde.

“I’m sorry! I can’t let her escape!” The Doctor gave him an apologetic look before he darted after Cassandra.

“My mistress!” Chip cried out a final time before the Doctor was too far away to hear him.

He followed the harried blonde head down another hallway and around one final corner before they both propelled themselves through a plastic curtain. The Doctor spun around and closed the door, securing it with the sonic for good measure. He ran a hand over his head as he took a quick scan of his surroundings and noticed a peculiar contraption on the wall. With quizzical eyebrows, he bent down to examine it and clenched his jaw tightly when he realized exactly what it was.

Cassandra continued to run around the space in a frenzy, searching for a way out before she realized there wasn’t one. “We’re trapped! What are we going to do?!”

“Well, for starters, you’re gonna leave that body.” The Doctor loomed over her and pointed to the device on the wall. “That psychograft is banned on every civilized planet! You’re compressin’ Rose to death! Let her go!”

“But I’ve got nowhere to go. My original skin is dead!” She tried piercing him with a look of outrage, but it wasn’t having the desired effect.

“Not my problem. I let you die once. Happy to do it again. Now get out!” The Doctor towered over her once more, staring into Rose’s face with a look of contempt he was loath to direct at those whiskey-colored eyes. “Give her back to me.”

Cassandra narrowed her eyes once more. “You asked for it.”

After taking in a large gulp of air, a red glow wafted out of Rose’s mouth and toward the Doctor. He realized a split-second too late exactly what was happening. Cassandra’s mind merged with his and took over his body with a cackling laugh.

Rose staggered as she regained control of her mind. “Blimey, my head.” She looked around the room in search of Cassandra. “Where’d she go?”

The Doctor stood from an oddly bent position with a weird smile on his face. “Oh my, this is… different.”

Rose’s eyebrows flew to her hairline as she watched the Doctor delicately prance around in a tiny circle, looking over his body. “Cassandra?”

“Goodness me, I’m a man!” He let out a high-pitched giggle like a little girl. “Yum! So many parts and some barely used.” An odd look crossed his features, and he clutched his chest. “Oh! Ah! Two hearts! Oh, baby! I’m beating out a samba!”

With a giddy expression, the Doctor’s body did an odd little dance in place. Rose tried to find the display disturbing, but she had never seen him gyrate his hips like that.

“Get out of him!” Rose commanded.

“Oh, he’s quite rugged and fit, isn’t he?” Cassandra ran his hands down his side and quirked an eyebrow at her. “You like this, don’t you? It’s written all over your face.”

With pinched lips, Rose averted her gaze and attempted not to react to Cassandra’s taunt. But it was difficult not to be affected by that face when it was sending a simmering heat in her direction. Cassandra smirked and stalked across the room.

“He reacted quite favorably when I kissed him,” he whispered breathily in Rose’s ear. “You’ve kissed him before, haven’t you?”

A shiver raced up her spine as the Doctor’s familiar, hot breath grazed her ear, but she turned away and forced herself to remember it was Cassandra. Before she could form a retort, the formerly closed door opened with a loud clang, and the sick patients of the hospital came pouring in.

Cassandra panicked and grabbed Rose’s bicep. “What do we do? What would the Doctor do? What the hell would he do?!”

Rose hastily whipped her head around the room and spotted a ladder. “Ladder! We’ve got to get up!”

“Out of the way, blondie!” He shoved her aside and flung himself on the ladder, scurrying up as quick as he could.

“Please! Help us!” The sick patients moaned and chanted as they staggered closer to her.

With a twinge of guilt, Rose ignored their pleas and followed Cassandra up the metal rungs. She knew the ailing humans just needed help, but she couldn’t risk them touching her until the Doctor found a solution.

“If you get out of the Doctor’s body, he can think of somethin’!” Rose shouted as she climbed.

“Blah, blah, blah,” Cassandra said in a mocking tone. “God, it was boring inside your head. No trivial thoughts to entertain me. How’d you manage that? Nothing to read in this mind either.”

“But we’re gonna die if you don’t— Ow!” Rose was interrupted by someone grabbing her leg, and she looked over her shoulder to see Matron Casp gripping her harshly by the ankle. “Get off!”

“All our good work! All that healing! The good name of the Sisterhood — You have destroyed everything!” the Matron snarled and continued to try and pull Rose off the ladder.

“Oh, go and play with a ball of string,” Cassandra's voice dripped in disdain.

“Everywhere— disease! This is the human world — sickness!” the Matron’s tirade was cut off as she wailed in pain.

Rose watched in horror as one of the patients had caught up to Matron Casp and touched her skin. Painful welts erupted all over her feline face, and she lost her grip on the ladder as a thousand diseases rampaged through her body. Her screams echoed and died out as she plummeted down the shaft. Rose cringed when she heard the sickening thud of the Matron’s body hit the ground, but the oncoming horde of sick patients demanded her attention and left no time to grieve.

“Move!” Rose bellowed at Cassandra and continued her climb.

Cassandra shrieked and increased her pace. Reaching a closed lift door, she banged her fist against the metal in a useless attempt to open it.

“Help us!” pleaded the sick as they gained on them.

“Now what do we do?!” Cassandra desperately tried to pry the doors open.

“Use the sonic screwdriver!” Rose instructed.

With a pout, Cassandra reached into the Doctor’s leather jacket and pulled out the sonic. “You mean this thing?”

“Yes, I mean that thing!”

“But I don’t know how! That Doctor has hidden away all his thoughts like you did!”

Rose huffed out a breath. “Cassandra, go back into me. The Doctor can open it! Do it!”

“Hold on tight,” Cassandra warned before the red aura wafted into Rose once more.

Cassandra entered Rose’s body and made a disgusted sound in her throat. “Oh, chav-tastic again.” She stared at the Doctor for a brief moment, waiting for him to finish their escape. “What are you doing? Open it!”

The Doctor clenched his jaw and aimed the sonic at Cassandra. “Get out of her first!”

“We need the Doctor!”

“I need Rose! Leave her!” he hollered.

The red light flew out of Rose and back into the Doctor.

“No matter how difficult the situation, there is no need to shout!” Cassandra admonished from the Doctor’s lips.

Rose was getting impatient with this pointless back and forth while their lives were in peril. “Cassandra, get out of him!”

“But if I go into you, he simply refuses. He’s so rude! What do you see in him?”

“I don’t care, just do somethin’!”

Cassandra glanced at the advancing patients and grimaced. “Oh, I’m so gonna regret this.”

Her red aura floated past Rose’s blonde head and into one of the sick humans climbing the ladder.

With a look of shock, Cassandra stared at her new skin. “Oh, sweet Lord! I look disgusting!”

The Doctor ignored Cassandra and quickly used the sonic to open the lift door. He leaped off the ladder and spun around to help Rose off the metal rungs.

“Nice to have you back,” he cheered, and Rose smiled brightly at him in gratitude.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Cassandra squawked as Rose and the Doctor began to close the doors behind them.

The glow quickly shot out of the diseased human and back into Rose before they could leave Cassandra behind. Rose stumbled at the force of it and crumpled to the ground.

“Last warnin’, Cassandra,” the Doctor seethed as he soniced the doors shut. “Get out of her!”

He whirled around with a menacing scowl, but his face fell when he took in her look of despair.

“Inside her head…” Cassandra stared, unseeing at the wall in front of her. “They’re so alone. They keep reaching out, just to hold us. All their lives and they’ve never been touched.”

Even though he knew it was Cassandra, the Doctor hated seeing such an anguished expression etched on Rose’s face. He held out his hand to help her up. She stared at it in confusion for a few seconds before she accepted his offer and allowed him to help her to her feet. They jumped as a pounding fist collided on the closed door behind them and spared one last glance back before walking away to safety.

The Doctor soniced open the next door and found himself in the patient room he had been in earlier. He breathed a sigh of relief to be out of harm’s way for the time being, but his respite was short lived as Frau Clovis charged at him and Cassandra with a raised stool.

He immediately raised his arms in the air. “We’re safe! We’re clean! Stop! Just look!”

“Show me your skin!” Clovis demanded, waving the stool around in fear.

“Very clean, see? Look. We’d be dead by now if we were touched.” The Doctor pushed back the sleeves of his leather jacket to show her the proof of his good health while Cassandra twirled her arms around to provide evidence.

Frau Clovis warily set the stool down with a critical eye, still too scared to trust them completely.

“Ok, good.” The Doctor rolled his sleeves back down and glanced around at the frightened people in the room. “So, how’s it goin’ up here? Have the diseased patients gotten in?”

“No, and there’s nothing but silence from the other wards. I think we’re the only ones left,” Clovis informed him with a solemn frown. “I’ve been trying to override the quarantine. If I can trip a signal over to New New York, they can send a private executive squad.”

The Doctor shook his head. “Sorry, you can’t do that. The quarantine would break if they forced entry.”

Clovis growled and stomped around. “I am not dying in here!”

“We can’t let a single particle of any disease out.” He angrily pointed at the large windows and towards the skyscrapers in the distance. “There’s 10 million people in that city. You’d risk them all. Now, stop whatever it is you’re doin’ with that device in your hand and turn it off!”

Clovis ignored him and continued to try and send out a call for help. “Not if it gets me out!”

“Alright, fine. Another stupid ape I have to stop — fine by me.” The Doctor had calculated a solution while he pointlessly conversed with the woman and sprang into action. “Cassandra! Novice Hame! Hell, everyone! Get me the intravenous solutions for every single disease in this place.”

When no one began to follow his orders immediately, the Doctor bellowed, “Move it!”

Having no other authority to follow, they all hastily ran around the room and grabbed every bag of medicine they could find. Even Cassandra joined in, desperate not to fall victim to some horrific illness.

The Doctor scoured every corner of the room until he found a metal chain and a winch-like device. He strapped the chain-link rope around his body, pressing indentations into his leather jacket as he cinched it tight. Cassandra crashed into him in her hurry to deliver the medicine and the Doctor grabbed a few bags to tie them to the chain. Following his lead, she secured some I.V. bags to him as well.

“Will that do?” the Doctor asked, examining the numerous sacks of solution swathed across his chest.

Cassandra’s face screwed up in confusion. “I don’t know. Will it do for what?”

Inside her mind, Rose surprised herself when she figured out his plan. He’s going to put the medicine in the lift’s disinfection system!

Cassandra watched in further puzzlement as the Doctor strode confidently to one of the lifts and soniced it open. He gazed up and down the dizzying heights of the shaft, one hand holding the screwdriver and the other grasping the winch.

“The lift’s aren’t working!” Cassandra snapped.

“No, it’s just not movin’. Not the same thing.” The Doctor rolled his eyes, backed up from the lift, and secured the sonic in his teeth.

“But, you’re not going to—”

Cassandra’s words were cut off with a shout of surprise as she watched the Doctor run full speed toward the lift and jump. For a split-second, she thought he had fallen to his death, but she stuck her head into the opening to discover him dangling in the cavernous space, securing the metal device in his hand to the heavy cable.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” she shrieked.

“Um go’n don!” The Doctor mumbled around his sonic, before snatching it from his mouth to finish his task. “C’mon!”

She laughed in derision. “Not in a million years!”

“Seriously, come on! I need another pair of hands!” he pleaded impatiently, eager to finish his work. “If you’re so desperate to stay alive, then live a little!”

Before Cassandra could make a decision, Frau Clovis sealed off the door, trapping her in the corridor with an oncoming swarm of ill humans. Seeing no other option, Cassandra wailed in fright and she jumped into the lift.

She grunted in pain when she landed on the Doctor’s back. “You are completely mad! No wonder she loves you.”

The Doctor stiffened for a moment at the word “loves” before quickly moving on. “Yep, ball of fun, me.” He secured his hands on the winch and took a steadying breath. “Goin’ down!”

With an ominous click, the winch loosened from the cable and they plummeted rapidly down the shaft. Cassandra screamed as the Doctor laughed like a madman, thrilled with the wind whipping around him and the adrenaline pumping in his veins. Before they crashed against the concrete, he tightened the winch, and they came to a screeching halt a few feet above the ground.

Sighing heavily in relief, Cassandra jumped off his back. “Well, that’s one way to lose weight.”

The Doctor ignored her chatter, hastily eyeing the hatch to the lift as he pointed to a lever. “When I say so, grab that lever.”

Cassandra balked. “There’s still a quarantine down there! We can’t—!”

“Hold. That. Lever!” he raged, cutting off her complaint.

She cowered under his piercing blue gaze and crouched down to hold the lever as instructed. In a flurry of movement, the Doctor began tearing open the plastic bags and pouring them into a container of water on top of the lift.

“That lever will probably resist but keep it in position.” He finished pouring the medicine into the vat and opened the hatch. “Don’t you dare let go!”

“What about you?” she fretted.

“Oh, don’t pretend to care about me, Cassandra.” He jumped down into the lift. “This hospital needs a Doctor.”

He used his sonic to open the elevator doors and braced himself for what he was about to do. Hopefully, his plan worked. If not, he’d be dying momentarily of some foreign disease and wouldn’t be able to dwell on his failings.

The lift doors opened and caught the attention of the large crowd of patients in the hospital lobby.

“Come and get me!” the Doctor taunted.

“Don’t tell them that!” Cassandra shouted from over head.

“You hush and pull that lever!” he barked at her and turned his attention back to the oncoming horde of sickness. “C’mon, come and get me! I’m just itchin’ for a hug!”

As the humans swarmed the lift, the PA system chimed overhead, “Commence stage one disinfection.”

With a loud hiss, the sprinkler system turned on and doused the diseased patients with his medicinal cocktail. The baffled humans looked on in wonder as the water soaked into their pores and began to heal them.

“Go on, pass it along,” the Doctor encouraged them.

“Pass on what?!” Cassandra yelled.

He ignored the annoying woman’s nattering and watched in glee as the formerly sick humans touched the diseased ones and passed the cure from skin to skin. One by one, their infections cleared and brilliant smiles bloomed on their faces, relieved of their pain and suffering.

Cassandra peered her head into the hatch, and the Doctor helped her down. “What did they pass on? Did you kill them? All of them?”

“No.” He glared and stomped away from the selfish woman. “That’s your way of doin’ things.”

All around him in the lobby, the formerly untouchable humans were celebrating and hugging in joy. The Doctor smiled happily for the first time that day. With the unfortunate exception of Matron Casp, everyone was gloriously alive.

A petite brunette ran up to him and engulfed him in a hug.

“Oh, hello.” He staggered a bit at the force of her grasp and patted her back. “Yes, alright. There we go, all cured. Why don’t you go to him?” He gently prodded her towards another man sitting nearby.

“Looks like this is a new subspecies, brand new humans. New humans for New Earth!” The Doctor grinned even brighter as he surveyed the group in the lobby. “Run by cats, kept in the dark, fed by tubes, but completely alive. You lot have a knack for survival. The human race just keeps on goin’ and changin’. Life always finds a way!”

Still trapped inside her mind, Rose smiled as she watched the Doctor revel in his joy. She rarely got to see him enjoy the times when lives were saved instead of destroyed, and it was a wonderful sight to behold. While he had been solving the hospital dilemma, Rose had tried in vain to force Cassandra from her brain — nothing had worked. Her mind was starting to feel like it was being slowly crushed in a vice, but she knew the Doctor would find a solution for her predicament before it was too late.

~*~

Not long after the Doctor had healed the imprisoned humans, the NNYPD had arrived to arrest the hospital staff and take statements from the visitors. The Doctor had strung Cassandra along with him as he went from floor to floor to make sure all of the sick patients had been cured before any tiny ounce of infection could spread. He still didn’t trust the woman enough to let her out of his sight.

With a loud squelch from his boots, the Doctor exited the lift to Ward 26 with Cassandra in tow. He’d had to take his wet, leather jacket off and his jumper clung to his chest from the impromptu shower in the lift. As he pulled at the uncomfortably tight garment, he saw the NNYPD leading Novice Hame away in handcuffs. He wasn’t sure if the nurse had done anything illegal herself, but she had allowed a culture of murder to persist. As a result, he wasn’t sad in the slightest to see her being escorted off the premises.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” the Doctor suddenly realized. “I have a man to see about a face.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes as she was once again pulled along by the Doctor. They arrived at a row of empty patient cubicles and walked to the end where a giant, glass tank stood with an equally giant head inside. A look of disgust crossed her features as she looked upon the Face of Boe. She had tried to blame him for her evil doings on Platform One; it hadn’t worked.

The Doctor was happy to see Boe awake and alert. “Aren’t you supposed to be dyin’?”

There are better things to do today. Dying can wait, the Face of Boe said telepathically.

“Oh, I hate telepathy,” groaned Cassandra. “Just what I need, a head full of big-face.”

The Doctor turned around to give her an annoyed glare. “Hush.”

I had grown tired with the universe, Doctor, but you have taught me to look at it anew, Boe thanked him with a tiny smile on his large face.

“I’ve heard of legends, ya know, sayin’ that you’re a million years old.” The Doctor knelt down close to the glass to be eye level with him.

Boe laughed. Well, now, that would be impossible.

“I like impossible, me.” The Doctor smiled. “So, you sent me a message. Is there somethin’ you wanted to tell me? Perhaps some sort of great secret? So the legend says.”

The Face of Boe stared at the Doctor for a few tense moments before he said, It can wait.

“Oh, does it have to?” the Doctor whined.

We shall meet again, Doctor, Boe assured him, for the third time, for the last time, and the truth shall be told. Until that day…

The Face of Boe trailed off and teleported from the hospital in a haze of green and blue.

“Well, then.” The Doctor stared at the spot Boe had vacated. “That was rather enigmatic, wasn’t it?”

But there was no time to think about what the mysterious creature might have meant. It was time to deal with Cassandra before Rose’s brain was crushed to death. She probably wasn’t in any real danger yet, but it must be giving her a massive migraine by now. He stood up from his crouch and faced the woman masquerading around as his precious Rose. 

“And now we have to deal with you.” He pulled his leather jacket back on and stuffed his hands in the pockets.

“But everything’s happy. Everything’s fine. Can’t you just leave me?” she pleaded from Rose’s lips.

“I think you’ve lived long enough.” the Doctor claimed and balled his fists to rein in his anger. “Leave that body and end it, Cassandra.”

She started to cry, but he suspected the tears were for show. “I don’t want to die!”

He wasn’t persuaded. “No one does. But everythin’ has its time.”

“Help me!” she sobbed.

“No.”

“Mistress!” cried Chip as he suddenly appeared in the room.

“Oh! You’re alive!” Cassandra was shocked as the man ran towards them.

Chip breathed heavily from his sprint. “I kept myself safe for you, mistress.”

Cassandra eyed him critically. “A body…And not just that — a volunteer.”

Darting his eyes between Chip and Cassandra, the Doctor realized what she was about to do. “Don’t you dare! He’s got a life of his own!”

“But I worship the mistress!” Chip angrily interjected. “I welcome her.”

Cassandra winked at the Doctor as he tried to think of a way to stop her. “You can’t! Don’t do it, Cassandra!”

But she didn’t listen to him. Cassandra shot out of Rose’s body in a red glow and flew into Chip’s mind, overtaking her willing devotee. Rose swayed on her feet as she gained control of her body, and the Doctor quickly wrapped his arms around her waist before she fell.

“Rose? Rose! Are you alright?” He stared at her eyes as she blinked in confusion.

Rose finally seemed to realize where she was and smiled brightly at him. “Oh, hello!”

“Hello!” He laughed.

The Doctor was sure his grin was ridiculously daft at the moment, but he didn’t care. Rose was safe. Once again, he found himself having to ignore his first instinct to kiss her in relief. He was about to allow himself a hug when Cassandra broke their reunion bubble.

“Oh, sweet Lord! I’m a walking doodle,” Cassandra whined through Chip’s lips as he examined the marking’s on his skin.

The Doctor’s anger welled up again. “You can’t stay in there, Cassandra! It’s not fair to use up someone else’s life for your own selfish purpose. I told you, you’ve lived long enough. Everythin’ comes to an end.”

“Well, that is rather unfortunate.” He tapped a finger against his chin. “Chip seems to be giddy up there to have me in his mind. I think I’ll stick around. So sorry to disappoint you. Chip here only has a half-life anyway. And his heart is racing.”

Cassandra suddenly crumpled to the ground, clutching his chest in pain. Rose raced to aid him as the Doctor remained rooted to the spot.

“Are you alright?” Rose asked.

“I’m fine,” Cassandra laughed but his face revealed a trace of fear. “I-I think I’m dying. Looks like you were right, Doctor. It’s time to go.”

Even though Rose had experienced Cassandra’s selfishness and evil ways firsthand, she couldn’t help but be affected as tears welled up in his eyes. His face morphed into a look of calm resignation as Cassandra and Chip both realized the fate of the man’s ailing body.

“Isn’t there anythin’ we can do for them?” Rose asked the Doctor, shooting him a beseeching look.

He folded his arms across his chest. “No. His body isn’t built to last very long.”

“I’m sorry I tried to kill you, Rose,” Cassandra confessed as a lone tear trailed through the markings on his face.

“Please, Doctor,” Rose pleaded.

“I don’t have a magic wand or spell for cheatin’ death,” the Doctor retorted, angry that she was defending the woman who had tried to murder her.

“It’s fine, Rose, really,” Cassandra insisted, arranging Chips legs more comfortably on the floor. “I don’t deserve any sympathy.”

“See, she agrees. It’s time for us to go anyway.” The Doctor spun on his heel to leave the woman to her fate.

“Oi!” Rose yelled in outrage at his retreating back. “You can’t just leave them here to die alone!”

“Yes, I can. Here I go,” he threatened but stopped in his tracks to wait patiently for Rose to join him.

“Fine. You go. I’ll catch up with you later.” She glared at him and sat down next to Chip’s body to wait for the inevitable.

The Doctor didn’t like the way Rose was looking at him like he was some kind of monster. But why should he show mercy for the vile creature who had tried — twice! —  to murder the woman that he… He stopped his train of thought and marched back over to Rose, unwilling to disappoint her.

“What would you have me do?” he calmly asked. What he really wanted to do was drag her to the Tardis’ med-bay to make sure the psychograft hadn’t damaged her beyond repair, but it would have to wait a bit longer.

Rose looked genuinely shocked that he had decided to help her and glanced briefly at Cassandra with a tiny smile. “I think I have an idea.”

~*~

Following Rose’s instruction, the Doctor had escorted Cassandra to the Tardis and piloted his ship to the suggested coordinates. Rose led Cassandra through the doors when they parked, and he begrudgingly followed after them. They had arrived at some sort of party, and the Doctor immediately recognized the real Cassandra across the room, chattering away as her younger self.

“Oh, don’t!” Cassandra laughed giddily in the middle of a crowd of admirers. “That’s simply not true! And believe me, it was so dismal. And the mosquitoes, I can’t tell you.”

Chip was fixated on Cassandra and smiled. “Thank you,” he said to Rose.

Rose nodded and prodded him along with tiny push. “Go on. Good luck.”

The Doctor couldn’t help but smile as Rose continued to show the woman compassion. She never changed. He regretted his earlier anger as he watched Chip cross the room. Rose was right — no one should die alone. Even people with questionable morals deserved better than an empty hospital wing as comfort in their final moments. The Doctor vowed to thank Rose later for insisting he show Cassandra a bit of kindness.

“And if you actually see them, you’re shot! But don’t quote me on that. A bientot!” Cassandra waved at the group of people around her and made a graceful exit.

“Excuse me, the Lady Cassandra?” Chip intercepted her as she was retreating.

“I’m sorry, I don’t need anything right now. I’m fine, thank you.” She mistook him for a servant and started to walk away.

“No!” he half-shouted to halt her. “I just wanted to say… you look beautiful.”

Cassandra’s mouth formed a tiny, polite smile as she listened to the man. “Well, that’s very kind, you strange little thing. Thank you very much.”

“I mean it,” Chip insisted as he gazed upon the radiance of his old body. “You look… so beautiful.”

The younger Cassandra looked taken aback by the heartfelt words. “Thank you.”

Chip let out a labored breath and collapsed to the ground for a final time.

“Oh, my Lord. Are you alright? What is it? What’s wrong?” Cassandra fretted and fell to the ground beside him, gathering him in her arms. “Someone get some help. Call a medic or something, quickly! I don’t know, he just came up to me. Don’t even know his name. He just collapsed. I think he’s dying. Someone do something!” Cassandra rocked Chip back and forth. “I’ve got you, sweetheart. It’s all right. There you are. I’ve got you. It’ll be alright. There, there.”

Rose choked back a sob as she watched Cassandra die in her own arms.

“Come on,” the Doctor said quietly, nudging her gently by the small of her back.

They returned to the Tardis with solemn expressions; it was never pleasant to watch another person die, even an enemy.

The Doctor sent the ship into the Vortex and looked at Rose. “Do you mind if I scan you in the med-bay? I want to make sure that psychograft didn't do any permanent damage.” He had waited long enough to check her with the proper equipment.

Rose nodded and wiped away a few tears as she followed him to the infirmary on the Tardis. She plopped onto the exam table with a weary sigh; she was tired and had developed a tiny headache. The Doctor grabbed a handheld scanner and waved it around her head. He frowned when he read the results.

“What? What is it?!” She panicked at the look on his face.

“Nothin',” he claimed, bewildered. “There's not a thing wrong. I had expected a hefty migraine, but this says you've got nothin’ but a dull ache. Barely enough for a single paracetamol.”

Rose slapped his shoulder. “So why are you frowin’ and scarin’ me!”

“Sorry.” He put the scanner away and scrutinized her with another frown. “It's just a bit weird. You should be in agonizin’ pain right now.”

She shrugged and bit her lip in contemplation. “I wasn't sick a lot as a kid. Superior immune system or somethin’?”

“Perhaps,” he acquiesced but didn't look completely mollified.

Rose cleared her throat and wrung her hands, nervous to ask the question that had been on her mind since Cassandra had left her for good. “Why did you kiss me back?”

The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck for a moment before answering. “That… that was strategic. I knew it wasn't you. Couldn't bring it up though and risk damagin’ your brain. Best to go along with it.”

A suspicious blush formed on his cheeks as he spun around to the counter behind him and fiddled uselessly with random instruments. Rose didn't quite follow his logic and suspected he wasn't telling her the truth. However, she had known him long enough to recognize when he wasn't ready to discuss something and reluctantly allowed the topic to drop. She was tired from the ridiculous amount of running around the hospital and hosting another consciousness in her mind.

Rose puffed out her cheeks and hopped off the table. “Alright, well, I don't know about you, but I could sleep for ages. Mind if rest for a bit?”

He turned back around, visibly relieved she had stopped her interrogation. “Yep, go on. Get your fill of winks. I've got a bit of maintenance to do.”

With a tight smile, she left the Doctor alone and journeyed to her room. She let out a large yawn as she opened her door and shed her dirty clothes in favor of comfortable pajamas. As she climbed into bed, Rose found herself wishing she had taken a small dose of aspirin. Her headache wasn't horrible, but it was enough to be annoying.

A pill bottle suddenly appeared on her nightstand.

“What the…” she wondered out loud.

Rose glanced around her room warily before she picked up the bottle and read the label: paracetamol. A calming hum echoed in her mind, and she jumped in surprise and stared in shock at the Tardis’ wall.

“Was this you?” she asked.

Another small hum filled her brain.

“How comes I can hear you in my head? That's new.”

The Tardis didn't answer, so Rose shrugged her shoulders and took a small dose of the medicine. Perhaps prolonged exposure to the ship had allowed the old girl to communicate more directly with her now. It wasn't a far stretch, considering the ship was already in her mind translating alien languages.

Rose yawned once more and stretched her arms over her head before snuggling into the sheets. One of these days, she planned on confronting the Doctor about his feelings more directly, whether he liked it or not — she had to. She couldn’t pretend forever, and there really wasn't any use denying anything existed between them. After all, a Dalek had said the Doctor loved her, and John had confessed it while he had been human. It couldn’t be a lie — could it? — if the Doctor had insisted that John had been him.

Rose fell asleep missing her boyfriend and his magnificent cuddles. Alone in bed, her dreams were filled with a seductive singing and a gold, swirling mist. Every now and then, a wolf howled.

~*~

Back in the med-bay, the Doctor was internally berating himself. He really needed to get a grip and stop reacting to his companion’s touch and proximity. The blush that had sprung to his cheeks had surely been an obvious sign of his lie. He had failed miserably today as he had melted helplessly under Rose's urgent soft lips, not realizing until later that it had been Cassandra.

But all forms of contact didn't need to be off the table, right? They had hugged and held hands before John had come along and muddied the waters. But, friends could allow those little moments of contact to continue, couldn't they? Why should he deny himself friendly affection from his good friend, Rose?

The Doctor sagged against the counter and dragged his hands across his face. He was kidding himself if he thought things would ever be normal between them again. It was going to be the biggest challenge of his lives to keep their relationship from straying beyond just friends.

He both feared and rejoiced for the day he knew he was inevitably going to cave.

Chapter Text

Music flitted through the air in the Tardis console room as the Doctor worked on a few necessary repairs. The garage he had worked at as John always had a few tunes cranked in the background, and he had developed a preference for laboring while listening to classic rock. He had swiped a padded mechanic’s dolly from the shop and was now using it to work under the control board, cushioning his back from the hard, metal floor. It didn’t slide on the grating of the Tardis as well as it had on the concrete floor in the garage, but at least he was comfortable. He had also stolen a few coveralls to keep his jumper and pants grease-free while he worked.

Thinking about his time as John inevitably led to thoughts about Rose. After they had begun dating when he was human, she had used her breaks to watch him work in the shop. The dolly he was currently laying on was the exact one he had used as John, and he couldn't stop thinking about all the times Rose had swooped down to kiss him. She had done it randomly throughout the work days, claiming that he had been too adorable to resist.

The Doctor was humming along to Led Zeppelin when the current song suddenly stopped and a different guitar riff by the same band began to play.

“Way down inside honey, you need it. I'm gonna give you my love,” crooned Robert Plant.

With narrowed eyes, the Doctor chastised his ship, “Oi! I gave you a playlist! Stick to it!”

The song stopped and the Tardis played a calmer melody. “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be lovin’ you…”

With an angry curse, the Doctor threw down his spanner and rolled out from underneath the console to glare at the time rotor. “I’m not above disconnectin’ your macaron dispenser! I know you love those bloody French biscuits!” he growled. “Stop it!”

The Tardis hummed angrily back at him and switched songs again. “Greasy slicked-down body, groovy leather trim. I like the way you hold the road, mama, it ain't no sin…”

“Bloody meddlin’ ship…” the Doctor grumbled and rolled back under the console to resume his repairs.

~*~

After the events of New Earth, Rose had slept for six hours and woke up feeling refreshed and ready for adventure. Less than eight hours of rest would normally have her grumbling and cursing for more shut-eye, but she didn’t feel she needed any additional sleep this morning. With a smile, she hopped out of bed and got ready for the day.

As she brushed her hair in front of her vanity, Rose’s eye caught sight of her necklace with the Tardis key and rose charm that John had given her. In her excitement to see a new planet yesterday, she had forgotten to put it on. Maybe that had been a good thing; who knows what Cassandra would have done if she had gotten a hold of the key to the ship.

Rose smiled as she remembered the night that John had given her the piece of jewelry. While it had ended with her fleeing the flat in terror after calling him “Doctor,” it had still been a wonderfully romantic evening up until that point.

Swallowing down the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat, Rose secured the chain around her neck and fiddled with it briefly before she journeyed to find the Doctor. She was eager to discover where they were going next.

Rose stopped in her tracks when she arrived in the console room.

Bloody hell, she thought, this man is gonna kill me.

She had developed a weakness for John in his blue coveralls, all grease-stained and rumpled. She now had a weakness for the Doctor in blue overalls, grease-stained and rumpled. The infuriatingly attractive man was humming along to the music playing in the air and laying in the same dolly that John had used when he had worked on cars in the garage. Rose fought the instinct to waltz over there and interrupt his wrench turning with a snog — a response she had indulged in numerous times on his human lips.

Rose took a deep breath and walked up the ramp. “You're still just a grease monkey, aren't ya?”

With a yelp of surprise, the Doctor jumped and bashed the side of his head on a small, metal hatch. He sat up while rubbing his temple, ready to make a cheeky retort, but snapped his jaw closed instead as soon as he got an eyeful of Rose’s outfit.

John had had a weakness for Rose in skirts, therefore, the Doctor also had a weakness for Rose in skirts. She was currently wearing his vulnerability in the form of denim overalls with a cute, purple shirt underneath. But that wasn't the biggest problem — her legs were wrapped in silky, black stockings. Stockings.

“So, where are we goin’?” Rose asked, skipping over to him.

The Doctor blinked. “What?”

“Aren't we goin’ somewhere today?”

Yes, they were going somewhere, but he suddenly couldn't remember what planet he had decided on. A loud guitar riff interrupted his thoughts, and he shot to his feet to improvise.

“Wanna see them in concert?” the Doctor asked, wiping his greasy hands on a towel.

Rose wrinkled her forehead. “Who?”

He rolled his eyes and pointed to the ceiling to indicate the music playing. “Led Zeppelin. I need to educate you on good ol’ Earth classic rock.”

“Really? We can go see them?”

“What do you think I have a Tardis for?” He began to unzip his coveralls, not noticing the blush that formed on Rose's cheek.

“I could take you to see the Battle of Trafalgar, the first anti-gravity Olympics, Caesar crossin’ the Rubicon or…” the Doctor paused to step out of his mechanic’s gear and flung the garment on the jumpseat, “Led Zeppelin on the grounds of the Knebworth House, Hertfordshire, England, Earth, the fourth of August, 1979. What’ll it be?”

Rose looked over her outfit. “What do you think of this? Will it do?”

He leaned against the console and roamed his eyes over her. “For the late seventies? You'd look just as good in a bin bag.”

Heat rose to her face at the compliment, and she cleared her throat to hide her reaction. “Alright, Hertfordshire it is.”

“Hold on tight.” With a manic grin, the Doctor flicked a lever on the console and propelled them through the vortex.

The Tardis jolted violently, and Rose fell back against the railing with a laugh. She held on for dear life as the rock music roared louder and the ship careened through space.

Automobile with comfort, really built with style. Specialist tradition. Mama, let me feast my eyes...”

Robert Plant wailed on overhead as the Doctor pumped a control in time to the beat. “Drop anchors!” he shouted over the drums.

The song ended at the same time the Tardis landed with a hard jerk, flinging Rose and the Doctor to the grated floor. They looked at each other and broke out in a fit of giggles.

“1979! Hell of a year.” The Doctor stood and grabbed Rose’s hand to pull her up next to him. “China invades Vietnam. Oh, “Alien”! — fantastic movie. Skylab falls to Earth with a little help from me.”

Rose laughed and followed him down the ramp to the Tardis doors.

“Nearly took off my thumb, that did. You see how much I work, I need my thumb! Very attached to my—” the Doctor’s words were cut off as they exited the ship.

A group of armed Redcoats had them surrounded with raised guns. Rose froze next to the Doctor and raised her arms in the air. Many of the men were on horseback, and they were traveling with a large, black carriage through the wide-opened, countryside.

“Ah, 1879.” the Doctor grumbled and held his palms to the sky as well.

“You will explain your presence and the nakedness of this girl,” a man on horseback demanded in a Scottish brogue.

“Oh, we’re in Scotland?” the Doctor asked in confusion.

The officer furrowed his brows. “How can you be ignorant of that?”

“Well, she has always said I’m stupid,” the Doctor explained, tilting his head at Rose.

Rose nodded. “He can be a right plonker. I’ve seen him trip on his own shoelaces.”

“Always glad when we can bring that up, thanks.” The Doctor mockingly glared at her, and she stuck her tongue out at him.

The officer didn’t appear to be amused. “Will you identify yourself, sir?”

“Ah, yes, right. I have some credentials.” the Doctor pointed to his pocket and the officer nodded.

He pulled out the psychic paper before he could think of a proper cover story and held it out to the armed man on horseback.

“I see,” said the officer as he read the paper. “Doctor and Mrs. John Noble, here to study the nesting habits of the red grouse while on their honeymoon. Well, it's no wonder you’re all the way out here then.”

Rose made a choking sound in the back of her throat and began to cough. The Doctor plastered a smile on his face and patted her back. He definitely hadn't meant for that to be their cover story. But with him recently in mechanic coveralls and Rose in a skirt, he guessed his mind must have been stuck in John’s memories.

“Don't mind my, um…” the Doctor hesitated briefly, “wife. She's a bit allergic to some of your indigenous flora.”

“Let them approach, Captain Reynolds,” called an upper-class English accent from the nearby carriage.

“I don’t think that’s wise, ma’am,” Reynolds replied.

“Let the approach,” the voice insisted.

The man’s mouth formed a thin line, but he obeyed the command. “You will approach the carriage and show all due deference.”

The Doctor nodded, offered Rose his arm, and walked calmly over to the transport. Rose gripped his bicep tightly, either in anger over the wife fiasco or in fear of the many guns still trained on them, and dutifully followed him. A man in a top hat opened the door, and the Doctor fought a look of surprise as he observed the regal Queen perched inside.

“Dear,” the Doctor said to Rose, playing the part of loving husband, “might I introduce Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, and Defender of the Faith.”

Rose quirked an eyebrow at the endearment but didn’t dare comment in front of the Queen. “Rose Noble, ma’am. And my apologies... for bein’ so naked.”

The Queen’s mouth turned into a tiny smile. “I’ve had five daughters. It’s nothing to me.” She turned her head to Rose’s “husband” with a stern expression. “But you, Doctor, show me these credentials.”

The Doctor offered the Queen the psychic paper.

“Why didn’t you say so immediately?” she said after a brief glance. “It states clearly here that you have been appointed by the Lord Provost as my protector.”

“Oh, does it?” The Doctor was slightly puzzled as he retrieved the paper from Her Majesty. “Yes, of course it does. Um, then might I ask, why is Your Majesty travelin’ by road when there’s a train all the way to Aberdeen?”

A solemn frown formed on her face. “A tree fell on the line.”

“An accident?” the Doctor mused.

“I am the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Everything around me tends to be planned.”

“Do you think it was an assassination attempt?”

“What, seriously?” Rose chimed in. “There’s people out to kill ya?”

“I’m quite used to staring down the barrel of a gun,” the Queen insisted with a raised chin, refusing to be scared of the attempt on her life.

“Sir Robert MacLeish lives but ten miles hence,” said Captain Reynolds as he trotted over on his horse. “We’ve sent word ahead. He’ll shelter us for tonight, then we can reach Balmoral tomorrow.”

The Queen waved a hand at the pair of strangers. “This Doctor and his wife will come with us.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the Captain obliged. “We’d better get moving. It’s almost nightfall.”

“Indeed, and there are stories of wolves in these parts.” Her Majesty’s eyes widen in excitement. “Fanciful tales, intended to scare the children. But good for the blood, I think.” She turned her attention to the front of the carriage. “Drive on!”

The entire procession began to move at her command, and the Doctor held his elbow out for Rose to take once again.

“Wife?” Rose asked quietly through a tight smile.

He ducked his head to reply without drawing attention. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for the psychic paper to say that. Just play along.”

“Yes… Dear.” Rose smirked and bumped his shoulder.

“Oh, hush,” he admonished with a smile. “We just met Queen Victoria!”

“I know!” She laughed and squeezed his arm. “She was just sittin’ there! I want her to say, ‘We are not amused.’ I bet you five quid I can make her say it.”

The Doctor scoffed. “If I took that bet I’d be abusin’ my power as a time traveler.”

“Ten quid?”

“You’re on, sweetheart.”

Rose sucked in a breath at the term of endearment as it had been John’s favorite for her. She glanced at the Doctor out of the corner of her eye; he didn’t appear to have realized what he had said. He also seemed nonplussed to be married. Fine. If he was unaffected by pretending to be married, then so was she. Rose settled closer into his side as they walked behind the carriage. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t want to play along with this particular ruse.

Sweetheart?! The Doctor scolded himself. It was hard enough to appear as though he was unruffled by the fake marriage. He was secretly giddy to have heard “The Doctor and Mrs.” in reference to the pair of them. But he shouldn’t be. This was a dangerous game. He snuck a peek at Rose as she cuddled closer to him, but she didn’t appear to care that he had used John’s pet name. He pulled her even closer into his side with a smile. They had to keep up appearances, after all.

The Royal procession arrived at the courtyard of a grand estate. Rose observed the beautiful, granite edifice and noticed a huge telescope jutting out from the highest floor. It was surrounded by glass windows and spanned across the majority of the home’s roof.

Rose pulled on the Doctor’s sleeve to get his attention and pointed at the device. “Sweetums? Are telescopes usually that big?”

Sweetums?” he muttered with a cocked eyebrow. “Am I gettin’ a pet name every time you talk to me now?”

“You made me your wife. I’m just playin’ the part,” she whispered back and stuck her tongue between her teeth in a teasing smile.

The Doctor playfully rolled his eyes and brought his voice back to full volume. “Why yes, honey, some telescopes can be that large. I’ve got a pretty massive one, meself.”

Rose’s eyes widen, and she looked away from him as a deep blush spread across her face. He wrinkled his brow, confused by her reaction, before he suddenly realized exactly what he had said. His own eyes bulged out of their sockets, and the Doctor rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat awkwardly. What was with him today? Had he turned back into John overnight?

After all of the officers were standing in formation, the driver opened the carriage door and offered his hand to the Queen to assist her exit. She smiled politely and gathered her skirts, eager to greet the master of the estate.

Sir Robert walked out of the front entryway, flanked by three bald and grim-faced butlers. “Your Majesty,” he greeted and bowed respectively.

Queen Victoria nodded her head. “Sir Robert. My apologies for the emergency. How is the Lady Isobel?”

“She’s indisposed, I’m afraid,” he apologized with a worried look on his face. “She’s gone to Edinburgh for the season, and she’s taken the cook with her. The kitchens are barely stocked. I wouldn’t blame Your Majesty if you wanted to ride on.” Sir Robert finished his explanations with a nervous laugh.

“Not at all. I’ve had quite enough carriage exercise, and this is… charming, if rustic. It’s my first visit to this house. My late husband spoke of it often, the Torchwood Estate.” The Queen smiled politely and held her head higher. “Now, shall we go inside? And please excuse the naked girl.”

“Sorry.” Rose smiled and tried to pull her skirt down.

“You’ll have to excuse my wife, Sir Robert.” The Doctor wrapped an arm around Rose’s shoulders. “We were conductin’ research in the highlands, and she tore her skirts on some rocks. She’s a bit clumsy but cooks a mean shepherd’s pie… when she remembers to add the meat.”

Rose narrowed her eyes slightly and plastered a sweet smile on her face as she addressed the Queen. “My husband thinks he’s funny, but I’m so not amused. What do you think, ma’am?”

“It hardly matters.” The Queen smiled indulgently at Rose before turning to Sir Robert. “Shall we proceed?”

Sir Robert nodded his head and escorted Her Majesty inside the estate. Rose and the Doctor waited in the courtyard as the Royal procession passed by them.

“Damn. So close,” Rose muttered and glanced the Doctor. “Your poor, clumsy wife can’t cook?”

The Doctor chuckled quietly. “I’ve seen you try and make toast.”

Captain Reynolds pointed to two of his soldiers. “Mackeson and Ramsay, you will escort the property, “ he commanded. “Hurry up.”

“Yes sir!” both soldiers obeyed and one of the men pulled a small, wooden chest from the carriage.

“What’s that?” the Doctor asked Reynolds, pointing at the chest.

“Property of the Crown. You will dismiss any further thoughts, sir,” the Captain scolded. “The rest of you, go to the rear of the house. Assume the designated positions.”

“You heard the orders!” shouted one of the soldiers, and the men quickly dispersed to guard the estate.

The Doctor turned to Rose and held out his arm. “Shall we, dear?”

“Yes, we shall, teddy bear.” She smiled and threaded her hand through his elbow.

He grimaced and led her into the house. “ Teddy bear? Do I look warm and fuzzy?”

Rose laughed. “I’ve got plenty more where that came from, pumpkin.”

The Doctor sputtered and fixed her with a mock glare. “Fine, pookie.”

“Oh, I’ll get you back for that one.” She scrunched her nose up at the nauseating nickname.

“I’d like to see you try.”

“You’re so gonna regret sayin’ that.” Rose quirked her eyebrow at him in a silent challenge and let go of his arm to follow the Queen, Sir Robert, and the three butlers up the grand staircase of the massive house.

The Doctor climbed the steps behind Rose, trying and failing to ignore her stockings, and internally berated himself for the thousandth time. He was acting just like John, as if he had never stopped being the mechanic. He was a Time Lord, for gods sake! There should be no reason he couldn’t stop himself from partaking in a bit of flirting. Dangerous flirting… flirting that had used to lead to public snogging.

Before the Doctor could ponder his unwise behavior further, the small group arrived at the top floor of the estate that housed the observatory. The telescope that Rose had noticed in the courtyard dominated the cavernous room, and he immediately realized that it was unlike any other stargazing equipment he had seen before.

“This I take it, is the famous endeavor?” the Queen asked, stepping gracefully into the room and eyeing the large device.

“All my father’s work. Built by hand in his final years,” Sir Robert stated proudly. “It became something of an obsession. He spent his money on this, rather than caring for the house for himself.”

“A star-crazed man.” The Doctor chuckled and directed a smile at Rose. “Sounds familiar. Mind if I take a look?”

“Help yourself,” Sir Robert said with a sweeping gesture towards the equipment.

Rose bounced over to the telescope with the Doctor, just as eager to inspect the workmanship as he was.

“Do you know if he modeled it after anythin’?” the Doctor asked, glancing up at the long column of metal peeking out of the roof.

Robert shook his head. “I know nothing about it. To be honest, most of us thought him a little, shall we say, eccentric.”

A tiny snort of laughter escaped Rose’s lips, and the Doctor gave her an impish grin. She caught her tongue between her teeth and circled the telescope along with him, touching random protuberances that intrigued her.

“I wish now I spent more time with him and listened to his stories.” Robert frowned and fiddled with the lapels of his jacket.

The Doctor crouched down to look into the eyepiece. “It’s got way too many prisms. Bit rubbish, that.”

Rose discreetly kicked his boot and whispered, “Rude.”

“Right, sorry.” The Doctor stood and faced Robert. “It’s… pretty.”

“And the imagination of it should be applauded,” the Queen declared as she walked closer.

“Hmm, I thought you might disapprove, Your Majesty,” Rose said, seeing an opportunity to win her bet. “Stargazin’ — isn’t that a bit fanciful? You could easily not be amused or somethin’. No?” She bit her lip to keep from laughing as the Doctor rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“This device surveys the infinite work of God. What could be finer?” Much to Rose’s chagrin, the Queen had an indifferent look on her face. “Sir Robert’s father was an example to us all, a polymath, steeped in astronomy and the sciences — yet equally well-versed in folklore and fairytales.”

“Listen to Her Majesty, honeybunch, she is wise beyond her years.” The Doctor grinned at Rose, who scowled and jabbed him lightly in the ribs. “Your father sounds like an interestin’ man, Sir Robert.”

“Oh, my late husband enjoyed his company,” Queen Victoria reminisced, gazing at the telescope with a smile. “Prince Albert himself was acquainted with many rural superstitions, coming as he did from Saxe-Coburg.”

“That’s Bavaria,” the Doctor whispered to Rose, tickling her ear. She nodded and listened to the Queen's anecdote.

Her Majesty turned to address Sir Robert. “When Albert was told about your local wolf, he was transported.”

Rose started growing uneasy with all the mentions of this wolf, having been haunted by visual phrases linked to the animal for months. “What wolf?” she asked.

“It’s just a story.” Sir Robert fidgeted slightly.

“Then tell it.” The Doctor leaned on a nearby window, eager to hear the tale.

Sir Robert glanced around the room and cleared his throat. “It’s said that—”

“Excuse me, sir,” interrupted one of the butlers. “Her Majesty’s party should repair to their rooms. It’s almost dark.”

“Of course.” Sir Robert nodded and smiled nervously. “Yes, of course.”

“And then supper,” the Queen cheerily suggested. “And could we find some clothes for Mrs. Noble? I’m tired of her nakedness.”

“It’s not amusin’, is it?” Rose said with a bit of force, trying in vain to make the monarch speak her famous phrase.

Queen Victoria ignored Rose's provocation and turned to the master of the estate. “Sir Robert, your wife must have left some clothes. See to it. We shall dine at seven and talk some more of this wolf.” She grinned with a twinkle in her eye. “After all, there is a full moon tonight.”

“So there is ma’am,” Sir Robert agreed, looking rather dismayed over the prospect of relaying the tale of local folklore.

The Doctor eyed the man carefully. Sir Robert appeared reluctant to accommodate Her Majesty for the evening; most loyal subjects would be thrilled at the chance to impress the great Queen. And why hadn't the head of the household reprimanded his butler for rudely interrupting a conversation with the monarch?

The small party followed Her Majesty into the hallway where Captain Reynolds was waiting. He bowed deeply at the Queen before addressing the Doctor. “Shall I have one of my soldiers escort your wife to Lady Isobel’s quarters? She can prepare for supper while we gather in the drawing room.”

“Yes, of course.” The Doctor turned to Rose with a mischievous grin. “I will await your company with bated breath, schmoopy.”

Rose narrowed her eyes and stifled a laugh. He was cheating, using a term he had heard on “Seinfeld.” She smiled sweetly and gave him a teeny curtsy. “I shall not delay, babycakes.”

The look of utter bewilderment on the soldiers’ faces forced Rose to pressed her lips tightly together to contain her giggles. They were most likely defying proper etiquette in Victorian era Great Britain, but the Doctor didn’t care much for following decorum. One of the soldiers stepped forward to offer his arm and Rose accepted with a smile, allowing herself to be escorted down the corridor.

The Queen raised a delicate eyebrow at the Doctor. “You two have rather… peculiar names for one another. Although, I suppose my late husband was guilty of the same frivolity. He used to call me Drina. It’s a rather unconventional way to demonstrate your love, is it not?”

“Um…” The Doctor cleared his throat. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

Not willing to comment further on the matter, the Doctor followed Sir Robert to the drawing room to wait for the Queen and Rose. The monarch retired briefly to her own quarters to freshen up before the meal. The Doctor was curious to hear the local legend of this wolf that Sir Robert and Her Majesty kept mentioning. Whatever the story contained, it certainly had the master of the estate on edge.

~*~

The Redcoat soldier opened a heavy, oak door and gestured for Rose to enter the Lady Isobel’s room. “I’ll be stationed down the hall, Mrs. Noble. When you are finished readying yourself, I shall escort you to the dining room for supper.”

“Thanks. Sorry, what’s your name?” Rose asked.

“McMillan, ma’am. Angus McMillan.”

“Thank you, Angus. I’m sure I won’t be long.” Rose smiled and crossed the threshold, closing the door behind her.

A tall, ornately carved armoire immediately caught her attention, and she crossed the bedroom to peruse the Lady’s selection of dresses. Rose liked dressing up for their adventures in period clothing, which she hardly had the chance to do, so she was looking forward to pretending to be a proper nineteenth-century lady for the evening.

Her mind decided to wander to the last time she had dressed in Victorian clothing — it was the first time the Doctor had ever complimented her beauty. Of course, he rebuked his own remark by saying, “Considerin’ your human,” but she still blushed when she thought of the way his eyes had traveled over her tightly cinched corset. How would he look at her tonight when she showed up downstairs in full dress again?

Rose shook the thought from her head and pulled out a blue, velvet dress to hold up to her body in front of the nearby mirror. She laughed and twirled around on the spot; it was the exact same shade as the Tardis. Her “husband” might like the fact that she matched his beloved ship.

With a smile, Rose placed the garment on the bed and tried to think of a pet name to call him at dinner. She was enjoying their little game far too much, but the Doctor seemed to be having fun with it as well. Perhaps it meant he would be ready at some point to continue their relationship; he had resumed John’s flirting habit, after all.

Deciding she needed some underthings for such an elaborate dress, Rose crossed the room to another armoire and stifled a scream when she opened the door.

There was a frightened maid inside, breathing heavily from being startled as well.

“Who are you?” Rose clutched her chest in surprise. “Why are you hidin’ in there?”

“Are you one of them?” the maid asked, eyes wide in fear.

“One of who?” Rose furrowed a brow and held out her hand. “C’mon out of there, I won’t bite.”

The woman looked uncertainly from the blonde’s hand to her face and gingerly placed her hand in Rose’s to be helped out of the wardrobe.

“My name’s Rose. C’mere, you’re shakin’.” Rose led the trembling woman to the bed and sat with her on the mattress. “What’s wrong?”

“Those bald men, they’ve taken over the estate.” The maid gulped and clutched Rose’s fingers tighter. “They came through the house in silence. They took the steward, and the master, and my lady.”

Rose recalled that Sir Robert’s butlers were bald. She wasn’t sure why they had seized control of the house, but she needed the poor woman to calm down so she could find out and help. “Listen, I’ve got a friend. He’s called the Doctor. He can help you, but you’ve got to come with me.”

“Oh, but I can’t, Miss.” The Maid shook her head vigorously and scurried further back on the mattress.

With a gentle smile, Rose patted the top of her hand. “What’s your name?”

“F-flora,” she stuttered.

“Flora, we’ll be safe,” Rose insisted, attempting to quell the maid’s fears. “There’s more people downstairs, soldiers and everythin’. They can help us. I promise.” She pulled gently on one of Flora’s hands. “C’mon, okay?”

Finally, Flora slackened her tight muscles and cautiously followed Rose out of the bedroom. Rose stopped at the door and peered down the hall in both directions, making sure the strange bald butlers were nowhere in sight. With a reassuring smile, Rose took Flora’s hand and led her down the corridor.

As they turned the first corner, her grin fell. Angus, the kind man who had led her to the Lady Isobel’s room, was lying motionless on the wooden floorboards.

Flora gasped. “Oh, Miss! I did warn you!”

Rose fell to her knees next to the soldier and checked for a pulse. She took a breath of relief when she felt a reassuring beat against her fingertip. “He’s not dead. He must be drugged or somethin’.” She checked him over, looking for any signs of an injury.

Behind her, Flora suddenly screamed. Rose snapped her head up and was met with the angry faces of the bald butlers. One of the men had lifted Flora off her feet and was hauling her forcefully away down a dim corridor. Before Rose could scream in outrage, another man slapped his hand over her mouth and yanked her away into the dark.

~*~

Downstairs, the Doctor was pacing restlessly around the drawing room. How long did it take Rose to change her outfit?

A throat cleared at the other end of the room and the Doctor turned, expecting to see Rose, only to be met with the face of the Queen instead. Sir Robert and Captain Reynold immediately rose from their relaxed positions on the sofa and bowed respectfully towards Her Majesty.

“Shall we dine, ma’am?” Sir Roberts asked, offering his elbow to guide her into the dining room.

The Queen smiled and placed her hand on Sir Robert’s arm. “Yes, I find that I am quite famished from my long day cloistered away in a carriage.”

“Oi! Isn’t it polite to wait for Rose first?” The Doctor angrily folded his arms across his chest. He was starting to get an uneasy feeling and wanted Rose back beside him as soon as possible.

Captain Reynolds scowled at the man’s poor manners. “I think Her Majesty’s discomfort takes precedence over your naked wife’s absence. She can join us in the dining room when she has finished dressing appropriately.”

Finding himself outnumbered, the Doctor glowered at the men as he followed them into the dining room. He managed to wait for Her Majesty to lower herself into a chair before plopping himself down in the nearest seat. He tapped a finger impatiently against the tablecloth, glancing frequently at the door for a sign of Rose.

“You must not be accustomed to separation from your wife, Doctor. I’d hate to imagine the disturbance you’ll cause when you are forced away from her during childbirth.” The Queen looked at him disapprovingly before taking a dainty sip from her glass of wine.

The Doctor sputtered, “Ch-childbirth? She’s not… What?”

“You are on your honeymoon, are you not? Surely a child will be produced shortly.”

Speechless, the Doctor grabbed his own goblet of wine and took a large gulp.

Thankfully, one of the butlers entered from a side door, interrupting the current conversation. “Your wife begs an apology, Doctor. Her clothing has somewhat delayed her.” The butler smiled tightly and began to serve slices of ham to the Queen.

The Doctor narrowed his eyes at the man. Something seemed off about him, but he had no proof to be suspicious yet. “She must want to look her best for Her Majesty.”

“I daresay her skirts shall be safe in this room, as we are indoors and away from the many troublesome rocks of the wide, open field where you had been frolicking.” Queen Victoria smirked and smoothly cut into her ham.

Captain Reynolds barked out a laugh. “Very wise ma’am. Very witty.”

“Slightly witty, perhaps,” the Queen chastised. “I know you rarely get the chance to dine with me, Captain, but don’t get too excited. I shall contain my wit in case I do you further injury.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am,” Reynolds apologized, bowing his head slightly in embarrassment.

The Doctor scowled, annoyed by the implication that Rose’s skirts had been torn by him and not a rock. Eager to move the conversation away from his “wife”, he turned his attention to the master of the house. “So, Sir Robert, I’m still waitin’ to hear about this wolf. Is it a tale of nightmares?”

“Indeed,” Queen Victoria chimed in. “Since my husband’s death, I find myself with more of a taste for supernatural fiction.” Her face fell slightly as she mentioned her husband once again.

“You must miss him,” the Doctor said.

“Very much.” The Queen frowned deeply. “Oh, completely. And that’s the charm of a ghost story, isn’t it? Not the scares and chills, that’s just for children. But the hope of some contact with the great beyond. We all want some message from that place. It’s the Creator’s greatest mystery that we’re allowed no such consultation.” She paused and took a steadying breath. “The dead stay silent… and we must wait.”

The Doctor swallowed heavily and stared, unseeing, at the tablecloth in front of him. He didn’t enjoy hearing theories about death — he had seen enough of it to last him several lifetimes — but he also loathed the reminder that Rose had a ticking timebomb of mortality. Here he was, devil may care, flirting with her all afternoon, forgetting that she would be departing from this world far sooner than he would want. If he didn’t let her go soon, he would have to watch as she withered away before his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

The Queen shook her head clear of maudlin thoughts and smiled at Sir Robert. “Come, begin your tale, Sir Robert. There’s a chill in the air. The wind is howling through the eaves. Tell us of monsters.”

~*~

Rose kicked and struggled throughout the house as the bald man dragged her down the many stairs and corridors. He clamped his hand tighter over her mouth and shushed her.

“Quiet. Continue making a ruckus and he will devour you,” the man sneered.

Rose glared ineffectively and stopped resisting him. She had been battling him with every ounce of strength she could muster, but the man was too strong for her to overpower. She focused on her surroundings instead, mapping out the house for her escape.

They rounded a few more corners until one of the men opened a door to a filthy, foul-smelling cellar. Rose shivered when the chillier air of the shadowy chamber hit her skin. There were several other people already in the room, all of them shackled to the wall and cowering in fear. The most peculiar thing of all was a large cage resting in the corner — it contained a meek looking man, shrouded in a dark cape.

The bald men dumped Rose and Flora unceremoniously onto the ground and secured their wrists in heavy, iron cuffs like the rest of the prisoners. With an ominous finger held up to his lips, Rose’s kidnapper gave her a chilly smile before departing the room with the other strange men.

What on Earth is goin’ on in this house?! Rose bit her lip and tested the strength of the chain fastening her to the wall. She hoped the Doctor had already figured out this mystery and was on his way to rescue them.

Rose turned to the woman sitting next to her and opened her mouth to speak.

“Shh!” An elegantly dressed lady shushed her and spoke in a whisper, “Don’t make a sound. They said if we scream or shout, then he will slaughter us.”

From her fine jewelry and posh accent, Rose assumed this was the Lady Isobel. “But he’s in a cage,” she whispered. “He’s a prisoner, same as us.”

“He’s nothing like us.” Lady Isobel’s chin quivered. “That creature is not mortal.”

The man in the cage slowly raised his head and popped open his eyes. All of the other prisoners gasped and scurried further back against the wall. Even from this distance in the dim light, Rose could tell that his irises were unnaturally large and pitch-black.

~*~

In the dining room, Sir Robert began his tale. “The story goes back three hundred years. Every full moon, the howling rings through the valley. Next morning, livestock is found ripped apart and devoured.”

Captain Reynolds scoffed. “Oh, tales like this just disguise the work of thieves. Steal the sheep, and blame a wolf. Simple as that.”

“But sometimes a child goes missing,” Sir Robert stated forcefully. “Once in a generation, a boy will vanish from his homestead.”

The Doctor’s eyebrows crinkled deeply. He was beginning to get a suspicious feeling that he knew exactly what kind of wolf this tale contained.

~*~

Putting on a brave face, Rose stood and met the stare of the creature across the room. She would be willing to bet her ten quid gamble with the Doctor that the intimidating man was actually some kind of alien.

“Don’t child,” Lady Isobel whimpered.

Rose ignored her and carefully walked as close to the cage as her chains allowed. “Who are you?” she gently asked.

“Don’t enrage him!” hissed a man from behind, scared that this foolish blonde was going to get them all killed.

“Where are you from?” Rose crouched down on her knees to look the brute in the eye. “You’re not from Earth. What planet are you from?”

“Ohhh… intelligence,” the caged man mocked her with a cold smile, sitting unnaturally still.

“Where were you born?”

“This body? Ten miles away. A weakling, heartsick boy stolen away at night by the Brethren for my cultivation.” He dragged the last word out seductively before deepening his voice. “I carved out his soul and sat in his heart.”

~*~

The Doctor rested his forearms on the table and addressed Sir Robert, “Do you have a description of this supposed wolf?”

“Oh, yes, Doctor.” Robert nodded adamantly. “Drawings and wood carvings. And it’s not merely a wolf, it’s more than that.” He took a deep breath before he continued. “This is a man who becomes an animal.”

The Doctor smiled dismissively and sat back in his chair. “Ah, I see. You think you have a werewolf.”

~*~

Down in the cellar, Rose took a steadying breath before she spoke to the unnerving alien again. “All right, so the body’s human. But what about you? The thing inside?”

“Oh, so far from home,” the man bemoaned, adding a fake quiver to his voice.

“If you want to get back home, we can help,” she quickly offered. If all the man wanted was to be returned to his native planet, the Doctor could easily acquiesce his request.

“Why would I leave this place?” The man looked puzzled but still didn’t move a muscle. “A world of industry, of workforce and warfare. I could turn it to such purpose.” His eyes widened in glee as he pondered a world under his control.

“How would you do that?” Rose asked, scared to know what the alien was planning. She had yet to run into any extraterrestrials who didn’t want to rain destruction on her home planet.

“I would migrate to the Holy Monarch,” he purred.

Rose’s stomach plummeted in dread. “You mean Queen Victoria?

“With one bite, I would pass into her blood. And then it begins, the Empire of the Wolf.” He tilted his head, piercing Rose with a curious expression. “So many questions…”

Suddenly, the man flung himself at the bars of the cage. The metal rattled and the prisoners screamed, frightened that the alien was about to escape and devour them. Even Rose jumped and put some distance between herself and the bloodthirsty alien.

With even wider, coal-black eyes, the hooded man stared madly at Rose. “Look! Inside your eyes. You’ve seen it, too,” he spat in a rapid-fire frenzy.

“Seen what?” Rose’s heart began to pound in confusion and increasing fear.

“The wolf! There is something of the wolf about you!” he growled.

A sudden flash of gold obscured Rose’s eyesight and a seductive singing whispered across her mind. She saw herself, standing in a halo of light. I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself…

As quickly as it had arrived, the vision flitted out of her mind. Overwhelmed, Rose shook her head and blinked rapidly, but she didn’t have time to ponder the strange hallucination further. She took a deep breath and returned her attention to the crazed man in the cage.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

He bared his teeth and snarled, “Oh, you burn like the sun, but all I require is the moon.”

~*~

Sir Robert balked at the Doctor’s condescending tone. “My father didn’t treat it as a story. He said it was fact. He even claimed to have communed with the beast, to have learned its purpose.” A distressed expression crossed his features and he shook his head. “I should have listened.”

One of the bald butlers suddenly raised his head and walked calmly over to the window. The Doctor watched him in confusion as Sir Robert ducked his head to speak to him more quietly.

“His work was hindered,” Robert whispered fervently. “He made enemies. There’s a monastery in the Glen of St. Catherine. The Brethren opposed my father’s investigations.”

With increasing trepidation, the Doctor scrutinized the man, whom he now knew to be a monk, swaying lightly in front of the moonlit window. The Doctor’s eyebrows rose in alarm as the man began to chant.

Ignorant of the monk’s peculiar behavior, the Queen commented, “Perhaps they thought his work ungodly.”

“That’s what I thought, but now I wonder.” Robert glanced fearfully at the monk by the window. “What if they had a different reason for wanting the story kept quiet? What if they turned from God and worshipped the wolf?

The Doctor shot to his feet as the monk began chanting louder in Latin. He had no more patience left. It was time to find out exactly what was going on in this house. “And they’re with us right now, aren’t they?”

~*~

Moonlight streamed into the cellar as the clouds in the night parted, allowing the luminous rays to pierce through the cage. The hooded man turned his head to the light and smiled seductively.

“Moonlight,” he crooned in an intoxicated voice.

With a feral grin, he pulled his hood back and peeled the cloak away from his pale, scrawny body. Rose squeezed her clammy palms and swallowed forcefully. Whatever this mad alien had planned, he was putting it into action right now. She braced herself and forced her shaking limbs to relax; she needed to keep her head on and not panic.

Wind whipped across the stone floor, scattering bits of hay into the air. The alien rose in the confined space of his cage and grinned menacingly in their direction.

It was time for Rose to take charge. She was not dying in a stinky storeroom in nineteenth-century Scotland.

“All of ya, stop lookin’ at him!” She turned to the trembling maid beside her. “Flora, don’t look, listen to me. Grab hold of the chain and pull. C’mon, pull!” She shouted and stood, grabbing the chain and tugging it forcefully.

No one had gotten up. They were all frozen in fear on the ground.

“I said pull!” Rose yelled frantically. “Stop your whinin’ and listen to me! All of yas! And that means you, your Ladyship. Now c’mon! PULL!”

Snapping out of her stupor, the Lady of the house got to her feet. All of the prisoners gripped a piece of the chain and followed Rose’s orders, pulling frantically at the chain that bound them.

~*~

As the monk continued to chant louder, the dinner party got to their feet in confusion.

“What is the meaning of this?” the Queen commanded. “Explain yourself, sir!”

Sir Robert looked at the monarch with an apologetic frown. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. They’ve got my wife.”

The Doctor’s hearts skipped a beat upon hearing that someone had been kidnapped. He stormed over to the pathetic, bald monk and towered over him. “Where’s Rose? Where is she? Where have you taken her?!” he bellowed.

The monk ignored him and recited his Latin phrase even louder.

With an impatient growl, the Doctor whirled around. “Sir Robert! C’mon!”

He fled the room, hoping Robert had followed, in search of Rose. If anything had happened to a hair on her head, the master of the manor had some explaining to do.

~*~

In the moonlit cellar, the alien screamed and writhed in pain. Bone snapped and crunched in a sickening tone, contorting and twisting the skin underneath as the skeletal structure shifted. Rose watched in horror as the man’s limbs bent in alarming angles, and he shrieked even louder in agony.

The snout of the creature lengthened and pointed teeth emerged from the new jawbone. Formally high-pitched wails turned into deep, throaty howls. His ears grew longer and dark, bristly fur erupted across his pale flesh. The creature snarled and snapped its jaw at the prisoners, eager to finish its transformation and claim its supper. It locked eyes with Rose as it frothed at the mouth.

Rose forced her gaze away from the massive beast, heart pounding so hard she feared it may fly straight out of her chest. She shouted and encouraged everyone to keep pulling at the chain. They had to get out of this cellar before they all became wolf food.

And that’s exactly what the alien had turned into — a large, hulking, ravenous wolf.

Where was the Doctor?

Chapter Text

Previously…

Rose forced her gaze away from the massive beast, heart pounding so hard she feared it may fly straight out of her chest. She shouted and encouraged everyone to keep pulling at the chain. They had to get out of that cellar before they all became wolf food.

And that’s exactly what the alien had turned into — a large, hulking, ravenous wolf.

Where was the Doctor?

~*~

Rose gritted her teeth and pulled harder on the chain, counting and encouraging the others to tug with all their might. “One, two, three, pull!” she shouted.

The wolf kept growing and morphing into a more menacing form, pressing into the metal bars as it threatened to burst out of the cage. It pawed the ground and gathered strength, using the moonlight to finish its transformation.

Desperate to escape before she became lupine chow, Rose bellowed at the top of her lungs, “One, two, three, PULL!”

On the final count, the chain broke free from the wall, and everyone fell from the sudden release of tension. They panicked as the wolf snarled and snapped its jaws, eager for a meal. Rose scrambled to her feet, quickly assisting others in pulling their bindings from their wrists.

A loud, frantic pounding resounded on the wooden door to their right. Rose looked up just in time to see the Doctor kicking the door down and tumbling into the room. He quickly spotted her and smiled in relief.

Rose was not feeling very relieved at the moment. “Where the hell have you been?!”

“Thank you for rescuin’ me, Doctor. Oh, no problem, Rose, anytime,” the Doctor grumbled.

Rose rolled her eyes and continued helping everyone remove their handcuffs. The wolf growled and pounded harder on the bars of the cage, and the metal finally caved and started to burst open.

Whirling around at the commotion, the Doctor’s eyes bulged out of their sockets to see an actual wolf in the room. “Oh, that’s just… just… fantastic!”

He smiled briefly as he observed a completely new creature, but his grin quickly faded as the large animal exploded from its confines and stood to its full height.

“Isobel!” Sir Robert shouted frantically, locating his wife.

Robert’s cries ripped the Doctor’s gaze from the towering lupine form and he searched for Rose in the melee of escaping bodies.

“Out, everyone out!” he shouted and ushered everyone out of the door. “Rose, where are you?!”

A split-second of panic seized his chest before the Doctor felt Rose's hand in his, and he tugged her hastily out of the room. He slammed the door shut and soniced the lock on the knob, hoping it would delay the creature while they escaped.

“What have I told you about wanderin’ off?” the Doctor scolded, taking her hand again and running down the hallway.

“Wanderin’?! Did it look like I was havin’ a tea party in there!” Rose snapped but gripped his hand tighter when the wolf let out a long, ear-piercing howl.

They followed the sound of frantic feet pounding down the corridors until they arrived at the home’s armory. The Steward rapidly emptied the contents of the gun cupboard, arming the men against the beast.

“Lady Isobel!” the Steward shouted. “Take the girls. Get them out through the kitchen.”

Isobel panicked and took Sir Robert’s hand. “I can’t leave you. What will you do?”

“I must defend Her Majesty. Now, go,” Sir Robert pleaded. “Don’t think of me. Just go!”

Lady Isobel grabbed Robert’s face and placed a desperate kiss on his lips. She promptly turned to the ladies in the room. “All of you at my side! Come on!”

The Doctor watched Isobel lead the frightened women out of the room and turned to Rose. Her cuffs were still on her wrists, having assisted everyone else but herself. He swiftly used the sonic to free her and rubbed away the dirt that had caked on her delicate skin.

“I refuse to believe that’s an actual werewolf,” the Doctor said, frowning at the bruises forming over her wrist bones. “Could be any form of light modulated species triggered by specific wavelengths. Did it say what it wanted?”

Rose stared, distracted, as his hands gently removed the bits of hay that had stuck to the sweat on her skin. “Yeah, the Queen, the crown, the throne — you name it,” she said.

A loud crash came from the hallway, and Rose yelped, startled by the sound of splintering wood. Everyone in the room froze. The Doctor narrowed his eyes and strode out of the room to peer down the dark corridor.

The wolf had burst free from the locked door and stood at the far end of the hall. Its towering form brushed the top of the ceiling, and it panted heavily in anticipation. Sniffing the air, it spotted the Doctor in the dim light, snapped its jaws, and began to run.

The Doctor spun around quickly and cursed when he saw that Rose had followed him to the hallway. He grabbed her hand and shouted, “Run!”

They ran toward the group of men and took cover behind the line of guns. Rose took in deep gulps of breaths as the Doctor wrapped an arm around her waist and secured her to his side. She clutched the hand laying on her stomach and eyed the doorway with trepidation, waiting for the wolf to charge through.

After only a few seconds, the wolf rushed through the door.

“Fire! Fire!” the Steward bellowed at the men.

Rose flinched at the cacophonous volley of gunfire and shrunk back into the Doctor’s chest. He gripped her tighter and remained frozen on the spot, silently observing the chaos around them. The Wolf wailed and cowered amid the deadly fire before running out of the room.

The Doctor took a brief breath of relief. “Alright, everyone needs to retreat upstairs. Come with me!” He removed his arm from Rose and took her hand, intending to guide her and the rest of the group to safety.

“I’ll not retreat. The battle’s done.” the Steward asserted. “There's no creature on God's Earth that could survive such an assault.” He retreated to the hallway to collect the wolf’s body.

The Doctor dropped Rose’s hand and followed after the foolish man. “Well, unlucky for you, that creature is not of this Earth! I’ll tellin’ you, come upstairs!”

With a scowl, the stubborn Steward turned around to face the Doctor. “And I’m telling you, sir, I will sleep well tonight with that thing’s hide upon my wall!”

Before anyone could stop him, the Steward rushed out to the doorway and looked down the empty hallway. He turned to the group with a victorious grin. “It must have crawled away to di—!”

The man’s triumph was short-lived as a paw broke through the ceiling above him. Sharp claws pierced his shoulder and hauled him up through the floorboards screaming. A sickening sound of teeth hitting bone and flesh reached their ears, and the man’s wails died with him.

The Doctor stared in horror at the hole the Steward had been pulled through. Having finished killing the man, the wolf howled again, and he sprang into action.

“There’s nothin’ we can do!” He grabbed Rose once more and frantically pushed her out of the room to safety. “C’mon!”

They heard the sound of more gunfire and shouting as they escaped down the maze of corridors. Rose fervently hoped the men weren’t stupid enough to stick around for long. The Doctor yanked on her hand when she started slowing down, and she forced herself to keep up with his frantic pace.

They bumped into Sir Robert at the foot of the stairwell by the home’s front door.

“Have you seen Her Majesty?” Robert asked in a rush.

Rose shook her head. “No.”

Panicking, Robert flew to the staircase. “Your Majesty! Your Majesty!”

“Sir Robert!” the Queen exclaimed as she quickly descended the stairs alone. “What’s happening? I heard such terrible noises!”

The Doctor ignored the old woman’s plight and rushed forward to check the front door, pulling Rose along with him.

“Your Majesty, we’ve got to get out.” Sir Robert held his hand out to assist her down the steps. “But what of Father Angelo? Is he still here?”

Queen Victoria frowned and averted her gaze. “Captain Reynolds disposed of him.”

Having checked the door and found it locked, the Doctor hurried back with Rose in tow to the monarch and the master of the house. “The front door’s been locked. We’ll have to climb out the window.”

He gestured to the closest window in the drawing room, and Her Majesty raised her chin in determination as she strode towards the suggested exit. The Doctor threaded his fingers through Rose’s and pulled her along to the only escape.

Sir Robert hurried to cut her off before she reached the window. “Excuse my manners, ma’am, but I shall go first, the better to assist Her Majesty’s egress.”

The Queen nodded in thanks. “A noble sentiment, my Sir Walter Raleigh.”

The Doctor huffed and rolled his eyes. “Nevermind the danger. Can’t possibly be bothered to drop the decorum when your life is at stake. You mind hurryin’ up?” he stated forcefully.

Robert hurriedly climbed onto a table to open the window. As soon as he reached for the latch, gunfire hit the glass from the outside. He shouted in alarm and covered his head. Rose yelped, and the Doctor moved in front of her as a shield.

The Doctor ducked and pulled Rose down with him. He let go of her hand and cautiously peered out of the window. Outside in the courtyard, three monks dressed in red were reloading their weapons.

“I reckon the monkey boys want us to stay inside.” The Doctor frowned and tried to think of another way out of the house.

“Do they know who I am?!” the Queen cried in outrage.

“Yeah, that’s why they want you,” Rose said and the Queen looked at her in alarm. “The wolf’s lined you up for a bitin’.”

“Stop this talk!” the Queen scolded. “There can’t be an actual wolf—!”

Her Majesty’s protest died on her lips as the wolf let out a thunderous howl in the distance. Everyone shot to their feet and whirled around in alarm.

“Nope, no wolf, not at all,” the Doctor mocked the Queen, grabbing Rose’s hand once again as he rushed out into the stairwell.

The wolf snarled and pounded on a nearby door, perilously close to breaking through the wood.

Rose clutched his bicep as her chest heaved up and down. “What do we do?”

The Doctor swallowed heavily and met her concerned eyes. “We… run?”

“Is that it?”

“You got any silver bullets, dollface?” he snarked.

“No, sweetcheeks, not on me!” she snapped back.

“Then RUN!” The Doctor flew to the stairs with Rose in tow, followed by the Queen and Sir Robert.

As fast as they could, the panic-stricken group climbed the stairs. The Doctor jerked Rose around the corners as they rounded each new flight, forcing her to keep up with his relentless pace. He could hear her gasping for breath and wished he could slow down, but he could hear the lupine monster gaining on them as they ascended higher up into the house. He spared a brief thought for the Queen and Sir Robert, hoping they were keeping up with him.

As they finally reached the top flight, the Doctor turned his head briefly and panicked when he saw the wolf pounding along the wooden floorboards. It was nearly on them.

“C’mon, c’mon!” he shouted, forcing another burst of speed from his legs.

Captain Reynolds stood in front of them as they reached the end of the hallway. In a flurry of movement, Rose forced the Doctor to dive onto the floor as the wolf lunged at her from behind. A shot rang through the air as the Captain fired his weapon, and the giant beast yelped in pain, cowering away from them.

The Doctor rolled to a stop against the wall, cradling Rose protectively against his chest. “Alright?” he asked.

Rose nodded and they both stood, gasping for breath beside Her Majesty and Sir Robert.

Reynolds hastily began to reload his gun. “I’ll take this position and hold it. You keep moving, for God’s sake!” He quickly addressed the Queen, “Your Majesty, I went to look for the property and it was taken. The chest was empty.”

“I have it. It’s safe,” the Queen assured him through gulps of air.

The Captain smiled in relief. “Then remove yourself, ma’am. Doctor, you stand as Her Majesty’s protector.” He scowled at Robert. “And you, Sir Robert, you’re a traitor to the Crown.”

“Bullets aren’t workin’!” the Doctor asserted as the Captain turned to face the beast.

“They’ll buy you time. Now, run!” the Captain shouted and walked down the hall to stand as their defense.

The Doctor growled at the man but couldn’t stop him. He darted down the corridor to the library, skittered to halt in front of the door, and ushered Her Majesty and Sir Robert inside.

“C’mon, c’mon, in!” he shouted frantically.

As soon as the Queen was safely in the room, he darted in after her. He spun in a circle, looking for Rose. He panicked when he saw the foolish woman was still standing in the hallway, frozen to the spot as she watched the wolf gain on the Captain.

“Rose!” The Doctor ran to her, lifted her off her feet, and deposited her in the room.

A volley of gunfire resounded down the hallway before they heard the terrified screams of Captain Reynolds. The wolf snarled and tackled the man to the ground, crushing his windpipe with its powerful jaw.

“Barricade the door!” Sir Robert commanded.

They slammed the door shut and used any available item in the room to hold it closed. Hopefully, it would be enough against the force of the hungry beast.

The Doctor heard the wolf stalking down the hallway, detecting their scents in the air. “Shhh,” he whispered. “Wait.”

Everyone held their breath and fell silent. The wolf howled lowly before it came to a stop.

“It stopped.” The Doctor pressed his ear to the door.

On the other side, the wolf sniffed curiously. It stopped and snarled in annoyance before lumbering away from the library in defeat.

“Listen,” Rose said softly.

They heard the soft stomping of the wolf as it circled the room outside, looking for a way in. The Queen trembled as she listened to the predator stalking them.

The Doctor turned to Sir Robert. “Is this the only door?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Robert whispered back. “No!” He suddenly yelled and dashed across the room, having forgotten about the second door.

Sir Robert and the Doctor worked quickly to stack items against the other entrance before the wolf discovered it and burst through. The angry creature’s growls increased in volume briefly as it grew impatient. It panted and scratched ominously against the floorboards, desperately trying to get into the room. With a final huff, the sounds of claws and snarls dissipated as the wolf retreated down the hall.

With the danger gone, for now, the Doctor grabbed Rose and lifted her into a tight hug of relief. She wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him as her muscles shook from the adrenaline rush. He breathed her in before setting her down with a scowl.

“What were you thinkin’? You run from danger! You don’t stop to observe it!” He cradled her face his palms, angry that she had risked her life.

“S-sorry,” Rose stuttered and reached up to place her hands on his wrists.

The Doctor huffed a breath in frustration and placed a firm kiss on her forehead before letting her go.

Rose furrowed her brow. “I don’t understand, though. Why’s it stopped?”

“Must be somethin’ inside this room.” The Doctor frowned as he contemplated the wolf’s inability to break through a simple wooden door.

“Did I seriously just get nearly eatin’ by a werewolf?” Rose asked, interrupting his musings.

“It would appear so.”

“You take me to such wonderful places.”

“I know.” The Doctor smiled and Rose laughed loudly. He picked her up again and spun her around in a happy circle. “Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked, placing her back on her feet and cradling her face once more.

She nodded and let out a large puff of air. “I’m okay, yeah.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Sir Robert lamented as he rubbed his temple. “It’s all my fault. I should have sent you away. I tried to suggest something was wrong. I thought you might notice.” He chuckled sadly. “Did you think there was nothing strange about my household staff?”

“The bald, athletic men? You’re wife’s away.” The Doctor shrugged as the Queen fixed him with an annoyed stare. “Thought maybe you were just happy.”

Rose pressed her lips together to keep from laughing at the Doctor’s rudeness, and her eyes flitted to the trembling monarch. “I tell you what though, ma’am, I bet you’re not amused now.”

“Do you think this funny?” the Queen scolded forcefully.

“No, ma’am, I’m sorry.” Rose’s face fell, thoroughly chastised.

“What, exactly, I pray, tell me, someone, please, what exactly is that creature?” the Queen asked, distressed enough to stumble over her words.

“You’d call it a werewolf,” the Doctor said. “Technically, it’s more of a lupine-wavelength haemovariform.”

“And should I trust you, sir?” the Queen demanded with a fearsome scowl. “You and your supposed “wife” with your improper manners and scandalous names for one another.”

The Doctor shook his head dismissively, uncaring about his cover story in the face of danger. “That was just a game. What matters right—”

“I’ll not have it!” Her Majesty interrupted him with a shout of outrage. “No, sir. Not you, not your wife, not that thing, none of it.” She tilted her chin up and narrowed her eyes. “This is not my world.”

“You may not like it, but this is your world.” The Doctor folded his arms and met the woman’s furious glare. “Now, button it while I try and figure out how that thing was stymied by wood.”

Having had enough of the Queen’s whining, the Doctor stomped over to the library’s door and inspected the carvings etched into the wood. “Hmm, this is mistletoe. Sir Robert, did your father put that there?”

“I don’t know, I suppose.” Robert shrugged.

Rose walked over to him and ran her fingers over the floral engraving. She looked at the other door across the room. “I think it’s on that one, too,” she said, pointing at the visible design on the far entrance.

The Doctor pursed his lips in contemplation. “A carvin’ couldn’t possibly be enough to stop it. I wonder…”

Suddenly, the Doctor pressed his nose against the door and pulled in a deep lungful of air as he smelled the wood. “Ah, viscum album. Mistletoe oil.”

“Your nose detected that?” Rose asked, stunned.

“Superior olfactory sensory neurons.”

“Do you have superior hearin’, too?” She stuck her tongue between her teeth in a teasing grin.

“Hush.” The Doctor tried giving her an annoyed look, but it was rendered ineffective by his own amused smile. “So, mistletoe oil. Must be worked into the wood like a varnish.”

“What good would that do?”

“Powerful stuff, full of lectins and viscotoxins.”

“Is the wolf allergic to it?”

A lightbulb went off in the Doctor’s head. “Oh, it thinks it is! Sir Robert,” he pointed to the man with a flourish, “your dad was clever. Those monkey-men needed a way to control the wolf. What if they trained it to react to certain smells?”

“Nevertheless, that creature won’t give up, Doctor.” Sir Robert tugged on his hair, having given up against the powerful force of the beast. “We still don’t possess an actual weapon.”

“Oh, your father got all the brains, didn’t he?” The Doctor rolled his eyes.

“Rude,” Rose scolded.

“Good.” The Doctor strolled over to the large bookcase on the other side of the room. “You need weapons? Best weapons in the universe right here — books!” He plucked a large tome off of a shelf and fixed Rose with a daft grin. “Arm yourself.”

There had to be some kind of information buried in the pages of this room — that creature didn’t develop overnight. Someone must have noticed an unusual event in the past and recorded it. He threw a heavy book at Rose, who caught it easily. The large volume he tossed at Sir Robert hit the ground with a thud as it slipped through the man’s fingers. He grabbed a small, dusty hardcover and placed it in the Queen’s open palm.

“If you don’t mind sullyin’ your fingers with a bit of dust and ink, try and find somethin’ scandalous in there, would ya?” The Doctor smiled tightly at the monarch before turning around and digging further through the bookshelf.

The Queen scowled deeply at the insufferable man and delicately opened the book to flip through the pages.

Standing in front of the bookcase, the Doctor flicked rapidly through the lines of several books before the humans had finished with one; his brain was able to absorb information at a much faster rate than them. He turned his head towards Rose, intending to tell her what to look for, and was startled by the number of books she had already read through.

“Did you already go through those?” the Doctor asked her, pointing to the growing pile next to her feet.

Rose blinked and looked down at the stack he had indicated; she hadn’t realized how quickly she was reading. That was new. Sir Robert had only gotten through three books, the Queen had just two next to her, but she easily had a pile of ten. She’d never read that fast in her entire life!

With a slight frown, Rose buried her head in another book. “Um, yeah, guess I did. I’m tryin’ to find some sort of reference to its biology or zoology. Find its weakness, maybe?”

The Doctor wrinkled his brow but didn’t comment further. Next to him, the Queen sighed in disgust.

“This is foolish.” She dropped the book she was holding and glared at the Doctor. “What on Earth could we possibly find in these pages.That creature must have come from the pits of hell! We’d be wise to douse ourselves in holy water.”

“Bloody royalty. Standin’ idle won’t save your skin,” the Doctor grumbled and thrust another book in her hands. “Here. Whole book on mistletoe. Make yourself useful.”

Sir Robert frantically searched through his own stack of hardcovers. “Who cares about zoology and mistletoe!” he yelled. “Here’s a volume on the application of gunpowder. If we could build some sort of explosive…”

“Humans.” The Doctor shook his head. “Straight to violence, as always.”

Book after book flew off the shelf as they continued to search for any source of information that would help them defeat the beast. The pile of discarded books grew larger next to Rose, and the Doctor frowned. Since when did she read so quickly?

Before he could ponder this development further, a picture in the book he was holding caught his eye. “Oh, here we are. Look what your dad found, Sir Robert.” He laid the book on the table, leaning over it as he pointed to the image. “Somethin’ fell to Earth.”

Rose scurried beside him and peered over his shoulder. “A spaceship?”

“Shooting star,” said Sir Robert as he looked at the image for himself. “In the year of our Lord 1540, under the reign of King James the fifth, an almighty fire did burn in the pit. That’s the Glen of Saint Catherine by the monastery.”

With a questioning eyebrow, Rose looked at the Doctor. “But that’s over three hundred years ago. What’s it been waitin’ for?”

Quickly putting together the provided information, the Doctor mused out loud, “Maybe only a single cell survived. It could have adapted slowly through the generations, surviving through the humans. Host after host.”

“But why does it want the throne?” Sir Robert questioned.

“That what it wants,” Rose chimed in, pulling on the Doctor’s jacket to get his attention. “It said so when I was in the cellar. The Empire of the Wolf.”

Standing to his full height, the Doctor frowned and crossed his arms. “Imagine that. The Victorian age would be accelerated. Starships and missiles fueled by coal and driven by steam, leaving history devastated in his wake.”

The Queen stood from her elegant perch on a wingback chair. “Sir Robert, if I am to die here—”

“Don’t say that, Your Majesty,” Robert interrupted, crossing the room to comfort his Queen.

She took a deep breath and continued. “I would destroy myself rather than let that creature infect me, but that’s no matter. I ask only that you find some place of safekeeping for something far older and more precious than myself.”

The Doctor scoffed. “This is hardly the time to be frettin’ about your valuables.”

Her Majesty pierced the Doctor with a haughty glare. “Thank you for your opinion, but there is nothing more valuable than this.” She reached into her purse and retrieved a large, glittering diamond.

Sir Robert gasped. “Oh! Your Majesty.”

Rose’s eyes widen in shock. “Is that the Koh-i-noor?”

Wondering why the Queen was traveling with such a priceless artifact, the Doctor crossed the room to gaze at the luminous gem. “Yep. The greatest diamond in the world.”

“Given to me as the spoils of war,” Queen Victoria explained, still holding it gently in her palm. “Perhaps its legend is now coming true. It is said that whoever owns it must surely die.”

The Doctor tore his gaze away from the diamond to meet Her Majesty’s concerned frown. “That’s true of anythin’ if you wait long enough.” He gestured to the gem in her hand. “May I?”

The Queen recoiled her hand slightly, protecting the precious object, before pursing her lips and reluctantly placing it in the Doctor’s hand. She watched him closely as he held it up to the light to examine it.

The Doctor twisted it around in his hand, watching the light play on the various planes and edges of the brilliant gemstone. “As far as diamonds go, this is rather beautiful.”

“How much is it worth?” Rose asked, entranced by its gleaming shine.

“Supposedly, the wages of this entire planet for a whole week.” He grinned at Rose’s excited expression.

“Good thing my mum’s not here. She’d fight the wolf off with her bare hands for that.”

“She’d win.” The Doctor chuckled, causing Rose to laugh along with him.

At the mention of the beast, Sir Robert frowned. “Where is the wolf?” he pondered, pacing around the room to investigate. “I don’t trust this silence.”

With a quirk of his eyebrow, the Doctor addressed the Queen, “Why would you travel with somethin’ this rare and valuable?”

“My annual pilgrimage. I’m taking it to Hellier and Carew, the Royal Jewellers at Hazlehead,” Her Majesty informed him, gazing longingly at the diamond. “The stone needs re-cutting.”

Rose was bewildered. “Why? It’s perfect.”

“My late husband never thought so,” the Queen said.

The Doctor looked up from his examination of the stone. “Now, there’s an interestin’ fact. Prince Albert kept on widdlin’ the Koh-i-noor down.” He held it up to Rose as he filled her in on the diamond’s history. “It used to be forty percent larger than this. But he kept on cuttin’. Never happy.”

Her Majesty smiled wistfully as she thought of her dearly departed husband. “He always said the shine was never quite right, but he died with it still unfinished.”

The Doctor raised his head with a look of realization washing over his features. “Unfinished?”

Rose instantly knew something had triggered his big, Time Lord brain into overdrive; she recognized that reaction when she saw it. “Got an idea?” she asked with a smile.

With a daft grin, the Doctor threw the diamond to Queen Victoria, who fumbled before she caught the precious jewel. “Oh, I’ve got an idea. As usual, I’m jammed with ‘em!”

He spun on his heel and paced in a small circle around the group of them. “Idea number one: Sir Robert’s father never finished his research. Idea number two: Prince Albert was never happy with that otherwise perfect diamond.” He paused and turned to the confused monarch. “Idea number three: This house has become a trap for the Queen. Isn’t that right Your Majesty?”

“Obviously.” The Queen pursed her lips, wondering what the madman was talking about.

Rose watched as the Doctor crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, putting on his best I’m-so-very-impressive face.

“That’s what the wolf and the monkey-men are tryin’ to do. But what if there’s another trap here?” the Doctor wondered.

“Explain yourself, Doctor,” the Queen demanded as she grew impatient.

“What if all this,” he waved a hand in a broad, sweeping gesture, “wasn’t just a story. What if your husband and Sir Robert’s father believed it was true and laid the real trap for the wolf.”

A creaking sound interrupted the Doctor’s explanation and everyone looked up at the glass dome of the ceiling. Puffs of dust fell on their faces, and they gaped in horror as the wolf’s weight started cracking and splintering the thin glass.

“Right,” Rose mumbled. “That wolf.”

“Run!” the Doctor shouted and raced to the door to unblock their exit.

Seconds later, the dome gave way under the massive weight of the wolf and the colossal beast fell to the floor with a bone-jarring thump. It lumbered to its feet and angrily shook out its fur, flinging shards of glass and debris through the air. With an irritated growl, the creature spotted its quarry and shook out its limbs, ready to strike.

The Doctor worked quickly with Rose to remove every obstruction blocking their exit, and then pushed everyone out of the room as soon as the door was free. He slammed it closed before the beast attacked and whirled around to snatch Rose’s hand, pulling her down the hallway.

“Get to the observatory!” the Doctor shouted at Sir Robert and Her Majesty ahead of him.

They sprinted down the corridor, flinging themselves around every corner to outrun the wolf. But the beast was quickly gaining on them with its long stride and lightning speed.

Rose suddenly tripped and her hand was dislodged from the Doctor’s grasp. He skidded to a stop and whirled around to assist her. But his hearts stopped beating when he saw the wolf had caught up to them and was now towering over Rose where she lay sprawled on the ground, its paw raised in the air and ready to strike.

As Rose screamed in terror, a pan of liquid was flung into the face of the creature. It howled in pain and confusion, limping away to lick its wound. The Doctor scrambled to help Rose to her feet and quickly checked her for injuries. He let out a quick breath of relief when he found none.

Rose recognized the Lady Isobel as she stood next to them with the empty pan in her grasp. “Nice shot,” she said.

“It was mistletoe,” Isobel explained, tearing her eyes away from the spot where the beast had disappeared.

“Isobel!” Sir Robert cried, cradling her face to place a passionate kiss on her lips. He tore his lips away and grasped her by the shoulders. “Now, get back downstairs.”

She nodded quickly and clutched his hands. “Keep yourself safe.”

Robert pressed one final kiss to her lips before pushing her away. “Now go.”

Isobel steeled herself and ordered the girls to follow her back to the kitchens.

The Doctor checked to make sure the wolf was nowhere in sight and rejoined the group just as Isobel was leaving. “We have to go. C’mon.” He grabbed Rose’s hand, holding it tighter this time to prevent another fall.

“The observatory’s this way,” Sir Robert instructed and assisted Her Majesty as he led the group down the halls.

After climbing up more flights of stairs, they finally reached the observatory and the Doctor flung the doors open in his haste. It was time to put his plan into action.

“See? No mistletoe in these doors because your father wanted the wolf to get inside. I just need some time.” He searched around the room for a way to secure the entrance. “Is there a way to barricade this?” he asked Sir Robert.

Sir Robert stood in the doorway. “Just do your work and I’ll defend it.”

“Got any rope? We could bind them shut.” He glanced around the doorjamb for a way to secure the doors.

“I said I’d find you time,” Sir Robert insisted with a determined look in his eye. “Now get inside.”

Realizing what the man was about to do, the Doctor nodded his head in understanding, from one soldier to another. “Good man.”

Rose watched with a heavy heart as the brave man closed the doors and prepared himself to defend the room and the Queen from the bloodthirsty wolf.

The Doctor strolled over to the breathless monarch in the room and held out his hand. “I need that diamond.”

“For what purpose?” she demanded.

“The purpose it was designed for.”

They all turned their heads toward the door as they heard the wolf’s growl and grunts increasing in the distance, clawing its way up the stairs. With a trembling hand, the Queen handed the jewel over to the Doctor.

“Rose, c’mon,” the Doctor ordered and raced over to the telescope, grabbing the control wheel to turn it.

Rose brushed by the Queen and stood in front of the device in confusion.

“I need your help. Lift it.” He nodded to the wheel in his grasp.

Still confused, Rose grunted as she pushed the heavy drum towards the Doctor. “Not the right time for stargazin’!”

“Oh, yes it is!” he objected.

They suddenly heard the anguished screams of Sir Robert just outside the room. The wolf had arrived. With Robert out of the way, it started pounding in earnest against the door. Rose glanced at the Doctor in terror. They only had moments before the creature tore through the flimsy wood.

Rose gritted her teeth and forced herself to focus on the task at hand. “I thought you said this thing doesn’t work!”

“It’s not a telescope.” The Doctor grunted as he turned the wheel. “It’s a light chamber. It magnifies the light rays like a weapon. Just got to power it up!”

“What?!” Rose asked in terrified confusion. “There’s no electricity!”

The Doctor huffed and rolled his eyes, nodding his head towards the sky.

Rose looked up. “You mean the moonlight? But the wolf’s made from moonlight.”

“You're seventy percent water, but you can still drown,” he argued. “C’mon!”

As the door creaked ominously, the Doctor and Rose pushed the bulky drum with more force, slowly turning the light chamber into position. When it reached the correct angle, the device glowed brightly as the moonlight bounced along the internal prisms to form a radiant, luminous beam on the floor boards.

The observatory door finally collapsed under the relentless hammering of the wolf’s paws, and the beast burst into the room with an outraged growl. Drool dripped from its foaming mouth as it locked eyes with Queen Victoria, and it snarled and snapped its huge jaw in satisfaction to have finally cornered its prey. The Queen whimpered in fear and covered her head as the wolf raised its claws to tear her to shreds.

Before the beast could strike a fatal blow, the Doctor threw the diamond into the path of the beam. The light hit the jewel and reflected upwards, lifting the wolf off the floor and imprisoning it in a blindingly bright ray of moonlight. As it dangled helplessly in midair, the creature transformed back into the scrawny, pale boy it was before.

“Make it brighter,” the boy pleaded in a weak voice. “Let me go.”

Obeying the boy’s wish, the Doctor adjusted a few knobs on the chamber to increase the magnification of the light. The glow around the boy intensified, and he briefly turned back into the shape of a wolf, howling and vanishing from sight.

Queen Victoria clutched her chest and gulped in a breath of relief. She frowned suddenly and looked at her wrist, pulling the fabric of her sleeve back a few inches to check her skin.

Rose watched the Doctor bend to pick up the diamond, and then noticed the Queen inspecting her arm. “Your Majesty? Did it bite you?”

“No, it's…” she paused, distracted, “it's a cut, that's all.”

The Doctor walked over to the Queen to assess her cut. “Are you sure?”

Her Majesty continued to stare at her skin in fascination. “It was a splinter of wood when the door came apart. It's nothing.”

“Let me see.” The Doctor reached out a hand, but the Queen quickly stepped away from him and dropped her arm.

“It is nothing,” she insisted firmly with a steely gaze.

The sounds of numerous footfalls filled the air as the remaining soldiers in the Queen’s procession burst into the room.

“Your Majesty!” exclaimed one of the Redcoats. “Are you injured?”

“No.” The Queen pulled her sleeve down and tilted her chin up to resume command of the situation. “The beast has been disposed of and this estate is safe once more. I wish for a group of men to account for the remaining members of the household and to secure all the windows and doors.” She strolled through her group of men and turned to address the Doctor before she departed the room. “I will be retiring to my quarters. I suggest you and your… wife do the same, Doctor. We’ve all had an arduous evening.”

With an indecipherable expression, the Queen left and her loyal guards followed her through the halls.

“A thank you woulda been nice,” the Doctor muttered and looked at Rose. “Are you alright?”

She nodded and pulled sweaty strands of hair away from her face. “Yeah, m’alright.”

He smiled and held out his hand to lead her out of the observatory. She threaded her fingers through his and blew out a breath in exhaustion.

“Well, guess we know how tirin’ werewolves are now.” She laughed lightly when the Doctor rolled his eyes. “Sorry, lupine-wavelength haemovariform.”

He raised his eyebrows slightly, surprised that she had remembered what he had called the alien. “Yep, downright laborious. Let’s find you a bed, sweetheart.”

The Doctor tugged gently on her hand, but Rose remained rooted to the spot with a sad look on her face.

He creased his brow at her dejected expression. “What? What is it?”

“I don’t want to play this game anymore,” she mumbled. “That’s twice now. Please stop callin’ me that.”

“Callin’ you what?” he asked in confusion.

Rose glanced at him before quickly averting her eyes. “Sweetheart. If you’re not… If we—” She cut herself off and lowered her head. “Unless you've changed your mind… please, stop.”

The Doctor opened and closed his mouth, at a loss for words. He had completely forgotten about their ridiculous game of pet names, and the term of endearment had slipped out of his mouth more than once without him having realized it.

Clearing his throat awkwardly, the Doctor dropped her hand and stuffed his fists in his jacket pockets. “Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

They walked through the house in strained silence until the Doctor found Rose a suitable room with a comfy looking bed. He opened the door for her and she smiled tightly before entering and sinking slowly down onto the mattress.

Rose eyed the Doctor while he rubbed a hand over his head and fiddled with the doorknob, seeming to not know what to say before he left. She had questions — lots of questions. But she decided to start with the most pressing puzzle for now.

“The wolf said somethin’ to me in the cellar,” she said, chewing nervously on her thumbnail.

“Oh? What’s that then?” The Doctor folded his arms and leaned against the doorjamb.

“It said I have somethin’ of the wolf in me.”

He paled slightly before looking around the room in casual nonchalance. “That’s an odd thing to say.”

Rose narrowed her eyes at his obvious deflection. “Yes, yes it was. Do you know what it means?”

“Haven’t the foggiest.”

“I think you’re lyin’.” She angrily crossed her arms and glared at him.

“What possible reason would I have for lyin’!” he sputtered in offense.

Rose ignored his indignation and plowed forward. “I’ve been hearin’ that singin’ again. And seein’ little flashes of gold. Do you know what that is, too?”

“If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll scan you when we get back to the Tardis.”

“I think it’ll make you feel better, not me.”

The Doctor said nothing as they stared at each other in a silent duel. But the longer he stood there, quiet and brooding, the angrier she became.

“Fine, ya know what? Don't tell me.” Rose sent him a final glare before flopping angrily down on the bed with her back facing him.

The Doctor dragged his palms over his face, disgusted with himself. He hated withholding the truth from Rose. There were a lot of things he wasn't telling her, but the subject of “Bad Wolf” was something that frightened him. He still didn't know if she had suffered any long-term effects from holding the vortex in her mind, and he also didn't know if it was safe for her to remember. But she seemed to be reliving some memories already, and he hated it when she looked at him with crushing disappointment.

“Can it wait until tomorrow?” the Doctor asked softly, cautiously disturbing her stony silence.

“If I say yes, will you promise to tell me?” Rose mumbled into a pillow.

“I promise.”

“Then yeah, it can wait until tomorrow.” She folded an arm under her head and sighed quietly through a large exhale of breath.

He smiled sadly at the tense line of her back before grabbing the doorknob to close the door. “Goodnight, Rose.”

“Night, Doctor,” she whispered.

~*~

After the household had gotten a sufficient amount of rest and the sun had risen high in the sky, the Queen had summoned everyone to the drawing room for a knighting ceremony. She beckoned the Doctor and Rose to kneel before her as she raised a sword into the air.

“By the power invested in me by the Church and the State, I dub thee Sir Doctor of Tardis.” The Queen tapped the sword on each of the man’s shoulders and then turned to the blonde beside him. “By the power invested in me by the Church and the State, I dub thee Dame Rose of the Powell Estate.” The gleaming blade gently touched each of Rose’s shoulders before Her Majesty lowered the weapon by her side. “You may stand.”

The Doctor got to his feet with a daft grin. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Rose was smiling just as broadly. “Thanks. They're never gonna believe this back home.”

“Your Majesty, you said last night you wished you could receive a message from beyond,” the Doctor said, tucking his hands in his pockets. “I think your husband cut that diamond to save your life. He protected you from beyond the grave.”

“Indeed,” Queen Victoria acknowledged with a tight smile. “Then you may think on this also. That I am not amused.”

“Yes!” Rose whooped in joy as the Doctor rolled his eyes with an amused smile.

“Not remotely amused.” Her Majesty raised her voice slightly, scolding the two troublemakers before her. “And henceforth I banish you.”

The Doctor blinked in confusion. “Banish?”

She walked closer, fixing them both with a stern look of disapproval. “I rewarded you, Sir Doctor, and now you are exiled from this empire, never to return. I don't know what you are, the two of you, or where you're from, but I know that you consort with stars and magic and think it fun.” Her scowl deepened. “But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death, and I will not allow it. You will leave these shores and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good, and how much longer you will survive this terrible life.” She stepped back from them, having tired of their tomfoolery and eager to return to normality. “Now leave my world and never return.”

With a glare of his own, the Doctor turned away from the angry monarch and ushered Rose out of the mansion.

As soon as they stepped outside into the courtyard, Rose took one look at him and doubled over in laughter. “You owe me ten quid!”

He laughed along with her, glad to see her happy after their tense evening, and patted his jacket pockets. “Still no money.”

“Still a cheap date.” She looped her arm through his, just as she had when they had first gotten chips, and walked merrily beside him all the way back to the Tardis.

Rose was in a much better mood compared to the prior evening when she had felt tired and vulnerable after nearly getting killed multiple times in one day. She hadn’t meant to snap at the Doctor over his use of the word “sweetheart.” Considering he had spent the previous month using the term of endearment frequently, she tried not to be too mad that he had slipped and used it again. They had decided to goof around, after all, and she had played along, too, calling him all sorts of ridiculously sweet things. She blamed his damn mechanic coveralls for putting her in a flirty mood at the start of the day.

It was more irksome that the Doctor had refused to answer a question he clearly had an answer for. If he didn’t keep his promise and tell her what he knew about this wolf thing, then there would be hell to pay. She had spent months being chased by the words “Bad Wolf,” and she needed answers. But for now, Rose enjoyed the lovely walk in the bright sun and refreshing breeze as they journeyed back to their beloved time ship.

The Doctor keyed open the lock when they finally arrived at the Tardis’ parking spot in the wide, open field of the the Scottish highland. Rose followed him inside and waited patiently by the jumpseat as he sent the ship back into the vortex.

He turned to look at her with a wary expression. “Medbay?” he asked, jutting his thumb in the direction of the corridor.

“If you want.” Without another word, Rose strolled down the hall to the medical wing, assuming the Doctor would follow her.

He stood frozen for a few seconds before blowing out his cheeks and stuffing his fists in the pockets of his leather jacket, following the determined woman to the exam room.

What had that wolf seen in her? It made him nervous and Rose was right — this scan was for his peace of mind, not hers. But she had demanded answers and he couldn't figure out a way to deflect. His poker face had become futile when he faced her wide, whiskey eyes. Perhaps he could get by with a half-truth; he still wasn’t sure if remembering everything would burn her synapses.

With a tight smile, the Doctor grabbed a scanner and ran it over her head, and then used the sonic for a second opinion.

“What's the verdict?” Rose asked as he put the equipment away.

“Nothin’ amiss,” he claimed, twiddling his sonic in his fingers.

“Are you sure?” She eyed him critically as he fidgeted. “I didn't just bump my head did I? Back on the Game Station?”

The Doctor sighed heavily and tucked the sonic back in his leather jacket. “No. It was more than a bump.”

“What happened to me?”

He pulled a stool over by her feet, plopping himself down and stretching his legs out. “You looked into the Heart of the Tardis, the time vortex, to get back.”

“How did I do that?” Rose scrunched her nose up in confusion

“Dunno. But you did, and the Tardis brought you back.”

Rose became worried as the Doctor’s brows creased and his mouth pulled into a thin line. “Are you mad? Did I hurt the Tardis or somethin’?”

“No, no she’s fine. And I couldn’t be mad if I tried. You saved my life.” He smiled slightly and met her gaze. “But no one is meant to look into the vortex. You should have burned.”

“Why didn't I?”

“I don't know.” The Doctor shrugged. “And I still don't know. I was scared if you remembered it would fry your synapses.”

“But it didn’t.”

“No, I guess not,” he conceded.

Rose frowned. “But, hold on, what's that got to do with Bad Wolf?”

“Bad Wolf was you. You had all of time and space runnin’ in your head. You scattered the words throughout time as a message to yourself.”

She nodded slowly as she followed his explanation. “A message so I could bring the Tardis back to you, and you could defeat the Daleks?”

It was at this point in the conversation that the Doctor had to make a choice. Did he tell her everything — that she had committed genocide? Or, he could shelter her from that fact, unwilling for her to experience the same trauma he had at the end of the Time War. He didn’t think his hearts could take the look of utter devastation on her face if he told her the truth.

Instead, he smiled tightly and agreed with her logic. “Yes.”

“Ok. That's… a lot to process.” She blew out a breath and shook her head. “I’m not happy that you kept it from me, but I can sorta understand. You were worried about me burnin’?”

“Yes.”

Her eyes widened. “Am I gonna burn now that I know?”

“No, no I don’t think so,” The Doctor gave her a reassuring grin. She would already be in pain if the forgotten memories were going to do her any harm. It appeared he didn’t have to worry about that any longer. “I’m sorry if I upset you, by keepin’ it from you.”

“S’alright. Thank you for tellin’ me.” She averted her eyes briefly. “And I’m sorry I snapped at you last night, for callin’ me… ya know.”

“No reason for you to be sorry. Like I said — won’t happen again.” He rested his head against the wall behind him and closed his eyes. He hadn’t slept in a while and all of the activity since the Game Station was starting to catch up to him.

Rose softly cleared her throat and shifted around on the crinkly paper covering the exam table. “So… you haven’t changed your mind then? About…” She trailed off and stared at him as he relaxed below her.

The Doctor drew in a deep breath and opened his eyes to meet her gaze, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what he could say right now that wouldn’t end up hurting her. He knew she would eventually demand a better excuse from him —- explaining why they couldn’t be together — he just wasn’t prepared yet.

His unwavering stare unnerved her, and Rose wasn’t sure if she should even be bringing up this topic of conversation at the moment. But she missed him desperately, and his flirty game of pet names with her today had brought all of her longings and insecurities to the surface.

Rose bit her lip and pushed ahead. “Why was it so easy for you to be with me when you were human. What changed?”

“I'm an alien.”

“I hadn't noticed,” she deadpanned with an eye-roll.

“No, that’s not…” He scrubbed a hand over his close-cropped hair. “It was me and not me at the same time. I didn't know I was an alien. I’ve seen things, I’ve done things…” With a growl of frustration, he sat up and leaned his elbows on his knees. “I’m no good for you.”

“And I don’t get a say in the matter?” She crossed her arms, unsatisfied with his explanation.

The Doctor pushed off the stool and it hit the wall with a harsh thud. “I’ve done horrible, unspeakable things, Rose. I’m a monster! If you knew even a fraction…” His eyes flashed in anger before he lowered them in defeat. “I don’t deserve you.”

Her eyes softened and she uncrossed her arms. “You think if I knew everythin’ then I would hate you?”

He met her gaze with an anguished expression. “Yes.”

“You're wrong.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re wrong,” she reiterated more emphatically.

“Don’t say that when you don’t have all the facts.” He fixed her with a heavy scowl.

“Then tell me!”

“No.” With a final glare, the Doctor turned around and leaned his arms against the counter, breathing heavily.

Rose frowned at the tense line of his back, suddenly feeling horrible for forcing him into a conversation he clearly did not want to have. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I just… I miss you. You’re right in front of me… and I miss you.”

Before the Doctor could respond, she hopped off the table and fled, locking herself in her bedroom in embarrassment. Rose thumped her forehead against her closed door and cursed quietly to herself.

There was no reason to push him like that. She really was a stupid ape. But, at least she now had a vague understanding of what was holding him back. For some reason, he felt that she would hate him or leave him if she found out the details of his past. She didn’t think there was anything that could cause her to think he was a monster like he clearly thought himself to be. Maybe he would tell her one day, but, for now, the Doctor seemed to want to keep those skeletons firmly locked in their metaphorical closet.

But, deep down, Rose knew he was a good man. She refused to believe he would ever do anything that could be construed as evil without a justifiable reason.

The Tardis hummed softly in the back of her mind, offering her wordless support. Rose smiled and stroked the coral of the wall next to her.

“I could do with a mental break,” she laughed lightly to herself. “Got any good books for me to read?”

With a merry chime, the Tardis produced several textbooks on her nightstand. Rose quirked her brow: academic books? She shrugged and settled on her bed, opening a book in her lap and diving in. She never did get her A-levels — maybe she could at least catch up on the education she had missed.

The Tardis chimed again and a bottle of pills and a glass of water appeared on the stack of books.

“I don’t have a headache,” Rose stated in confusion, but the ship hummed more insistently in her mind.

With a shrug, Rose reached for the bottle. The motion brought her attention to her bruised wrists, and she scrutinized the markings with pursed lips. She could have sworn the black and blue splotches had been darker than they currently appeared to be. She shrugged and popped a few vitamins in her mouth; the pills couldn’t hurt, living the life she led. If the Tardis was insisting they would help, then who was she to argue? With a contented sigh, she settled into her bed and resumed reading her math textbook.

Rose pulled another book from the pile when she had finished, not noticing she had read the entire 578-page text in under an hour, and dove into the world of physics.

After she had read five textbooks, Rose felt her phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and smiled when she read the caller-i.d. “Hey, Micks! How are ya?”

~*~

Back in the med-bay, the Doctor softly thudded his forehead against an overhead cabinet, still leaning against the counter with a white knuckle grip.

The harder he tried to keep himself away from Rose, the more he hurt her. First, he had used John’s term of endearment — twice. Oh, who was he kidding? He had nearly used the term himself multiple times before he had ever been human; he had just been better at holding his tongue in the past. Two months living as a stupid ape was all it had taken to strip him of every last shred of impulse control around Rose. Now, he touched her and flirted with her without even realizing what he was doing.

And he hadn’t meant to get cross with her just now when she had questioned his logic. He knew he didn’t deserve her, and he knew she would agree with him if he ever told her what he had done in the war. Rose had insisted that he was wrong, but she didn’t know the truth and he never planned on telling her. He couldn’t bear to see the revulsion in her eyes if she ever found out what he had done to his own species.

It would be best if he let her go now to live the fantastic life she deserved, away from him and his toxic presence. Jackie was right — he was a bastard just like her ex. She should be with someone that made her happy, that could give her children and a white picket fence. But the thought of another man touching her made him see red.

He was too afraid to have her and too selfish to let her go.

One of the speakers on the console crackled, and Robert Plant sang through the air, “My love is strong, with you there is no wrong…”

The Doctor clenched his jaw and yanked the sonic from his jacket. “That’s it. Say so long to your precious macaron dispenser.”

Chapter Text

The bell for first period rang through the halls of Deffry Vale High School. Students filed into the science classroom, buzzing quietly with chatter and waiting for their physics teacher to arrive. As the last pupil sat down, a tall, blue-eyed man strolled in, removed his leather jacket, and flung it onto the coat rack by the whiteboard. He pushed up the sleeves of his burgundy jumper and leaned against the head desk. Without needing to be told, all of the students stopped conversing and focused their attention on the man at the front of the room.

“Mornin’, class!” the Doctor greeted with a daft grin.

Silence followed his cheery greeting as the stoic faces in the room stared straight ahead.

“No “good mornin’” back? Bit rude, that. Alright, physics!” He loudly clapped his hands together once and received no reaction from the students. “Fantastic subject. Let’s see what you know. Question one: Two identical strips of nylon are charged with static electricity and hung from a string so they can swing freely. What would happen if they were brought near each other?”

One hand raised in the sea of blasé teenagers.

“Yes, you there.” The Doctor pointed to the bespectacled boy with his arm in the air. “What's your name?”

“Milo,” the brown-haired boy answered and dropped his hand.

“Impress me, Milo.”

“They'd repel each other because they have the same charge.”

“Right in one.” The Doctor smiled and paced around the desk to stand in front of the board. “Question two: You coil up a thin piece of nichrome wire and place it in a glass of water. Then, you turn on the electricity and measure to see if the water's temperature is affected. How do you measure the electrical power goin’ into the coil?”

Milo enthusiastically shot his hand into the air once again.

“No one else?” The Doctor darted his eyes around the heads of the apathetic students in the room, looking for another person to answer, but they all remained silent. “Ok, Milo, let’s hear it.”

“Measure the current and PD using an ammeter and a voltmeter,” Milo responded, his voice sounding more robotic and indifferent as he spoke.

“Right again.” Since the little Einstein in the room seemed to have all of the answers, the Doctor decided to challenge the boy. “Milo, true or false: the greater the dampenin’ of the system, the quicker it loses energy to its surroundin’.”

“False,” he quickly replied.

The Doctor leaned against the whiteboard and folded his arms across his chest. “What is non-codin’ DNA?”

“DNA that doesn't code for a protein.”

“Sixty-five thousand nine hundred and eighty-three times five?”

“Three hundred and twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and fifteen.”

“How do you travel faster than light?”

“By opening a quantum tunnel with an FTL factor of thirty-six point seven recurring.”

The Doctor’s eyebrows flew to his hairline. “Fantastic.”

~*~

The Doctor sat in the cafeteria among a sea of posters merrily asking staff and students to “Eat More Chips.” He thoughtfully nibbled on a piece of fried potato after a morning full of physics lessons. The food product in his mouth tasted weird, and he spat it out onto his tray with a wet splat.

A tray slammed down on the table beside his elbow, and the Doctor jumped at the sudden intrusion.

“It’s been four days and I’m ready to scream,” Rose groaned, plopping down next to him with a scowl.

“Blame Mickey, he’s the one that called you. He was right, too. There’s somethin’ wrong here — teenagers aren’t this smart.”

“Did you have to make us married though?” she asked through a clenched jaw. “The women keep poppin’ by the library to ask me for marriage advice! They think I have you well trained.”

“Well trained?!” the Doctor groused. “What am I, a dog?”

“I guess. They all think you’re whipped because you keep openin’ doors for me.”

“Is chivalry dead in this town?” he grumbled, annoyed that holding open a door was enough to start a rumor mill. “Well, you’re not alone. The male teachers talk, too. Apparently, I’m a lucky bloke.”

Rose halted her fork in mid-air and narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I’ve snatched a young blonde. They’ve advised me to watch me waistline if I want to keep a young thing like you interested in an old codger like me.” He smiled sweetly when she grimaced. “Why do you think I’ve avoided the chips? They taste a bit dodgy, anyway.”

The Doctor frowned at the half-chewed piece of starch on his tray. The chips in this high school were being advertised like pop. There were posters not just in the canteen, but in all the classrooms as well. Add that fact with the halls full of docile and brainy teenagers, and it all amounted to a very weird school environment. These adolescents weren’t as rambunctious and dim-witted as they should be.

“Dodgy? I think they’re gorgeous,” Rose purred and popped a chip in her mouth, moaning as the oil and salt exploded on her taste buds.

Visions of Rose, half-naked and writhing on his bed, abruptly overwhelmed the Doctor’s brain, and he nearly swallowed his own tongue. The sound that escaped her lips as she chewed a piece of potato was identical to the sound that he had elicited out of her with John’s lips on her navel. He closed his eyes and willed John’s memory to vacate his mind before he did something embarrassing.

Rose hummed thoughtfully and swallowed her food. “I should call Mickey. He said he was gonna be researchin’ all day. I should see if he’s found anythin’.”

“Yep,” the Doctor squeaked and cleared his throat. “Yep. Yeah. Should probably do that.”

With a heavy sigh, Rose stood to go back to work. “See ya later, Mr . Smith.”

Despite his flustered state, the Doctor managed to smile playfully at her. “Not if I see you first, Mrs. Smith.”

“I’m so gonna kill you.” She laughed and exited the cafeteria.

As he watched Rose walk away, the Doctor noticed a teacher enter the cafeteria and stroll with tenacious intensity to a small, brown-haired girl at a nearby table. Curious as to why a teacher was interrupting a student’s lunch, the Doctor strained his ears to hear their hushed words.

The instructor leaned over the small girl, shadowing her with his larger frame. “Melissa, you'll be joining my class for the next period. Milo's failed me, so it's time we moved you up to the top of the class.” He focused his attention on a pudgy boy sitting next to Melissa. “Kenny, not eating the chips?”

“I’m not allowed.” Kenny frowned and took a bite of his home packed lunch.

Ignoring the portly boy, the teacher stood and addressed yet another student at the table. “Luke. Extra class. Now.”

He spun stiffly on his heel and marched out of the cafeteria. Luke and Melissa stood to follow the instructor, leaving their lunches half-eaten on the table. The Doctor narrowed his eyes as he mindlessly chewed his food. Why would a teacher pull students out of lunch? And why would he be insisting they eat the chips?

His gaze wandered all around the room as he pondered the answer to this puzzle. A man on the balcony caught his eye, and the Doctor looked up to see a very severe teacher standing rigidly above the crowd. He assumed this must be the new headmaster, surveying and keeping a close eye on his pupils. Perhaps it was time he found an opportunity to question the man.

~*~

Rose stewed quietly to herself while she pushed the book return cart through the library. Being in a high school forced her to revisit unwelcome memories of her younger days, slacking off on her studies because a “cool” boy had caught her eye. Even though Mickey had been right to call and alert the Doctor to the strange happenings at Deffry Vale, she loathed the insecurities and vulnerabilities from her past flitting through her mind.

As if reliving the ghosts of her past wasn’t annoying enough, the Doctor’s cover story had them pretending to be married again. Rose wasn’t sure if he had meant to present them as Mr. and Mrs. Smith; he had looked just as shocked as she did when the psychic paper had declared them man and wife for the second time.

And she wasn’t kidding when she had told him over lunch that the other married members of the staff were hounding her for marriage advice. Despite the fact that he was playing a part, the Doctor was very good at being a besotted and devoted husband to her. In only four days, he had managed to make all of the other women jealous of her, and it was starting to grate on her nerves.

Not that Rose minded playing married again. It was hard not to take a little joy in being the enviable librarian with the brainy, loving professor as her husband. Part of her wildest dreams growing up on the estates had been to find an accomplished man with goals and dreams — someone to rescue her from working class and lift her up the ranks of society. Perhaps it had been a far-fetched and slightly narcissistic dream, but it had been something to cling to on the days when her mum had been barely able to scrape enough money together to buy them food.

Rose had learned quickly, especially after the fiasco with Jimmy, that she needed to start rescuing herself.

Speaking of rescuing, maybe that’s what the Doctor needed for himself. After their uncomfortable talk a few days ago, it had become abundantly clear that he harbored an enormous amount of guilt and self-loathing. He believed he had done something so ghastly that she would never be able to look past it and would never want a romantic involvement with him again. There had to be a way she could soothe his worries, but that would be difficult if he never wanted to discuss it. At least now she knew what was holding him back from reestablishing their relationship, and perhaps one day she could help him move past it.

As Rose was re-shelving various textbooks in the science section, her mobile vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out quickly before it disturbed any students or teachers. “Hey, Mickey. Whatchu got?”

“Confirmation. I just got into army records,” Mickey said.

Rose could hear him typing on the library keyboard in the background. “Good job on you. Those computer classes are comin’ in handy.”

“Sure, learn basic programmin’ or how to hack government records — same difference,” he joked. “Anyway, three months ago? Massive UFO activity. They logged over forty sightin’s. Lights in the sky, all of that. I can't get any photos because then it gets all classified and secret. Keeps lockin’ me out.”

“Lockin’ you out?”

“Yeah, somethin’ called Torchwood.”

“Oh!” Rose’s eyes widened in excitement. “That’s the agency Jack and me were gonna apply to.”

“What, really?” he asked, confused. She had never told him about the mysterious government entity that Jack had discovered.

“Yeah, they helped us clean up the mess after the Family. They’re into all sorts of weird stuff. I figured I could work there if…” She paused briefly, remembering the five and half days she had spent wondering if the Doctor was ever going to return. “Well, if he never came back.”

“He’ll always come back for you, Rose,” Mickey stressed in a soothing tone.

She shook her head, eager to change the subject. “Tell you what, though. Three months ago, a bunch of the staff here were replaced. And the headmaster keeps makin’ them push the chips. It’s weird. I mean, they’re good chips and all, but no one cared this much about our diet back in the day.”

“See? There's definitely somethin’ going on. I was right to call you home.”

“Well, it must be important, if it drags you away from your girlfriend,” she teased.

“I would never invent an emergency. Well, maybe if I wanted to see Martha.” Mickey laughed lightly. Rose could nearly hear his blush through the receiver. “Definitely not an emergency that required the Doctor.”

“What, not even to see me?”

“That's the last thing I'd do. Not that I don’t like you!” he rushed to assure her. “Because I do. But every time I see you an emergency pops up whether I want it to or not. I’d rather see my girlfriend, thanks.”

“Then why did you agree to come all the way out here with us?”

“Martha’s been workin’ double shifts… I haven’t seen her much lately,” he grumbled.

The misery in his voice was palpable and Rose frowned. “Oh, I’m sure she’s annoyed by that as much as you are.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He sighed before his voice took on a more cheery tone. “Hey, listen, I was wonderin’ if…”

Rose stopped listening to him as a mysterious brown-headed woman entered the library. She definitely wasn’t a staff member; Rose had met them all. The woman surveyed the area before spotting her hidden among the racks of books and walked over with a large smile plastered on her face.

“I've gotta go. See ya later?” Rose spoke quickly into her mobile

“What? Did you hear a word—”

Mickey’s protest was abruptly cut off as Rose ended the call and grinned just as the newcomer stuck out her palm for a handshake.

“Hi! Sarah Jane Smith.”

“Um, hello.” Rose accepted her hand and shook it politely. “Rose Smith.”

Sarah Jane’s eyes brightened in recognition. “Yes, I’ve heard all about you.”

“What? How?” Rose crinkled her brow in worry. She hated when strangers seemed to know who she was before she met them — it hadn’t gone well on New Earth.

“I’m writing a profile about the new headmaster, so I’ve been interviewing the staff today.” She smiled even wider, lifting one brow in a slightly inquisitive position. “They had all sorts of gossip to tell me about the new married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Smith? I presume that’s you?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s me.” Rose internally rolled her eyes at the amount of chatter going around about her and the Doctor.

“I must say, you have managed to command the envy of all the women here.”

“Yeah, so they tell me. I still don’t understand the fuss.”

Sarah Jane shrugged her shoulders. “Guess there are no happy marriages in this town. But that’s hardly scandalous news.” She whipped out a notepad and a pen. “As I was saying, I’m here to do a profile about the new headmaster. What do you know about him?”

“Not much really. I’ve only been here for four days.”

“No weird rumors, new subject material… unconventional modes of discipline?” Sarah Jane prodded.

Rose tilted her head to the side, scrutinizing the inquisitive woman in front of her; she seemed to be interested in more than just a simple profile. “No, nothin’ like that.”

“Hmm, alright. Well, if something comes to mind,” Sarah Jane dug around in her purse and pulled out a card, handing it over to Rose, “don’t hesitate to call. About anything. Anything.” She overemphasized the last word before she left the library with a friendly wave.

With pursed lips, Rose tucked the business card in her pocket and resumed her work. A book of microbiology caught her eye, and she set it aside to read later. The school had a fairly small library, and it left her with a lot of free time to study any text that looked interesting. She had never read this much when she had been in high school herself, but Rose was thirsty for knowledge now and greedily soaked it up like a sponge.

~*~

At the end of the day, Headmaster Finch had asked all of the teachers to gather in the staff break room. Rose had gone to the Tardis without the Doctor since the rest of the staff hadn’t been requested to join them. Now, he sat on a folding chair with crossed arms, ready to see what their fearless leader had planned.

Mr. Parsons, a history teacher, sat in the chair next to him. “Is your lovely wife waiting around for ya?”

With a heavy eye roll, the Doctor huffed out a breath, tired of being questioned about his “wife”. He still couldn’t believe the psychic paper had made them married — again! He swore he had cleared his mind of all extraneous thoughts before providing the paper to the Vice Principal as proof of hire. It certainly wasn’t helping his tactic of romantic distance from Rose.

The Doctor detested the way some of the men were talking about her like she was some sort of object and how others had caustically insinuated she had only married him for his money. It was part of the reason he had bent over backward to put on a show of utterly ridiculous romantic gestures: holding her hand, opening her doors, and bringing her a cup of tea between classes.

He was getting good at lying to himself and convincing his great, big Time Lord brain that he had only done those domestic things because he was playing a part. In actuality, he was a covetous git — refusing to be with her while refusing to let her go. And Rose happily held his hand every time. If he were a better man, he’d stop encouraging her.

After a brief pause, the Doctor answered the man’s question, “Rose went home. Wasn’t sure how long this meetin’ was gonna last.”

“Me either. We haven’t had a lot of these in the past three months, ever since the new headmaster arrived.” Mr. Parsons crossed his legs and took a sip from his cooling cup of tea. “Yesterday, I had a twelve-year-old girl give me the exact height of the walls of Troy in cubits. Cubits! Anything like that happen to you?”

“A few times, yeah. You think it has anythin’ to do with the new headmaster?”

“I don’t know about that, but it was weird when he showed up.” Mr. Parsons lowered his voice to a whisper. “Half the staff got the flu day after he arrived. Finch replaced them with that lot,” he nodded to another group of teachers in the room, “over there. Except for the two that you and your wife replaced, and that was just plain weird. They both won the lottery!”

The Doctor coughed and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “How’s that weird?”

“They never played! Said the tickets were posted through their doors at midnight.”

“Strange little world.” The Doctor planted a grin on his face and turned his attention to the headmaster who had just arrived in the doorway.

His smile fell and he shot to his feet when he saw a familiar brown-haired woman standing next to Mr. Finch.

Mr. Finch cleared his throat and smiled stiffly. “Excuse me, colleagues. A moment of your time. May I introduce Miss Sarah Jane Smith.” He gestured to the woman at his side. “Miss Smith is a journalist who's writing a profile about me for the Sunday Times. She’s already spoken with most of the staff, but I thought she’d like to speak with you all as well.” The headmaster turned to Sarah before leaving. “Don’t spare my blushes.”

The Doctor froze on the spot, unsure of what he should do. He had regenerated many times since he had last seen Sarah Jane, but he panicked for a moment and thought she might recognize him anyway. He never saw his companions again after he had departed from them; this was a first and he had no idea what to do. But before he could formulate a plan, Sarah Jane had walked over to him.

“Hello,” Sarah Jane greeted with a bright smile.

“Yes, right. Hello,” he stated awkwardly.

“And, you are?”

“Um, Smith. John Smith.”

If possible, her smile widened. “John Smith! Oh, I think I’ve met your wife, Rose Smith? Lots of Smiths going ‘round. Actually, I used to know a man who sometimes went by John Smith.”

He scrubbed a hand over his hair and averted his eyes briefly. “Well, very common name.”

“He was a very uncommon man.” Her eyes glazed over in memory before she stuck her hand out to him. “Nice to meet you.”

The Doctor swallowed and shook her hand gently. “Nice to meet you, as well.”

“Your wife said she had only been working here for four days. Is that the same for you, too?”

“That’s right, four days.”

Sarah Jane moved closer to him and lowered her voice. “So, what do you think of the school? I mean, this new curriculum? So many children getting ill. Doesn't that strike you as odd?”

Despite feeling flustered in her presence, he couldn’t help but smile to hear she was snooping just like they used to. “Not just doin’ a profile, are ya?”

“Well, no harm in a little investigation while I’m here.” She shrugged and smiled sheepishly before moving on to question another teacher.

The Doctor smiled wider as she wandered away from him. “No, s’pose there isn’t. Good on you,” he quietly murmured to himself.

Seeing Sarah Jane now, after hundreds of years, sent a maelstrom of emotions welling up inside. It was fantastic to see her again. But, as a personal rule, he usually never saw his companions again after they had left; this way, they lived on in his memories instead of dying onboard his ship. Although, in this case, Sarah Jane hadn’t wanted to leave. He had received a summons to return to Gallifrey and humans weren’t allowed on his home planet.

Guilt swam up inside and threatened to swallow him whole. Guilt over leaving Sarah Jane behind. Guilt over thoughts of his home planet and the fate he had doled upon it.

~*~

Mickey had snuck back in the school later that day and had waited in the Tardis with Rose and the Doctor to investigate the school after hours. He was excited to be a part of an adventure, like when he had helped to eradicate the Slitheen with a missile. The adrenaline rush was addictive, and he could use the distraction as he mulled over his relationship with Martha. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he had told Rose that he hardly saw her these days. The hospital basically owned her, and she had only been able to scrounge together a few hours to see him in the past two weeks. So, he had eagerly alerted the Doctor to what he had discovered and hopped on board the Tardis for a quick trip to Deffry Vale. He had also been hoping to ask Rose for relationship advice, but, as usual, she was wrapped up in the Doctor and barely noticed much else.

The Doctor snuck his head out of the Tardis doors. “I think the coast is clear now. The janitor left.”

They exited the ship and out of the storage closet that the Doctor had parked it in. Once again, due to instinct and reflex, the Doctor reached for Rose’s hand but pulled it back before she noticed. He had already taken enough liberties due to their marriage cover story.

Rose rubbed her arms absentmindedly. “It’s weird seein’ the school at night. Feels creepy. When I was a kid, I used to think all the teachers slept in school. Could you imagine if that was true?”

“Hope they don't put that on the syllabus.” The Doctor came to a stop in the school's main lobby. “Rose, you've seen how mad they are about the chips. Why don't you go to the kitchens, see what you find? Mickey, same thing but in the maths department; all the new teachers work there. I'm gonna break into the headmaster's office.” He grinned widely and walked backward down the hallway. “Meet back here in ten minutes.”

With a spring in his step, the Doctor bounced up the stairs and into the dark of the school.

Rose shook her head at his enthusiasm and turned to Mickey. “You gonna be alright?”

“Me?” he scoffed and waved a hand dismissively. “Please. Infiltration and investigation? I'm an expert at this.”

“Is that what you tell Martha?” She pressed her lips together as she watched Mickey’s face morph from puzzled into wide-eyed shock.

“Oh, Captain Cheesecake was a bad influence on you!” He laughed as his footsteps echoed down the empty school hallway.

The mention of Jack caused an ache of loss to creep across Rose’s chest. She missed him so much, especially with the confusion she was going through with the Doctor and his reluctant feelings; she could really use an ear to confide in. If he were here, he’d surely be hounding the Doctor and teasing him about all of the flirting he used to do as John. Maybe when he was done rebuilding the Earth, or whatever it was the Doctor had said he was doing, he would use his vortex manipulator and rejoin them.

But his device could travel in time as well, so what was taking him so long?

Rose crept into the kitchens and explored the various pots, pans, and ingredients. The Doctor wasn’t exaggerating when he had said this school was mad about their chips; not only did everyone eat them, but they talked about them constantly. She was a chips lover herself, but it was only fried potato — nothing unique enough to be this obsessed over.

After rifling through a few storage drawers and shelves, she found the ingredients for the hallowed food product. Potatoes: check. Salt: check. Barrels of green oil: bingo.

Rose smiled in triumph. She knew chips — chips weren’t fried in green oil. There was a pair of gloves sitting on top of one of the barrels, so she slipped them on and grabbed a nearby food container to scoop some of the grease into. It had a weird smell, and she tried not to gag when she remembered how many chips she had eaten in the past four days.

Seeing nothing else amiss in the kitchen, Rose pocketed the container and jogged back to meet up with Mickey and the Doctor.

~*~

The Doctor hadn’t gotten far before he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone breaking into a classroom window. If his instincts were correct, and they usually were, he knew exactly who the trespasser was.

He crept back down the stairs to find Sarah Jane slowly backing away from the storeroom door where the Tardis was parked. She stood still for a few minutes, paralyzed by shock, before turning around and jumping in surprise when she discovered him standing in the shadows.

The Doctor smiled softly and tucked his hands in his leather jacket. “Hello, Sarah Jane.”

“It's you,” she whispered in awe. “Doctor. Oh, my God, it's you, isn't it.” A wide grin stretched across her face as she looked him over. “You've regenerated.”

“A bit.”

“You look incredible.”

“Ah, you look better than me. Look at the ears!” He pulled a hand out of a pocket to flick a lobe.

Sarah Jane laughed. “What are you doing here?”

“How could I resist UFO sightin’s and a school full of teenaged Einsteins? You?”

“The same.” They shared a look of delight over a mystery to solve and fell into a round of giggles. But Sarah Jane’s mirth abruptly stopped and her face screwed up in anguish. “I thought you'd died! I waited for you and you didn't come back, and I thought you must have died!”

A sharp stab of guilt pierced his heart. “I lived. Everyone else died.”

Her brow crinkled in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Everyone’s gone.”

She didn’t seem to understand what he was talking about and shook her head, still stunned to be seeing him after all of these years. “I can't believe it's you.”

A sudden, high-pitched scream rang through the air, and they whipped their heads around towards the source of the sound.

Sarah Jane smiled. “Okay, now I can!”

The Doctor matched her delighted grin and they took off into the dark to find the cause of the scream. They ran into Rose not far from the storage room.

“Did you hear that?” Rose asked, gasping slightly for breath from sprinting down the halls. She blinked rapidly when she noticed the brunette standing next to him. “Sarah Jane? What are you doin’ here?”

“Oh, you’ve met!” the Doctor exclaimed in excitement.

Sarah Jane nodded rapidly. “Yes! In the library. Your… wife?”

“Oh, no no,” he stumbled over his words in his rush to correct her. “Not wife, no. Just a story. Definitely not married.”

“New assistant then? I can tell you’ve gotten older. Your assistants are getting younger.” Sarah Jane looked Rose up and down in amusement.

“Assistant? I’m not his assistant!” Rose huffed.

“No?” Sarah Jane’s eyes widened and she glanced at the Doctor. “Get you, tiger.”

The Doctor opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish before he scurried away from the two women to find the screamer.

Assistant?! Rose scowled at his retreating back as they searched the halls. Who was this woman? And did he have to deny their “marriage” so forcefully? Why did he care if this woman thought they were married or not?

They rounded a corner and found Mickey standing in a pile of vacuum packed rats.

“Sorry! Sorry, it was only me.” He had been frantically trying to scoop the packages together but stood when they approached him. “You told me to investigate, so I started lookin’ through some of these cupboards, and all of these fell on me.”

“That’s an insane amount of vacuum packed rats.” Rose grimaced.

The Doctor bent over to inspect the packages and then stood up to laugh at Mickey. “This made you scream?”

“It took me by surprise!” Mickey exclaimed.

“I thought it was a little girl.” The Doctor continued to grin at him and leaned against the wall, folding his arms in amusement.

“It was dark! I was covered in rats!”

“Does Martha know she’s datin’ a nine-year-old?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Oh, would you leave him be? Can we focus? Why are there rats in the school?”

“Well, obviously they use them in Biology lessons. They dissect them,” Sarah Jane chimed in and looked at Rose with a lofty expression. “Or maybe you haven't reached that bit yet. How old are you?”

If there was one thing Rose hated, it was when people seemed to judge her for being nothing more than a stupid chav from the estates. “Excuse me, no one dissects rats in school anymore. They haven't done that for years. Where are you from, the Dark Ages?” she snapped.

Sarah Jane opened her mouth with a retort, but the Doctor cut her off. “Movin’ on. We need to check Finch’s office. This all started with him.” He threw a rat at Mickey and stormed off.

Rose and Sarah Jane glared at each other and followed the Doctor, flanking him on either side.

“I don't mean to be rude or anythin’,” Rose gritted out through a tight smile, “but who exactly are you? I thought you were a journalist?

Sarah Jane held her chin in the air. “Sarah Jane Smith,” she answered in a clipped tone. “And I am a journalist, but I also used to travel with the Doctor.”

Rose kept the false smile fixed on her face as she threaded her fingers through the Doctor’s. “Oh? Well, he’s never mentioned ya.”

With a nervous clearing of his throat, the Doctor pulled his hand away from Rose’s, ignoring the hurt and confused expression aimed at his face. “Sure I have. Musta done.”

Rose blinked rapidly and stared at her empty hand. “No. Never,” she mumbled.

“What, not even once?” Sarah Jane glanced at the Doctor with a flash of annoyance. “He didn't mention me even once?”

Both Sarah Jane and Rose broke away from his side and walked faster in front of him. Mickey clapped him hard on the back as he skirted by.

“Ho, ho, mate.” Mickey laughed. “The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man's worst nightmare.”

The Doctor scowled as Mickey cackled ahead of him. The missus and the ex?! He and Sarah Jane were never… And he and Rose weren’t currently… With an exasperated puff of air, he dragged his palms across his face. This evening just became even more complicated.

He watched Rose walking in front of him, rigid and tense. He didn’t have to ask to know she was angry, and he knew he had hurt her when he had pulled his hand away. But he had allowed them to stray closer than they should, holding hands and flirting as if he were still her boyfriend, and it was time to start putting distance between them. There had to be a way he could do that without further damaging their friendship.

As the Doctor was pondering a way to patch things over with Rose, they arrived at the headmaster’s office. He whipped his sonic out and unlocked the door. It opened with a loud click, and he dipped his head in. There was no one around, but heavy breathing and gurgles pulled his eyes upward, and he followed the sound to discover giant bats hanging from the ceiling.

“I think those rats are food,” he whispered over his shoulder.

“Food for what?” Rose stood on her toes to get a look.

“Remember when you used to think all the teachers slept in the school? They do here.”

He opened the door wider and they all shuffled in, turning pale at the sight of the human-sized, leathery bats dangling from the ceiling in slumber.

“No way!” Mickey cried and ran as fast as he could down the hall.

Sarah Jane and Rose took off after him, equally startled by the frightening creatures. The Doctor quietly closed the door and met up with everyone as they burst through the front doors of the high school and into the night.

Mickey stumbled and clutched his chest, panting heavily. “I am not goin’ back in there! No way!”

“Were those the teachers?” Rose mused out loud, holding a stitch in her side.

The Doctor walked calmly through the front door with Sarah Jane at his heel. “When Finch arrived, he brought seven new teachers, four dinner ladies, and a nurse. Lucky number thirteen. Thirteen bat people. Fantastic.” He grinned and turned to re-enter the school.

“Where are you goin’? You've gotta be kiddin’!” Mickey shouted, unwilling to follow the daft alien back into a bat den.

“The Tardis is in there,” the Doctor said impatiently.

“And we need to analyze this.” Rose pulled the sample of the grease from her coat. “They fry the chips in this weird, green oil.”

Sarah Jane tugged excitedly on the Doctor’s leather jacket. “Oh! I might be able to help you there. I've got something to show you.”

Mickey and Rose followed Sarah Jane as she pulled the Doctor over to her car. Rose folded her arms across her body as the infuriating woman opened the boot.

The Doctor’s face brightened in glee when he saw a large, robot dog sitting inside. “K9!”

“What is that thing?” Mickey asked.

“Rose, Mickey, this is my dog!” the Doctor smiled and patted the canine’s metal head fondly.

“You have a dog?” Rose scowled at him. “You have a dog and other… What else have you got that I don’t know about?”

She was beginning to feel a familiar, sinking feeling in her gut — a feeling that told her she was just as stupid as Jimmy had always claimed her to be. It was the same feeling she had when her ex started parading other women around in front of her, happily cheating on her but boiling over with rage if she had ever dared to look at another man. And now, the man she loved, and who supposedly felt the same, appeared to have at least one other woman in his life. And Sarah Jane must be important, if his stupid, happy face and the fact that he had left his precious pet with the brunette were any sort of proof.

The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck and avoided Rose’s eyeline. “Yes, I have a dog. This is K9 Mark three.”

“Well, it’s rather disco,” Rose muttered. Noticing her distress, Mickey rubbed her back in soothing circles.

“Oi!” the Doctor snapped. “He’s not disco! Cuttin’ edge in the year five thousand.” He turned his attention to Sarah Jane. “What happened to him?”

Sarah Jane frowned. “I don’t know. One day, just… nothing.”

“You didn’t try and get him repaired?”

“Well, it's not like getting parts for a Mini Metro. Besides, the technology inside him could rewrite human science. I couldn't show him to anyone.”

“Oh, what's the lovely lady done to you, eh?” the Doctor cooed and scratched the tin canine under its chin.

Rose’s mood soured the longer she watched the Doctor bonding with Sarah Jane over a metal dog.

“Are you ok?” Mickey whispered in her ear, recognizing the look of defeat on her face.

She pressed her lips together and leaned her head on his shoulder. “No. No, I’m not.”

~*~

Ever since the Doctor had told her they could only be friends, Rose had assumed their relationship had simply been paused, ready to be resumed whenever he pulled his head out of his arse. After all, despite what he had said, he had kept up his habit of holding her hand and flirting with her. But she appeared to have been wrong — dead wrong.

Sarah Jane had driven them all to a nearby chip shop so her and the Doctor could canoodle or bond or whatever it was they were currently doing at a small table with the defunct K9. Rose waited at the counter for her order of chips, needing to put something in her churning stomach.

Mickey stood next to her and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder blade. “I know what you’re thinkin’, and I think you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not,” she mumbled and chewed her lip.

He sighed and wrapped an arm around her waist. “Yes, you are. You think he’s leavin’ you for someone better.”

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” She nodded her head at the cozy couple. “You remember what I said about Jimmy? He loved to flirt with other women right in front of me, used to say it might keep me in line if I knew he could have any woman he wanted.”

“I could kill that bastard. Lucky he’s already dead,” Mickey growled. “Rose, as much grief as that git put me through with you, he’s nothin’ like Jimmy. You know he’s not. You’re just lettin’ the past get in the way.”

“He’s never talked about the other women in his life.”

“I don’t think he has a harem of ladies waitin’ around for him or anythin’.” He glanced back at Sarah Jane and the Doctor. “I think he’s just catchin’ up with a friend. You don’t see it, but I do. When you aren’t lookin’, he stares at you like a man that is completely arse over elbow.”

“Then why aren’t I good enough?” Her eyes stung as she held back tears and paid for her chips.

Mickey sighed and spun her around to face him full-on, placing his hand on her shoulders. “You are good enough. He may have called me an idiot plenty of times, but he’s the real idiot.”

Rose huffed out a watery laugh and blew the hair out of her eyes. “Do you think I’m stupid? For waitin’ around for him?”

He screwed up his face in contemplation before shaking his head. “No. I’d do the same thing if it was Martha.”

“I’m sorry I put you through this.” Needing a friendly embrace, she leaned forward and rested her forehead against his clavicle.

“It’s alright.” He shrugged and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. “If you didn’t, I never would have met the love of my life.”

Rose pulled back with a smile and allowed Mickey to lead her over to an empty table so she could drown her sorrows in a basket of chips.

The Doctor frowned slightly as he watched the two friends out of the corner of his eye. He knew Rose was upset; he’d be an idiot not to notice. He desperately wanted to run over, scoop her into his arms, and rain kisses all over her face — but he didn’t have the right.

“I thought of you a while back,” Sarah Jane piped up, distracting the Doctor from his worries over Rose. “When the shop window dummies came to life? I thought, ‘I bet he’s out there.’”

He laughed as he recalled that hectic day. “Right in the middle of it, yeah.”

Sarah Jane peaked at Rose over the Doctor’s shoulder as he fixed bits of wires hanging out of K9. “And Rose?”

He paused his sonic screwdriver and met Sarah Jane’s gaze. “She saved my life.”

“Did I do something wrong?” She nervously fiddled with a bit of wire on the table. “Because you never came back for me. You just dumped me.”

“I was called back home. Humans weren’t allowed.”

“I waited for you. I missed you.”

“You didn't need me.” He smiled. “You were gettin’ on with your life.”

“You were my life,” she stated like a fact. “You know what the most difficult thing was? Coping with what happens next, or with what doesn't happen next. You took me to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. You showed me supernovas, intergalactic battles, and then you just dropped me back on Earth!” The hurt in her voice was palpable. “How could anything compare to that?”

The Doctor frowned. “Do you want me to apologize for all you saw?”

“No, but...” she paused and blew out a breath of frustration. “We get a taste of that splendor, and then we have to go back.”

“But you’re doin’ what we always did — investigatin’ and diggin’ deeper. You found that school without me.”

“You could have come back.” Sarah Jane pierced him with a forlorn stare.

“No.” He ripped his eyes away from her, already wallowing in enough guilt without needing to feel her disappointment.

“Why not?” she asked, but the Doctor ignored her and continued his work on K9. Sarah Jane pursed her lips, resigned to the fact that she would never get a straight answer out of the confounding man. “It wasn’t Croydon, by the way, where you dropped me off. That wasn’t Croydon.”

The Doctor’s forehead wrinkled. “Where was it?”

“Aberdeen,” she remarked with ire.

“That’s not far from Croydon, is it?”

Sarah laughed and shook her head in amusement. K9 suddenly whirred back to life.

“Ha! Now we’re in business!” The Doctor whooped in joy and got to his feet.

“Master,” K9 greeted in a robotic voice.

“He remembers me!”

“Affirmative.” The metal dog wagged its tail.

“Rose,” the Doctor turned around and held out his hand, “I’ll take that oil now.”

With a face suspiciously devoid of emotion, Rose stood and crossed the room, placing the container in his open palm. He tried smiling at her, but she studiously ignored his gaze. He closed his eyes briefly before dipping his finger into the small vat of grease and smearing it onto K9’s analysis probe.

“Oil. Ex-ex-ex-extract,” the tin dog stuttered. “Ana-ana-analyzing.

Mickey laughed. “Listen to him, man. That's a voice.”

“Careful, that's my dog,” Sarah Jane sternly advised him.

The Doctor shot a warning glare at Mickey and waited for his dog to finish with the sample.

“Confirmation of analysis.” K9 beeped happily. “Substance is Krillitane Oil.”

The Doctor paled. “They're Krillitanes.”

“Is that bad?” Rose asked, finally acknowledging him.

“Very bad. Think of how bad it could be and then add another steamin’ pile of bad on top of it.” The leather of his jacket creaked as he folded his arms tightly across his chest.

“And what are Krillitanes?” Sarah Jane asked.

“A composite race, just like your culture is a mixture of traditions from all sorts of countries: bits of different races mixed into your DNA. The Krillitanes are the same, an amalgam of the races they've conquered,” he explained. “They take physical aspects as well, cherry-pick the best bits from the people they destroy. And that's why I didn't recognize them straight away; the last time I saw Krillitanes, they looked just like us except they had really long necks.” He frowned, deeply, annoyed that he hadn’t solved this puzzle from the moment he had stepped foot into Deffry Vale.

“But what're they doin’ here?” Rose mused.

A spark of anger flared behind the Doctor’s eyes. “They're doin’ somethin’ to the children.”

Now that he knew what they were up against, the Doctor instructed Mickey and Sarah Jane to take K9 back to the car. He had to think of a plan to deal with the Krillitanes and figure out why they needed to infiltrate a high school full of teenagers.

“So, what's the deal with the tin dog?” Mickey asked Sarah Jane as they placed K9 back in the boot of her car.

“The Doctor likes traveling with an entourage. Sometimes they're humans, sometimes they're aliens, and sometimes they're tin dogs.” Sarah Jane sat on the tailgate and looked Mickey over. “What about you? Where do you fit in the picture?”

“Me? I'm their Man in Havana. I'm the technical support. I'm…” Mickey was smiling but the grin fell from his face. “Oh, my God. I'm the tin dog!”

Rose felt her insides twist and snap as she watched the Doctor follow Sarah Jane’s movements out the door with a love-sick look on his face. Even though Mickey had tried to comfort her and assure her that she was wrong, she couldn’t stop the tide of insecurity as it flooded her insides. She’d been hurt beyond repair by a man in the past. She’d be damned if she allowed it to happen again.

The Doctor exited the chip shop and Rose stormed after him. “How many women have you seduced over your nine hundred years?”

“What? I don’t seduce anyone!” He objected, never breaking his stride.

“Am I just the latest in a long line? Do you tell all of them that you lo—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!” the Doctor growled and halted in his tracks to spin around to face her.

Rose was not intimidated by the anger radiating from him and stood her ground. “Was it all a lie? Have I gotten everythin’ wrong? Do you string random women about for a lark until you grow bored and just leave us behind?” She laughed sardonically. “That’s what’s gonna happen to me, isn’t it?”

“I’d never leave you behind,” he vowed emphatically.

But she didn’t believe him and continued to press him for an explanation. “But, you were close to Sarah Jane once and now… You never even mention her. Why not?”

His fury dissipated and was replaced by pain-filled, glassy eyes. “Rose…” He paused as his voice came out in a strangled gasp. “I don't age. I'm over 900-years-old. I could live for thousands more. But humans? You lot decay. You wither and you die. Can you imagine watchin’ that happen to someone you—”

The Doctor cut himself off and stared at her. Rose met his eye and swallowed. Both of them knew exactly what he had been about to say.

After a pregnant pause, he took an unsteady breath and continued, “You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend mine with you. I have to live on — alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords.”

Rose stood, unmoving, in the middle of the street as the weight of his words settled over her. With a jolt of realization that sliced her heart in two, she knew that the Doctor would never hold her close again.

A screech rang through the air and a voice cackled in triumph, “Time Lord!”

The Doctor snapped his head up in the direction of the noise and locked eyes with the headmaster of the school. A giant bat swooped down, racing through the air towards them. The four companions ducked as the creature barely grazed the top of their heads.

Sarah Jane shot to her feet, breathless. “What that a Krillitane?”

The Doctor glared at the creature as it disappeared like a phantom into the star-filled night. Timing was never on his side. His insides were in turmoil, but the current threat had to be dealt with before he could even begin to reattach the tattered remains of his friendship with Rose.  

“Sarah Jane,” he barked, moving swiftly to her car. “Take us somewhere safe.”

Following his orders, Sarah Jane drove them all to her house. She gave Mickey and Rose a brief tour, showing them the guest rooms and the loo. The Doctor parked himself at Sarah Jane’s kitchen table where he decided to brood and patch up more bits of K9.

Rose moved on autopilot as she washed up in the loo. She didn’t know what to do anymore. At first, it had seemed like the Doctor was keeping himself locked away from her because of the demons of his past. Then, with the arrival of Sarah Jane, she had briefly assumed he just liked keeping himself available to the universe’s stash of women. But now… If her lifespan was what was truly holding him back, then there was no hope left — she couldn’t stop being human.

After she felt clean enough, Rose joined everyone else in the kitchen, standing awkwardly in the doorway. Sarah Jane was brewing a pot of tea and chatting to the Doctor, even though the man wasn’t engaging her in any conversation. Rose continued to stand there, fidgeting and chewing on her thumb, but the Doctor never raised his head to bid her goodnight.

 With a furious glare at the alien git, Mickey pushed away from the table and gently nudged Rose to the guest room. She crawled silently onto the closest bed and curled up on her side, shielding herself from the tsunami of grief that had engulfed her heart.

Chapter Text

The bell in the school yard pierced the air as the pupils of Deffry Vale arrived for class. Four companions stood in the sunlight, unmoving, watching as the students filed through the front door, eager to learn. They had reason to suspect the headmaster was using the children, pumping them full of unearthly knowledge for the gain of the Krillitane race.

The Doctor cracked his neck — it was time to find Mr. Finch.

He pulled the sonic out of his leather jacket and held it out to Sarah Jane. “Rose, Sarah Jane, I need you to check out the computers in the Maths room. See if you can get to the hardware inside. Mickey, keep an eye on things out here.”

“What, just stand outside?” Mickey whined.

Sarah Jane took the sonic screwdriver from the Doctor’s outstretched hand and pulled her car keys out of her pocket. “Here, take these. You can keep K9 company.”

“Should I give him biscuits, too?” Mickey snarked, angrily snatching the keys from Sarah Jane’s palm. He folded his arms and leaned against the car, assuming his designated position.

“He likes tummy rubs.” The Doctor smirked and stuffed his fists into his jacket.

“And what’re you gonna do?” Rose asked.

The Doctor looked at her, but she had her eyes fixed on the building in front of them. She hadn’t spoken to him since their argument outside the chippy, and he hated the look of surrender currently etched on her face. The spark in her eyes, the one that he lived and breathed for, was gone, replaced by a calm facade of apathy. And it was his fault. He’d be lucky to salvage their friendship at this point.

He returned his gaze to the students entering the high school. “I’m gonna find our fearless leader.”

Rose broke away from the group and headed for the Maths department, as instructed, assuming Sarah Jane was following her. The car ride over this morning had been tense and uncomfortable, and she was glad to get away from the Doctor and his imposing presence for a little while.

She still hadn’t figured out what she was going to do with herself now. If her mortality was keeping him away from her, then what was the point of her traveling with him? Despite his assertion that he’d never leave her behind, he’d kick her out eventually, too scared to watch her wither and die, as he’d put it. Maybe she should leave him now while she still had some dignity left.

But the thought of never seeing his daft grin or his gorgeous, blue eyes again sent a stab of misery to her gut.

Mickey watched Rose walk quickly and rigidly into the school ahead of the Doctor and Sarah Jane. He had heard everything the Doctor had said to Rose last night, and his opinion of the alien git had hit an all time low.

Suddenly feeling very lucky to have Martha, Mickey whipped his mobile out of his pocket and set you a quick text saying “I love you.” He yanked open the car door and sat down in the front seat with an irritated huff, scowling at the metal canine in the back seat.

“Keep an eye on things, he says. Well, I will. I’ll keep an eye on Rose since he’s not gonna. Martha and I will take care of her if she decides to leave him.” He stared at the dog and shook his head. “I’m talkin’ to a tin dog.”

~*~

With a determined stride, the Doctor combed the school hallways and classrooms for the headmaster. He glanced over a railing and finally spotted the slick-backed, dark head of hair in the sea of students rushing about to their next class. Sensing he was being watched, Mr. Finch raised his eye and met the irate glare of the Time Lord above him.

The Doctor followed the man until they arrived at the school’s natatorium. Gentle waves of clear pool water separated the two as they silently stared at one another from opposite sides of the building.

“Who are you?” the Doctor asked, voice echoing in the cavernous interior.

“My name is Brother Lassa,” the headmaster politely replied. “And you?”

“The Doctor. When did you lot get wings?”

Brother Lassa smiled and casually strolled along the length of the pool. “It's been our form for nearly ten generations now. Our ancestors invaded Bessan.” He smiled coldly. “The people there had some rather lovely wings. They made a million widows in one day. Just imagine.”

“So why are you shaped like a human?”

“A personal favorite, that's all.”

“And the others?”

“My brothers remain bat form. What you see is a simple morphic illusion. Scratch the surface and the true Krillitane lies beneath.” He paused and assessed the man on the other side of the pool. “And what of the Time Lords? I always thought of you as such a pompous race. Ancient, dusty senators, so frightened of change and chaos. And of course, they're all but extinct. Only you — the last.”

The Doctor calmly walked at the same pace as the man across the water. By the time the headmaster had finished his little speech, they had rounded their respective corners and come to a stop within ten feet of one another.

“What’s your plan then?” the Doctor asked, folding his leather covered arms in his usual stance of dominance.

Brother Lassa angled his head to the side with a curious grin. “You don't know?”

“Why else would I ask?”

“Well, show me how clever you are. Work it out.” He moved closer and peered into the Time Lord’s eyes.

The Doctor held his ground and clenched his jaw. “I’m gonna assume it’s somethin’ I’ll have to end.”

“Fascinating.” The headmaster’s expression became even more bewildered and intrigued. “Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence. You seem to be something new. Would you declare war on us, Doctor?”

“My days of mercy are behind me. You get one warnin’.” The Doctor turned around and walked smoothly toward the exit. Before he left the building, he called out over his shoulder, “That was it.”

“But we're not even enemies!” Brother Lassa yelled after him. “You will embrace us. The next time we meet, you will join with me!”

~*~

Upstairs in an I.T. room, Sarah Jane was trying and failing to use the sonic screwdriver to hack one of the school’s computers. She huffed in frustration several times as she attempted to turn on the switch by a jumble of cables underneath the desk. Rose sat idle in the chair next to her, chewing absentmindedly on her thumbnail.

Sarah Jane rose to her knees and punched a few buttons on the keyboard. “It's not working!”

“Here, I’ll give it a go.” Rose took the sonic from Sarah Jane and ducked under the desk to try turning on the computer herself.

“Used to work first time in my day.”

“Guess things were simpler back then,” Rose remarked and immediately regretted her catty attitude. It wasn’t Sarah Jane’s fault that the Doctor had rejected her.

Sarah Jane sighed. “Rose, can I give you a bit of advice?”

“If you want.” She got to her feet, having no luck turning on the computer either.

“I know how intense a relationship with the Doctor can be, and I don't want you to feel I'm intruding.”

“You’re not intrudin’ on anythin’.” Rose offered a small smile and leaned on the desk next to Sarah Jane.

“I’m not?” She wrinkled her brow.

“No.”

“Oh.” Sarah Jane was visibly shocked. “I got the impression that you two were together, with the fake marriage and all.”

“No, that was just a cover story. He’s quite good at… pretendin’.” Rose shook her head and tucked her hair behind her ear. “With you, did he do that thing where he’d explain somethin’ at ninety miles per hour, and you’d go, what? And then he’d look at you like you’d just dribbled all over your shirt?”

“All the time!” Sarah Jane nodded with a bright smile. “Does he still stroke bits of the Tardis?”

“Yes!” Rose laughed. “Yeah, he does. He’s got me doin’ it now!”

“Perhaps you should get a room?”

Rose howled and doubled over clutching her stomach as she succumbed to a round of cathartic laughter. Sarah Jane giggled along with her as they bonded over shared experiences.

The Doctor chose that moment to barge into the room. “What have you found?” he demanded in his brash, northern voice.

The women took one look at him and cackled even louder, pointing at him in their mirth.

“What?” he asked, confused. “I need to find out what’s in the programmin’.”

Hysteria set in as Rose and Sarah Jane clutched each other for support, tears streaming down their cheeks as the laughter refused to subside.

The Doctor didn’t know why they were laughing at him, but if it lit up Rose’s face again, he’d gladly be a clown for her every day. With an amused scowl, he joined them by the computers and started investigating for himself.

The sounds of students approaching the classroom interrupted Rose’s amusement, and she sprinted to the door to bar them from entering. “No, no. This classroom's out of bounds,” she lied. “You've all got to go to the South Hall. Off you go. South Hall!”

As Rose directed the teenagers away, the Doctor looped wires around his neck and used the sonic on the hard drive. The device was still stubbornly refusing to switch on.

“Oh, c’mon!” the Doctor groused.

“I thought the sonic screwdriver could open anything?” Sarah Jane asked, bewildered.

“It’s deadlock sealed. There’s gotta be somethin’ inside here. What’re they teachin’ those kids?” he grumbled and continued to force the program to reveal itself.

Suddenly, without the Doctor’s help, all of the computers in the room switched on with a bright, green glow. Numbers, symbols, and foreign characters flashed rapidly across the screens.

Sarah Jane raised her eyebrows and gestured to one of the monitors. “You wanted the program? There it is.”

Flabbergasted, the Doctor spun around, confused by the program running on the computers. “What code is that?” He scrutinized the large projection screen at the front of the room and froze in wide-eyed horror. “No. No, that’s impossible.”

While the Doctor was stunned from his sudden revelation, Rose stood nearby, equally shocked. Even though she had never been a great math student, she recognized at least half of the signs and equations scrolling across the monitors. The math textbooks she had been reading in the school’s library and on the Tardis didn’t contain the foreign symbols currently in front of her. So why did she know exactly what they meant?

~*~

Out in the parking lot, a loud rattling and banging caught Mickey’s attention and he squinted against the bright light towards the source of the disturbance. A portly, bespectacled boy was frantically trying to open the front doors of the school. Mickey jumped out of the car and sprinted across the tarmac to the student banging on the glass.

“They've taken them all!” the frightened boy shouted, muffled by the thick window.

“What?” Mickey asked in confusion.

“They've taken all the children!”

Thinking quickly, Mickey gestured for the boy to wait and then dashed back across the parking lot to the car. Maybe the tin dog doubled as a Swiss Army knife, and he could pry open the door to the school.

He flailed his arms above K9, not knowing how to turn on the machine, and then mashed down random buttons. “C’mon, I need some help.”

When nothing worked, Mickey banged a bitter fist on the top of the dog’s hard head.

K9 whirred to life and lifted its snout into the air. “System restarting. All primary drives functioning.”

Mickey smiled in triumph. “You're workin’! Okay, no time to explain. We need to get inside the school. Do you have like, I dunno, a lock-pickin’ device?” he hurriedly asked.

“We are in a car,” K9 stated matter-of-factly.

“Maybe a drill attachment?”

“We are in a car.”

Mickey clenched his teeth and growled, “Fat lot of good you are.”

“We are in a car,” K9 reiterated.

“Wait a second, we’re in a car!” Mickey turned around and shouted to the boy behind the glass doors, “Get back!”

With a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, he started the vehicle and peeled out of the parking spot. Mickey shouted in fear and determination as he drove the automobile at full speed through the entrance of the building. A million tiny shards of glass flew into the air and rained down onto the concrete floor. Mickey stomped on the brake before he crashed too far into the school and pushed open the car door, mindful of the razor sharp pieces of glass surrounding him.

“C’mon!” Mickey shouted and pulled the terrified boy with him down the hall.

If the Krillitane had taken the children, then he needed to find the Doctor.

~*~

Up in the I.T. room, Rose was still paralyzed by her knowledge of the alien symbols on the screen, and the Doctor was panicking.

“The Skasis Paradigm,” he said in terrified awe. “They're tryin’ to solve the Skasis Paradigm.”

“The Skasis what?” Sarah Jane asked.

“The Skasis Paradigm, the universal theory. Crack that equation and you’ve suddenly got control of the buildin’ blocks of the universe — time, space, and matter. You’d be a god,” the Doctor explained, becoming more frightened by the consequences with every passing second.

Rose snapped out of her trance and focused on the problem at hand. “And they’re usin’ the kids to solve it, like a giant computer?”

The Doctor nodded fervently and paced in front of the desks. “Yes, and the oil is actin’ as a conductin’ agent to make them smarter.”

“But that oil's on the chips. I've been eatin’ them!” Maybe that’s why she recognized the characters on the screen!

“What's fifty-nine times thirty-five?”

“Two thousand and sixty-five.” Both Rose’s and the Doctor’s eyes widened. “Oh, my God.”

“But why use children?” Sarah Jane wondered. “Can't they use adults?”

“Children have imagination. You need that bit to solve the god maker.” The Doctor crossed his arms with an angry scowl. “They’re not just usin’ their brains to break the code — they’re usin’ their souls, too.”

The sound of dress shoes tapping on the floor interrupted the frenzied conversation, and all three heads turned to see the headmaster strolling calmly into the classroom.

“Let the lesson begin,” Brother Lassa said with a smug smile. “Think of it, Doctor. With the Paradigm solved, reality becomes clay in our hands. We can shape the universe and improve it.”

“The whole of creation modeled after you? I like things they way they are, thanks,” the Doctor objected, walking across the room to meet the man halfway.

Brother Lassa narrowed his eyes when he was closer to the Time Lord. “You act like such a radical, and yet all you want to do is preserve the old order? Think of the changes that could be made if this power was used for good.”

“By you lot?”

“No, you . The Paradigm gives us power, but you could give us wisdom. Become a god at my side.” He attempted to entice the Doctor with the limitless power. “Imagine what you could do. Think of the civilizations you could save — Perganon, Assinta. Your own people, Doctor, standing tall. The Time Lords... reborn.”

“Doctor, don't listen to him,” Sarah Jane interrupted.

“And you could be with him throughout eternity.” He bypassed the Doctor to stand in front of the two women, attracting them with talk of immortality. “Young, fresh, never wither, never age, never die. Their lives are so fleeting. So many goodbyes.” He turned back to the Doctor with a sympathetic frown. “How lonely you must be, Doctor. Join us.”

“I could save them.” The Doctor stared, unseeing, as he thought about all of the lives he could save with infinite control of time and matter at his fingertips.

“Yes,” Brother Lassa said softly, nudging the powerful alien to his side.

“I could stop the war.”

“No,” Sarah Jane cried. “The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it's a world or a relationship.” She paused and took a long breath. “Everything has its time and everything ends.”

The Doctor’s eyes snapped briefly to Rose, who was staring at the carpet. This could be the start of a world where he could keep her forever… and all he had to do was say yes.

But he knew himself too well. He would become a god, a vengeful god, and the universe would weep under his reign of tyranny. What would she think of him then?

His face twisted in rage and he grabbed a chair, pitching it with all his might at the projection screen. It crashed into the monitor in an explosion of glass and sparks as the electricity shorted out.

“Run!” the Doctor shouted, grabbing Rose’s hand and hauling her out of the classroom.

As they sprinted down the staircase, the furious screeching of Brother Lassa echoed throughout the school, summoning his brothers into battle.

At the bottom of the stairs, the three of them crashed into Mickey and a terrified boy the Doctor instantly recognized as Kenny.

“What is goin’ on?” Mickey asked, breathing heavily.

Before the Doctor could answer, the group snapped their necks towards the cacophony of wings and high-pitched bat calls barrelling their way. They turned away from the oncoming threat and raced through the halls.

While the winged-creatures quickly gained on them, they burst into the empty cafeteria. The Doctor quickly sprinted to the kitchen doors with Rose by his side, and they simultaneously grabbed the handles and pulled, but the doors were locked.

Behind them, the cafeteria doors flew open and the human-sized bats swarmed in with Brother Lassa. The creatures snapped their toothy jaws and slashed their claws through the air as their leader stood below with a triumphant smirk plastered on his face.

Kenny crouched onto the ground with the others. “Are they my teachers?”

“Not anymore.” The Doctor picked up a chair to defend him and Rose.

“We need the Doctor alive. As for the others? You can feast,” Brother Lassa commanded his brothers with a callous smile.

Frenzied shrieks and flaps of leathery wings invaded the room as the flying Krillitanes dive bombed the terrified group. The Doctor used the chair he had picked up, slicing it through the air at an attacker as Rose clung to the back of his leather jacket. Several bats brushed across the top of Sarah Jane’s head and she fell to the ground, dragging Kenny with her under a table. Mickey stumbled when one of the bats knocked his shoulder and used his arms and legs to kick the creature’s talons and teeth away from his body.

Suddenly, K9 entered the fight and shot a red laser out of its snout, slaying one of the Krillitanes in mid-air. Mr. Finch howled in anger to see one of his brothers brought down by the tiny, metal dog.

“K9!” Sarah Jane scurried out from under the table.

“Suggest you engage running mode, Mistress.” The little dog spun around the room, shooting more laser beams into the air with deadly accuracy.

“C’mon!” The Doctor took advantage of the distraction and dropped the chair in favor of grabbing Rose’s hand. “K9 hold them back!”

“Affirmative master!”

Not needing to be told twice, everyone scrambled off the floor and dashed out of the cafeteria. The Doctor ushered them all into a nearby classroom and quickly used the sonic to seal the door. He needed time to find a solution to the chaos.

He paced the physics laboratory, thinking on his feet. “Rose, did you find anythin’ else when you were in the kitchens?”

“No,” Rose gasped out through a labored breath, “just barrels of that oil and some gloves.”

“Gloves?” The Doctor’s eyes widened and his face morphed into a manic grin. “Fantastic! They’ve changed so often, even their own oil is toxic to them!”

Scratching and screeching vibrated against the door as the Krillitanes frantically tried to claw their way inside. Everyone backed up in fear and a few of the razor-sharp talons started to splinter and fracture the thin wood.

The Doctor preemptively snatched Rose’s fingers again. “We need to get to the kitchens. Mickey—”

Mickey threw his arms into the air, expecting an insulting task. “What now, hold the coats?”

“If that’ll please you, but I’d rather you get all the children unplugged and out of the school.” The Doctor refocused his attention on the rapidly crumbling door. “Now, how do we bat bats?”

Spotting the nearby fire alarm, Kenny ambled over and shattered the protective glass covering with his elbow. A high-pitched siren pierced the air and the Krillitanes shrieked in pain on the other side of the door.

The Doctor laughed and bolted out of the classroom, Rose on his arm and the rest of the group at his heel. They dodged the maze of cowering and wailing bat bodies in the hall and made their escape. K9 emerged from the cafeteria as they ran past the entry and followed its master down the corridor.

While the Doctor, Rose, Sarah Jane, and Kenny headed for the kitchen, Mickey broke off from the group and burst into the I.T. classroom full of students. “Okay, listen everyone! We’ve got to get out of here!”

No one moved. All of the students remained glued their monitors, fingers flying across the keyboards as they worked zealously to crack the code of the Skasis Paradigm. Mickey waved his hand and snapped his fingers in front of a nearby girl’s face, but she didn’t notice him at all.

Furrowing his brow, Mickey glanced around in a search of way to get the students unglued from the monitors. He noticed a bundle of thick, heavy cables and traced its path as it wound around the room to a simple plug on the front wall. Hoping it was that easy, he yanked the cord from the socket. A crack and hiss of sparks exploded from the wires, and the computer screens went blank.

“Everyone get out. Now!” Mickey shouted. “C’mon, move!”

The students unfroze from their collective trance and Mickey hurriedly led them through the halls and out of the building.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and his three companions flew into the kitchen. He immediately spotted the barrels of oil and pulled out the sonic screwdriver to open them.

“They’re deadlock sealed!” The Doctor banged a fist on the lid. “Brother Lassa musta done that.”

“Master!” K9 finally caught up to him and rushed to be of service. “The vats would not withstand a direct hit from my laser, but my batteries are failing.”

“Right.” The Doctor quickly glanced around at his three companions. “Rose, Sarah Jane, Kenny — out the back door.”

Rose grabbed Kenny’s hand and followed Sarah Jane out the door as instructed. The Doctor rolled the barrels of oil around until he had K9 lined up perfectly with one of the large vats.

“Capacity for only one shot, Master. For maximum impact, I must be stationed directly beside the vat,” K9 informed him.

“But I’ll be trappin’ you inside.” The Doctor crouched down by his dog.

“That is correct.” The metal dog nodded once.

“I can't let you do that.”

“No alternative possible, Master.”

Screeches from the Krillitane were getting closer and the Doctor frowned. “Goodbye, old friend.”

“Goodbye, Master.”

“You’re a good dog.” He patted the top of K9’s head with a sad smile.

“Affirmative.”

With one last parting head scratch, the Doctor shot to his feet and ran out the back door, leaving K9 to finish his work. Sarah Jane was waiting right outside as he sealed the lock with the sonic.

Sarah Jane looked to the closed door and back to the Doctor. “Where's K9?”

“Run.” The Doctor brushed past her, assuming she would follow.

But she remained rooted to the spot, frantically searching for her dog. “Where is he? What have you done!”

Growling impatiently, the Doctor darted back over to Sarah Jane and grabbed her hand to pull her to safety.

As they rounded the corner of the building, Mickey was herding the last of the students out of the front doors. “C’mon, guys! Let’s go! Run!”

Just as the last of the stragglers had sprinted to safety, the building exploded in a fiery ball of yellow and orange flames. The windows and doors shattered, flinging particles of glass and billows of smoke into the atmosphere. Pieces of paper and ash rained down from the sky onto the mass of teenagers.

Cheers erupted in the school yard as the pupils celebrated the demise of their captors and the destruction of their day-time jail. Rose and Mickey joined in on their excitement, hugging random students in joy.

“Yes!” Kenny jumped up and down, pumping his fist in the air.

Melissa looked at her classmate in excitement. “Did you have something to do with it?”

Kenny shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I did.”

“Oh, my God!” Melissa shouted to the rest of the students around them. “Kenny blew up the school! It was Kenny!”

The shy, anxious boy smiled brighter and was swallowed up by a crowd of students gleefully chanting, “Kenny! Kenny! Kenny!”

Sarah Jane was not celebrating. She gazed in shocked silence at the pillars of smoke and fire wafting out of the school.

“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said.

“It’s all right. He was just a daft, metal dog. It’s fine, really.” She laughed lightly, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t upset. But her false bravado quickly crumbled and she succumbed to a round of tears over her beloved K9.

Feeling sorry for destroying her companion, the Doctor pulled her into his side in a comforting hug, and Sarah Jane wept into his leather jacket.

Rose observed Sarah Jane’s turmoil with a frown. K9 had been a precious piece from her old life, and, with no warning, it was ripped from her grasp. There must be something they could do for her. Maybe she would like to travel again. Rose smiled as she thought about traveling the stars with the spunky brunette, but her grin faded as she realized she wasn’t sure how much longer she should stay with the Doctor. Could she continue to torture herself — to live with the man she loved and never be a proper couple again?

~*~

As soon as the flames had died down at the school, the Doctor had relocated he Tardis, to nearby Belle Vue Park. Sarah Jane had driven her car over and was currently walking with a bright smile towards the time machine that had once been her entire life.

With a loud creak, the front door swung open and the Doctor leaned against the jamb with a smile. “Tea?”

Sarah Jane giggled and shook her head as she brushed past him to enter the Tardis for the first time in decades. The metal grating clanged under her feet and the time rotor brightened slightly to greet her old friend.

“You’ve redecorated,” Sarah Jane observed, swiveling her eyes around the massive coral struts lining the room.

“Oh, quite a few times. Do you like it?” the Doctor asked, eager for his friend’s approval.

“Oh, I do, yeah.” She patted a nearby strut. “I preferred it as it was but, yeah. It’ll do.”

“I love it!” Rose piped up, tenderly stroking a patch of coral by her fingers. The Tardis hummed, bashful and delighted, in her mind.

Sarah smiled brightly and turned to Rose. “Hey, you! What's forty-seven times three hundred and sixty-nine?”

“Seventeen thousand three hundred and forty-three.”

Sarah Jane, Mickey, and the Doctor stared at her, eyes wide and brows high.

“Er…” Rose chuckled nervously. “Guess the oil hasn’t faded yet.”

“Don’t tell Martha. She might want some of that oil to pass her exams.” Mickey clapped her on the back with a laugh.

The Doctor rolled his eyes and fiddled with the console as he eyed Sarah Jane. “We’re gonna head off, but, I dunno, you could come with us?” he offered.

Rose hoped she would say yes. “I could use some help keepin’ him in line.”

“Oi!”

With a fond shake of her head, Sarah Jane offered Rose a sad smile. “No, I can’t do this anymore. Besides, I've got a much bigger adventure ahead. Time I stopped waiting for you and found a life of my own.”

“Me, too,” Mickey said, interrupting Sarah Jane. “I’m not the tin dog, and you’re right Sarah Jane, time to stop waitin’.” He turned his attention the Doctor. “Can you take me back home now? I want to propose to Martha.”

Rose gasped in shock. “What?! Where’s this comin’ from?”

“You would know if you had bothered to listen to me on the phone yesterday.”

“Propose?! You haven’t known her that long!”

Mickey shrugged, undeterred. “When you know, you know.”

The Doctor met Rose’s eyes from across the console, but they both hastily deflected their gaze.

“Good for you,” Sarah Jane encouraged him. “Don’t waste your time. And speaking of which, I better go.”

The Doctor walked down the ramp to escort her out, but Sarah Jane engulfed Rose in a hug before she left.

“What do I do?” Rose whispered in her ear. “Do I… Should I stay with him?”

Sarah Jane pulled back and looked her in the eye. “That daft man can’t leave a room without grabbing your hand. Even if he never comes around, some things are worth a broken heart. I’d say find me one day if you need to… But, I don’t think you will.”

She smiled one final time at Rose and Mickey before turning around and joining the Doctor where he was waiting for her at the bottom of the ramp. She squinted in the bright light of the day as he closed the door behind them.

“It’s daft, but I haven’t ever thanked you for that time and like I said, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she beamed.

“Somethin’ to tell the grandkids?” he mused.

“Oh, I think it’ll be someone else’s grandkids now.”

The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. “Right, sorry. I never did ask. There hasn’t been anyone… you know?”

“Well, there was this one guy. I traveled with him for a while, but he was a tough act to follow.” Sarah Jane fixed him with a stern gaze. “You need her, Doctor. Don’t let her go, and, please, don’t break her heart.” She let out a puff of air before smiling again. “Goodbye, Doctor.”

“Oh, this isn’t goodbye—”

“Yes, it is. Say it this time, please. Say it,” she implored.

“Goodbye, my Sarah Jane.” The Doctor beamed brightly and picked Sarah Jane off the ground in a giant, bear hug. She giggled and squeeze him once around the neck.

With a final wave goodbye, the Doctor opened the Tardis doors and left her, willingly this time, behind. He hoped she liked the mended K9 that he had hidden behind the time machine.

~*~

Back inside the Tardis, under the glow of the central column, Mickey was watching Rose with a scrutinizing eye.

“What did you ask her?” He plopped on the jumpseat and patted the spot next to him in invitation.

Rose sighed and sat next to him. “I asked if I should stay.”

“I’d tell you to come home with me, but you’ll never be happy on the estates again. You’re better off out there, in the stars. Doin’ your weird space thing or whatever it is that you do.”

“Would you like to go for a trip? See what’s out there?”

“Nah, I’ve got Martha.”

“Can’t believe you’re proposin’,” Rose mumbled and flopped back further on the seat.

Mickey laughed. “Me neither. Well, I will be once I save up enough money to get her a nice ring.”

“I’m sure she’d be happy with anythin’ you give her.”

“Probably.” Mickey smiled to himself and thought about his, hopefully, future fiancée.

“You sure I’m not bein’ stupid, stayin’ with him? Even if he never loves me back?” She shifted her head around to get a better look at her long-time friend.

“Maybe a little. But we’re all stupid when we’re in love, includin’ that daft alien. I’m not his biggest fan, but I acted just like him not long ago.” Mickey slouched back in the seat and bumped shoulders with Rose. “I know I haven’t known Martha long, and maybe that’s why I got scared. But I woke up one day and she was there, and I thought, ‘Wow, I could spend the rest of my life wakin’ up to her, and it would never not be amazing.’ And I flipped! I’ve never felt like that before. No offense.” He paused and Rose laughed. “And I thought, I don’t deserve this amazin’ woman; compared to her, I’m rubbish. But in the end, lovin’ her is as easy as breathin’, like a missin’ piece of me has finally come home. And I realized that I’d be the biggest idiot alive if I didn’t grab on and never let her go. Not that I’m a romantic or anythin’, so I hope I remember our anniversary.”

Rose wiped the tear that had fallen down her cheek as she listened to the heartfelt confession of her best friend. “Oh, I dunno. I think you’re better at this romance stuff than you think. How comes you never told me you felt like that?”

Mickey scoffed. “I tried, but you’ve got a one-track mind when the Doctor’s around. I’m surprised anythin’ gets through your head.”

She smacked his arm with a laugh and settled her head on his shoulder. She felt better than she had the previous night when it felt like her entire world had come crumbling down. And it had, but the idea of leaving the Doctor ripped away the last remaining shreds of happiness in her gut. Abandoning him would probably be the logical choice for most people, but she wasn’t most people. She could escape, live a life day after day, find a husband, have some kids, and get that white-picket fenced dream most little girls had — but she wasn’t a little girl anymore. If she’d never get her happy ever after than she’d settle for doing good across the universe, for helping anyone in her path and leaving things just a tiny bit better than she found them — to help the Doctor as he traveled among the stars as the universe’s unofficial protector.

And there wasn’t another man out there for her, anyway.

The creaking of the Tardis door interrupted her musings, and Rose and Mickey straightened in the jumpseat.

The Doctor strolled silently to the console and pulled on the lever to send them into the vortex. “Alright, Mickey. Home to Martha?”

“Absolutely, boss.”

“And… Rose?” He glanced apprehensively at her over the scanner.

Rose offered him a tiny smile. “Me? I’m never leavin’.”

The daft grin he gave her in return might be worth all the heartache in the world.

Chapter Text

The Doctor wobbled on a ladder to patch a few frayed wires. He waved the sonic over the exposed ends and then clenched the screwdriver between his teeth. Muttered curses randomly left his lips, not really up for electrical work in the console room this morning. And he wasn’t sulking — definitely not. Despite what the Tardis might think, Time Lords did not sulk.

Only, this one did. While Rose had continued to stay with him, even though he had feared she would leave after his “wither and die” comments, the atmosphere onboard the ship was very different. And he hated it.

Sure, she was still here, but she no longer made him burnt toast in the galley. He used to enjoy poking fun at her culinary skills, even though he secretly loved burnt toast. The Tardis used to actually like him and make banana pancakes on Sunday mornings, but she had stopped fulfilling his request and would blow mental raspberries at him instead.

The food changes he could probably learn to live with; it was the other changes that were driving him barmy. For instance, he hadn’t heard a full belly laugh from Rose in weeks. She was constantly sending texts back and forth with Mickey and her mum, chuckling to herself as she read her mobile screen, but he hadn’t been able to eek out more than a small titter from her.

They used to watch films together in the media room to wind down after an adventure and she would cuddle into his side. Now, he had to sit alone on the sofa, watching the door for her silhouette instead of paying attention to the telly. But she never joined him.

They used to drink tea together in the morning and discuss potential travel locations. These days, he slouched against the table and waited for Rose before drinking his tea (he even made her a mug). He always waited until the steam stopped drifting into the air and then drank his cold brew in silence.

It was as though they were suddenly colleagues and not friends. Rose acted like she was clocking into work and then going home at the end of the day. She was only in his presence while they were out exploring but never while they were onboard the Tardis. As soon as the adventure had ended, Rose disappeared into the bowels of the ship.

But the one thing the Doctor missed above all else was Rose’s smile. Not that she didn’t smile anymore, because she did. The random aliens they met on their travels were always treated to her sweet grin. He was, too, but not as often. However, the smile he loved, the one that made the blood pump faster in his veins, the one where she snuck her tongue between her teeth and looked up at him in absolute joy… it was gone.

~*~

Rose pursed her lips as she wiped away the condensation on the bathroom mirror. She could have sworn it was time to touch up her roots, but her hair was still as blonde as it had been after her dye job four weeks ago. With a shrug, she placed her hand on the wall, asking the Tardis for hair advice. A small curling iron appeared on the counter and she smiled; it had been ages since she had experimented with crimping and coiling her hair into little ringlets or waves.

The ship had become her biggest confidant these past few weeks since she was keeping her distance from the Doctor. She was miserable, missing the random moments of affection they had used to exchange, but she had to keep herself detached. If she allowed herself to be as close to him as she used to be, her already fragile heart would crumble. 

When they weren’t out exploring, Rose would seclude herself in her room, adding to the growing pile of books by her bed. She hadn’t been sleeping much and used the bulk of her extra time to learn about subjects she had never fathomed she would enjoy: cognitive linguistics, biopolymers, and quantum chromodynamics, for starters. The Tardis had even provided her with an instruction manual so she could learn about the different parts of the ship.

She had also been passing the hours on her mobile, calling or texting her mum, Mickey, or Martha. Mickey was actually in the process of being hired by Torchwood. He took an interest in the company after their snafu with the Krillitane, and Martha actually had a cousin that already worked there. He hadn’t popped the question yet, but he finally had enough money to buy a ring. Her mum seemed to be doing just fine, but Rose missed her, especially with the current loneliness she was forcing upon herself in the Tardis.

With her hair finally done, Rose grabbed her travel mug of tea and headed to the console room. She stifled a laugh as she observed the Doctor on a ladder, sonic in his mouth and headlamp strapped tightly to his forehead.

“So, where’re we goin’ today?” she asked, sipping her warm beverage and plopping onto the jumpseat.

“Du’no,” he mumbled around his screwdriver. A light blinked from the wires he was twisting together, and he shouted in triumph as he snatched the sonic from his mouth. “Didn’t make a plan, me. Got caught up in repairs. Wanna hit the randomizer?”

“Sure.” Rose jumped off her perch and hovered her hand uncertainly over the button. “Did ya mean now?”

“Yep!” The Doctor jumped off the ladder, yanked the headlamp off his head, and held onto the edge of the console. He forced a cheery smile on his face as he met her eye over the controls. “Anchors away, Rose Tyler!”

With a small grin, Rose slapped the button and the Tardis jolted to life, flinging her companions through the vortex to a random location.

As soon as the ship had landed, Rose marched down the ramp and flung the doors open, not bothering to wait for the Doctor. He grumbled some more as he threw on his leather jacket and joined her outside, pulling the doors shut with more force than necessary.

They paced around in a small circle, examining their new surroundings. It was an ample sized room, lined with metal. There were random recesses with softly glowing panels, but it wasn’t enough light to properly illuminate the space. One glance of the sharp angles of the architecture told Rose that she was definitely in the future, but it wasn’t as polished as the sci-fi channels back home had portrayed it. Most of the parts looked dingy and broken; various wires and random bits of machinery were strewn about on the floor and hanging from the ceiling.

“Looks like a spaceship?” Rose mused, dodging a cluster of dangling cables. “Looks abandoned. Do you think there’s anyone on board?”

The Doctor frowned at the dilapidated state of the ship’s interior. “Probably not. No one’s been keepin’ up with the maintenance.”

“Quick scan to check?” she suggested.

“Sure, couldn’t hurt.” He located a terminal and typed in a few commands.

“So, where are we? What’s the date?”

“Oh, judgin’ from this ship, about 3,000 years into your future.” A lever caught his eye and he pulled it, powering on the lights and opening up a giant, metal hatch above their heads.

Rose tilted her head up and smiled. There was a beautiful, colorful nebula swirling in the distance, pulsing and teeming with life. The Doctor discreetly watched the starlight caress her face but averted his gaze before she caught him.

“The Dagmar Cluster,” he softly informed her. “Fifty-first-century. We’re roughly two and a half galaxies away from Earth.”

“It’s gorgeous.” Rose walked a few feet away to gaze out of porthole window.

The Doctor bent to inspect some of the debris. “Well, someone’s been tryin’ to do maintenance. Musta been cowboys. No order to this chaos at all.” He straightened and turned on another monitor. “If no one is here, why are all the warp engines on? We’re not goin’ anywhere, but there’s enough power runnin’ through this ship to punch a hole in the universe.”

Rose joined him by the screen. “So, where’s all the power goin’?”

“No idea.”

“And where’re the crew?”

“No idea.”

“So glad I’ve got you.”

The Doctor laughed lightly and typed a few more commands into the terminal. “No life signs on board.”

“But, we’re in deep space. Can’t exactly pop out for a quick fag.”

“No, and I’ve already checked the smokin’ pods. No one there.”

Rose sniffed. “Alright, then what’s that smell? Thought you had superior olfactory neurons?”

The Doctor turned to her with arched brows, affronted. “I do! Only just wafted in my general direction. Have you turned into a bloodhound?”

“Not yet,” she quipped. “Well, someone’s cookin’.”

“Sunday roast?” he cheerily hypothesized and pressed a button on the console.

A door opened up behind them with a metallic clang. Rose strolled in ahead of him and he followed after. She was taking more initiative these days, although he wished she would pause for a minute before she leaped. One of these days, she was going to bump straight into danger before he could stop her.

The room contained an extraneous, intricate fireplace. Fifty-first-century technology didn’t usually include old-fashioned tributes to the past. The humans of this era preferred to accelerate forward as fast as possible.

“Why’s there a fireplace here? Is this what’s cookin’?” Rose trailed her fingers over the top of the mantel.

“Don’t usually see a fireplace on a spaceship, especially not in the fifty-first-century.” The Doctor scanned it with the sonic screwdriver. “Not a hologram, not even a reproduction. This is an actual eighteenth-century French fireplace.” He ducked his head down to peer through the flames. “There’s another room through there.”

Rose looked out the nearby porthole. “Another room? But this is the outer hull of the ship. It would go to space.”

But the Doctor wasn’t looking at space. He was staring right into the confused eyes of a little blonde girl. “Hello.”

“Hello?” The little girl’s eyes widened in confusion.

He wiggled his fingers in an awkward wave. “Yes, hello. Um, what’s your name?”

“Reinette.”

Rose ducked her head down and peered through the flames. “Oh, that’s a lovely name. Where are you?”

Deeply confused, Reinette glanced between the two strangers and wrinkled her nose. “In my bedroom.”

“Right, and where’s your bedroom? Where do you live?” the Doctor asked.

“Paris, of course.” Reinette tinkled in laughter.

Rose smiled brightly. “Right, Paris. Lovely city.”

“Mademoiselle, monsieur, what are you doing in my fireplace?”

The Doctor’s jacket creaked as he ran his hands along the intricate wood carvings, inspecting the legs and the hearth. “Oh, just a routine… fire check.” Rose snorted quietly. “Can you tell me what year it is?”

Reinette held her chin up. “Of course I can. It’s 1727.”

“Ah, good year. August was rubbish, though.” He continued to pay more attention to the protuberances of the fireplace than the little girl. “Thanks, that’s all for now. Enjoy the rest of your fire. G’night!” With a daft grin, he got back to his feet.

“Um, good night, monsieur,” Reinette’s tiny confused voice drifted through the opening.

“So, we’re not in the fifty-first-century?” Rose asked as she stood next to him.

The Doctor shook his head. “No, it is the fifty-first-century. But this ship is also generatin’ enough power to punch a hole in the universe.” He tilted his head to the fireplace. “Think we found the hole. Possibly a spatio-temporal hyperlink?”

Rose glanced at the fire and then directed an arched brow at him. “That’s not a thing.”

Briefly wondering how she knew that, the Doctor shrugged sheepishly. “How about ‘magic door’?”

“Uh huh. And behind the ‘magic door’ is 1727 France?”

“Well, she was speaking with the proper period accent.” He ran his fingers along the underside of the mantel until he felt a dip in the wood. On a hunch, he pressed the indentation and was suddenly being swiveled around to the other side of the magic door.

Rose watched the entire fireplace rotate in place, taking the Doctor along for a ride. “Doctor!” she called out.

But he was already inside the little girl’s bedroom, and the hearth sealed shut with a soft thunk of wood against wood. It was dark, the flames were no longer lit, and he could barely see the slumbering form of Reinette in her bed. When his eyes adjusted, he took a quick survey of the room and walked over to the window. He pulled back the gauzy curtains and looked out at a snowy French village.

A startled gasp interrupted his explorations, and the Doctor whirled around to calm the frightened girl.

“Sorry! Don’t scream. It’s only me, the fireplace man.” He quickly darted over and used the sonic to light the candle on her nightstand. “You were helpin’ me, just a moment ago, in your fireplace.”

Reinette clutched her sheets to her chest. “Monsieur, that was weeks ago — that was months!”

The Doctor blinked. “Huh. Was it?” He walked back over to the fireplace and bent to inspect it further. “Must be a faulty connection here.”

“Who are you?” Reinette demanded. “What are you doing here?”

He stood to address the little girl’s concern, but the clock on the mantel stopped him in his tracks. There was ticking in the room, but the clock was cracked and broken.

“That’s not a good sign.” The Doctor continued to hear ticking but the hands of the clock were not moving.

“What? It’s just a broken clock.”

“Broken, yes. Then tell me this, Reinette; if this clock is broken,” he swiveled his head around to look for another possible source, “and it’s the only clock in the room, why do I hear tickin’?”

Reinette pulled the sheets further up under her chin.

“I don’t think that’s a clock.” He walked slowly away from the fireplace towards the source of the sound. “Can tell by the resonance. It’s too big. Six feet? Five foot ten?”

“What is it?” Reinette whimpered.

Not wanting to scare her further, the Doctor talked calmly while he inspected behind curtains and nooks in the room. “Definitely not a clock. But if you tick like a clock, then what’s the first thing you do? Destroy the only other clock in the room so you remain unnoticed. Now, where would you hide in a bedroom?”

His attention fell to the foot of the bed, and the ticking grew louder.

“Reinette?” The Doctor locked eyes with the trembling girl. “Stay on the bed, right in the middle. Don’t put your hands or feet over the edge.”

Reinette silently nodded her head. Slowly, so as not to disturb whatever was hiding, he crept up to the bed and peered underneath. He pulled his sonic out from his jacket and swept it under the mattress.

A figure in the dark suddenly knocked it out of his hand with an high-pitched buzz and grind of gears. The Doctor fell over in surprise but quickly righted himself and darted back under. Black shoes with shiny buckles were visible across the floorboards. He cautiously got to his knees and saw a ticking figure on the other side of the mattress.

The little girl was staring at him and breathing quickly. The Doctor smiled softly to comfort her. “Reinette, don’t be scared but don’t turn around. Stay exactly where you are.”

Behind the little blonde girl was an eery, smiley masked droid dressed in appropriate French clothing. A curly wig framed the dark, pit-like eyes and the ticking reverberated from within its chest. It was gazing ever so slightly at Reinette like a creepy sentry.

“Reinette? I need to do somethin’, would that be ok?” he quietly asked and she nodded warily. With a gentle smile, he placed his fingers on her temples. “I’m just gonna have a look, alright?”

She took a shuddering breath but nodded again, and the Doctor delved into the surface memories of her thoughts.

“Oh!” His eyes widened and he looked at the robot.“You’ve been scannin’ her brain? Why would you do that? What could possibly be in a little girl’s head worth punchin’ a hole in the universe?”

“I don’t understand,” Reinette said as he pulled his fingers away. “It wants me?” She turned around on the bed and took her first look at the weird droid. “You want me?”

The robot cocked its head to the side in a swift movement and addressed the little girl, “Not yet. You are incomplete.”

The Doctor raised his brow. “Incomplete? What’s that supposed to mean?” The droid ignored him and continued to stare at Reinette. “Oi! I asked you a question!”

With waning patience, the Doctor stood and aimed his sonic at the robot. The droid marched in stiff, jerky strides around the bed and raised its arm. A sharp, knife-life key was extended from its hand and held, perilously close, to the Doctor’s throat.

Reinette gasped. “Monsieur, be careful!”

He offered the girl a shaky smile. “Don’t worry. Just a nightmare. It’s not real.”

The droid’s gears whirred and it charged the Doctor, slicing its weapon through the air. The Doctor dodged the blows as he backed up quickly towards the fireplace.

“Oh, I think even monsters have nightmares!”

Gears banged and clicked together as the robot aimed another strike at the Doctor. He ducked to the side the moment the droid dropped its arm, and the knife cleaved the wood of the mantel, wedging firmly into the grain.

“What do monsters have nightmares about?” Reinette called out.

“Me!” The Doctor laughed and pressed the button on the underside of the mantel, spinning the fireplace back into the spaceship with the trapped droid.

“Doctor!” Rose shouted as the fireplace spun around, and she got a look at the odd robot furiously trying to unstick itself. “Did you make a friend?”

“Of course, I’m just so jolly!”

As soon as the hearth locked into place, he darted across the room and grabbed a gun shaped canister off the wall. He sprayed the aerosol contents of the tube at the droid, bathing the robot until its gears seized and froze.

“I don’t think he’s your friend anymore.” Rose plucked the contraption from the Doctor’s hands. “Is this an ice gun?”

“I wish. It’s a fire extinguisher.”

“Right.” Rose set the extinguisher down and observed the droid. “And where did the robot come from? A French party?”

“That would be a stiff party. It came from here. Must be usin’ a camouflage program. Could’ve made the face prettier.”

The Doctor pulled the mask off of the droid and revealed a clear head full of intricate, golden clockwork. Rose’s jaw dropped and she walked over to get a better look.

“Wow,” she breathed. “That’s beautiful! What is it?”

“Space-age clockwork. Fantastic!” He grinned broadly as he peered through the transparent face. “Absolutely fantastic! Haven’t seen this in ages. It would be an absolute crime to disassemble you.” The smile faded and was replaced by a thin line. “But that won’t stop me.”

The Doctor held up the sonic in front of the droid in warning. With a rickety creak, it raised its arm and tapped its shoulder, teleporting through the air in a haze of gold.

He slipped the sonic back in his jacket. “Short range teleport. Must still be on board.”

Rose looked around in confusion. “Where’d it go?”

“Don’t go lookin’ for it.” The Doctor hopped back on the hearth.

“Wait a minute, where’re you goin’?!”

“Two ticks.” He pushed the button and spun back around into Reinette’s bedroom.

Rose growled in frustration when he disappeared. “Tells me not to wander off, and what does he do? Wanders off!”

With a deep scowl, she picked the extinguisher off of the floor and left the room.

~*~

When the Doctor entered Reinette’s room again, sunlight was streaming through the windows.

“Reinette?” he called out, cautiously walking away from the fireplace. “It’s the fireplace man.”

Everything in the room was different. There were no more children’s toys scattered around and the drapery and duvet were more mature colors. A large, elegant harp sat in the middle of the floor. He plucked a few of the strings and frowned. Did the fireplace spin into a different house this time?

A sound of a throat clearing interrupted his thoughts. He looked away from the harp into the eyes of a woman dressed regally in an expensive French gown.

“Um, hello. Er…” He rubbed a hand over his hair. “I was lookin’ for Reinette? Is this still her room?”

A voice drifted in from outside the bedroom. “Reinette? We’re ready to go!”

The woman in front of him called out over her shoulder, “Go to the carriage, Mother, I will join you there.” She turned her attention to the Doctor and smiled. “It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one’s childhood. You are to be congratulated on your… persistence.”

The Doctor’s eyes bulged. “You’re Reinette? Blimey,” he glanced at the fireplace, “definitely a loose connection. Sorry, you’re all grown now?”

She smiled and looked him up and down as she strolled closer. “And you do not appear to have aged a single day.” Her dressed swished against his ankles. “That is tremendously impolite of you.”

He smiled sheepishly and shuffled uncomfortably in her close proximity. “Yes, sorry. Better be off then. Can’t have your mother findin’ you in your room with a strange man.”

“Strange?” She shook her head. “How can you be a stranger to me? I have known you since I was seven years old.”

“Huh. Suppose you have. I sorta came the quick route.”

The Doctor froze when Reinette put a hand on his cheek, inspecting his face and eyes. He blinked rapidly, unsure of what to do.

“You seem to be flesh and blood, at any rate, but this is absurd.” She furrowed her brow. “Reason tells me you cannot be real.”

A male voice shouted from another part of the house. “Mademoiselle! Your mother grows impatient!”

“A moment!” Reinette shouted and turned back to the Doctor with an impatient huff. “So many questions. So little time.”

Before he could so much as take a breath, Reinette grabbed the back of his neck and slammed her mouth over his. He made a noise of protest against her lips, but she continued her assault, and the force of her ador backed him against the fireplace. She attempted to sneak her tongue into his mouth, but he kept his lips firmly pressed together. His eyes remained open but hers were closed with a dreamy expression.

Before he could gently push her away, the same male voice shouted in the distance, “Mademoiselle Poisson!”

Finally, Reinette stopped attacking his face, and she turned around to scurry out of the room. He wiped his mouth in disgust as a strange man entered from the hall, searching the room for the blonde woman.

“Did you say Poisson?” the Doctor asked the confused man. “Reinette Poisson?”

“Who are you?” the man demanded.

“Reinette Poisson? ” He ignored the man as he continued to comment out loud. “Later Madame Etoiles? Mistress of Louis the Fifteenth? Uncrowned Queen of France?”

“Who the hell are you?!”

“Me?” The Doctor shook his head with a laugh. “Apparently, I’m the Madame’s imaginary love interest. Sorry ‘bout that.”

He continued to laugh, amused by the woman’s misguided affections, and pressed the indentation on the fireplace to spin back into the spaceship.

“Rose? This fireplace got the time wrong.” Silence echoed around him and he growled in frustration. “Oh, every time! Every time I tell her to stay put, what does she do? Wanders off!”

The Doctor marched out of the room and through various corridors. “There could be anythin’ on this ship! And she wanders off!”

He stopped short as he turned a corner and met the blank face of a large, white horse. It snorted and shook its long mane of hair.

“Right. A horse… of course.”

~*~

Rose fumed as she investigated around the corridors, the sounds of metal echoing off the walls with each angry footfall. She hated it when he told her to stay put and then left her behind. As if she couldn’t look after herself! There were plenty of times when she had to rescue him. Perhaps he should heed his own “Don’t Wander Off” rule.

A metallic clicking caught her attention and she raised her head to discover a camera whirring and following her every move.

“Oh, hello.” She gave a tiny wave. “Who’s there?”

The camera snaked away from the wall and got closer to her face. Rose eyes widened as she looked into the lens; it wasn’t a regular camera lens, it was an eye. An actual eye! It blinked when Rose blinked and tracked Rose as she shuffled side to side, gauging its movements. It blinked slowly one final time and then retracted up into the ceiling.

After the lens of the eye closed, a rhythmic beating found her ears. Rose searched the wall in front of her and discovered a small, round hatch. Opening it carefully, she peered in and saw a pulsing heart at the end of a narrow tube. It gently thump-thumped in the tiny space, hooked up to various wires and cords. She had read enough anatomy books lately to instantly recognize the organ as a real human heart.

“Riiight…” she drawled and closed the hatch. “What else is on this ship?”

~*~

Hoofbeats clanged against the metal floor behind the Doctor as he wandered the ship in search of Rose.

“Rose!” he bellowed and stopped to peer down an intersection in the halls. The horse bumped into his back.

“Oi!” He whirled around and aimed an annoyed finger in the animal’s face. “Why are you followin’ me? Do I look like a horse? I know my ears and nose may be confusin’ you, but look — two feet!”

The horse nickered and nuzzled his chest. With a shake of his head, the Doctor turned back around and caught a flash of white. Not far ahead of him were a pair of barn doors.

“Is this where you came from?” He opened the doors and stepped out into a bright, sunny day.

The Doctor’s boots crunched against the fresh, green grass of a sprawling, immaculate garden. There was a magnificent palace in the distance; Versailles, if he remembered correctly. A tinkling laughter caught his attention, and his eyes found the strolling form of Reinette on the arm of another lady of the court. He quickly ducked down behind a stone fence so she wouldn’t spot him.

“Oh, Katherine, you are too wicked!” Reinette giggled.

“Oh, speaking of wicked, I hear Madame de Chateauroux is ill and close to death.” Katherine leaned into her arm to spread the gossip.

“Yes, I am devastated,” Reinette feigned concern.

The Doctor scrunched his nose. Why were women so catty?

“Oh, indeed. I myself am frequently inconsolable.” The two women giggled callously. “The King will, therefore, be requiring a new mistress. You love the King, of course?”

“He is the King, and I love him with all my heart. And I look forward to meeting him.”

A bird chirped and Reinette turned toward the noise. The Doctor ducked further down, hoping she hadn’t seen his head.

“Is something wrong, my dear?” Katherine asked as her friend gazed at the stone wall.

“Not wrong, no.” Reinette retook Katherine’s arm and continued strolling through the gardens.

“Every woman in Paris knows your ambitions.”

“Every woman in Paris shares them.”

“You know, of course, that the King is to attend the Yew Tree ball?”

The Doctor watched Reinette as she disappeared into the distance. He wondered how many more windows and doors on the spaceship would open up to scenes from Madame de Pompadour's life.

~*~

Rose blew the stray hairs out of her face and hefted the extinguisher further up her hip. Maybe she should have stayed put where she was. This ship felt like a maze and she hoped she hadn’t gotten lost. Was the Doctor lost too? Had he even bothered to spin back around on that fireplace yet?

She stopped as she started to pass a massive mirror. It peered into an elaborately decorated French room. More French things? Someone on this ship had a fetish. A poshly dressed man marched into the room flanked by two wig-adorned butlers.

“That’s the King of France,” said a Northern burr in her ear.

Rose jumped into the air and clutched her chest. The Doctor was smiling in amusement when she turned around and she lightly smacked him on the shoulder.

“Is sneakin’ a Time Lord power?”

“Well, I have been known to be light on my feet.” He winked, attempting to make her laugh, but she rolled her eyes instead and turned back to the mirror with an exaggerated puff of breath.

“Where’ve you been, then?” she asked.

“Here and there. A future French aristocrat thinks I’m her imaginary friend.” A horse whinny interrupted him. “And I found a horse.”

Rose laughed at the horse. “You’re makin’ all kinds of friends onboard this ship.”

“I try.” He grinned softly, happy to hear a giggle from her even if it wasn’t directed at him. “These windows and doors are all over this spaceship. Little glimpses into the past.”

A beautiful, lavishly dressed woman entered the room behind the mirror, and the King spun around and smiled. With a tiny grin of her own, Reinette curtseyed.

“Not just any old past,” the Doctor tapped the glass, “hers. Time windows. This fifty-first-century ship is stalkin’ a woman from pre-Revolutionary France.”

“Why? Who is she?” Rose asked.

“Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, known to her friends as Reinette. One of the most accomplished women who ever lived.”

“Does she want to be Queen, then?”

“He’s already got a Queen. She wants to be his mistress.” The Doctor observed the posh woman in the other room and shook his head. “Good luck,” he muttered.

They watched as the King and Reinette talked, whispered into each other’s ear, and circled around in a seductive dance.

“This must be the night they met, the night of the Yew Tree ball,” the Doctor mused. “Pretty soon, she'll be established as his official mistress, with her own rooms at the palace. Even her own title — Madame de Pompadour.”

The King left and Reinette walked closer to them to inspect her appearance in the mirror. Out of the corner of his eye, the Doctor watched Rose. Most men might fawn all over the gorgeous, sumptuously dressed blonde currently primping in the mirror, but he’d take the blonde next to him in jeans and a t-shirt any day — every day.

He briefly closed his eyes and banished the dangerous path of his thoughts from his mind.

Having been cheated on herself, Rose hated any mention of infidelity and scrunched her nose at the woman in the mirror. “The Queen must have loved her.”

“Believe it or not, she did. They got on very well.”

“Wife and girlfriend? France must be a different planet.”

The Doctor hummed thoughtfully and surveyed the room beyond the glass. There was a broken clock in the corner, and, as soon as he had spotted it, a loud ticking started.

Reinette heard it as well. She turned around and discovered a strange woman across the room. “How long have you been standing there? Show yourself!” she demanded.

With a loud clank and whirring of gears, the woman stiffly spun around and revealed herself to be one of the clockwork droids dressed in a puffy gown.

The Doctor quickly located a switch on the mirror and flipped the glass around, storming into the room. He pulled his sonic out of his pocket to brandish as a weapon.

“Fireplace man?!” Reinette gasped and watched her imaginary friend and a blonde woman march past her towards the robot.

Rose lifted the extinguisher off her hip and sprayed the aerosol at the droid, stopping it in its tracks. It creaked and groaned as the internal gears and sprockets resisted the harsh chemical.

“What’s it doin’?” Rose asked as it continued to grind and grate.

The Doctor scowled. “It’s switchin’ back on to melt the ice.”

“Then it’s gonna kill us, yeah?”

“I reckon.”

The droid suddenly lunged one arm forward and Rose sprung back in alarm. “Well, that focuses the mind.”

“Who are you?” The Doctor folded his arms and glared at the robot, but the droid was undeterred and cocked its head to the side in a mocking gesture.

The Doctor rolled his eyes and turned to Reinette. “Order it to answer me, will ya?”

Reinette frowned. “Why would it listen to me?”

“It did when you were a child. Go on, give it a go.”

Reinette set her jaw and pierced her eyes at the droid. “Answer his question.” It didn’t move. “Answer any and all questions put to you.”

Squeaks and creaks issued from the droid as it dropped its arm. “I am repair Droid Seven,” it answered in a robotic voice.

“And what happened to the ship?” the Doctor asked. “There’s a lot of damage.”

“Ion storm. Eighty-two percent systems failure.”

“That ship hasn’t moved in over a year. What’s takin’ you so long?”

“We did not have the parts.”

“And what about the crew?”

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

“Right, didn’t have the parts. But there should have been fifty people on board, where’d they go?”

“We did not have the parts.”

“Oh, my God.” Rose gasped and her eyebrows flew to her hairline. “Doctor, I found a camera with a real eye. And there was a live, beatin’ heart wired into the mainframe.”

The Doctor’s shoulders sagged. “They used the crew. You did say you smelled someone cookin’ when we landed. Flesh plus heat equals barbecue.”

“That’s barbaric!” Rose exclaimed.

“Just doin’ what it was programmed to do, at any cost. No one told them the crew weren’t part of the menu.”

Rose swallowed around the sick feeling in her throat. “Ok, but why come to France?”

“Good point.” The Doctor addressed the droid again, “You’ve opened up windows into this woman’s life, that takes gobs of energy. Why did you come to eighteenth-century France? There’s plenty of repair yards scattered across the galaxies.”

“One more part is required,” the droid answered and ominously snapped its neck towards Reinette.

With a quirk of his brow, the Doctor glanced between the uncrowned Queen and the droid. “Alright, then why haven’t you taken it?”

“She is incomplete.”

“Incomplete? So, what, just open more and more time windows to scan her brain, check if she’s finished cookin’?”

“Why her?” Rose piped up. “All of history at your fingertips, yeah? Why, specifically, her?”

“We are the same,” the droid said.

“We’re not the same! We are in no sense the same!” Reinette cried, indignant.

“We are the same.”

“Get out of here!” Reinette shouted. “Get out of here this instant!”

“No!” the Doctor yelled, but the droid teleported in a puff of gold before he could get Reinette to rescind her order. “Bollocks, it’s back on the ship. Rose, follow it.”

“Follow it?” Rose asked, confused.

“Yes, follow it. Don’t approach it, just watch where it goes. Don’t lose it. And take Arthur.”

“Arthur?”

“The horse.”

“We’re keepin’ the horse?”

“Maybe, I dunno. No time. Just go.” The Doctor opened the mirror and quickly guided Rose out of the door. He darted back over to Reinette and raised his hands. “Reinette, remember when you were little and I put my hands on your head? I need to do that again.”

“Why?” she asked warily.

“I need to find what they’re lookin’ for, and this is the only way to do that.” He gently placed his fingers on her temples. “May I?”

Reinette nodded and closed her eyes. The Doctor closed his eyes as well and concentrated on finding what he needed — quickly. She jolted and gasped as she felt the Doctor brushed across her mind.

“Fireplace man,” she breathed in wonder. “You are inside my mind.”

“Oh, dear,” he mumbled. “The cowboys have been in here, too.”

“You are in my memories. You walk among them.”

“Imagine a door in front of anythin’ you don’t want me to see. I won’t look.”

Reinette peaked her eyes open and assessed the rugged and fit man holding her intimately close. With a smirk, she closed her eyes again and imagined various, scandalous things.

The Doctor cleared his throat awkwardly. “Um, you might want to close that door.”

“To walk among the memories of another living soul. Do you ever get used to this?”

“I don’t make a habit of it.”

“How can you resist?”

“How old are you?” the Doctor asked with furrowed brows.

“So impertinent a question so early in the conversation. How promising.” Reinette’s smile grew.

He kept his eyes firmly shut and ignored her comment. “Not my question, it’s theirs. You’re twenty-three and, for some reason, they think you’re not ready yet.”

Reinette gasped and her step faltered.

“Sorry!” the Doctor quickly apologized. “Sometimes old memories resurface — side effect.”

“Oh,” Reinette breathed in wonder. “There’s a blonde girl.”

“Yes, you’re probably seein’ you in your memories. It’ll pass.”

“Doctor, so alone… so in love. My lonely angel.”

“Alone? You’ve never been alone — Wait a minute.” The Doctor’s eyes popped open and he dropped his hands. “Why did you call me ‘Doctor’? How did you do that?”

“A door once opened may be stepped through in either direction.” The corner of Reinette’s mouth turned up. “You love blonde women.”

“What? What did you—-”

Before he could question her further, Reinette attacked him again. Her hands yanked his head down and she firmly pressed her mouth against his. His arms flailed at his sides and he hummed low in his throat in protest. But Reinette mistook it as a sound of passion and forced her tongue between his lips. With an annoyed growl, the Doctor brought his hands up to her face, prying the incessant courtesan from his mouth with a loud pop.

“What are you doin?” he demanded.

She arched a delicate eyebrow. “You don’t have to be alone any longer, my angel.”

The Doctor opened and closed his mouth, at a loss for words. His mental defenses were weak, and he had allowed this woman to see his hearts laid bare. He felt violated.

“Keep an eye out for those droids.” With an annoyed scowl, he stomped out of the room.

~*~

On the other side of the mirror, Rose bumped into the horse. The animal whinnied and nuzzled her shoulder, eliciting a giggle from her throat.

“Hello, Arthur.” She smiled and stroked his muzzle. “Time to find some droids.”

She marched down the hall in search of the clockwork robots and hefted the extinguisher onto her hip. She stopped and frowned at the canister; it felt light. How was she supposed to defend herself with an empty weapon? Deciding to ask the Doctor before she went traipsing around unarmed, she returned to the mirror and froze when she looked through the glass.

He was locked in a passionate kiss with Madame de Pompadour.

Rose felt her heart physically stop for longer than one heartbeat and her stomach lurched. A million thoughts raced through her head. What was he doing? Why was he kissing her? Maybe she kissed him? Reinette was a mistress, after all.

But then the Doctor brought his hands up and cradled her face. Feeling like she may actually vomit, Rose spun around and walked rapidly down the hall.

Angry and confused tears blurred her vision, and she stumbled over a piece of wiring. What was going on? He had said that humans wither and die, telling her that it would be too painful to be together when her mortality was depressingly short. Reinette was human. She was going to wither and die, too. Was she the right kind of human? Posh enough for a lofty Time Lord? Smart enough for the mighty brain of a Time Lord?

She wiped the tears from her cheek, not watching where she was going, and bumped into one of the clockwork droids. Panicking, Rose whirled around to escape but was quickly snatched by a second droid. The fire extinguisher fell to the grating with a clatter, and she kicked and screamed with all her might. One robot gripped her in a bruising hold while the other pressed a needle into her skin, injecting her with a foreign liquid.

Her screams died and Rose slumped to the ground.

~*~

The Doctor angrily wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket as he shut the glass door behind him. Why on Earth did that woman keep kissing him? If any blonde was going to kiss him, he had one in mind — and it certainly wasn’t a pompous, French courtesan!

He straightened his jacket and peered down the hall. “Rose? Are you nearby?”

The metal clanged under his boots as he marched down the dim corridor. “Rose?”

His toe bumped into the fire extinguisher she had been carrying.

The Doctor panicked.

“ROSE!”

Chapter Text

Previously…

The Doctor angrily wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket as he shut the glass door behind him. Why on Earth did that woman keep kissing him? If any blonde was going to kiss him, he had one in mind — and it certainly wasn’t a pompous, French courtesan!

He straightened his jacket and peered down the hall. “Rose? Are you nearby?”

The metal clanged under his boots as he marched down the dim corridor. “Rose?”

His toe bumped into the fire extinguisher she had been carrying.

The Doctor panicked.

“ROSE!”

~*~

“Rose!” the Doctor shouted as he sprinted down the corridors, frantically darting his eyes down every intersection he passed.

There was only one reason Rose would have discarded her weapon; the droids must have taken her. But where?

He barreled down the halls until a flash of blonde caught his eye, and he skidded to a stop. This was the room where they had first landed and, to his horror, Rose was strapped to a gurney right in the middle. At least half a dozen of the clockwork bastards surrounded her, and she stared with wide, fear-filled eyes at the saw aimed at her neck.

He needed a distraction. If he stormed in now, devil-may-care, they may harm her or teleport away before he could intercept them. His sonic wouldn’t work either so he desperately searched around his feet for a weapon. Two bottles of a viscous liquid were buried under a jumble of frayed wiring: multigrade anti-oil. Perfect. He stashed them in his jacket and walked into the middle of the room of droids.

~*~

Steady ticking interrupted the dream Rose was immersed in. She was at the Game Station, staring at the Doctor where he lay sprawled among wires and cables.

Golden ribbons of energy swirled around her body and her skin was on fire from the inside out.

“You’re gonna burn!” the Doctor cried in anguish.

“I want you safe, My Doctor, protected from the false god.” Her voice sounded otherworldly, an ethereal resonance mixed with her normal accent.

A Dalek on the viewscreen shouted, and Rose felt righteous anger boil over in her veins. She lifted her arms into the air, channeling the shimmering mist into her fingers to administer her revenge.

But the dream abruptly ended, and the ticking grew louder. Rose snapped her eyes open and her vision swam with the lifeless face of a masked droid.

“W-what’s goin’ on?” she stammered. “Doctor!”

She tried to sit up, but she was strapped firmly to a medical gurney by her wrists and ankles. The entire fleet of the clockwork robots stared at her, ticking and grinding as they waited for the droid by her side to command them. She had a sinking feeling that the ship’s crew had been shackled to this exact table before they had been gutted for spare parts.

The droid by her shoulder ticked as it moved closer. “You are compatible,” it declared in a toneless voice.

Needing to stall them until the Doctor, hopefully, found her, Rose started to ramble, “Well, you might want to think about that. You know I’m not here alone. You really don’t want to tick off my designated driver.”

A sharp, whirring saw propelled out of the robot’s hand and hovered by her throat.

“H-have you ever heard of the Daleks? They had myths about him… and a name. They called him the Oncoming Storm, and, believe me, you don’t want that storm thunderin’ your way.”

“You are compatible,” the droid repeated.

It suddenly moved its hand, and the teeth of the blade nicked her throat. Rose screamed.

“Compatible?” boomed a voice in the doorway.

The saw stopped, and all of the droids turned in a synchronized movement to stare at the Doctor in the entrance.

“More compatible than Madame de Pompadour?” he scoffed and strolled casually into the room. “Really? A twenty-first-century shopgirl is a better match than an eighteenth-century aristocrat?”

Rose scowled and opened her mouth with a retort, but the Doctor shot her a warning look. She snapped her jaw shut and watched him as he stalked forward.

“This ship is thirty-seven years old and missin’ its computer, its brain. You’re searchin’ for the time window when Reinette turns thirty-seven to take hers. Why quit now? Don’t you think Reinette Poisson is more compatible? Madame Etoiles? Mistress of Louis the Fifteenth and uncrowned Queen of France?” With every word, the Doctor moved closer until he was standing next to the droid holding the saw to her neck. “Actress, artist, musician, dancer, courtesan… fantastic gardener? I’d say that is more compatible!”

Quick as a flash, he stuck his hand in his jacket, yanked off the droid’s wig, and dumped the contents of a bottle onto its head. The red liquid dripped down the face of the robot, and its gears seized with a crunch, freezing the clockwork in place.

“Multigrade anti-oil.” The Doctor tossed the empty vial over his shoulder. “Got somethin’ that moves? Not anymore.”

A cacophony of whirrs and ticking filled the air as the remaining droids stiffly marched forward, outraged over the attack on their leader. The Doctor flicked a switch on a nearby control panel, and the clockwork figures stopped and bent over in suspended animation.

With the threat neutralized, for now, the Doctor pulled the sonic from his pocket and unlatched the bars shackling Rose to the table.

“Are you alright?” he asked, helping her off the table and pulling her into his arms.

Recalling the passionate interlude she had witnessed earlier, Rose stiffened in his embrace and shuffled backward. The Doctor let her go and frowned at the mark on her neck.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” He rummaged through his pockets until he found a plaster and quickly placed it over the cut. “I had to stall them with some kind of rubbish talk. Glad they bought it. Must be thick.”

Rose glanced around at the frozen robots. “Are they safe?”

“Yep, safe and thick.” The Doctor turned his attention to the monitors. “All of the time windows are controlled here. We need to close them down. If only I had some zeus plugs.” He dug around in his jacket again but came up empty handed.

“Why don’t they open a time window to when she’s thirty-seven?”  

“There’s a lot of damage in these circuits already. They were lucky to hit the right century.” With a look of concentration, he pushed and pulled buttons and levers on the control panel. “Why won’t the windows close?”

An off-key bell suddenly chimed overhead.

“What was that?” Rose skimmed her eyes around the ceiling.

The Doctor looked up as well and furrowed his brow. “No idea. Maybe a message?”

“From who?”

“Dunno. Report from the field? One of them must still be out there somewhere.” He scowled and mashed more buttons in anger. “ That’s why I can’t close the windows! There’s some sort of override when they’re not all on the ship.”

The droid he had doused in oil suddenly sprang to life behind him. It ground its gears and expelled the oil through its hand onto the floor, splashing on the Doctor’s boot.

The Doctor smiled nervously. “That was a bit clever.”

With an ominous groan and creak, the remaining clockwork robots in the room reanimated and slowly rose to their full height.

“This can’t be good,” Rose muttered, backing away from one of the droids until she thumped against the Doctor’s chest.

The same off-key bell rang in the air again.

“Message from one of your friends?” the Doctor asked the closest robot.

“She is complete. It begins,” the droid answered in a flat tone.

A buzzing filled the air as the entire room of droids teleported in the familiar golden mist.

Rose stepped away from the Doctor and surveyed the empty room. “Did they find the right time window?”

He frowned. “Looks that way. They’ll be bringin’ her head back this time. But she can’t die. Human history changes if she dies. I need time to find that window and stop them.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and paced the room in irritation.

“What if…” Rose thought out loud, trying to form a plan. “Would it help if I went through one of the windows, maybe warned her? We know they are comin’ when she’s thirty-seven. I could tell her to stall or somethin’?”

The Doctor stopped pacing and looked at her with a bright grin. “Fantastic! Brilliant! Yes, that could work. Not for long, but it’ll buy us some time. Tell her to keep them talkin’. They respond to her.”

Once again, he stuck his hand in his jacket and pulled out a bottle, pressing it into her palm. “Take this: more anti-oil. Use it if you need to.”

Rose took the vial and tucked it into her jeans. With a plan in place, they marched out of the room and went in opposite directions down the hall.

Before she got too far ahead, the Doctor called out, “Rose?”

“Yeah?” She turned to look at him over her shoulder.

He smiled softly. “Thank you. And please… be safe.”

Rose pressed her lips together in a tight grin and resumed her trek down the hall to find his precious Madame. The sound of the Doctor’s footfalls faded as she put more distance between them.

When she could no longer hear him, Rose paused and took a deep breath to calm the maelstrom of emotions currently buzzing in her brain. There wasn’t time to think about the Doctor and his feelings for Reinette. Madame de Pompadour was an important part of history, and she needed to help him preserve the timelines.

After counting to ten, Rose set her shoulders and marched forward.

A lavish tapestry hung in the hall not far ahead. Hoping this was an ideal time window to enter, she pulled back the drapery and stepped into an elegant music room. It was fairly dark, and she tip-toed across the floor, not wanting to alert any guards.

Rose spotted Reinette standing in front of a clock. “Madame de Pompadour?” The woman jumped and whirled around. “Sorry! Please, don’t scream. There isn’t a lot of time. I’ve come to warn you that the droids will be here when you’re thirty-seven.”

“That’s in five years. They’ll be here then?” Reinette sank onto a nearby bench and wrung her fingers together.

Rose plopped down on a bench as well. “Yes, sometime after your thirty-seventh birthday. I can’t give you an exact date. It’s a bit random. But they are comin’ — it’s gonna happen. It’s sorta already happenin’ for us.” Reinette looked confused. “M’sorry, it’s hard to explain. The Doctor does this better.”

“Then be exact, and I will be attentive.”

“There isn’t time.”

“There are five years!” Reinette snapped.

“Maybe for you. I don’t know if I’ve got five minutes.”

“Then also be concise,” she demanded.

Rose blew out a breath, hoping she could explain fifty-first-century technology to an eighteenth-century courtesan. “There’s a vessel, a ship, a sort of sky ship, and it's full of, well... you. Different bits of your life in different rooms, all jumbled up.” Judging by Reinette’s wrinkled brow, she wasn’t doing a very good job. “I told you it was complicated. M’sorry.”

Reinette pursed her lips in concentration as she tried to make sense of what she was told. “There is a vessel in your world where the days of my life are pressed together like the chapters of a book, so that he may step from one to the other without increase of age while I, weary traveler,” her face twisted in annoyance, “must always take the slower path.”

Rose blinked, impressed that she had understood it all so well. “No wonder he likes you.”

“So, in five years these creatures will return. What can be done?” She sat forward, eager to know what she could do to prepare.

“The Doctor says keep them talkin’. They're programmed to respond to you now. You won't be able to stop them, but you might be able to stall them a bit.”

“Until?”

“Until the Doctor can get there.”

“He's coming, then?” Reinette asked, wide-eyed and hopeful.

“He promises.”

“But he cannot make his promises in person.” A crestfallen looked washed over her features, upset that her lover would not be joining her anytime soon.

Rose pressed her lips together in a, hopefully, reassuring smile. But she was finding it increasingly difficult to comfort a woman who had won the Doctor’s affections. “He’ll be there when you need him.”

“The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other.”

“Tell me about it,” Rose muttered. “The thing is, you weren't supposed to have either. Those creatures are messin’ with history. None of this was ever supposed to happen to you.”

“Supposed to happen? What does that mean?” Reinette asked, irritated. She tilted her chin up and looked down at Rose. “It happened, child, and I would not have it any other way. One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” She stood up with a huff and swished her skirts as she stepped away from Rose.

An angel? Rose furrowed her brow. What on Earth had that alien been doing with the Madame? She bit her lip and observed the distressed aristocrat. Obviously, he had been treating her like the uncrowned Queen she was if she had such a lofty opinion of him.

Screams pierced the air and Rose muttered a curse under her breath. She must have left the drapery open. With a click of heels on the floor, Reinette strode rapidly towards the noise.

“Reinette, wait! You can’t go in there!” Rose jumped to her feet and tried to catch her, but she was too late.

The bewildered courtesan held her gown and spun in a circle in the metal corridor of the ship. She swallowed heavily and took in the cables, wires, and lights with wide, frightened eyes. More screams rang through the air, and her alarm increased.

“What is that?” Reinette turned to Rose.

“I guess the Doctor found the right time window,” she said softly.

“Those screams… is that my future?”

“Yeah. M’sorry.”

Reinette nodded sadly. “Then I must take the slower path.”

“Are you there? Can you hear me?” shouted the voice of the future Reinette from a different part of the ship. “I need you now. You promised! The clock on the mantel is broken. It is time!”

“T-that’s my voice,” the current Reinette stuttered and wiped a stray tear threatening to leak from her eye.

Rose took one of her hands in comfort. “It will be okay. The Doctor will be there. He’s always been there for me, and he’ll be there for you, too.”

“I’m very afraid,” Reinette whispered. “But you and I both know, don’t we, Rose? The Doctor is worth the monsters.”

With a nod of determination, Reinette dropped Rose’s hand and walked back through the drapery to take the slow path. Rose frowned as she watched the expensive, beaded gown disappear back to eighteenth-century France. How had the Madame known her name?

Before Rose could ponder her question further, the screams grew louder and she sprinted through the ship toward the source. When she found it, the Doctor was frantically running around the room flicking various controls and switches.

Behind a large, glass pane was a French ballroom. Aristocrats and courtesans were screaming and panicking, clutching each other for support in the mayhem as the clockwork droids circled around them.

“You found it, then?” Rose asked, slightly short of breath.

“They knew I was comin’ and they blocked it off,” the Doctor growled and picked up a piece of machinery, slamming it down by a nearby monitor.

“They must have blocked it after they teleported.”

“And as long as the ship and the ballroom are linked, their short-range teleports will bring them back.” He continued to hastily wire together bits of equipment, hoping to figure out a way to get past the time window.

Rose thought quickly for a solution. “Ok, and we can’t use the Tardis because we’re part of events, yeah?”

The Doctor nodded. “Right, and I can’t just smash through, either. If I do, I’d destroy the time window — no way back.”

He yanked his sonic out of his pocket and waved it around in a flurry of movement. With another growl of frustration, he pushed back from the monitor and bumped into Rose. He kept going to another monitor and pointed the screwdriver at it. But nothing he did had any effect on the time window.

The voice of Reinette drifted through the mirror, catching their attention, “Could everyone just calm down! Please!”

She was standing in the middle of the ballroom, attempting to quell the fears of the terrified party-goers and intimidate the clockwork droids. But the robots were not affected and shoved her to the floor on her knees. Two held knives to her throat.

“They’re about to behead her,” Rose cried. She tried to think of a way to help Reinette, mentally scanning her brain for any bit of information she had read in her books and the Tardis manual that could be of use.

“I can see that!” the Doctor shouted and paced furiously around the room. Great, big Time Lord brain and he couldn’t figure out how to get past a simple time window! If he didn’t think of something soon, all of human history was going to change the moment that woman died.

Arthur suddenly trotted in and nudged the Doctor’s back with a snort. He glanced from the horse to the window where a third droid had appeared with a small buzzsaw held to Reinette’s neck. Arthur wasn’t a truck, but he had enough power in his muscles to get through glass. There was no more time to think of another option so the Doctor mounted the horse and lined up with the window.

Rose panicked when she realized what he was about to do. “Wait, wait! You said there would be no way back!”

He swallowed heavily and met her eye. “I know. But I’ll find a way. If it takes me three thousand years, I’ll find a way.”

With a swift kick to Arthur’s hindquarters, the Doctor galloped towards the time window.

Rose ran behind them. “But I could go with—”

Her shouts of protest were cut off as the horse jumped without hesitation, propelling rider and animal through the window in a deafening crash. Rose quickly raised her arms in front of her face, protecting her skin from the particles of glass flung into the air.

When Rose lowered her hands, she was no longer treated to the magnificent sight of the ballroom of Versailles. She was staring at the internal cables and metal panels of the ship.

Silence pounded in her ears, punctuated only by the random fizz of sparks from sliced wires.

She was alone. The Doctor was gone.

He had left her behind.

~*~

In a shower of dust and glass, the Doctor and Arthur soared through the mirror and landed onto the pristine floor of the Versailles’ ballroom. Men and women screamed, scurrying away from the sudden, new threat in the room. Arthur trotted around until the Doctor pulled the reins to stop in front of the droids threatening Reinette’s life.

With a glare directed at the clockwork robots, the Doctor dismounted. “Hope this isn’t a bad time.”

“What the hell is going on?” demanded the King.

“Oh, Doctor, this is my lover, the King of France,” Reinette introduced with a wave towards the monarch.

The Doctor acknowledged the man with a slight nod. “I’m just here to fix the clock.”

He marched over to one of the three robots surrounding Reinette and ripped its wig off. The crowd gasped as they got a look at the strange, clockwork creature. With an angry creak, the droid lifted its blade away from the Reinette’s throat and into the Doctor’s face.

“Don’t bother, it’s over.” He folded his arms across his chest and glanced at the massive, shattered mirror. “Suppose that’s three thousand years of bad luck.”

The droids tried activating their teleport but nothing happened. They banged and clicked in confusion.

“The link with the ship is broken. No way back.” The Doctor ignored the stab to his chest and focused on shutting down the droids. “You don’t have the parts. How many ticks left in that clockwork heart. A day? An hour? It’s over. I’m not windin’ you up.”

Even though it had no facial features, the robot in front of him managed to look defeated and tilted its head down in surrender. With a few final clicks and whirs, all of the clockwork droids in the room stopped and bent over, never to tick again. A few fell and smashed their porcelain, French masks on the ballroom floor.

The Doctor uncrossed his arms and blew out a breath of relief. He met the confused eyes of Madame de Pompadour. “Are you alright?”

She nodded and stood, gathering her skirts and surveying the damage. “What’s happened to them?”

“They’ve stopped. They have no purpose now.” He swallowed heavily and ignored the shattered glass around his feet. He had acted impulsively, but there had been no other option.

One crisis solved had only led to a massive dilemma; with no Tardis, how was he going to get back to Rose?

The King and Madame de Pompadour took charge as the Doctor straightened his shoulders and marched out of the ballroom. He needed peace and quiet to figure out a way home.

After only one minute, he had secluded himself in a nearby library and remembered a previous regeneration would be by in a few years time. All he had to do was wait around for a bit in France — simple. A grin finally found its way to the Doctor’s face. Now that his problem was solved, he could rest easy and peruse the selection of library books in this palace.

Ten minutes had passed since he had smashed through the time window, and he had found nothing worth reading. He was also starting to feel an itch in his skin. Maybe there were spare parts in this castle he could use to build a vortex manipulator.

After thirty minutes, the Doctor thought he might be having a panic attack. His chest felt tight, and the sight of all of the fancy, French drapery and pointless knickknacks was making him queasy. It had been a half an hour since he had last seen or talked to Rose. Even in the Tardis, when she had been ignoring him, at least he had known she was nearby. Now, she was three thousand years away from him, drifting alone on a spaceship.

What if he missed his ride with his past self? What if there were no way for him to build a vortex manipulator? What if Rose died on that spaceship three thousand years into the future because he was late?

The Doctor fell into a nearby sofa and pulled in deep lungfuls of air in an attempt to calm himself down. Suddenly feeling stifled by its weight, he pulled his leather jacket off his body and tossed it over the back of the cushions. What had he been thinking, charging a horse through a mirror, smashing his only link with Rose all so he could save some pompous, French mistress? So what if she was important! Why should he care if human history changed? He could change it back.

Thirty minutes. In the end, after all of the unnecessary heartache he had thrust upon himself and Rose, thirty minutes was all it took for the Doctor to realize he couldn’t survive without her.

He laughed sardonically in the silence. None of it — saving the universe, discovering new worlds, meeting new people — none of it mattered without her. She was a balm on his battered soul. Without Rose, he was adrift in the vast, blackness of space. And he had pushed her away, all because he didn’t think he deserved her love.

He wished he had never opened that damn fob watch. He may have spent the rest of his short, pathetic life as a useless ape, but he wouldn’t have been the cowardly, idiotic Time Lord that had let the best thing that had ever happened to him slip through his fingers.

Now, he’d be lucky if Rose ever spoke to him again.

With an angry growl, the Doctor shot to his feet and paced the halls, continuing to think of a way back to Rose. When five hours had passed by, and he was ready to smash every bit of glass in the palace simply out of frustration, the Doctor bumped into the swishy, silk gown of Madame de Pompadour.

“Oh, Doctor! There you are.” She smiled brightly at him. “I’ve been searching every room in the palace for you.”

“Your hunt is over,” he grumbled.

“You’ve trapped yourself here… with me. Did you know that would happen?” she asked, coyly.

“Yes.”

“And still you came.”

He shrugged. “Won’t catch me doin’ that again.”

Reinette’s smile faltered and she lowered her gaze. “I was mistaken, wasn’t I? It’s not that you love blonde women… you love one blonde woman.”

“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression.”

“No harm was done.” She tilted her chin back up. “There were many doors between my world and yours. Can you not use one of the others?”

“When the mirror broke, the shock would have severed all the links with the ship. There’ll be a few more broken mirrors and torn tapestries around here.” He frowned and stared out a nearby window. “I’d pay for it but… no money. I never do have any money. Cheap date…”

“So here you are, my lonely angel, stuck on the slow path.”

“Yeah, guess I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

Reinette arched one eyebrow. “Oh, aren’t you?”

“Aren’t I what?” he asked, confused.

“Take my hand?” She laughed at his quizzical expression. “I promise I will not bite. I need to show you something.”

With a nervous smile, he tentatively took her fingers and immediately hated it — it was the wrong hand. But he allowed the woman to lead him to whatever it was she wanted him to see. He didn’t have anything better to do, anyway.

Reinette stopped in the doorway of her bedroom, and the Doctor immediately stiffened. “What, why are we here? I thought I said—”

With another laugh, she shook her head. “No, you were clear. I wanted you to see the fireplace.” She waved a hand towards the far wall. “It's not a copy, it's the original. I had it moved here and was exact in every detail.”

The Doctor stared in hopeful awe at the hearth across the room. “The fireplace from your bedroom. When did you do this?” He walked quickly and settled his hand on the mantel, running his fingers against the rough and smooth patches of the wood.

“Many years ago, in the hope that a door once opened may someday open again. One never quite knows when one needs one's Doctor.” He smiled at her when she paused, and she nodded her head towards the flames. “It appears undamaged. Do you think it will still work?”

The Doctor hummed thoughtfully. “You broke the bond with the ship when you moved it, so it was offline when the mirror broke. Hopefully, that saved it. The link is physical, and it's physically here. Which might mean, if I'm lucky…” He trailed his fingers under the mantel, feeling for that tiny depression in the grain. “If the universe has decided to show me mercy…” And then he felt the tiny divot that would be his salvation. “Ha!”

“What?” Reinette eagerly asked.

“Loose connection! I can get back to Rose.” He whipped out his sonic to quickly repair the switch and then hopped on the hearth. Before he pushed the button, he sent Reinette a daft grin. “Thank you, Madame de Pompadour.”

Her smile widened, glad she could help her lifelong friend. “Goodbye, fireplace man.”

With a small click, the switch activated, and the Doctor spun on the fireplace back home — back to Rose.

~*~

One minute after the Doctor had disappeared, Rose slowly lowered herself to the ground and hugged her legs. Her forehead rested against her knees, allowing herself a few minutes to grieve and wallow in self-pity before she figured out a way off this spaceship. She wished he would have pulled her onto the horse with him or found a way to stabilize the window.

Rose’s head snapped up.

“Temporal stabilizers,” she mumbled to herself and jumped off the floor. “We could have used the Tardis’ temporal stabilizers!”

Bitter laughter erupted from her throat. If she had thought of that solution five minutes ago, he wouldn’t have had to destroy the time window. He wouldn’t have left her behind. It felt like Emergency Program One all over again.

The memory of the Game Station sprung her into action, and she raced down the halls toward the Tardis. She had asked for the ship’s help that day. Perhaps, if she pleaded very nicely once more, the ship would take her to eighteenth-century France to rescue the Doctor.

Feeling hopeful, she forced a burst of speed through her legs and rounded the corner into the cavernous room they had first arrived in.

And she ran straight into the Doctor’s chest.

He flung his arms out to catch her before she fell. “Rose!”

Before she could utter a single syllable, Rose was lifted into the air in a bone-crushing hug, surrounded by the Doctor’s arms and wool clad chest. She let out a relieved cry and wrapped her legs around his waist, burying her head in his shoulder. She forgot that she was supposed to be mad at him. She forgot that he had fallen for another woman. All that mattered was he was here — he had come back.

“How long was I gone?” the Doctor whispered and pulled her tighter.

Rose squeezed his shoulders. “Five and a half minutes.”

“That’s too long.”

She pulled back with a relieved smile, but her grin faded when she met his eye. He was transfixed, staring at her like a man who had just discovered an oasis in a desert. Slowly, the Doctor lowered her to her feet and delicately cradled her face. For a split second, he looked like he was going to lean in, to press his lips against hers and quench his thirst.

But then something occurred to Rose, and she broke the spell.

“Where’s your jacket?”

The Doctor blinked and looked down at his chest. “Oh!” He laughed and glanced at the fireplace. “Reinette must have it. Two ticks!”

Once again, he left her standing on the spaceship while he ran back to eighteenth-century France. She didn’t have a chance to ask him how long she should wait this time before he was spinning away from her on the fireplace.

Rose frowned and opened the Tardis doors. She barely ever saw the Doctor without his leather jacket. Why did Madame de Pompadour have it?

~*~

The Doctor bounced off the fireplace with a flourish, giddy to have found a way back to Rose and not be trapped in France. And he had plans — plans to win Rose back. Assuming, of course, that she even wanted him anymore after all the grief and heartache he had put her through.

He frowned at the dark bedroom in front of him. It was previously bright and cheery, and Reinette had been standing a few feet from the fireplace.

“Reinette?” he called out. “I left my jacket somewhere. Do you have it?”

The Doctor strode quickly out of the room, a man on a mission. He peered down the halls but didn’t see anyone until he caught sight of the King standing in front of a window.

“Oh, hello. Is Reinette around?”

The King barely turned to acknowledge his presence. “You just missed her. She’ll be in Paris by six.”

“Oh. Did she happen to find my jacket? I left it layin’ around somewhere by mistake.”

The King finally peeled his eye away from the window and got a look at the strange man that Reinette had loved to talk about. “Good Lord. She was right. She said you never looked a day older. So many years since I saw you last, but not a day of it on your face.”

As the Doctor examined the King, he noticed the wrinkles and sagging skin of old age. The fireplace must have returned him to France later than he thought.

With a weary sigh, the King crossed the short expanse of the room and opened the drawer of a bureau. Inside was his leather jacket, folded neatly and tied by a string with an attached letter.

“She spoke of you many times,” the King said, lightly stroking the seam of the garment. “Often wished you visit again. You know how women are.”

It didn’t bode well that the King kept referring to his beloved mistress in the past tense. He crossed the room and placed the jacket in the Doctor’s hands. The sounds of horse whinnies and carriage wheels floated into the air from the nearby window, and the King resumed his station in front of the glass.

“There she goes,” he whispered. “Leaving Versailles for the last time. Only forty-three when she died. Too young… too young. Illness took her in the end. She always did work too hard.”

Soft sobbing was the only sound in the room as the King watched the carriage leave through the front gates of the palace. The Doctor watched the solemn scene over the man’s shoulders, feeling sorry to see one of history’s great women depart from the Earth.

“What does she say?” the King asked.

The question forced the Doctor’s gaze from the hearse to the sealed letter sitting on top of his jacket. “All good things, I hope.”

A small smile formed on the King’s lips. “Yes. Quite right.”

~*~

The Tardis hummed sympathetically as Rose walked up the ramp and through the corridors to her bedroom. She trailed her fingers along the coral walls, soaking in the support and peace drifting across her mind. It was easier to communicate when her skin was touching the beloved ship.

From the expression on his face, Rose had been sure the Doctor had been about to snog the daylights out of her; it was the same look John used to have right before he would press his lips to hers. But she must have gotten it wrong.

It felt like she had gotten a lot of things wrong lately. Perhaps she had gotten it all wrong from the start. Maybe the Doctor had never loved her, and he had been trying all this time to let her down gently. Why else would he have claimed to be scared of her human mortality but then fall into the arms of another woman with equally short days?

And why had he fallen for Madame de Pompadour so quickly? They had only known her for a matter of hours. Did time pass differently on the other side of the time windows? How long had he actually been gone every time he stepped foot into eighteenth-century France?

Apparently, it was long enough to replace her with someone better — someone more accomplished, titled… beautiful. Reinette must have been a woman worthy of an almighty Time Lord. What chance did she, a shopgirl from the twenty-first-century, have against the uncrowned Queen of France?

As soon as Rose entered her bedroom, she thumped her head on the coral wall, willing herself not to breakdown into tears — she was done crying over the Doctor. The Tardis sang a melody in her mind, soothing her until she smiled.

Rose stroked the wall fondly. “Thanks. You’re the bestest friend a girl could ever ask for.”

She blew out her cheeks and got ready for bed in her en suite. The plaster on her neck was starting to peel away, so she tugged it off her skin and then met her reflection in the mirror. Rose frowned. There was no cut under the bandage. She poked the site where the blade had nicked her, but there was no mark or bruise. Weird. She could have sworn she felt the saw slice her flesh. She had definitely felt the pain.

Too tired to figure it out, Rose washed her face and climbed into bed. She turned out the light on her nightstand and then searched for the coral by her head. When her palm flattened on the wall, the Tardis immediately started singing the same melody in her head, lulling her into a fitful sleep.

~*~

“Rose?” the Doctor immediately called out as he entered the Tardis.

The ship hummed in his mind and told him Rose was in her bedroom. He placed his leather bundle on the jumpseat and flicked a lever on the console to send them into the vortex. Reinette’s letter stared at him when he turned away from the controls, so he plucked it off his jacket, ripping the wax seal to unfold the piece of parchment.

My dear Doctor,

The path has never seemed more slow, and yet I fear I am nearing its end. Reason tells me that you and I are unlikely to meet again, but I think I shall not listen to reason. I was blessed by your presence for a few short days of my life and hope to be gifted by more. But my days grow shorter now, and I am so very weak. I have seen the world inside your head and know that all things are possible.

Godspeed, my lonely angel.

Madame de Pompadour — gone in the blink of an eye.

What if he turned his back one day and Rose vanished? Would her eventual passing really hurt any less if he kept his distance — if he held her at arm’s length?

No. It would always be painful, and it was going to crush him no matter what he did. He would have wasted her precious moments instead of cherishing every single one she had. He’d be lost either way, but he didn’t have to continue to be the idiot that didn’t show her how fiercely he loved her.

He threw the letter on the ground and pulled his jacket on, striding with determination toward Rose’s bedroom. But he froze in front of the door when he got there.

How could he even begin to apologize for putting her through an unnecessary separation? Would she hate him? What if she refused to be with him? What if she had already moved on? He couldn’t blame her if she had — it was his own damn fault.

The Doctor rubbed the back of his head and fidgeted on the spot. He could start with a peace offering: maybe tea? He darted to the kitchen and whipped up a couple mugs of Earl Grey and placed them on a tray with a packet of her favorite biscuits.

When he reached her door for the second time, he pulled in a deep breath and knocked.

She didn’t answer.

He frowned and cautiously twisted the knob. Finding it unlocked, he gently pushed the door open and dipped his head in. The room was dark, and he could barely make out the form of Rose sleeping soundly in her bed. He tiptoed across the carpet and carefully set the tray of tea down on her nightstand, silently asking the Tardis to warm the mug when she woke.

The Doctor chanced a moment to watch her sleep. He desperately wanted to crawl under the sheets and mold himself around her body to breathe her in — but he hadn’t earned the right. For now, he watched each tiny puff of air as it left her lips and every small flutter of her lashes as she dreamt. Even in sleep, she was effortlessly gorgeous.

He swallowed the lump in his throat as he recalled the recent times where he had been the cause of pain etched onto her beautiful face. Rose should never be in pain. And, if she let him, he’d spend the rest of her days atoning for his cowardice.

A lock of hair drifted across her forehead, and he dared to reach down and tuck it back behind her ear. She didn’t move, so he bent down and brushed a feather-light kiss on her temple, closing his eyes and inhaling her raspberry scented shampoo.

“Please don’t hate me,” he whispered. “I swear I’ll make it right. If it takes me the rest of your life, I’ll make it up to you. I promise I will show you how much I love you.”

Chapter Text

Rose tossed and turned on her bed in a sweaty tangle of limbs. Her sheets were wadded up at the end of the mattress, kicked away in irritation as dreams flashed behind her eyelids. She was on the Game Station, again, staring at the Doctor’s frightened, blue eyes.

“I want you safe, My Doctor, protected from the false god,” her voice vibrated in her chest.

“You cannot hurt me,” sneered the Dalek Emperor on the viewscreen. “I am immortal.”

She felt righteous anger boil over in her veins. “You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them.”

She lifted her arms into the air, channeling the shimmering ribbons of time into her fingers and directing the raw energy into the Dalek fleet, obliterating them from existence. Her skin burned and sizzled as she ripped them apart, atom by atom, without mercy.

“Everything must come to dust,” she raged. “All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends.”

“I will not die. I cannot die!” the Emperor screamed as he crumbled in a haze of golden light.

“Rose, you've done it. Now stop. Just let go,” the Doctor begged below her.

“How can I let go of this?” she asked in wonder. “I bring life.”

She directed her power over time and matter into the body of Jack one floor down. He sucked in a breath and came back to life — forever.

Rose shot up in bed, gasping for air and clutching her chest as her dream faded. No, not a dream. That was not a dream. The Doctor had lied to her.

~*~

Whistling a merry tune, the Doctor turned his spanner under the console to fix the milometer he had meant to fix ages ago. He was eagerly waiting for Rose to wake so he could take her somewhere fantastic as an apology for being a complete arse. Not that he believed one trip would woo her back, but he had to start somewhere. He’d even visit Jackie for a month, hopefully no longer, if that was what Rose wanted.

Footfalls echoed in the corridor, announcing Rose’s arrival into the console room. She had only slept for three hours, but the Doctor shrugged to himself and sat up to greet her. A slow grin formed on his face as he took in her adorable sheep pajamas and her pink toenails peeking out under the long hem. But his smile vanished when he noticed her clenched fists and flared nostrils.

“You lied to me!” she seethed.

“What? What did I lie about?” He quickly got to his feet.

“You said I brought the Tardis back and then you defeated the Daleks.”

His stomach dropped and he nodded his head slowly. “Yes, that’s what I said.” He was not prepared to defend his actions, at all.

“That wasn’t true! I did it. I killed them all. You lied to me!” Rose angrily closed the distance between them and jabbed a finger in his chest.

He gently grabbed her finger and stammered, “I-I didn’t lie. I just… left that bit out.”

“Left that bit out.” She backed away from him and laughed bitterly. “Oh, how convenient. You just left out the bit where I committed genocide?!”

“I didn’t want you to remember that.” The Doctor circled around the console in an attempt to escape her wrath.

Rose chased him. “Is that your only excuse?”

“You didn’t need to know that.”

“How dare you make that decision for me!” She slammed her hands down on the console and glared daggers at him.

“You don’t want that pain! Trust me, I know how that feels!” The Doctor’s jaw snapped shut and his eyes widened in shock; he hadn’t meant to let that slip out.

Her brow wrinkled. “What do you mean?”

“Doesn’t matter.” He turned around and danced away from her again.

Rose grabbed the back of his jacket, stopping him in his tracks and pulling him around to face her. “And Jack! What did I do to Jack? Where is he, really?” Her eyes narrowed as he fidgeted with random buttons. “Stop lyin’ to me.”

The Doctor’s shoulders sagged and he looked away from her, ashamed. “I left him behind.”

Rose’s voice pitched low and deadly, “What do you mean you left—”

Without warning, the central console exploded, propelling them backward onto the ground. All of the air rushed out of Rose’s lungs as her back slammed on the metal in a teeth-rattling crash. The Doctor quickly rolled on top of her, shielding her from the blast with his body. Smoke and fire billowed into the air, swirling around the central column as the Tardis careened wildly through time and space. The ship pitched violently from side to side causing them to slide along the grating.

Rose quickly grabbed onto the pole of the railing to keep them in place. “What’s happenin’?!”

“I don’t know!” the Doctor shouted and brought his arms up to protect her face.

The Tardis landed with a sudden, forceful jerk and the chaos ended. Gas masks popped out of the ceiling and fell, bouncing once before swinging lightly through the hazy air.

Lazy wisps of smoke infiltrated Rose’s nostrils, and she pushed against the heavy weight of the Doctor. “Get off of me,” she gritted out through clenched teeth, still mad at him despite their crash landing.

He scurried off of her and grabbed her hands to help her up. “Are you alright?”

Concerned, he swept her hair off her face and inspected her skin, but she slapped his hands away. “M’fine. What happened?”

The Doctor straightened his jacket and swiveled the scanner over, but the screen was blank. He frowned and tapped the screen. With a deep look of concern, he pulled out his sonic and tried to turn on any part of the console in reach — nothing happened. He reached out his mind and reasoned no answer.

“There’s no power. Nothin’… the Tardis is dead,” he stated in disbelief.

Rose brought a hand up to her temple, already missing the hum in her mind. “What do you mean dead? Can’t you fix her?”

He slowly shook his head. “No, she’s perished. We must have fallen through the vortex, through the void. The nothingness could have killed her.”

With a frown, Rose dodged the dangling gas masks and walked down the ramp to peek her head out the door.

“The last Tardis in the universe — extinct. We must be in some sort of no place,” the Doctor continued to ramble and stare in shock at his lifeless ship. “The silent realm. The lost dimension.”

“Otherwise known as London?” Rose called out.

The Doctor whipped his head around. “What?”

He ran down the ramp and joined Rose as she stepped outside into the bright daylight. It was definitely London. It appeared the be the right time in London, too. He spotted a newspaper and snatched it off the ground. Rose peered over his shoulder.

“First of February of this year. We didn’t go very far. Not exactly a silent realm,” she noted.

Rose took the paper from him and flipped through the pages. The Doctor scanned the area around them — something felt off. It didn’t take long for him to tilt his head up and gape at the large ships drifting in the sky.

“So, this is London.” He folded his arms and stared overhead.

Rose hummed thoughtfully, still perusing the periodical. “Appears so.”

“Your city, just as we left it.”

“Yeah, I guess. Should we visit Mum?”

The Doctor cleared his throat to get her attention. “Were there always zeppelins?”

Rose craned her head up to follow his line of sight, eyes widening in shock at the airships dotting the sky like giant, gray clouds. “Well, that’s… kinda beautiful. Is there a festival goin’ on?”

He shook his head, grim. “No, this is not your world.”

“Ok…” Rose strolled slowly around in wonder. “If the date is the same, does that mean its parallel?”

“Must be.” He joined Rose where she had stopped, frozen in the grass in her barefeet.

Her skin paled. “A parallel world… where he’s still alive.”

Confused, the Doctor followed her eyeline to an advertisement for cherry flavored Vitex Lite; it was being sold by Peter Alan Tyler. Before he could stop her, Rose walked swiftly towards the billboard, pajamas swaying in the breeze, and stared, transfixed, at the image of her dad, cheerily marketing a soft drink.

The Doctor followed her and tugged her wrist gently. “Don’t. This is not your world.”

She pulled her arm away from him. “But, he’s my dad…” She tentatively touched the screen and jumped when the man moved and said, “Trust me on this.”

“Oh, that’s weird. But he’s real.” Her eyes continued to dart around the advert and her smile grew larger. “He’s a success! He was always plannin’ these daft, little schemes. Health food drinks and stuff. Everyone said they were useless. But he did it.”

It had pained the Doctor to see the anguish Rose had gone through when she had watched her real dad die. And now, her face glowed with unrestrained joy to see him alive and well. But this was not her dad, and he had to make her see that before she did something stupid.

He darted in front of her, blocking the advertisement and gripping her shoulder. “Rose, if you ever trusted me, please listen to me now. Don’t look at him. Your father’s dead.” Anger washed over her face, but he continued to plead with her, “He died when you were six months old. That is not your Pete. That is a Pete. He probably has his own Jackie and his own Rose. His own daughter who is not you. You can’t see him. Not ever.”

Rose clenched her jaw and stepped out of his grasp. “Says the man that does nothin’ but lie to me.” With a glare, she marched away from him, leaves crunching under her toes.

The Doctor feared she was about to go looking for Pete, but she flung open the Tardis door instead with a muffled curse. He huffed out a breath and continued to stare at the image of her dad, incessantly repeating “trust me on this.” Other than the zeppelins and the odd devices sticking out of advert Pete’s ears, this world was similar enough to be a dangerous temptation for Rose. He’d have to keep a close eye on her.

He dragged his palms down his face and trudged back to the Tardis, flinging his jacket on the jumpseat and rolling up the sleeves of his jumper. Time to see if he could fix anything on his ship; he couldn’t let the old girl die without a fight.

Rose had disappeared, presumably to escape his presence, and he couldn’t blame her. He hadn’t thought to prepare himself for the day she remembered everything from the Game Station. Truthfully, he had hoped she would never regain those memories. The last thing he had wanted was for her to experience the horror of being responsible for the death of an entire species — like he was, at least twice over.

Forcing his maudlin thoughts from his brain, the Doctor dropped to his knees on the grating, searching for a way to fix the Tardis. He had to get Rose out of this gingerbread world of temptation. It should have been impossible to fall through the void and wind up in a different London. He had no idea how they had gotten here, and there weren’t any Time Lords left to chauffeur them back to the right universe. When his people were keeping an eye on everything, hopping between parallel worlds had been easy — not anymore. He desperately hoped they weren’t trapped here forever.

A faint, green glow caught his eye. With a daft grin, the Doctor ripped open the piece of grating blocking the light and pulled out a tiny power cell. He laughed in joy, giddy to see a small piece of the Tardis clinging to life. It needed charging, so he exhaled golden energy from his mouth into the cell. It glowed brighter and the Doctor smiled wider. He just gave ten years of his life to recharge his ship — worth every second.

He heard Rose walking down the corridor to the console room, and he craned his head around toward her, noting that she had changed out of her pajamas. “Rose, I found a power cell! We’ll be ready to go home in twenty-four hours!”

The air whipped across his face as Rose whisked right by him without a word and out the front door.

“Rose!” he called out and scrambled to his feet, snatching his jacket off the jumpseat as he chased after her.

“Rose!” he shouted again. His longer stride easily caught up to her, and he gently grasped her elbow to halt her march. “Where are you goin’?”

She held up her phone. “My phone connected. There’s this Cybus network. It finds your phone, and it gave me internet access.”

He frowned and pulled out his mobile, tapping a few buttons to bring up the browser on the screen. “Well, whatever it says, this is the wrong world.”

“What are you… You… you kept that?” her voice wobbled.

His fingers froze as he realized he had pulled out John’s old mobile. With a heavy swallow, he tucked it back in his jacket. “Yes.”

Their gazes met briefly before she shook her head and continued walking away. “I don’t exist.”

“What?” He loped alongside her.

“There’s no Rose Tyler. I was never born.” She swiped her hair out her eyes, irritated. “There’s Pete, my dad, and Jackie. He still married Mum, but they never had kids.”

“Give me that phone.” The Doctor attempted to take the mobile from her but she quickly tucked it into her front pocket.

She laughed sadly. “They’re rich. They’ve got a house and cars and everythin’ they could possibly ever need — and then some. All because they never had me.”

“Rose, where are you goin’?” he asked again, afraid of her answer.

“I’ve got to see him.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can,” she stubbornly insisted.

“I can’t let you!”

“We have twenty-four hours. I can go and get a glimpse if I want.”

“You can’t become their daughter!”

She whirled around and he nearly rammed into her at the sudden stop. “You think I don’t know that? I just want to see him. I have the address and everythin’.” Her jaw clenched and she resumed her angry march. “You can either stand there or you can come with me and make sure I don’t act like a stupid ape.”

With a growl of irritation, the Doctor reluctantly followed her. They walked for several blocks before they found themselves on a busy street. He frowned at the weird electronics in everyone’s ears, just like the ones Pete had in the advertisement. What was the purpose of those little devices?

“Why do you have that mobile?” Rose said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Everyone needs a phone,” he evaded.

She stopped and met his eye again. This time there was only sadness, no anger. “Why that one?”

He paused for several moments. If he was ever going to win her back, it was time to stop deflecting. He had to stop tamping down his true thoughts and actions and set them free — even if it meant laying his hearts bare before her.

His gaze never wavered, but he drew in a steadying breath. “It’s full of you.”

Rose bit her lip and darted her eyes around his face. “Me?”

“Pictures, texts… You’re number one on the speed dial.”

“Pictures?” Her brow crinkled.

“Yes.”

“John… You…” She paused and broke eye contact. “You took pictures of me?”

“Lots. But not until we started datin’. I’m not a peepin’ Tom or anythin’.” He laughed lightly.

Rose’s lip quirked up the tiniest bit at his joke and he relished the site. Tentatively, so as not to spook her, he brushed his pinky against hers, hoping to take her hand. Her finger moved slightly, but then a loud beeping filled the air, and she snatched her hand back and whipped her head around.

All of the people that were formally hustling and bustling along the street had frozen in place.

“What’re they all doin’?” Rose asked as she wandered between them.

“They’ve… stopped?” The Doctor waved a hand in front of a man’s face but received no reaction. The device in the man’s ears was blinking rapidly. “It’s the earpieces. Like Bluetooth attachments, but everyone’s connected together.”

The harsh beeping rang from Rose’s pocket, and she pulled out her mobile. “It’s on my phone, too. Must be automatic.” She showed him the screen. “Look, it’s downloadin’. Is this what they’re all gettin’? News, international news, sports, weather.”

The Doctor looked over her shoulder as she flipped through the downloads. “They must get it directly into their heads.”

“TV schedules, lottery numbers…”

“Everyone shares the same information. May I?” He held his palm out for her phone and she handed it over. The end of the text showed the source of the news. “The Daily Download, published by Cybus Industries.”

The next heading said “Joke,” and the crowd around them started laughing as everyone heard the same punch line at the same time. And then they all unfroze and resumed their day as if there were nothing weird about what had just happened.

The Doctor shook his head, bewildered. “You lot will do anythin’ for the latest upgrade. You’re obsessed.” He used the browser on the phone to pull up more information.

“Oi!” Rose said, irritated. “Not my lot. Different world, remember?”

“Oh, this world is only parallel.” A bit of text on the mobile caught his attention. “A ha! Look — Cybus Industries, owners of just about everythin’ in Britain, includin’ Vitex. Mr. Pete Tyler must be very well connected.”

A huge smile lit Rose’s face, and she looked at him with barely suppressed glee, lips tightly pressed together to tamp down a smile. He’d admonish her, knowing exactly what she was thinking, but she looked too happy and he didn’t want to disappoint her again.

The Doctor groaned and handed her phone back to her. “Oh, alright. Guess we’re visitin’ Mr. Tyler, after all.”

Rose whooped in joy and pocketed her phone. “I saw a news article while I was browsin’ for information earlier. There’s a big party tonight for Mum’s birthday. Think we could be guests?”

“Suppose so. I’ve got the psychic paper.” He pulled it out and waved it in the air.

Before he could blink, Rose snatched it from his fingers. “Oh, no! You’re not usin’ it this time. I am!”

~*~

The Doctor tugged on his black bowtie as he stood in the corner of a lavishly decorated room. Pete and Jackie Tyler had a very lovely manor, if a bit ostentatious and grand for his taste. Although, his home was transdimensional and contained a collapsing star, so he couldn’t really complain about the size of the Tyler Mansion.

What he really wanted to gripe about was being at this party in the first place. After Rose had stolen the psychic paper from him, they had headed back to the Tardis to change into appropriate formal wear. Which, for him, meant black tie, and he hated being trussed up in a penguin suit.

And then, to make matters worse, Rose had exited the ship looking like a forbidden piece of candy that he had desperately wanted to bite into. He had absolutely no idea how she was able to move in the sleeveless, backless dress  — it was a skin-tight, golden miracle. He swore he had made a strangled noise the moment he had seen her, and he was also pretty sure she had heard it, as evidenced by the tiny smirk plastered on her face the entire night thus far.

He had managed to pull himself together and declared her to be beautiful, winning him the first bright smile he’d seen in weeks. But it wasn’t the tongue-touched one he was waiting for, and it was beginning to feel like he’d never see it again.

Rose had managed to get them into the party without a hitch. The psychic paper had told the doorman that they were Rose Smith of the Powell Estate and Sir George Dixon of Tardis. Luckily, the Powell Estate was called Norris Estate in this universe, and Rose had had the foresight to change her last name.

Speaking of Rose, the Doctor scanned the crowd for his plus one for the evening. He caught her eye as she was speaking to an ambassador. He felt like sending her a flirty wink, so he did, and was endlessly gratified to see her blush from across the room. It was liberating to no longer be holding himself back. The only fear he still harbored was her reaction to the inevitable telepathy, but he had to try. He didn’t want to live without her any longer.

Rose felt her cheeks heat up before she scowled and turned away from the smug Doctor in the corner nursing a glass of wine. Something in him had changed since he had come back from eighteenth-century France, and she didn’t know what to think anymore. She still felt butterflies erupt in her stomach when she thought about the way he had looked at her after their reunion hug. It was the same way he was looking at her now. It was the same way John had looked at her. And she definitely had heard the choking noise he had made when she had stepped out of the Tardis decked head to toe in evening wear.

And then he had called her beautiful, simply beautiful with no “considering you’re human” to amend his declaration. She hadn’t been able to hold back a ridiculous smile in response.

But he had snogged Madame de Pompadour, so why was he sending her flirty winks again? Had he suddenly changed his mind about their relationship status? Or, was she now a stand-in for a woman he had lost in France?

It didn’t matter. He had told her on numerous occasions how he felt, and she was simply seeing what she wanted to see, nothing more. Besides, she was still furious with him for withholding the truth about what had happened on the Game Station.

Rose stuck a smile on her face and returned her attention to the Greek Ambassador. “Sorry, Mr. Anastas, spaced out there for a bit. What was it you were sayin’ about that man over there?” She nodded to a man not far from her that had been receiving a lot of attention at the party.

The Greek Ambassador, a relatively young man for his position, followed her line of sight. “Ah, yes, the President of Great Britain. I hear Mr. Lumic has been pitching ideas to him lately. I wonder if the government is about to take a vested interest in a private company.”

“Who’s Mr. Lumic?” She took a dainty sip of her wine and continued to scan the crowd, looking for any sign of her mum and dad. No, not mum and dad: Jackie and Pete.

“The head of Cybus Industries, of course.”

“Right, yes, how silly of me.” She laughed demurely.

The man looked her up and down and then peered at the dance floor over her shoulder. “Dame Rose, would you do me the honor of a dance later this evening?”

She opened her mouth to answer, but a Northern burr cut her off, “Actually, her dance card is already full.”

The Greek Ambassador nodded his head, bid Rose a friendly goodbye, and left to mingle with the rest of the crowd. Rose pursed her lips and spun around to face the Doctor, who had a cheeky smile lighting up his face.

“My dance card is full?” Trying in vain to ignore how good he looked in a tux, Rose downed the last of her wine in one gulp.

The Doctor took a sip from his glass, peering at her over the rim, and smacked his lips. “Yes. So, what did the pretty boy want?”

“He was tellin’ me about the President of Great Britain.”

“President? Not Prime Minister?”

“Appears so.”

“Maybe the Greek Ambassador is a bit thick,” he snarked.

Rose narrowed her eyes. If she had to guess, she’d say he was jealous. Before she could ask him why he was acting that way, the alternate version of her father tapped a glass at the bottom of the grand staircase, commanding everyone’s attention.

“Excuse me!” Pete called out over the din of the party. “Thank you very much. Thank you. If I could just have your attention, please?”

“Pete! Go on, Pete!” encouraged a friend in the crowd.

The Doctor tried to grasp her elbow to stop her from moving closer, but Rose evaded him and slid through the other guests until she was standing within ten feet of the ghost of her dad.

“I'd just like to say thank you to you all for comin’ on this very special occasion. My wife's… thirty-ninth.” Pete smiled sheepishly.

The crowd laughed and Rose found herself chuckling along with them. Even the alternate version of her mum was denying her age.

“Trust me on this.” Pete held his thumb up in his signature move. “And so, without any further ado, here she is, the birthday girl. My lovely wife, Jackie Tyler.”

Rose’s brows flew to her hairline as this universe’s Jackie descended the elegant staircase in a skin-tight black dress, waving and smiling to the applauding crowd. She had never seen her mum wearing anything so expensive before, including the glittering diamond earrings and necklace. She knew this Jackie had money, but it was surreal to see her mum dressed in anything other than a tracksuit or jeans.

Jackie Tyler beamed in the spotlight. “Now, I'm not givin’ a speech. That's what my parties are famous for, no work, no politics. Just a few good mates and plenty of black market whiskey.” She laughed along with the guests at her joke. “Pardon me, Mister President. So, yeah, get on with it. Enjoy, enjoy!”

Everyone cheered as Pete took Jackie’s hand, and they walked into the crowd of well-wishers and friends among a volley of camera flashes. Rose couldn’t tear her eyes away from the happy couple. The only thing that was missing from their life was a daughter. In this universe, they were rich because they had never had her.

The Doctor noticed Rose’s distress and delicately laid his palm on her back in a soothing gesture. “You can't stay, Rose. They’re not your parents.”

Rose shook her head and stepped away from his searing touch. “Yeah, no. I know that. Besides, I've still got Mum at home, my real mum. I couldn't just leave her, could I? It's just… they've got each other. Mum's got no one.”

“Oi, she's got you! Those two haven't. All these different worlds, not one of them gets it right,” he muttered.

Rose shot him a questioning look but a dog barking grabbed her attention.

“Rose!” Jackie Tyler cooed and picked up a little, yapping Yorkshire Terrier. “There's my little girl! Good girl, aren’t you?”

A bark of laughter erupted from the Doctor and Rose glared at him. “Sorry.”

He continued to laugh, and she couldn’t help but let a few giggles loose herself. Orchestral music floated into the room from the dance floor and their merriment died down.

The Doctor plucked her empty wine glass from her fingers, placed it on a nearby tray, and held out his hand. “Dance with me?”

Rose blinked and stared at him.

“Please?” he pleaded.

A rejection was on the tip of her tongue, knowing a dance with him was dangerous territory for her emotional well-being. But when she looked into his eyes, they were sincere and full of naked emotion, as if everything he was hinged on her answer. She found herself placing her hand in his open palm without conscious thought. With a tender smile, he twined their fingers together and whisked her onto the dance floor.

The Doctor spun her around once, eliciting a giggle from her throat, before he reeled her in and placed their conjoined hands against his chest and splayed his other palm on the exposed portion of her back. Rose fought a shiver at the feel of his skin against hers and wound her free arm around his shoulder.

She attempted to keep space between their bodies, but it was a futile task. Against her better judgment, Rose was drawn into his orbit, and she rested her head on his chest with a sigh. The gentle beating of his hearts floated into her ears and, despite the fact he wasn’t currently wearing it, she could still smell a trace of his leather jacket.

As they gently swayed to the music, Rose’s eyes fluttered closed and he pulled her tighter. Goosebumps erupted on her skin as his thumb traced tiny circles on her bare back. She tried to ignore how delighted she was to be cradled against him again. She tried to ignore how he was holding her, as if she were a delicate flower in need of protection. She tried to ignore the quickening of her pulse as she felt his speed up. And then her heart stopped altogether as he leaned his head down to nuzzle his nose along her temple.

His breath tickled the skin of her cheek. “Rose,” he whispered.

The desire in his voice snapped Rose out of her trance and she straightened, dislodging his head from its resting place on hers.

She cleared her throat and decided to distract herself with unanswered questions. “What did I do to Jack?”

He blinked rapidly at the sudden change in her demeanor and sighed heavily, allowing her to pull back slightly from his embrace. “You brought him back to life… for good. He can’t die. He’s a fixed point in time.”

A gasp escaped her throat and she stopped moving. “I made him immortal?”

“Yes.” He nodded, gently guiding her back into the dance.

“But, why did you leave him behind? He’s our best friend!”

He flinched under her angry tone. “I didn’t want to, but I’m a Time Lord. He’s an impossible thing, and it rubs my time senses raw. Plus, I was more concerned with savin’ your life.”

Rose felt him grip her fingers tighter. “Was I dyin’?”

“I didn’t know. But I’ve never been so scared in all my life.”

She frowned as they continued to move slowly across the floor. “Why did you keep it from me?” she asked, softly.

He took several deep breaths before speaking again. “Because I know what that pain feels like. I fought in the Time War.”

“Yeah, you’ve told me that…”

“I also had to kill all the Daleks…” the Doctor paused and swallowed heavily, “and I also destroyed my planet.”

Instant understanding flooded Rose. “You… you killed your own people?”

“Yes.” His glassy eyes met hers, and his face contorted in anguish before he let go of her and fled the dance floor.

Suddenly, the Doctor’s explanation for keeping the truth from her made sense. He had been trying to spare her the pain he had gone through. And the reason he felt he didn’t deserve her was now clear. He truly thought he was a monster. Her heart broke as she watched him walk away. She started to chase after him but bumped into Pete Tyler at the edge of the dance floor instead.

“Sorry, sorry,” Pete apologized as he steadied her. “Hello! Don’t believe we’ve met. Pete Tyler.”

Rose smiled like an idiot and shook his offered hand. “Y-yes, hi. Rose Smith.”

“Ah, another Rose.” He chuckled lightly and leaned in conspiratorially. “Truth be told, I can’t stand that little dog.”

A full belly laugh pierced the air, and Rose instantly recognized it as Jackie. Pete followed the sound to his wife where she was joking with the President and a rueful smile formed on his lips.

Rose wasn’t sure why he looked sad, but she didn’t want to stop talking to her dad — even if it really wasn’t her dad. “Big night for you.”

“For her.” Pete nodded his head toward Jackie. “Still, she's happy.”

“Yeah, she should be. It's a great party.”

“Do you think?”

“You can trust me.” Rose wiggled her thumb in the air with a daft grin, attempting to replicate his catchphrase.

“You can trust me on this,” he corrected with a laugh.

“That's it, sorry.” Rose couldn’t help the nervous giggles pouring out of her mouth. “So, how long have you two been married?”

“Twenty years.”

“And no kids, or…”

Pete’s face dropped. “We kept puttin’ it off. She said she didn't want to spoil her figure.”

“It's not too late. She's only forty.”

“Thirty-nine.”

“Oh, right. Thirty-nine.” Rose smiled at his joke.

“It's still too late. I moved out last month,” He sighed and watched Jackie as she walked away. “We're gonna keep it quiet. Ya know, it's bad for business.” Pete’s brow furrowed in confusion and he shook his head. “Why am I tellin’ you all this? I don't know, you just seem sort of…”

“What?”

They stared at each other, Rose wondering if he would recognize her and Pete wondering why he was telling a complete stranger intimate details of his life.

“I don't know. Just sort of... right.” He looked shaken and stepped away from her. “Stevie! How's things? How's it goin’ at Torchwood?”

Rose blew out a breath as Pete left her side. It was bizarre, conversing with a man who was both her dad and not her dad. Then again, she hadn’t really known her real dad, so she had no frame of reference. They could be as different as night and day, and she would never know.

She suddenly felt like she needed fresh air, to get away from the stuffy party, and stepped outside onto the back porch. Jackie Tyler had escaped outside as well and was sitting on the bench, staring out into the night.

“Oh, hi, Mu-Mrs. Tyler. How are you?”

“Fine, fine. Just wonderin’ if I could get a cup of tea instead of this champagne.” Jackie’s breath was visible in the chilly night as she sighed. “Last thing I need is a hangover.”

“My mum loves that.” Rose sat next to her on the bench, eager to see how similar this Jackie was to her Jackie. “End of a long night, she never goes straight to bed. She always stays up just to have that last cup of tea.”

“Oh, I'm the same.”

“Two sugars?”

“And me.” Jackie huffed a tiny laugh. “Pete always says, you know… Ah, never mind him.” She pursed her lips and shook her head.

Rose didn’t like the despondent look on her mum’s face, even if she wasn’t really her mum. “I was talkin’ to him earlier. He's a nice man. You know, bit of a Jack the lad, I suppose, even if he has got money. But he's a good bloke.” She laughed internally for the next bit of advice she was about to give Jackie, suddenly wondering if she was going to need it herself. “Better than most. He's worth a second chance.”

Jackie snapped her neck to the side to glare at Rose. “Are you commentin’ on my marriage?”

“No, I was just…”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Jackie cut her off in a fierce tone. “Are you tryin’ to get inside information for the rags? Are you tryin’ to pull my husband? Don't you dare talk to me.”

She finished her tirade with a familiar growl and jumped off the bench, leaving Rose sitting there thoroughly chastised.

But she didn’t have time to feel sorry for upsetting Jackie. Bright lights suddenly swept across the large, manicured lawn and loud, stomping footfalls replaced the sound of crickets. Rose squinted, trying to identify the figures in the night, but she could only see the silhouette of their legs and hear the odd metal crunch as they marched toward the mansion.

Rose gulped and stood shakily to her feet, hoping she could run in heels. She needed to find the Doctor.

~*~

The Doctor mumbled curses under his breath as he left Rose on the dance floor. He felt horrible for leaving her there, but memories had flooded his vision and he had needed a moment to collect himself. In the past, he would have evaded her questions. He didn’t want to see her horrified expression over his war crimes, but he was done withholding himself from her. If she was ever going to want to be with him again, he had to answer her honestly — no matter how painful the truth was.

He ducked into a room and closed the door, softly thudding his forehead against the wood. After counting to ten, he let out a long breath and straightened his shoulders.

The only source of light in the room was coming from a computer on the desk; he must be in Pete’s office. He decided to do a bit of snooping while he was there and tapped a few commands onto the keyboard to bring up the most recent program.

A video started to play with a rotating x-ray image of a human head.

“The most precious thing on this Earth is the human brain,” explained the narrator. “This is the ultimate upgrade. Our greatest step into cyberspace.”

The human head stopped spinning, and an antenna like appendage sprung from the ears and encircled the top of the head. The Doctor immediately recognized it, and the reason for the earpieces was suddenly clear.

“Cybers,” he growled and pushed away from the desk.

He fled the office in search of Rose, bumping into random dignitaries in his haste. To his horror, he could hear the marching of an oncoming horde of Cybermen outside the mansion.

Rose was winding through the crowd and spotted him. She looked visibly relieved, and he grabbed her hand as soon as he was close enough, unwilling to be more than arm’s length from her. He tugged her to a nearby window, and they peered out into the night, gaping at the sight of the oncoming metal army.

“It's happenin’ again,” the Doctor stated in disbelief.

“What do you mean?” Rose squeezed his fingers.

“I've seen them before.”

“What are they?”

“Cybermen.”

The Doctor pulled her closer to his side and away from the glass. Moments later, one of the soldiers smashed through a nearby window. The entire party erupted into screams of terror as every window in the room was smashed and Cybermen plowed through the glass to corral the terrified guests into the center of the foyer.

When they were surrounded and had no means of escape, the President’s ear pods rang with an incoming call.

“Mister Lumic,” he answered and the conversation played through every Cyberman in the room.

“Mister President, I suppose a remark about crashing the party would be appropriate at this point.” The man on the line laughed impishly, and the Doctor recognized it as the voice from the video he had just watched.

“I forbade this.” The President shook his head sadly.

“These are my children, sir,” Lumic cried. “Would you deny my family?”

Rose tugged lightly on the Doctor’s tux to get his attention. “What are they, robots?” she whispered.

“Worse than that,” he answered her quietly, glaring at the metal men in the room.

“Who were these people?” the President demanded.

“Doesn't matter,” Lumic dismissed his concern.

Rose gasped. “They're people?”

“They were, but they’ve had all of their humanity taken away,” he spoke forcefully through a clenched jaw. “That's a livin’ brain jammed inside a cybernetic body with a heart of steel — all emotions removed.”

“Why no emotions?”

The Doctor met her eye with a tender expression. “Because it hurts.”

He pulled her the tiniest bit closer into his side, wrapping an arm around her waist as he continued to scan the surrounding Cybermen. Rose didn’t shy away from his touch this time and went willingly into his protective embrace.

“I demand to know, Lumic. These people, who were they?” the President shouted.

“They were homeless and wretched and useless!” Lumic yelled back, filling the room with his furious voice. “Until I saved them, and elevated them, and gave them life eternal. And now, I leave you in their capable hands. Goodnight, sir. Goodnight, Mister President.”

The call ended and one of the Cybermen immediately moved in front of the President, looming over the man with a vacant face of steel.

“We have been upgraded,” the Cyberman stated in a clipped, robotic tone.

“Into what?” the Doctor called out.

“The next level of mankind. We are Human Point Two. Every citizen will receive a free upgrade. You will become like us.” The Cyberman left no room for rebuttal.

“I'm sorry.” The President frowned and addressed the Cybermen in the room, “I'm so sorry for what's been done to you. But listen to me: this experiment ends tonight.”

“Upgrading is compulsory,” the Cyberman informed him.

“And if I refuse?”

“Don't,” the Doctor warned.

The President ignored him and repeated, “What if I refuse?”

“I'm tellin’ you, don't!”

“What happens if I refuse?” The President stared into the empty pits of the Cyberman’s eyes.

“Then you are not compatible,” the Cyberman stated ominously.

“What happens then?” the President challenged.

“You will be deleted.”

The Cyberman’s hand shot forward and clamped down on the President’s neck, forcing crackling electricity into the man’s body. The President stiffened in pain as the energy sizzled through his skin and then slumped to the ground, dead.

Screams erupted in the room as the other Cybermen grabbed random guests and sent the same deadly current through their veins, killing them on the spot. Chaos ensued as everyone desperately tried to flee at once.

“Jackie! Jackie!” Pete shouted, frantically searching for his wife.

The Doctor grabbed Rose’s hand and yanked her to the closest window. “There’s nothin’ we can do!”

They jumped through the broken glass, and Rose immediately dropped his hand when they landed.

“My mum’s in there!” she shouted and started to climb back in.

“She’s not your mother, c’mon!” The Doctor snatched her hand back and dragged her away.

With a burst of speed, he tugged Rose behind him as he fled across the lawn. A line of Cybermen blocked their path, and the Doctor darted in the opposite direction before they were snatched. They ran down the side of the house just as Pete leaped through a window.

“Pete! Pete!” Rose shouted and Pete followed them around the mansion.

The Doctor skidded to a stop when they were far enough away from the Cybermen. “Pete, is there a way out?” he asked in desperation.

“The side gates.” Pete pointed in the direction of an exit and glanced at the strange man as they ran. “Who are you? How do you know so much?”

“You wouldn't believe me in a million years.”

Their sprint was halted again as more Cybermen blocked their path, and they quickly spun around to escape the advancing line. Two armed figures were running across the lawn in their direction.

“Who’s that?” Rose wondered out loud.

“Get behind me!” shouted one of the unknown men.

Having no other option, the Doctor, Rose, and Pete rushed toward the newcomers. As soon as they were safely behind the men and the guns, the strangers opened fire on the Cybermen. But the bullets bounced uselessly off of their steel chests. The metal men came to a stop with one final, forceful stomp of their boots.

Rose’s eyes widened as she got a look at the two men. “Mickey?!”

“It’s Ricky, sweetheart,” corrected Mickey’s doppelganger.

“Of course it is.” The Doctor clenched his jaw at the man’s use of his term of endearment for Rose.

“There's more of them,” cried the blonde-headed man next to Ricky.

The row of Cybermen started marching again and more metal soldiers emerged from the shadows in the night. They moved in synchronized steps until they formed a ring around the four terrified humans and the lone frozen Time Lord.

Rose whipped her head around, eyes wide. “We're surrounded.”

Ricky raised his gun, but the Doctor cut him off, “Put the guns down. Bullets can’t stop them.”

The blonde-haired man ignored the warning and opened fire.

With an annoyed growl, the Doctor pushed the man to the ground. “I said no guns!”

“We surrender!” the Doctor shouted at the Cybermen. “Put your hands up,” he instructed the group and raised his own arms in the air. “There's no need to damage us. We're good stock. We volunteer for the upgrade program. Take us to be processed.”

“You are rogue elements,” declared the closest Cyberman.

“But we surrender,” the Doctor cried with furrowed brows.

“You are incompatible.”

“But this is a surrender.”

“You will be deleted,” the Cyberman informed him.

“But we're surrenderin’! Listen to me, we surrender!” the Doctor desperately pleaded.

“You are inferior. Man will be reborn as Cyberman, but you will perish under maximum deletion.”

The ring of Cybermen raised their arms, preparing to dole out their deadly punishment as they chanted, “Delete. Delete. Delete!”

Panic-stricken, the Doctor dropped his arms and grabbed Rose’s hand. She laced their fingers and crushed his palm in terror. He had to think of a way to save them — now.

Chapter Text

Previously…

“You will be deleted,” the Cyberman informed him.

“But we're surrenderin’! Listen to me, we surrender!” the Doctor desperately pleaded.

“You are inferior. Man will be reborn as Cyberman, but you will perish under maximum deletion.”

The ring of Cybermen raised their arms, preparing to dole out their deadly punishment as they chanted, “Delete. Delete. Delete!”

Panic-stricken, the Doctor dropped his arms and grabbed Rose’s hand. She laced their fingers and crushed his palm in terror. He had to think of a way to save them — now.

~*~

When the Doctor dropped his arm to take Rose’s hand, his wrist bumped against the lump of the Tardis’ power cell in his pocket. Different universe!

He released Rose’s hand, yanked out the cell, and aimed it at the Cyberman in front of him. A golden beam of energy shot out, bounced from body to body, and the Cybermen disintegrated in a puff of metallic dust.

“Energy from a different universe killed them!” Rose shouted and smiled.

The Doctor stared at her, baffled, before he realized he needed to get everyone moving. “Right, how about we run!”

Another wave of Cybermen was advancing from the treeline just as a van plowed across the lawn, honking repeatedly. The van slid to a halt on a gravel path, and a woman stuck her head out the window. “Everybody in!” she shouted.

Rose, Ricky, and the blonde-haired man dashed towards the vehicle, but Pete ran for the mansion instead. The Doctor grabbed his arm as he passed.

Pete yanked his arm out the Doctor’s hold. “I’ve gotta go back. My wife’s in there!”

“There’s no survivors in there.” The Doctor grabbed his shoulders and implored him to listen. “If you want to help, don’t let her die in vain. C’mon!”

Pete clenched his jaw and shouted in anguish but reluctantly followed the Doctor’s advice and climbed in the van.

“C’mon! Get a move on!” the driver shouted.

Rose was frozen next to the van, staring at the mansion in a silent war with herself. The Doctor gently grabbed her elbow.

“Rose, she’s not your mother.”

Incessant honking from the van snapped Rose out of her trance, and she locked eyes with him. “I know.”

“C’mon.” He tugged her elbow and Rose finally sprang into action. They leaped into the open door on the side of the vehicle.

“Finished chattin’?!” the driver yelled. “Never seen a slower getaway in my life!”

As soon as the Doctor slammed the door shut, the driver peeled away from the advancing Cybermen. The sounds of their synchronized march faded in the distance.

Ricky turned around in his seat up front. “What is that thing?” He pointed at the power cell still in the Doctor’s hand.

“Bit of technology from home.” The Doctor tucked it safely back in his jacket pocket.

Rose noticed it had stopped glowing. “Did you use all of its energy?”

He shook his head reassuringly. “Just on a revitalizin’ loop. It’ll charge back up in four hours.”

Ricky scowled. “Right. So, we don’t have a weapon anymore.”

“Yeah, we’ve got weapons,” objected the blonde-haired man next to him. “Might not take out one of those metal things, but they’re good enough for men like him.”

Ricky and the other man glared daggers at Pete Tyler.

Rose glanced from the men up front to Pete beside her. “Leave him alone! What’s he done wrong?”

The blonde man scoffed. “Oh, you know, just laid a trap that's wiped out the government and left Lumic in charge.”

“If I was part of all that, do you think I'd leave my wife inside?” Pete angrily protested.

“Maybe your plan went wrong,” Ricky reasoned. “Still gives us the right to execute you, though.”

“Oi!” the Doctor shouted in warning. “Talk some more about executions and see if you like havin’ me for an enemy. I’ll tell ya now — you won’t.”

Ricky ignored the Doctor and continued glaring at Pete. “All the same, we have evidence that says Pete Tyler's been workin’ for Lumic since twenty point five.”

Rose turned to Pete, not believing even the parallel version of her dad was capable of treason. “That’s not true, is it?”

“Tell them, Mrs. Moore,” Ricky said to the driver.

Mrs. Moore kept her eyes on the road as she the provided details. “We've got a government mole who feeds us information: Lumic's private files, his South American operations, the lot. Secret broadcasts twice a week.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “Broadcast from Gemini?”

“And how do you know that?” Ricky pointed an angry finger towards him.

“I'm Gemini. That's me.”

“Yeah, well you would say that.”

“Encrypted wavelength six five seven usin’ binary nine. That's the only reason I was workin’ for Lumic: to get information.” Pete shook his head in disbelief. “I thought I was broadcastin’ to the Security Services. What do I get? Scooby Doo and his gang! They've even got the van.”

“Hey!” Ricky yelled in offense. “At least I haven’t been profitin’ off a madman!”

“Alright, stop accusin’ each other!” Rose interrupted the men before a shouting match started. “We’re on the same side now, yeah? I’m Rose, in case anyone’s interested. Who are you lot?”

“We’re the Preachers,” Ricky stated proudly. “As in Gospel Truth. You see? No ear plugs.” He pointed to his bare ear. “While the rest of the world downloads from Cybus Industries, we’ve got freedom. You're talkin’ to London's Most Wanted, but target Number One is Lumic, and we are gonna bring him down. This is Jake,” he pointed to the blonde man next to him, and then to the woman driving, “and that’s Mrs. Moore.”

Rose furrowed her brows. “If you’re London’s Most Wanted how comes you’re workin’ out of a van?”

The Doctor stifled a laugh next to her and folded his arms, proud to see Rose getting to the truth of the situation.

“Er…” Ricky looked sheepish. “That’s not exactly…”

“Exactly…?” Rose waved her hand indicating him to continue.

“I’m London’s Most Wanted… for parkin’ tickets,” he admitted.

“Great,” Pete muttered, unhappy that his broadcasts hadn’t gone to someone useful.

“They were deliberate!” Ricky claimed. “I was fightin’ the system. Park anywhere, that’s me.”

“No, that’s me.” The Doctor unfolded his arms and sat forward. “And I’m the Doctor, by the way.”

“The Doctor?” Pete asked, confused.

“Hello!” The Doctor waved. Rose giggled across from him and shook her head.

“At least I’ve got the guests on my side,” Pete grumbled.

Rose shifted in her seat to face him. “I knew you weren't a traitor.”

“Why’s that, then?”

Rose caught the Doctor’s warning expression across from her and shrugged. “I just did.”

“They took my wife,” Pete lamented, anguish coloring his features.

The Doctor dropped his eyes to the floor of the van and swallowed. He was eternally grateful he had gotten Rose out before she had suffered the same fate as the parallel Jackie Tyler.

“She might still be alive.” Rose took Pete’s hand in comfort.

“That's even worse.” Pete huffed a bitter laugh. “‘Cause that's what Lumic does. He takes the livin’ and he turns them into those machines.”

“Cybermen, they’re called Cybermen,” the Doctor corrected. “And I'd take those ear pods off. Lumic could be listenin’”

Pete hastily removed the devices from his ears and handed them to the Doctor. He zapped them with his sonic screwdriver, breaking any connection to Cybus Industries.

The Doctor sat back and refolded his arms, swaying slightly in the bumpy ride. “This Lumic though, I think he’s overreached himself. He’s only a businessman and a bad one at that. He’s just assassinated the President. We need to get to the city and inform the authorities.” He met Rose’s eye and she nodded in agreement. “This ends tonight.”

Everyone was mostly quiet and contemplative on the short ride into the city. The only noise, other than the hum of the tires and passing cars, was the quiet chatter of Rose and Pete. Rose had a genuine smile on her face as she exchanged stories with the man. The Doctor watched her carefully, hoping she didn’t slip and accidentally mention she was his parallel daughter.

He also desperately hoped she wasn’t thinking about staying in this world. She had saved her dad before and had caused a wound in time. Even though this Pete wasn’t her real dad, he may be similar enough to be tempting — like a gingerbread house.

What if she leaves me behind? the Doctor thought and then immediately had to hold back a bark of ironic laughter. He’d been accused of the same thing in the past, and now he was worried it would happen to him.

They finally pulled to a stop in the middle of an urban street and hopped out of the van. Upon his first glimpse of the area, it became clear to the Doctor that his simple plan was not going to work.

“What the hell?” Mrs. Moore exclaimed.

The street was filled with people walking like zombies in one direction. They were unaware of anything in their environment and even tripping over objects in their path they hadn’t noticed.

“Their ear pods are blinkin’,” Rose noted.

The Doctor frowned and walked alongside the mindless humans. “Looks like Lumic has taken control.”

“We can’t just take them out, can we?”

“No, it would cause a brainstorm.” He scoffed as he looked at all of the men and women marching like sheep to the slaughterhouse. “Stupid apes. Just when I start to think you’re intelligent you submit to a madman. Maybe you like it — easier life.”

“Oi!” Rose cried. “You think I want an easier life? I follow you, don’t I? How’s that easier?”

“I am a madman,” he joked but dropped the frivolity as Rose scowled at him. “Sorry.”

Ricky and Jake had run ahead and were perched behind a stone wall. Jake looked over his shoulder and waved them all over. “Hey, come and see!”

The group joined them behind the wall and peered around the corner. A squad of Cybermen was herding more people from their homes and into the streets to join the march.

“Where are they all goin’?” Rose wondered.

“Not sure, but I’ve got a hunch.” The Doctor turned to Pete. “Lumic must have a base of operations, am I right?”

Pete nodded. “Battersea. That’s where he was buildin’ his prototypes.”

“Why’s he doin’ this?” Rose asked him.

“He’s dyin’,” Pete explained. “This all started out as a way of prolongin’ life, of keepin’ the brain alive at any cost.”

A thought occurred to Rose and she looked at the Doctor. “But, I’ve seen Cybermen before, haven’t I? In Van Statten’s museum? There was the head with the handle shape.”

The Doctor shuddered slightly at the memory of that museum and the way he had sentenced Rose to death. He closed his eyes briefly before answering her question. “I remember. But there are Cybermen in our universe. They started out on an ordinary world just like this, then swarmed the rest of the galaxy. This lot are just a parallel version that are startin’ from scratch on Earth.”

Pete’s face twisted in confusion. “What the hell are you two on about?”

“Never mind that,” Ricky interrupted and stood from his crouch. “C’mon, we need to get out of the city. Okay, split up. Mrs. Moore, you look after that bloke.” He angrily pointed at the Doctor. “Jake, distract them. Go right, I'll go left. We'll meet back at Bridge Street. Move!” he ordered and ran in one direction while Jake sprinted in the other.

“C’mon, let's go,” Mrs. Moore commanded and took off down a side street.

With the Cybermen marching perilously closer, Pete, Rose, and the Doctor had no choice but to run after her. But it didn’t matter which way they turned, they kept stumbling across more troops in the streets. They were quickly being surrounded and were currently sprinting for another group of soldiers.

Rose tripped to a stop in her heels as the Doctor came to an abrupt halt in front of her. He grabbed her hand to steady her as he searched for an escape.

“There!” he shouted and pointed to an alley. They ran, hand in hand, with Pete and Mrs. Moore close on their tail. The Cybermen followed them down the narrow street, their steel boots echoing off the brick-lined buildings as they pursued their prey.

Rose was yanked to the left as the Doctor dove behind a group of rubbish bins, pulling her into a crouch beside him. Mrs. Moore and Pete scrambled to join them and ducked their heads just as the Cybermen exited the alley. Rose held her breath and squeezed the Doctor’s hand as the troops came to a stop right on the other side of the bins. Carefully, he pulled out his sonic and sent a signal into the air to confuse their transmissions. They all blew out a collective breath of relief as the metallic footfalls marched away.

When the coast was clear, the Doctor stood up and whispered, “Go.”

They ran in the opposite direction and just as they reached Bridge Street, a scream pierced the air. Rose’s eyes widened in shock — she knew that voice.

“Oh, my God,” she breathed. “That… that was Ricky.”

“Yeah… yeah, it was,” the Doctor agreed with a solemn expression.

Jake finally caught up to them a moment later. “I ran past the river. You should have seen it. The whole city's on the march. Hundreds of Cybermen all down the Thames.” He panted, out of breath from his sprint through the streets. He looked around. “Where’s Ricky?”

The Doctor swallowed and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “He didn’t make it.”

Jake’s face fell and he pushed the Doctor’s hand off of him. “Shut it, yes he did.”

Rose shook her head. “No, he didn’t. We heard… I’m sorry.”

“Shut it!” he shouted, refusing to believe them. “Don’t talk about him like that.”

Rose reached out a hand to comfort him, but Jake stalked off in anger. Mrs. Moore and Pete looked on in sadness, each knowing the pain the man was going through.

The Doctor felt sorry for Jake’s loss, but they needed to reach safety. “We can mourn him later, but for now, we have to move on,” he urged.

The group nodded, woodenly, in agreement, and they resumed their trek across the city. It took longer than the Doctor would have liked because they had to duck and dodge more Cybermen along the way. But they finally reached the Thames and stared across the river towards the Battersea Power Station on the opposite shore.

The Doctor came to a stop and folded his arms across his chest. “London's been sealed off and the entire population's been taken inside that place to be converted.”

Rose shivered beside him as the chilly wind picked up speed. “We've gotta get in there and shut it down.”

With a concerned frown, the Doctor removed his tuxedo jacket and placed it on Rose’s shoulders. She looked up at him briefly and gave a small smile in thanks.

“Alright, so how do we get in there?” Jake asked.

“I’m sure I’ll think of somethin’,” the Doctor assured him.

“Do you just make this up as you go along?”

“Brilliant, me” He glanced down at Rose and a tiny puff of laughter escaped her lips.

“Maybe I can help with that,” Mrs. Moore piped up. She placed a Cybus Industries laptop on a nearby picnic table and opened a few files from the hard drive. “That’s a schematic of the old factory. Look,” she pointed at the map, “cooling tunnels underneath the plant. Big enough to walk through.”

The Doctor peered at the screen in thought. “We could go under there and pop up in the control center.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Moore agreed.

“There's another way in,” Pete offered. “Through the front door. If they've taken Jackie for upgradin’, that's how she'll get in.” His face was determined, and the Doctor recognized the Tyler stubbornness on his features; there would be no talking him out of his plan.

“We can't just go strolling up,” Jake disagreed.

“Well, we could,” Mrs. Moore opened a zippered compartment in her pack and pulled out Cybus ear pods, “with these. Fake ear pods. Dead, no signal. But put them on, the Cybermen would mistake you for one of the crowd.”

“Then that's my job.” Pete snatched a few of the pods and placed them in his ear.

“You'd have to show no emotion,” the Doctor cautioned him. “None at all. Any sign of emotion would give you away.”

“How many of those you got?” Rose asked Mrs. Moore.

“Just two sets,” she said.

“Okay.” Rose took the other set of ear pods from her hand. “If that's the best way of findin’ Jackie, then I'm comin’ with you.”

“No, you’re not,” Pete disagreed and swiped the pods from her hand. “You’ll do no such thing.”

“What, why not?” Rose argued, annoyed that he was telling her what to do.

“Look, I dunno why, but…” Pete paused, seeming to not understand why he was feeling the way he was. “I just need to protect you, alright?” Rose glared at him and he stuck his thumbs up in his signature move. “Remember, trust me on this?”

Rose opened her mouth to protest, but the Doctor gently touched her arm and met her eye. “How about this, then? Why don’t you and Jake take out the ear pods? Give people their minds back so they aren’t walkin’ into that place like sheep?”

Rose pursed her lips in thought and reluctantly nodded in agreement.

The Doctor smiled and turned to Jake. “Lumic’s transmittin’ the control signal. It must be from over there.” He pointed his sonic towards the power station to find the source, and it honed in on the zeppelin hovering in the air. “It’s on the zeppelin, you see? Great big transmitter. Good thing our fearless leader likes to show off. Take Rose and stop that signal.”

“Consider it done.” Jake smiled, eager to take down the man responsible for his friend’s death.

Two parts of the three-part plan were put into action, which left the Doctor to attack the plant from the tunnels. “Mrs. Moore?” he called out. “How about you join me in the coolin’ tunnels?”

“How could I refuse an offer of cooling tunnels?” she asked, cheekily.

“Alright, that’s the plan then. Three sides: above, between, and below.” The Doctor stepped up to Rose and spoke quietly, “The power cell is in my jacket pocket if you really need it.”

“Hopin’ I won’t,” she laughed lightly and pulled her arms through the sleeves, engulfing her fully in the Doctor’s lingering scent. “Are you gonna be al—”

Rose’s question was cut off as the Doctor enveloped her into his arms and squeezed. He didn’t want to let her go, but he was immensely relieved Pete had talked her out of walking straight into the Lion’s Den. She squeezed back, hoping he didn’t do anything stupid and put himself in harm’s way. With a heavy sigh, the Doctor unwrapped his arms from around her shoulders and gently placed his palms on her cheeks — he was doing that a lot lately.

Rose nervously looked at him through her lashes, unsure of what to do. He was staring at her again, the way he had earlier at the party: the way he always had right before he kissed her. She desperately wanted him to — she still ached for him —- even though he had kept her at arm’s length and had kissed another woman. Her eyes widened as he started to lean in, and she held her breath thinking he was about to snog the life out of her.

But he placed a lingering kiss on her forehead instead and then pulled back to meet her eye. “Be careful.”

Rose nodded shakily. “You, too.”

Jake cleared his throat, and the Doctor dropped his hands. “Right. Everyone’s got their orders. Let’s put a chink in their armor, shall we?”

Pete left without a word and Jake waved Rose over to his side. “C’mon, Rose. Let’s commandeer us a zeppelin.”

Rose pulled the Doctor’s jacket tighter around herself and glanced over her shoulder before she disappeared from view. The Doctor smiled reassuringly and she grinned back as she turned around to catch up to Jake.

The Doctor looked at Mrs. Moore, keeping his mouth stretched across his face. “So, Mrs. Moore, ready for a cool adventure?”

~*~

After checking that the coast was clear, the Doctor used his sonic to unlock the hatch to the entrance of the cooling tunnels. He assisted Mrs. Moore onto the ladder and then descended down the rungs after her. It was dark, and, despite his superior vision, the Doctor had to squint to make out any detail in the passage.

As soon as Mrs. Moore’s feet reached the metal floor, she vigorously rubbed her arms. “It’s freezing,” she observed.

The Doctor hopped off the last rung. “Think they thought to put a light switch down here?”

Mrs. Moore laughed and rummaged through her pack. “Can’t see a thing, but I’ve got these.” She pulled out two headlamps. “A device for every occasion.”

“You’re like Mary Poppins!” The Doctor strapped the lamp to his forehead. “You’d be practically perfect in every way if you had a banana in there.”

“A banana? What in heavens would you need that for?”

“Good source of potassium. Never know when you might need a boost of electrolytes.”

She playfully rolled her eyes and dug around in her bag again. “Well, I don’t know about bananas, but I have got a proper torch.”

The Doctor took one of the torches with a daft grin. “Let’s see where we are then.”

He flicked it on, and the extra beam of light illuminated a row of stationary Cybermen. Mrs. Moore gasped and froze by his side.

“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “Looks like they’re already converted, just put on ice.”

She didn’t look convinced but followed him as he proceeded down the passage lined with metal soldiers. After a few steps, the Doctor stopped and tapped on the face of one of the Cybermen. It remained lifeless.

“Should probably go slowly, though. And keep an eye out for trip systems.”

With a steadying breath, Mrs. Moore hugged the wall and followed the Doctor warily through the cooling tunnel.

~*~

Meanwhile, Jake and Rose climbed a ladder up to the roof of the power station. Jake peeked his head over the top and quickly ducked his head when he noticed guards blocking their path to the zeppelin. But they looked pretty dim-witted to him, so he smiled and silently clambered over the ledge. He stealthily crossed the rooftop, ducked behind a wall, and then waved Rose over. She dashed towards him and hid behind his back.

“Two guards,” Jake whispered. “We can take them.”

“Just don’t kill them,” Rose insisted.

He raised a playful eyebrow. “Are you the boss of me?”

“In this instance, yeah. You kill them and you’re no different than a Cyberman.”

Jake pursed his lips in thought and then pulled two small vials out of his pocket. “I suppose we could use these.”

Rose scrunched her nose. “Is that smellin’ salt?”

He smirked. “Oh, bit stronger than that. One of Mrs. Moore’s little tricks. Should knock ‘em out.”

“Alright, on your count then.”

With a firm nod, he began counting softly, “Three, two, one!”

They sprang out from behind the wall and crept as quickly and silently as possible behind the guards. They simultaneously grabbed the men and shoved the salts under their noses. In seconds, the two guards succumbed to the strong vapor and slumped to the ground.

“You should join the Preachers,” Jake suggested as he stoppered his bottle. “You’re quick.”

“You have to be quick around the Doctor.” Rose tilted her head towards the stairs of the zeppelin. “Think there’s more guards on board?”

“If there are, then let’s go get ‘em.” He jumped on the first step and Rose followed after him.

~*~

Mrs. Moore and the Doctor continued to move cautiously through the cooling tunnels while keeping a watchful eye on the inanimate Cyberman.

“How did you get mixed up into all this? Rattlin’ around with the Preachers?” the Doctor asked.

“Oh, I used to be ordinary,” Mrs. Moore answered wistfully. “Worked at Cybus Industries, nine to five, ‘til one day I find something I'm not supposed to. A file on the mainframe. All I did was read it. Then suddenly, I've got men with guns knocking in the middle of the night. Life on the run. Then I found the Preachers. They needed a techie, so I just sat down and taught myself everything.”

The Doctor nodded, impressed. “And is there a Mr. Moore?”

“Well, he's not called Moore,” the Doctor turned to her with a questioning eyebrow, and she continued to explain, “I got that from a book: Mrs. Moore. It's safer not to use real names. But he thinks I'm dead. It was the only way to keep him safe. Him and the kids.” She let out a weary sigh. “And what about you? Got any family or…?”

He swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I’ve got Rose, no other… family. Plus, the whole world on my shoulders. But go on, then,” he urged, eager to change the subject, “what’s your real name?”

“Angela Price,” she admitted. “Don't tell a soul.”

The Doctor smiled. “Not a word.”

Just up ahead, a Cyberman’s arm twitched in the dim lighting.

Panicked, Mrs. Moore tugged the Doctor to a stop. “Did that one just move?”

“It's just the torchlight,” he attempted to sound convincing. “Keep goin’, c’mon.”

The sound of hydraulics suddenly pierced the air, and one of the Cybermen turned towards them.

“They're wakin’ up. Run!” the Doctor shouted and sprinted through the passage.

Each Cybermen they passed sprang to life, reaching their metal hands out in an attempt to electrocute the trespassers. When the troops were fully awake and charged, they pulled away from the wall and formed a marching line of metal.

The Doctor and Mrs. Moore reached a ladder at the end of the tunnel as the sounds of the clomping drew perilously close. As fast as he could, the Doctor climbed the rungs and used the sonic to open the hatch at the top.

“Get up! Quick! They're coming!” Mrs. Moore said in a fear-filled rush. “Open it! Open it!”

Finally, the hatched unlocked, and the Doctor flung it open.

Mrs. Moore looked over her shoulder and saw the Cybermen were almost within arm’s reach. “Get up! Quick! Quick!” she yelled.

Panic-stricken, they ascended the ladder, narrowly beating the Cybermen as they slammed the hatch shut. The Doctor used the sonic to lock it before the soldiers could burst through.

“Fantastic teamwork,” he commented, tucking the screwdriver back in his pocket.

Mrs. Moore leaned against the wall beside him and let out a long breath of relief.

~*~

Jake and Rose ran into one more guard in front of the control room, but Rose quickly used her smelling salts and knocked him unconscious with the potent fumes.

“Not bad for a woman in heels,” Jake praised and stepped over the guard’s body towards the control panel. “Looks like nobody’s home.”

Rose joined him at the large switchboard. “We need to find the transmitter controls.”

“What do you suppose they look like?”

She scanned the switches in front of her. “I dunno, maybe they have “Transmitter Controls” written on them.”

They both circled the area and searched up front by the zeppelin’s steering wheel. Rose turned around and jumped when she saw a Cyberman hiding in a dark alcove.

“Cyberman!” Jake cried and whipped out his gun.

The Cyberman didn’t move. Confused, Jake cautiously tiptoed over and flicked on a light switch. Rose stepped forward and examined the metal body.

“I think it’s dead,” she mused. “Maybe it was never alive.”

Jake rapped three times on its head. “Sounds empty: no brain. It’s just a robot suit for display.”

Mollified for now, Rose turned back towards the ship’s cabin. “Okay. Let’s find that transmitter.”

~*~

Deep in the cooling tunnels, the Doctor and Mrs. Moore continued to move warily through a dark, metal corridor.

Suddenly, a Cyberman jumped out from the shadow and they froze in their tracks.

“You are not upgraded,” the Cyberman declared.

“Yeah? Well, upgrade this!” Mrs. Moore sneered and quickly pulled out a small device, lobbing it at the Cyberman.

A small rod with copper wire stuck to its chest and short-circuited the Cyberman’s controls, shooting sparks and smoke into the air. With a wail of confusion, the metal soldier collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud.

The Doctor smiled in glee. “What the bloody hell was that thing?” he exclaimed and bent to inspect the fallen Cyberman.

“Electromagnetic bomb,” Mrs. Moore explained proudly. “Takes out computers. I figured it might stop a cyber suit.”

“Good job on you. Let’s have a look.” He pulled out his sonic and worked to unlock a small hatch on the front of the suit. “Know your enemy. This logo on front is odd; Lumic’s turned them into a brand.” The hatch clicked open, and he pulled the logo away. “Heart of steel, but look.”

He placed the metal cover on the ground beside him and stuck his fingers into the chest, pulling out a white, sinewy material.

“Is that flesh?” Mrs. Moore’s face pinched in disgust.

“I reckon so. Looks like a central nervous system.” He continued to rub his fingers over the tissue and brought it up to his nose for a sniff. “Artificially grown and then woven into the suit so it will respond like a livin’ thing.” He tossed the material aside and noticed an electronic chip buried beneath the neural tissue. “Emotional inhibitor, as well. Stops them feelin’ anything.”

“But why?”

“There’s still a human brain inside. Imagine its reaction if it could see what it’s been turned into, realize itself inside this metal suit,” he explained. “They’d go insane.”

“So they cut out the one thing that makes them human.” Mrs. Moore frowned, deeply disturbed by the methods of Cybus Industries.

“No choice. They have to in order for this experiment to work.”

“Why am I cold?” the Cyberman suddenly asked.

“Oh, my God. It's alive,” Mrs. Moore stated in shock. “It can feel.”

“We broke the inhibitor. I’m sorry,” the Doctor apologized to the poor human brain trapped inside the metal helmet.

“Why so cold?” the Cyberman repeated.

“Can you remember your name?” the Doctor asked.

“Sally. Sally Phelan.”

Mrs. Moore reached out to touch the metal face. “You're a woman.”

“Where's Gareth?” the Cyberman wondered.

“Who's Gareth?”

“He can't see me. It's unlucky the night before.”

“You're getting married.” Mrs. Moore’s brows drew together in sorrow.

“I'm cold. I'm so cold,” the Cyberman reiterated, confused.

“It's all right,” the Doctor spoke soothingly. “You sleep now, Sally. Just go to sleep.”

He placed the sonic screwdriver inside the chest and pulsed the device until the Cyberman switched off. The blue lights inside the cavity faded away, and the brain died with the suit.

“Sally didn’t die for nothin’,” the Doctor tucked the sonic back in his pocket, a plan forming in his head. “That’s the key: the emotional inhibitor. If we could find the cancellation code, then feed it throughout the system into every Cyberman’s head, they’d realize what they are.”

“And what happens then?” Mrs. Moore asked.

“I think it would kill them. But could we do that? Knowin’ what’s inside?” The Doctor frowned, at war with the moral gray area he was walking into.

“We've got to,” Mrs. Moore insisted. “Before they kill everyone else. There's no choice, Doctor. It's got to be done.”

With a grim expression, she stood, ready to execute the Doctor’s plan. But neither of them noticed the Cyberman in the shadows. It grabbed Mrs. Moore’s shoulder without warning, and she wailed in agony as a bolt of electricity sliced through her body. The Doctor shot to his feet just as Mrs. Moore’s legs gave out and she crumpled to the ground.

“No!” the Doctor bellowed. “You didn’t have to kill her!” He furiously stomped over to the Cyberman and raged in its face. “Show some mercy! I know it’s in there!”

The Cyberman didn’t flinch under the wrath of the Oncoming Storm. “Sensors detect a binary vascular system,” it robotically informed him. “You are an unknown upgrade. You will be taken for analysis.”

He glanced helplessly at the body of Mrs. Moore as two more Cybermen emerged from the dark corridor to escort him away. The Doctor glared furiously at the metal troops as he followed them into the shadows.

~*~

It didn’t take long for Rose to notice the controls were labeled and in plain sight. The words “TRANSMITTER CONTROLS” were written on a metal panel on the zeppelin’s dash. She grabbed the knob on the panel and pulled, but it remained closed no matter how hard she tugged.

She waved Jake over. “Jake, the transmitter controls are sealed behind this hatch. We need an oxyacetylene torch to break it open.”

“Oh, and I forgot to bring it with me,” he stated, sarcastically patting down his pockets.

Rose cocked a hip. “Alright, Mr. Smartypants, then what do we do?”

“We’ll crash the zeppelin,” he suggested.

“With us inside?”

“We could set it to automatic and then just leg it. Let’s have a look.” Jake pulled over a keyboard and typed in some commands. He looked hopefully at the computer monitor but nothing was happening. He growled and banged random keys. “It’s locked. There’s got to be an override.”

“I’ll give it a go.” Rose joined him and pulled the keyboard towards her, even though she had no clue what to do. But as she flipped through files and typed in arbitrary commands, she realized she wasn’t doing anything random — she knew exactly what code to type and how to navigate the hard drive. But she was too busy trying to find an override for the controls to ponder the fact that she was suddenly a computer savant.

Rose blew out a breath, not believing she was actually doing this. “Almost there.”

“Brains and beauty. You just keep gettin’ better.” Jake clapped her on the shoulder.

A small hiss and metallic sound attracted his attention. Jake turned around and jumped when he saw the Cyberman was animated.

“It’s moving!” he cried and narrowly escaped its outstretched hand. “You said it was dead!”

“Obviously, I was wrong!” she shouted.

Rose followed Jake around the room as they moved out of the Cyberman’s path. The transmitter controls caught Rose’s eye and an idea formed in her mind. Jake raised his gun, but she quickly pushed his arm down.

“I’ve got a plan,” she explained. Standing directly in front of the controls, Rose taunted the Cyberman, “Hey, metal boy! Over here!”

It charged at her and Rose braced herself, hoping she wasn’t being an idiot. “C’mon!” she yelled.

Just as it raised its hand to grab her, Rose ducked out of the way, and the Cyberman’s fist smashed straight through the control panel. It exploded in a shower of blue sparks, and the Cyberman and the transmitter controls were destroyed simultaneously.

“Ha! The transmitter’s down!” Jake jumped up and down and pulled Rose into a victory hug.

Rose smiled like an idiot, relieved her plan had worked. “Let’s hope the people are escapin’ the factory.”

Now that their lives were no longer in peril, and the people were no longer being herded into the factory like sheep, Rose resumed her work on the computer to see what else she could do.

“I think I just logged on to Cyber Control.” She found all sorts of top-secret information, including security camera footage. Curious, she brought up the feed for the main control room and it instantly displayed on the monitor. She quickly found the sound so they could hear as well as see.

Pete was being guarded by Cybermen and the Doctor entered from a door on the right flanked by two guards.

Rose smiled brightly, ecstatic to see the Doctor and Pete had escaped unharmed. “They’re alive!”

“Shhh,” Jake shushed. “What’s he saying?”

The Doctor appeared nonchalant, strolling into the room casually. “Oh, no, I’ve been captured. Please, take me to the madman leader so he can bore me with a long speech about his superiority and evil genius.” He yanked his bowtie off and threw it to the floor, quietly asking Pete if he was alright.

Pete shook his head. “I was too late. Lumic killed Jackie.”

Rose sucked in a breath, dismayed to hear Jackie had been cyberized.

Through the video feed, they could hear the terrified screams of the people fleeing the factory. The Cybermen in the room looked around in confusion. A huge smile lit the Doctor’s face, immensely proud that Rose and Jake had released all of London from the madman’s mind control.

“You hear that?” the Doctor asked smugly and folded his arms across his chest. “That’ll be the work of my friends. I’ll bet that doesn’t make Mr. Lumic happy. Where is our fearless leader?”

“He has been upgraded,” one Cyberman answered.

“So, he’s just like you?”

“He is superior. The Lumic Unit has been designated Cyber Controller.”

A large, steel door opened to reveal Mr. Lumic had been transformed into a giant, rolling Cyberman. He sat on a throne of iron and metal, and his brain was visible beneath a clear dome.

“What the hell is that thing?!” Jake exclaimed in shock. Rose shushed him this time, eyes transfixed on the screen.

“This is The Age of Steel, and I am its Creator,” the Lumic Cyberman boomed.

The Doctor stared at the monstrous creation, amazed at the lengths the man had gone to in order to preserve his life. “Yeah? And what will you do now that your sheep have their minds back?”

Lumic was unfazed. “I have factories waiting on seven continents. If the ear pods have failed, then the Cybermen will take humanity by force. London has fallen. So shall the world. I will bring peace to the world. Everlasting peace, unity, and uniformity.”

“Yes, yes,” the Doctor interrupted in a bored tone. “You are the mighty Czar of a new world, blah blah. But what about your imagination? You had enough to lead you here, and you’ve killed it dead!”

“What is your name?” Lumic demanded.

“I’m the Doctor.” He gave a sarcastic wave that caused Rose to giggle in the zeppelin.

“A redundant title. Doctors need not exist. Cybermen never sicken.”

“Is he always this arrogant?” Jake whispered and Rose nodded in glee.

The Doctor unfolded his arms and paced a few steps towards Lumic. “And if you’re never sick, then what do you strive for? You’ll fill the world with metal people with metal thoughts, never aging never dyin’. What do you live for then?” He tapped the center of his chest. “What gets your blood pumpin’ in the mornin’? Nothin’ because you’ve got no blood. Who makes your heart skip a beat? No one because you’ve removed it. No grief, pain, rage, love…” Rose filled his vision, and he paused to take a breath. “The Cyberman won’t advance, you’ll stop. Livin’ forever, never fillin’ the Earth with the one thing that makes this planet alive — people! Ordinary, stupid, emotional little apes.”

“You are proud of your emotions,” Lumic said.

“Yes,” the Doctor confirmed.

“Then tell me, Doctor. Have you known grief, and rage, and pain?”

He forcefully swallowed the lump in his throat. “More than you could know.”

“And they hurt?”

“Yes.”

“I could set you free. Would you not want that? A life without pain?”

“You might as well kill me.” He remembered the emotional inhibitor chip and leaned against a bank of computers as he eyed a blinking camera in the corner of the room.

Rose stared at the image of the Doctor as he gazed directly at her through the screen.

“Then I take that option,” Lumic vowed.

“You’re a Cyber Controller. You don’t control me or anythin’ with blood in its heart,” the Doctor retorted, quickly thinking of a way to stall for time and relay his plan to Jake and Rose.

“You have no means of stopping me. I have an army. A species of my own.”

The Doctor pinched the bridge of his nose, bored with the claims of a tyrant. “I don’t think you understand. An army’s nothin’. Ordinary, stupid people are the key. The most ordinary person could change the world.” He stared into the camera again, and Rose instantly realized he was talking to them. “Some ordinary man or woman… maybe blonde.”

“Is he talking about me or you?” Jake asked.

“No idea.” Rose listened closely for clues from the Doctor.

“All it would take is for him to find the right numbers, the right codes. For example, the code behind the emotional inhibitor.” The Doctor looked at the blinking red light again.

“Emotional inhibitor,” Rose murmured and her fingers flew over the keyboard as she searched the hard drive.

“Even blondes can work a computer these days,” the Doctor joked.

“Oi!” Jake protested and Rose shushed him again.

On screen the Doctor continued to buy them time, “He might know how to get through firewalls and passwords. Might know how to find something encrypted in the Lumic family database under… What was it, Pete? Binary…?”

“Binary nine,” Pete said, catching on to the Doctor’s plan.

“Binary nine,” Rose repeated, tapping furiously.

“A blonde idiot could find that code.” The Doctor hoped Jake was understanding his rant, and he looked into the camera again. “The cancellation code. He'd keep on typin’, keep on fightin’, anything to take you down.”

Numbers flew across the screen as Rose followed the Doctor’s instructions.

“Your words are irrelevant,” Lumic said, managing to sound annoyed even though he had no emotions.

The Doctor nodded. “Yeah, I talk too much at times. Tends to bore people. But I’m a genius, they should listen. Glad I got that cheap tariff for my mobile.”

Rose finally found the cancellation code. “He’s got his mobile! Jake! Do you have a phone on you?” she frantically asked. Her dress had no pockets for her own phone.

Jake pulled his mobile out of his pocket and handed it over.

“You will be deleted,” Lumic said.

In the zeppelin, Rose rapidly typed the code in a text to the Doctor.

“Yes, delete, control, alt… lovely buttons,” the Doctor rambled. “But my personal favorite would have to be send.”

Rose smashed the send button, and the Doctor’s mobile chirped in his pocket.

“Let’s not forget that you made every bit of technology compatible with everything else.” The Doctor pulled his phone out with a manic grin. “Oh, look. It’s for me!”

He slammed his phone into a docking station by his elbow. The mobile instantly connected and downloaded the cancellation code for the emotional inhibitor chip into the Cybus neural network. The code appeared and blinked ominously on every computer screen in the room. All of the Cybermen screeched and clutched their heads as they became fully aware of what they had become. Alarms blared overhead, and the entire factory started to shake violently.

“We did it!” Jake cheered in the zeppelin and gathered Rose into a joyous hug.

Rose didn’t feel like celebrating just yet. “They must be horrified.”

A metallic moaning caught the Doctor’s attention, and he frowned at the Cyberman near him that had caught sight of its reflection. “I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“What have you done?!” Lumic yelled.

“I gave them back their souls. They can see what you've done, Lumic, and it's killin’ them!” The Doctor grabbed his mobile from the docking station and ran out of the room with Pete.

As soon as they exited the control room, they could see the entire factory was in chaos. Cybermen everywhere were exploding in pain and catching the rest of the building on fire. Pete and the Doctor sprinted towards an emergency exit, but it was blocked by Cybermen.

“There’s no way out!” the Doctor shouted over the noise.

Up in the zeppelin, Jake had taken control of the wheel and was steering the ship away from the factory.

“What're you doin’?” Rose asked.

“We've gotta get away. If that factory blows up, this balloon's gonna ignite!” Jake panicked and continued turning the wheel.

“No, you have to take it back and get Pete and the Doctor!” Rose insisted.

“Rose, they're trapped!”

“We are not leavin’ them behind! What if it were Ricky?!” Rose grabbed the wheel to alter the ship’s course.

Jake gritted his teeth and reluctantly gave up his fight. “Fine! But if I die, I’m blaming you!”

“Fine by me!” Rose used Jake’s mobile to call the Doctor. “Doctor! Doctor, can you hear me? Head for the roof!”

“The roof?!” The Doctor pressed his phone against his ear and barely heard Rose’s instruction.

He leaped over fallen debris and rubble with Pete following closely behind. They quickly ascended a metal staircase and burst out a door into the cool, night air. The zeppelin was hovering close to the rooftop.

“Rose, where’d you learn to fly that thing?” the Doctor shouted, desperately hoping the hydrogen in the ship wouldn’t explode this close to the flames.

“It’s Jake, not me!” Rose hollered back.

“Thank you, PlayStation!” Jake crowed.

“Hold on, we’re comin’ to get you,” she urged the Doctor through the speaker.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep my cool,” he quipped.

The Doctor and Pete raced closer to the zeppelin as it attempted to swoop down lower, but Jake was having trouble.

“I can’t go any lower.” Jake gritted his teeth and fought with the wheel.

Rose grabbed one side of the wheel to help him. “But you’ve got to!”

“I’m gonna crush them!”

Rose frantically search the cabin for a solution. “There's gotta be somethin’!”

She spotted a plaque on the wall labeled, “In case of emergency pull lever.” Figuring this qualified as an emergency, Rose slammed the lever down and a trapdoor opened on the floor, dropping a rope ladder right in front of Pete and the Doctor.

“You've gotta be kiddin’!” Pete exclaimed.

“Pete, get up!” The Doctor grabbed onto the rungs and Pete hesitantly followed.

The zeppelin took off as they climbed the shaky ladder, but as soon as they were halfway up, something heavy yanked from below. Pete and the Doctor lost their balance and nearly fell. An angry, cyberized Lumic was climbing after them.

The Doctor yanked his sonic from his pocket and handed it to Pete. “Take this! Hold the button down and press it against the rope!”

Pete clenched his jaw. “Jackie Tyler. This is for her!”

He pressed the glowing blue tip against the rope and the fibers snapped. Lumic screamed as he fell and was engulfed by the inferno of fire and smoke.

~*~

Jake had followed the Doctor’s instruction and piloted the zeppelin to the Tardis’ parking spot. As soon as they had landed, the Doctor had dashed into the ship to make sure the power cell worked. He wanted to get back to their original universe as soon as possible. The only question was, would Rose be joining him? She had said she couldn’t leave her mum, but she seemed to be enjoying Pete’s company. Between their conversations in the van and in the zeppelin on the ride over, the two seemed to be getting along very well, even if Pete didn’t realize Rose was his parallel daughter.

The Doctor installed the power cell, and the Tardis instantly came on, filling his mind with familiar humming. He smiled and headed out the doors to fetch Rose. Before he could walk over to where she was conversing with Pete, Jake intercepted him.

“I just wanted to say thanks, Doctor, for all your help.”

The Doctor shook the man’s outstretched hand. “Not a problem, Jakey-boy. Couldn’t have done it without your computer knowledge.”

Jake furrowed his brows. “Computer knowledge? Oh! No, that wasn’t me. That was Rose. She’s a right genius.”

“It was?” The Doctor was perplexed. He’d have to ask Rose about her new skills soon. “Right, we've got to run but one more thing. Mrs. Moore, her real name was Angela Price. She's got a husband and children out there. Find them. Tell them how she died savin’ the world.”

Jake nodded. “Yeah, ‘course I will.”

“And take this.” He handed Jake a slip of paper. “I wrote the code down. Get it out there and stop those factories.”

With a final goodbye, Jake departed and the Doctor walked closer to Rose and Pete. He hung back, listening as Rose tried to explain the Tardis to Pete.

“So, what happens inside that thing, then?” Pete asked, eyeing the odd police box.

Rose caught the Doctor out of the corner of her eye, wondering if he would give Pete a tour. “Do you want to see?”

Pete shook his head. “No, I don't think so. But you two, you know, all that stuff you said about different worlds.” He narrowed his eyes, assessing her and wondering what it was about her that felt so familiar. “Who are you?”

Rose blew out a breath and decided to take a risk. “It's like you said. Imagine there are different worlds, parallel worlds. Worlds with another Pete Tyler and Jackie Tyler's still alive…” She paused and took another breath. “And their daughter.”

Pete’s eyes widened in comprehension, and his curious expression morphed into fear. “I've gotta go.”

“But if you just look inside—” she pleaded.

He cut her off, “No, I can't. There's all those Lumic factories out there, all those Cybermen still in storage. Someone's got to tell the authorities what happened, carry on the fight.”

The Doctor cleared his throat to get their attention and walked closer. “Rose, I’ve only got five minutes of power. We’ve gotta go.”

Rose nodded and reached for Pete’s hand. “The Doctor could show ya.”

Pete pulled away before she could touch him. “Thank you for everything.”

“Dad?” Rose choked.

“Don’t. Just don’t.” Pete’s face contorted in pain as he thought about his lost wife and the daughter he would never get to have now. He quickly fled leaving Rose alone with the Doctor.

“C’mon,” the Doctor softly urged, draping a comforting arm around her shoulder.

The Tardis hummed soothingly in her mind as Rose wiped away the few tears that fell. She let the Doctor lead her back to the ship and through the doors. He dropped his arm and settled her onto the jumpseat before turning to the console and sending them into the vortex.

He didn’t know what to say to her as she quietly sniffled and wiped her eyes on the tuxedo jacket she was still wearing. Even though she was currently upset by being rejected by the parallel version of her dad and covered in dirt and soot, she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wordlessly held it out to her.

Rose looked at him briefly as she took the small piece of fabric. “Why do you keep lookin’ at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like…” She paused to wipe her nose. “Nothin’. Nevermind. I’m probably imaginin’ it.”

The Doctor, tired of hiding, sat next to her and took her hand. “I don’t think you are.”

Rose frowned and stood, dislodging her fingers from his. “No, I must be. Because you’ve said many times now that it’s never gonna happen.” She huffed a tiny laugh and blotted her eyes. “Plus, there was that woman,” she mumbled.

“What woman?”  

“Reinette. You…” The passionate kiss invaded her vision. “You fell in love with her, didn’t you?”

His eyebrows flew to his hairline. “Why on Earth would you think that?”

Rose leaned against the control and bit her thumbnail. “You don’t have to explain, but you could have taken me with you to France to help. Or used the temporal stabilizers.”

He bypassed the fact that she knew about the temporal stabilizers to address the more concerning issue. “Rose, wait. Why do you think I loved Reinette?”

“You kissed her,” she murmured quietly, dropping her eyes to the grating.

“You saw that?”

She barked a bitter laugh. “Yes, yes I saw that. How do you think windows work?” She pushed away from the console, suddenly overwhelmed and angry by everything that had happened in the past few days. “You kissed her and yet you… You keep lookin’ at me like that!”

The Doctor slid off the jumpseat, confused by her accusations. “Like what?!”

“Like you want to kiss me!”

“That’s because I do!” he admitted with a shout.

Rose blinked and froze on the spot.

“I do,” he repeated and stepped closer to her. “Rose, I’m an enormous coward.” He needed her to understand, so he cautiously took her hand and squeezed. “And if you’ll let me, I’ll spend the rest of my days makin’ up for the fact that I’m an enormous coward. But I don’t want to go another day without you. I miss you, and I want to be with you.”

Rose glanced in disbelief at their twined fingers and then searched his face. “Are you sayin’ you’ve changed your mind?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up into a tiny smile. “Yes.”

She snatched her hand away and glared at him in silence for one agonizing minute until she burst into hysterical laughter.

“You’ve changed your mind? Just like that?” She slumped onto the jumpseat, her laughter coming to an abrupt halt. “Funny way of showin’ it… kissin’ posh aristocrats.”

“No, no, no. Rose, she kissed me !” he corrected, desperately hoping she didn’t think he had actually wanted anything to do with Reinette. “I swear, I never wanted her to touch me. I only have eyes for you.”

She stared at the grating. “You pushed me away.”

The misery in her voice stabbed him in the gut. “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

Tears spilled down her cheeks again, and he reached out to wipe them away, but she turned her face away from him. She couldn’t look at him right now. She desperately wanted to accept his affection, but he had insisted for weeks that they couldn’t be together. And now he had suddenly changed his mind? What was stopping him from changing it back?

“Take me home,” Rose whispered.

The Doctor swore his hearts stopped beating. “Are you leavin’ me?”

“Just… take me home,” she repeated.

He swallowed heavily and crossed the short distance to the console. Before he typed in any commands, he glanced briefly at Rose; he had never seen her look as somber and broken as she did in this moment. And it was all his fault. Maybe he didn’t deserve her after all, but he couldn’t spend one more moment lying to her about how he truly felt.

As soon as he landed the Tardis in Jackie’s flat, Rose flew out of the ship. He followed slowly and closed the doors behind him. Rose was sobbing in Jackie’s arms.

Jackie glared at him over Rose’s shoulder. “What happened? Where did you take her?”

The Doctor rubbed a hand through his hair and blew out a long breath. “Far away. We were… far away.”

Jackie quietly shushed her daughter and guided her to sit on the sofa. The Doctor feared he may not be welcome in this flat any longer, but he wasn’t going to leave unless he was told to. And he meant what he had said — he’d grovel on his knees for the rest of his life just to prove to her how sorry he was.

Chapter Text

Rose stared at the Doctor as he fidgeted on the sofa. After she had stopped sobbing, Jackie had made tea; the cure for everything. But Rose had left her mug untouched, and it was stationed, stone-cold, on the coffee table. The Doctor had swallowed his down in nearly one gulp, winning a scorched tongue and cheek. And now, in a flat normally filled with the inane chatter of Jackie Tyler, it was silent enough to hear the muffled noise of the elderly neighbor’s telly three floors up.

Not knowing what else to do, the Doctor alternated between nervously meeting Rose’s unwavering glare and twiddling with the buttons on the scratchy dress shirt he was still stuffed in. For the past ten minutes, Rose hadn’t moved, hadn’t looked away from him, and hadn’t uttered a single sound. He was terrified that he’d cocked it all up, and she would be staying here in Jackie’s flat, forcing him to face the universe alone.

Jackie darted her eyes back and forth between her daughter and the daft alien. She knew something had happened, but she’d never know what unless she had Rose alone. Either they had visited a horrendous planet or the Doctor had acted like a git; her money was on both. She frowned at the mascara rings under Rose’s eyes and the rumpled state of the gorgeous, golden dress she was wearing. The first order of business would be to get her in the shower and into fresh clothing. Step one: get rid of the alien.

It had been so long since anyone had made a peep that the Doctor jumped when Jackie cleared her throat. “Doctor, why dontcha go back in that ship of yours and get changed? I wanna show Rose some of my new hair products.”

It was a flimsy excuse to get rid of him, but the Doctor couldn’t deny being uncomfortable in his tuxedo. It wouldn’t take him long to incinerate the starchy garment. “Right, yes. Two ticks.” He wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers before he stood and addressed Rose, “Would you like me to bring you a change of clothes?”

Her nod was barely noticeable, and he would have missed it had he not been expecting the gesture. He cautiously smiled. “Ok, two ticks,” he repeated and hurried into the Tardis as instructed.

As soon as the ship’s door closed, Jackie stood and pulled on Rose’s hand. “C’mon, up. You’re gettin’ a shower.” Rose opened her mouth to protest, but Jackie cut her off, “No ifs, buts, or coconuts. You’re covered in who knows what and gettin’ my furniture dirty.”

With a sigh of exasperation, Rose trudged down the hallway to the bathroom. Jackie waited for her to close the door and then stood guard in front of the Tardis. When the sound of the shower drifted into the living room, the ship’s blue doors opened, and the Doctor froze in the doorway with a bundle of Rose’s clothing.

“You’re quick for an old man,” Jackie quipped and held out her hands for the hoodie and jeans. “I’ll take that.”

The Doctor handed over the garments and took a step forward, but she held out a palm to stop him. “Nope. You stay in there,” she commanded.

He quirked a brow. “S'cuse me?”

Jackie turned to place the clothing on the coffee table and then moved her body closer to block his path. “I’d like to talk to my daughter, and I don’t need you loomin’ over her.”

The Doctor scowled. “I don’t loom!”

“When it comes to Rose you do. I don’t know what happened, but I know my daughter. You’ve upset her.” He opened his mouth with a retort, but Jackie talked over him, “Don’t bother denyin’ it, it’s all over your faces. She doesn’t need you crowdin’ her right now.”

“But—”

“Nope. Go.” She pointed over his shoulder through the open Tardis.

The Doctor folded his arms, attempting to intimidate Jackie into letting him stay. “Where am I supposed to go?”

Jackie crossed her arms in a mirrored stance and cocked a hip. “I don’t care. You’re good at findin’ trouble, go find some. Come back in an hour.” She lifted a warning finger into his face. “But don’t be late.”

“This is ridiculous,” he growled and tried stepping out of his ship, but Jackie placed both hands on his chest and pushed him back in. “Oi!”

“Don’t make me scream or slap you,” she threatened.

He glared menacingly into Jackie’s face, but she wasn’t affected one bit. It was pointless to continue arguing with a woman who was more stubborn than an Allorean in a bidding war — she’d never back down.

“Fine,” the Doctor relented. “But, just…” He sighed and dragged a palm down his face. “Please, tell Rose I’ll be back. Don’t let her think I’ve abandoned her. I’d never, ever willingly leave her behind.”

Jackie’s face softened and she took a few steps away from the ship. “Of course.”

He huffed in frustration before turning around and slamming the Tardis doors. Jackie watched the ship dematerialize and then headed down the hallway towards the bathroom. The sounds of the shower stopped, and she rapped three times on the door.

“Rose?” she called. “I’ve got clothes.”

Rose stuck her damp head out the door and accepted the items. “Would you… D’ya think you could make me some tea?” she quietly asked.

“Only if you don’t let it go cold this time.”

“I won’t,” Rose vowed and disappeared into the steam-filled loo.

Jackie smiled. She knew all her daughter needed was a hot, soothing shower to snap her out of her trance. She headed for the kitchen, set the kettle to boil, and pulled out fresh mugs from the cabinet. Now that she was clean, Rose just needed some tea to loosen her tongue.

As Jackie poured freshly boiled water over the tea bags, she heard a stifled gasp in the living room.  

“What, why… Where’d he go?!” Rose cried out frantically.

Jackie quickly exited the kitchen to alleviate her panic. “Don’t worry, he’s comin’ back.”

“But why’d he leave?!” She darted over to the window to see if he was simply parked outside now, but the police box was nowhere in sight.

“I made him. Told him to be back in an hour.” Jackie headed back to the kitchen to grab their tea.

“What, why?!” Rose demanded.

“Because you need to talk,” Jackie shouted over her shoulder. “And you won’t be honest with himself around.”

“But what if…” Rose burst into tears. “What if he doesn’t come back?”

After she set the mugs onto the coffee table, Jackie pulled Rose into her arms. “He’ll come back. He’ll always come back for you.” Rose sobbed harder. “Trust me, he’s always been arse over teakettle. He may be a giant pillock, but he’d never leave you here.”

Jackie quietly shushed her daughter and pulled her down onto the sofa. “Now, drink this before it goes cold again.” She pressed the hot tea into Rose’s palms and then lifted her own mug for a sip.

They sat in silence for a few minutes as Jackie allowed Rose to gather her thoughts before the inquiry started. Once her mug was empty, Jackie set it on the table and sat back further on the cushions.

“Alright, let’s start with where, shall we?” she suggested.

Rose blew out a breath and set down her own empty cup, cuddling close to her mum for strength.

“We were just in a parallel world,” she began, “with a parallel Jackie Tyler… and Pete Tyler…”

Jackie’s eyes widened as Rose continued to tell the story of the Cybermen invasion. She smiled when she heard Pete’s daft schemes had worked in this other world and even looked a tad jealous that the other Jackie had gotten to experience life outside of poverty. But her mum’s skin paled as Rose explained the horrors of Lumic’s experiment and what had happened to the parallel version of Mickey and Jackie Tyler. It was at this point Rose started crying again.

Jackie pulled her into a hug, cradling Rose’s head against her shoulder. “Oh, honey, I’m alive. I’m right here,” she softly assured her, rocking gently back and forth. “You said it yourself, it wasn’t your world. The people you know and love are still alive.”

“I know,” Rose sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Sorry, it was just too real. And then I was an idiot and called Pete ‘Dad’. He basically freaked and out and ran away.”

Jackie hummed thoughtfully. “Sounds about right.”

“How do you mean?” Rose sat up straighter with a questioning eyebrow.

“I remember the day I told him I was pregnant with you.” Jackie smiled and held her palm against Rose’s cheek. “We didn’t plan it. So, he flipped. Disappeared for a week. He eventually came back, and I smacked him into next year.” Rose laughed. “But he did come to his senses and he loved you to bits. It was just the beginnin’ where he was so scared and worried about how good a father he would be.”

“He still seemed scared the day I went back to hold his hand.”

“He was. Just less so.” Jackie giggled as she remembered her late husband and then her face sobered into a more serious expression. “Now, what did that daft alien do?”

She should have known her mum would pick up on the tension between her and the Doctor. Rose eyed her warily. “Promise not to slap him?”

“Can’t promise that if I don’t know what he’s done, can I?”

“S’pose not.”

Even though Rose had been in touch with her mum the entire time she’d been traveling in space, she hadn’t told her everything. She had held back all of the Doctor’s explanations for not being with her, and the mixed signals he’d been sending despite those reasons. It was cathartic to let it all out now, to confide with someone and release her frustrations. She used to have daily gob sessions with Jack… but that was over.

She started from the beginning and told her mum everything that had happened since she had last seen her: the confusing flirting, the encounter with Sarah Jane, and his wither and die comment. Jackie’s jaw audibly clenched when she explained the unwanted snog with Madame de Pompadour, and her face pinched like she had just eaten a lemon.

“Has it been an hour yet? I’m gonna kill him,” Jackie growled.

“He said she kissed him .” Her mum didn’t look convinced and began to argue, but Rose cut her off, “Stop, just listen,” she grabbed her mum’s hand and squeezed, “because that’s when it all changed. He started lookin’ at me like he did when he was John, like he just wanted to be constantly kissin’ me. There were a few hugs and he danced with me. And after we left the parallel world… he admitted it. Said he wanted to be with me again.”

Jackie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Well, it’s no wonder you fell out of that ship a sobbin’ mess. That man is more confusin’ than a six-lane roundabout.”

“I just…” Rose let out a groan of frustration. “I’m so mad! I’m mad and confused and heartbroken… and all I wanna do is climb him and snog the life outta him.”

Jackie snorted. “Sounds like me and your dad. If we weren’t attached at the lips we were usin’ them to row.”

“I think the parallel Jackie and Pete were the same,” Rose mused. “I talked to her a bit. She seemed to be mad at him, so I told her to give him a second chance. Couldn’t stand to see you unhappy… even if it wasn’t really you.”

Memories of fights with Pete flitted through her mind as Jackie contemplated everything Rose had confessed. “Do you love him?”

Rose rubbed her heels into her eyes and flopped back into the cushions. “I don’t think there was a time when I didn’t love him,” she mumbled.

“Then maybe you should take your own advice: give him a second chance.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Rose lifted her brow, shocked. “Figured you’d tell me to ditch him.”

“Look,” her mum crossed her arms in her familiar lecture stance, “I’m angry as bloody hell for what that daft idiot put you through. He should never have pushed you away to begin with. Told him as much before you left last time. I should have slapped him when I had the chance, but you told me not to.” She huffed an annoyed breath, wishing she had smacked him upside the head. “But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: that daft idiot loves you. He may have a funny way of showin’ it, but I’m convinced he would die for you. I think you’d be a daft idiot, too, if you didn’t at least try. Otherwise, you’ll mope about in misery for the rest of your life wonderin’ about the “what ifs” that you never took.”

Rose felt her cheeks burn as she fought back another round of tears. “But what if he changes his mind again?”

“If he does, I’ll slap him into next year nine hundred times over.” Rose giggled as moisture leaked from her eyes and Jackie grabbed her hand, squeezing it in comfort. “Trust me. I’d give anything to have another chance with your dad. Grab onto that giant pillock and never let go.”

~*~

Meanwhile, inside the Tardis, the Doctor took a few calming moments to collect himself before he piloted the ship back to the instructed time. He couldn’t believe he had allowed Jackie to keep him away from Rose. He needed to make things right. He needed to apologize. How was he supposed to do that if he wasn’t allowed near her?

He let out a furious growl and threw a random piece of machinery against the wall. The Tardis hummed angrily and switched on the scanner. A warning scrolled across the screen, and he swiveled it closer to get a better look.

A curse flew from his lips. Somehow, an elemental shade had escaped the Howling Halls and landed in the 1980s. This had to be dealt with immediately before it wreaked havoc on Earth. He cracked his neck, figuring he may as well do some good while he was on a Jackie Tyler time-out.

Moments after landing the ship, he successfully caught the living shadow but not before it had already claimed the life of an innocent woman as her son watched in horror.

His fears over Rose’s morality slammed into his mind and he was unable to shut them out. Every second he was away from her was a second of time he would never get back.

With more cursing and thingamabob throwing, he piloted the Tardis back to Jackie’s flat. But, instead of one hour, he set it for twenty minutes. From now on, Rose would be the only one allowed to send him away.

~*~

A familiar wheezing and groaning filled the living room, and Rose leaped to her feet. The Doctor froze in the doorway for a moment when he locked eyes with her and slowly stepped out of the ship.

She had been crying again. And that was unacceptable.

He strode purposely across the carpet and gathered her into his arms. Rose whimpered and went willingly, clinging to his neck like it was a lifeline. The Doctor sank on the sofa and Rose arranged herself in his lap as he buried his face in her hair. Jackie, deciding not to complain that he was early, silently collected the empty teacups and retreated to the kitchen.

For several minutes, Rose choked on her own tears as her sobbing increased. A few drops of moisture trailed down the Doctor’s cheek and he clutched her tighter, filled with guilt over her distress. He quietly shushed her until the moisture stopped leaking from her eyes and she settled her nose firmly into his neck, attempting to merge into one being. They huddled together on the sofa, wrapped around each other like vines, until their breathing synchronized and her heartbeat fell into a harmonious rhythm with his two.

Rose swallowed around the lump caught in her throat and detached herself enough to meet his eyes. She was startled to see they were red and wet.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I am so, so sorry.”

She searched his face. She wanted to yell. She wanted to slap him. She wanted to do the same thing he had done to her. But the wetness on his cheeks was proof that he had been castigating himself more than she or her mum ever could. Rose had never seen him cry like this. He looked as broken as she felt.

But, could she trust him again? Memories from his time as John flitted through her mind. He had loved her then without hesitation, had spoken his love with heartfelt tenderness. When he’d resumed his Time Lord form, he hadn’t taken those three words back. Instead, he had confessed that everything he had said as a human was true. Despite the fact that he was an arse for pushing her away in the first place, he loved her as much as she loved him. And her mum was right — she’d be an idiot if she let this second chance slip through her fingers.

Rose pressed her lips together and raised one palm to his cheek, wiping away the fallen droplets with her half-chewed thumb. A shuddering breath wafted past his lips and he leaned into her touch, greedily soaking in the affection. He raised his own hand to capture hers, pressed a kiss to her fingers, and then cradled it against his chest like he had when they had floated across the dance floor in the Tyler Mansion.

Giving in to the impulse, Rose rested her forehead against his until he was blurry and out of focus but closer than he had been in what felt like years. “What about my witherin’ and dyin’?” she softly asked.

He pushed his own head closer until his nose rubbed against hers. “I no longer care if we have five minutes left together. I want to spend them with you. And they’d be the best damn five minutes of my entire nine hundred years.”

Rose pulled back so he was in focus again and settled her hands on his shoulders. “I’m still mad at you.”

He nodded, expecting as much. “I know.”

There were a million things she wanted to say, a million questions racing through her mind. But all Rose could manage was a soft “I missed you” before she snuggled against the Doctor’s chest once more.

“I missed you, too.” He rubbed comforting patterns across her back for several minutes before he cleared his throat. “Can I… Does this mean I can be John again?”

Rose huffed a watery laugh. “You never stopped bein’ him. You just let your big, Time Lord brain get in the way.”

“I’m sorry,” he confessed again.

“Just…” she sighed heavily, “don’t do it again?”

“Never,” he vowed and placed a kiss on her temple.

Rose closed her eyes as a sense of peace washed over her. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier.” She fiddled with the soft leather of his lapel. “About takin’ me home… This is home. Wherever you are.”

A contented hum vibrated in his chest and he tightened his arms around her. “I feel the same about you.”

When her legs started to cramp, Rose pulled back with a light smile and rubbed a spot on his jumper. “I’m sorry, I think I got mascara on you. I must look like a raccoon.”

He gave her a daft grin in return and swept loose strands of hair behind her ear. “You look like the most gorgeous woman in the universe.”

She met his eye and bit her lip shyly, feeling unworthy of the praise.

Jackie chose this moment to poke her head out of the kitchen. “Rose, why don’t you take your dirty clothes back on board? I’m not a laundromat.” She dropped her dirty dress on the coffee table.

Rose rolled her eyes and removed herself from the Doctor’s lap to collect the soiled garments. The Doctor started to follow her to the ship, but Jackie yanked him back by his leather jacket.

“Nope, me and you are havin’ tea,” she declared.

Rose nervously darted her eyes from her mother to the Doctor. “Tea? What? Why?”

“I haven’t had a chat with himself in a while.”

The Doctor looked like he was about to face the guillotine, and Rose leaned close to her mum to whisper, “Please don’t slap him.”

“I’ll hide my twitchy palm,” Jackie whispered back and pushed her daughter through the blue doors. She turned around with crossed arms to face the Doctor. “Like I said, tea?”

He nodded and followed her wordlessly into the kitchen, knowing better than to argue with her at this point. Besides, he deserved any slap or angry tirade coming to him.

Jackie made more tea, humming softly to herself as if this were an everyday occurrence, and placed a mug by his elbow prepared exactly how he liked it. She stared at him over the rim of her mug as he warily brought his own tea to his lips, fervently hoping she hadn’t poisoned it or spiked it with ginger. Gods help him if this woman had somehow discovered ginger was basically truth serum for Time Lords.

When he’d had enough of her eerie silence, the Doctor placed his cup back on the counter and folded his arms, preparing himself to be cut to the quick by her verbal barbs. “I reckon she told you everything?”

Jackie smacked her lips and daintily set her cup down in the sink. “And you’re lucky I’m not slappin’ you.”

“You can. I deserve it.” He braced himself against the counter and closed his eyes.

But nothing happened. He peaked an eye open and was shocked to see Jackie standing there calmly with no obvious sign that she was about to strike.

“That’s why I’m not slappin’ you,” she claimed. “Not that I’m not angry. I’m bleedin’ furious. You’re a giant, daft, big-eared, big-nosed, tosser.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Do you love her?” she abruptly asked, although she knew he did. Before she released him back to Rose, Jackie wanted to hear him admit it out loud.

The Doctor pulled in a lungful of air and released it slowly. Only complete honesty would set him free. “More than anything in the universe.”

“Good.” Jackie reached a hand up to his face. He flinched, but she patted his cheek fondly with an impish smile. “Take her on a date.”

The Doctor blinked. “A date?”

“Yes, a date. You took her on lots of dates when you were human. If you want to make things right, start simple. Take her somewhere.”

He pursed his lips in thought. “I take her places all the time.”

“You take her places lookin’ for trouble.” She turned on the faucet and started rinsing out their mugs.

“Not… not always. I tried to take her to a concert a few weeks ago. Got the date wrong,” he mumbled.

“A concert?” Jackie clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth as an idea came to mind. “Try again. Take her to see Elvis.”

“Elvis?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to see the King of Rock and Roll gyrate his hips onstage. But if it would make Rose happy, he’d endure it.

“She used to sing along to his songs when she was a kid. I’m tellin’ you, she’ll love it.”

The Doctor shook his head in disbelief as Jackie wiped her hands on a tea towel and pushed him back towards his ship. He was accepting dating advice from Jackie Tyler. The universe was full of wonders. Or it was about to implode.

Jackie entered the Tardis briefly to bid Rose goodbye with strict instructions to keep in touch. “You should call Mickey more often, too,” she advised. “He’s got a shiny new job at Torchwood.”

“He got it?” Rose smiled brightly, glad to hear the news.

“Yep! He’s as giddy as a schoolboy. Can even afford to move off of the estate. He’s goin’ places now.”

“Has he proposed yet?” the Doctor wondered.

“No, he’s savin’ it for Martha’s birthday.” Jackie kissed Rose’s cheek and waved goodbye to the Doctor before she left the ship, hoping the two lovebirds didn’t turn into idiots again.

Rose watched the Doctor type in a few commands on the console and warred with her conflicting emotions. She wanted to jump right back where had they left off, but her insecurities were nagging at her. She wrung her fingers together, needing to know one thing with absolute certainty before she opened her heart again.

“Doctor?”

“Yes, sweetheart?” He glanced at her over the monitor with a daft grin.

Rose smiled at the endearment but dropped her gaze. “Before we go anywhere. I just… I need to know something.”

A concerned frown wrinkled his features, and he walked over to her side. “Anything.”

He wound their fingers together and Rose steeled herself for any answer he may have to her question. “Madame de Pompadour. You said she kissed you but… Did you really not want her to? She was smart and posh and… ” She trailed off, unsure of how to continue.

With a soft smile, he lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “No. Never. She might have thought differently, but I never did,” he assured her, lightly stroking her skin with his thumb. “Like I said, I only have eyes for you. And you’re brilliant.”

The Doctor desperately wanted to snog her senseless to eliminate her fears, but he wasn’t sure how much intimacy she’d be comfortable with right away. Instead, he risked a quick kiss to her cheek before he lost the nerve. A radiant smile lit her face so he pecked the other cheek and was rewarded with a giggle.

“Now then,” he released her chin and sent the ship into the vortex, “I’ve been told you like Elvis. Fancy a concert? Maybe even meet the King?”

“Really?”  

“Really really.” He tilted his head toward the corridor. “Why don’t you go and change while I pilot us to the fifties.”

Rose let out an excited squeal and threw her arms around his neck in a brief hug before disappearing into the ship.

The Doctor smiled like an idiot as he watched her skip away down the hall. He had a long way to go before he had truly made amends, but it was off to a promising start.

Chapter Text

Rose eagerly danced down the halls of the ship and into her room. Elvis! Her mum must have told the Doctor how much she had loved the King as a little girl. The Tardis sensed her unrestrained excitement and set out the perfect outfit for the occasion. A beautiful, pink poodle dress hung on her closet door along with pink, peep-toe pumps, fishnet stockings, and a blue jacket — full fifties mod chic. With a wide grin, Rose yanked off her jeans and hoodie and pulled on the layers of tulle.

Giddiness was rapidly threatening to bubble over as she admired the satiny fabric in the mirror. Was this a date? It must be a date. It was obviously a date. A few giggles escaped her mouth as her anticipation reached its peak, and she wondered if she hadn’t turned into a fourteen-year-old in the last few minutes.

The Doctor still had some explaining to do, but he had finally gotten his head out of his arse and that’s all she cared about at this moment.

How did women in the fifties style their hair? Rose mused as she placed a hand on the wall. In answer, the Tardis sent her a mental picture of a popular updo, and she flounced into her en-suite to replicate it. Her mum probably would have done a better job, but the small beehive ended up looking smooth and sleek. She finished it with a cute, pink headband to match her dress and skipped back into the console room.

And, in a hilarious case of déjà vu, the Doctor still remained in his jumper and trousers.

Rose sidled up to him where he was bent over the controls. “You didn’t change,” she accused.

The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile as he twisted some wiring. “I changed me jumper.”

“From dark green to dark blue.”

“Not a problem. I’ll fit in swimmingly in 1950s America. Leather was all the rage among the greasers. And, I do believe you’ve accused me of bein’ a grease monkey on numerous occasions. Plus,” He stood straight and wiped his hands on a towel, “blue matches me eyes.”

Rose laughed. “Do you always have the perfect explanation?”

“Try to.” The Doctor smirked and propped himself against the console, folding his arms in a ridiculously seductive pose for a man that was simply leaning. He raked his gaze slowly up and down her form, making no effort to hide the yearning in his eyes.

“However,” his voice dropped a pitch, “as to how you managed to make a daft, poofy poodle skirt look that enticing…” He paused and assessed her outfit again, lingering longer than necessary on her stocking-clad ankles. “For once, I have no explanation.”

A zing of excitement tingled across Rose’s skin as his throaty timbre washed over her. She wondered if he had been pretending not to be a lust-filled puddle as often as she had been these past few months. If his dilated pupils were any indication, then the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Rose bit her lip and blushed furiously. She’d need to get used to his flirting again. “So, I’ll fit in?”

“I think you’ll fit in too well.” He pulled a pair of pink sunglasses out of his jacket pocket. “Now I know why the Tardis gave me these. We’ve landed if you’d like to do the honors.”

With a megawatt grin, Rose snatched the glasses from his fingers and pranced down the ramp and out the door. It looked like the Doctor had parked them in an alleyway.

“So how comes we didn’t go to the Vegas era,” she called over her shoulder, “with the white flares and the...” she made a growling noise, “chest hair.”

“Are you sayin’ you like chest hair?” the Doctor shouted through the open door.

“Sometimes?”

“Noted.” He laughed. “But no, if you wanna see Elvis, you go to the late fifties. Before he discovered burgers and still had a waistline. And… you see him in style!”

The sound of an engine roaring to life rushed through the open doors, and Rose turned her head just in time to see the Doctor ride out of the Tardis on a sleek, shiny-black motorcycle. The iron bike growled as he maneuvered it in a wide semi-circle and then came to a stop with a lively rev from the throttle. With the aviator sunglasses, leather jacket, and rumbling motor between his legs, Rose couldn’t help but think he looked like a bad-boy sex god on wheels.

“What’s that?” Rose asked, incredulous and unable to close her gaping mouth.

“This, Rose Tyler, is a 1949 Vincent Black Shadow. At the time of its production, the world’s fastest standard motorcycle. Highly collectible by your time.” The Doctor grinned devilishly and sat tall on the seat to cross his arms over his chest. “I’ve got three.”

“It’s gorgeous!” Rose purred. “But, aren’t the pipes and stuff hot?”

“Nope. I soniced them. Now then,” he patted the seat behind him, winking behind the dark frames, “how’s about we burn some rubber and agitate some gravel?”

With a seductive smile, Rose slid her sunglasses onto her face. “Is there any other way to go, daddy-o?” She couldn’t hold back her giggles as she sauntered towards the bike. “Straight from the fridge, man!”

One eyebrow raised above the aviators and his bad-boy grin morphed into amusement. “You speak the lingo?”

“Yeah, well,” she reached out a hand to run a finger along the handlebar, “me and Mum, Cliff Richard movies every Bank Holiday Monday.”

“You and your pretty boys,” the Doctor grumbled.

Rose tilted her head to the side. “Jealous?”

“Should I be?”

“Nope,” she declared, playfully popping the “p.”

“Good. Put this on.” He handed her the pink helmet dangling from the handlebar.

“How comes you aren’t wearin’ one?” She slipped it carefully over her hairdo and tightened the chinstrap.

“Denser clusters of osteocytes in my cranium to protect my big, Time Lord brain.”

“So, in other words: you’re thick.”

“That’s me.” A manic grin sprung to his face and he scooted forward on the seat. “Hop on.”

Rose bit back a naughty retort and swung her leg over the bike. She arranged her skirt to keep it away from any moving parts and slid her arms around the Doctor’s belly.

He craned his head around, still smiling like a loon. “Hold on tight.”

Eager to comply, Rose shifted forward as close as possible and squeezed her arms around his waist to signal she was ready. With another wink, he turned straight ahead and restarted the engine. The bike roared to life, and the Doctor smoothly lifted his feet and opened the throttle to propel them through the streets.

Rose squealed in half-delight and half-terror, clutching him even tighter as they rounded a corner. She had never been on the back of a motorcycle before, and the thought of falling off made adrenaline pump furiously from head to toe. But she trusted the Doctor to keep her safe and forced her eyes to remain open as the wind and brick-lined buildings whipped by. It was a liberating feeling, to be perched on top of an engine, exposed to the air instead of encased in the sheet metal of a car.

What made the ride even better was the knowledge that she didn’t have to reign in her desire to be close to the Doctor any longer; she was free to flirt and touch him again. And he was certainly doing his best to seduce her as thoroughly as he had when he had been human — it was working.

As they cruised through the streets, Rose couldn’t help but notice how similar it all looked to some of the neighborhoods around the estates.

“So wher're we off to?” she shouted over the engine noise.

“Ed Sullivan TV Studios,” the Doctor yelled back. “Elvis did 'Hound Dog' on one of the shows. There were loads of complaints. You’ll love it.”

“And that’s in New York?”

“Right in one,” he affirmed.

A red, double-decker bus passed through the upcoming intersection, and the Doctor slowed the bike down to a stop with a frown. Rose snickered; this wasn’t New York.

“Right,” she brushed a few wayward strands of hair out of her eyes, “is there a little London in New York?”

“Um, could be?” He spun his head around as much as he could in his position, noting the lack of high-rise buildings. “There’s a little Italy and China… why not London?”

“And what’re all the flags for?”

Even a little London in America wouldn’t have this many British flags waving through the air. There were hundreds of them, and even more hanging from strings zigzagging the street above their heads. And then the Doctor spotted a Royal Mail postbox, hammering the last nail in his bad-driver coffin. He pursed his lips — this was definitely not New York.

Rose poked his side. “You got it wrong, didn’t you?”

“It would appear so,” he muttered, highly annoyed at the Tardis for piloting him to the wrong location. “We can go back and try again.”

“Nah, let’s see where we are first.” She spotted a group of people unloading television sets from the back of a delivery van. “Must be close to the fifties. That van looks antique.”

The Doctor crossed the intersection and parked the bike behind the vehicle she had pointed out. Rose hopped off and unstrapped the helmet from her chin, eager to see where and when he had accidentally landed them. They nonchalantly strolled down the sidewalk, eavesdropping on their way.

“There you go, sir,” declared the man handing out the tellies. “All wired up for the great occasion.”

“What occasion is that?” the Doctor asked, casually stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets.

“Where’ve you been livin’, out in the Colonies?” The man laughed and shut the loading doors. “The Coronation of course.”

“Right. Which one?”

An incredulous look formed on the man’s face. “What d’ya mean? The Coronation!”

A lightbulb went off in Rose’s head. “Oh, you mean Queen Elizabeth? Is this 1953?”

“Last time I looked.” The man shook his head at the odd strangers. “Time for a lovely bit of pomp and circumstance. What we do best.”

Rose furrowed her brow as she looked up and saw dozens of antennas mounted on the roofs. “Look at all the TV aerials. Looks like everyone's got one. That's weird. My nan said tellies were so rare, they all had to pile into one house.”

The Doctor scratched his head and strolled a few paces away, deep in thought.

“Not ‘round here, love. Magpie’s Marvellous Tellies,” the man, who Rose now assumed was Mr. Magpie, gestured to the logo on the side of the van, “only five quid a pop.”

“So I got the date wrong by three years and landed on the wrong continent,” the Doctor muttered to himself as he waltzed back over to Rose’s side. “Still, interestin’ year. Do you want to stay here or see if we can hop over the pond to America?”

Rose opened her mouth to answer, but the decision was made for them as a woman’s scream broke through the air.

“Someone help me, please!”

The Doctor and Rose dashed to the commotion a few doors down the street.

“Ted!” the woman continued shouting. “Leave him alone! He’s my husband!”

Two suited men were forcing a man covered with a blanket into a waiting police car.

“What's goin’ on?” the Doctor demanded.

A teenaged boy ran out of the neighboring house at the same time and yelled, “Oi, what are you doin’?!”

The men ignored the frantic cries of the boy and addressed the Doctor, “This is police business. Now get out of the way, sir!”

Rose turned to the boy. “Who did they take? Do you know him?”

The boy looked distraught as he eyed the shouting woman. “Must be Mr. Gallagher.”

The policemen climbed into the car, slammed the doors, and sped off. Mrs. Gallagher cried hysterically as she watched her husband disappear

“It's happenin’ all over the place,” the boy said. “They're turnin’ into monsters.”

An angry, middle-aged man stormed out of the house the boy had come from. “Tommy!” he bellowed. “Not one word! Get inside now!”

The boy frowned and apologized to Rose, “Sorry, I'd better do as he says.”

After watching the events with a scowl, the Doctor decided that a screaming woman and the mention of “monsters” was enough cause to follow the police car. Rose caught his expression and followed him a split-second after he marched over to his parked bike. She hopped on behind him without needing to be told as he started the engine.

It seemed like they could never go anywhere without blundering into a spot of trouble.

“I’m afraid our date has been delayed, Dame Rose,” the Doctor shouted over the rumble of the pipes as he swerved down the street.

“Still a date, Sir Doctor!” She felt laughter vibrate through his chest. “Just take me for chips after!”

“Your wish is my command!”

He chased after the black sedan as it rounded a corner up ahead, but by the time they had whipped around the same pavement, the vehicle had vanished. The Doctor eased the bike to a stop in front of a market stall. They had hit a dead end and there was no sign of the car.

“What in the bloody…” the Doctor cursed under his breath and switched off the motor. “This is the fastest production bike of the time. How’d they get away?”

“That’s weird.” Rose looked around the alley for any sign of the vehicle. “Since when are there men in black disappearin’ into thin air?”

“And takin’ people with them?” He clenched his jaw. “This is more like Stalin’s Russia and not Churchill’s England.”

“Monsters, that boy said.” Rose hummed thoughtfully, and the Doctor turned his head around to look at her. “Maybe we should ask the neighbors?”

“Are you tryin’ to get me to be domestic?”

She raised a brow and fought down a giggle. “You took datin’ advice from my mother. I think I’ve succeeded.”

He couldn’t really argue that point, and he fought down the urge to snog the amusement off her face. Instead, the Doctor shook his head in mock exasperation. “Domestic. Next, you’ll be puttin’ carpets in the console room.”

Rose did laugh this time and readjusted her grip around his midsection as he restarted the engine and backtracked down the alleyway. He parked the motorcycle in the same spot as he had before, but Magpie’s van was now gone.

“If you want answers you’ll have to be nice.” Rose climbed off and hung her helmet on the handlebar, smoothing down her ruffled strands of hair. She handed her sunglasses to the Doctor for safekeeping.

“Nice? When am I not nice?” he asked, tucking his aviators and Rose’s glasses into his pocket.

“Well, you sometimes come across as…” She paused to search for the right adjective.

The Doctor waved his hand around, impatiently indicating her to continue. “As…?”

“Grumpy?”

“Grumpy?!” His face twisted in a grimace. “Like one of the Seven Dwarves?”

“Well, they do have a Doc.” Rose bit her lip hard as she thought of another character. “And… Dopey.”

“Oi!”

Rose burst into a fit of hysterical laughter and bent over, bracing herself with one arm around the middle. The Doctor tried to continue looking offended, but he couldn’t stop the daft grin from stretching across his face as he observed her merriment. He hadn’t heard her laugh this hard in weeks, and it was music to his (apparently dopey) ears.

Her giggles died down and she smiled brightly at him, wiping the moisture that had leaked from the corner of her eyes. “S’alright. Dopey was always my favorite.”

The Doctor let out an indulgent sigh, snatched her hand, and threaded their fingers together. “If I’m Grumpy, Doc, and Dopey, then you’re at least Happy and Sleepy.” They strolled up to the porch of the house that Tommy had come from earlier. “I swear you sleep for ten hours straight sometimes.”

“Not lately,” she claimed and pressed the doorbell. “I’m fresh as a daisy after four to six hours.”

Before the Doctor could inquire further into her sleeping habits, the front door swung open and he plastered a toothy smile on his face.

“Hi!” They chorused at the same time, the Doctor forcing himself to sound merry like Rose had suggested.

The same angry, middle-aged man from earlier eyed them both suspiciously while the boy lurked at the end of the hall. “Who are you then?”

“I represent Queen and Country!” the Doctor announced, thrusting the psychic paper in the portly man’s face. “Just doin’ a bit of a check on Her Majesty’s subjects before the big day.”

“D’ya mind if we come in?” Rose asked sweetly.

“Nah, I’m sure he doesn’t.” The Doctor grinned even wider and pushed past the gaping man and welcomed himself into their home.

The man grumbled under his breath and followed them into the living room.

“Yes, yes, very nice. Spic and span.” The Doctor pretended to assess their home and stuck his hand out to the lady of the house standing meekly in the center of the room. “Hello, how are you, Mrs…?”

The woman smiled nervously and timidly shook his hand. “Connolly.”

“Now then, Rita, I can handle this,” the angry man, Mr. Connolly, interrupted before his wife could speak further. “This gentleman’s a proper representative. Although, I must say, never saw one dressed in leather before.”

“Are you questionin’ the government’s dress code, sir?” Rose asked, delicately perching herself on the arm of a chair and fluffing out her skirts.

“No, no of course not. Sorry,” Mr. Connolly rushed to apologize. “Any questions you have of me, though, I’m happy to answer. Just don’t mind the wife. She rattles on a bit.”

“I’m happy to hear anythin’ the misses has to say.” the Doctor declared. He ignored the shocked expressions on Mr. Connolly and the boy’s faces and noted the flags lying around the room. “Lovely flags. Nice and patriotic. Any particular reason they aren’t flyin’?”

Mr. Connolly glared at his wife. “There we are Rita, I told you. Get them up. Queen and Country!”

“I’m sorry,” Rita softly apologized to the Doctor.

But the Doctor wasn’t looking at her. He folded his arms and pierced Mr. Connolly with a scowl. He wasn’t at all happy with the man’s attitude and treatment of his wife.

“Get it done! Do it now,” Mr. Connolly continued to order Rita.

He finally noticed the thunderous expression on the Doctor’s face and quit barking orders. With a nervous gulp, Mr. Connolly pinched his lips shut and straightened his posture. Rose hid a smile behind her hand; the Doctor’s nice routine hadn’t lasted very long.

“Tell me, Mr. Connolly,” the Doctor spoke deadly calm, “why is hangin’ flags your wife’s job?”

“Er, well, it’s housework, innit?” He offered the Doctor a nervous smile but it was not returned.

“And you think that’s a woman’s job?” The Doctor slowly stalked across the room to stand in front of the twitchy man.

“‘Course I do!” Mr. Connolly laughed at the absurd question.

“Of course you do.” The Doctor repeated and smiled, but Rose recognized it as a calculated grin that preceded a verbal whipping. “Mr. Connolly, what gender is the Queen?”

“She’s a female.”

“I see. So, are you suggestin’ that the Queen should do the housework?”

Mr. Connolly sputtered. “N-no! Not at all.”

“Then get busy.” The Doctor picked up a banner of flags and shoved it into Mr. Connolly’s hands. “There’s a good lad.”

Mr. Connolly gave into the Doctor’s logic and aggressive stare and eagerly rushed to please the representative. “Right, yes, sir. You’ll be proud of us, sir.” He climbed a nearby stepstool and started attaching the flags to the wall. “We’ll have Union Jacks left, right, and center!”

Rose stood, hands on hips. “S’cuse me, Mr. Connolly. Hang on a minute. Union Jacks?”

Mr. Connolly paused his work to look at her. “Yes, that’s right, innit?”

“That’s the Union Flag,” she corrected. “It’s the Union Jack only when it’s flown at sea.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I do apologize!”

“Well, don’t get it wrong again, there’s a good man.” She smiled wide and sweet before she sternly ordered, “Now get to it!”

Mr. Connolly swiftly continued hanging the flags on the wall. Rose spun around with a proud grin, and the Doctor met her eye with a bewildered expression. She shrugged innocently and he winked, resisting the urge to snog the smile off her face without a care to the audience in the room.

“Shall we get cozy?” he suggested, plopping down onto the sofa. As Rose sat beside him, he tilted his head to whisper, “Union Flag?”

“Mum went out with a sailor,” she whispered back.

“Why am I not surprised?” He chuckled softly as he directed a comforting smile toward Rita and her son. “This lovely lady is Rose, and I’m the Doctor. And you are?”

The boy looked surprised that anyone was bothering to address him. “Tommy.”

“Tommy, good name. Why don’t you sit down?” The Doctor offered the spot between him and Rose. She moved her skirt to make room for him, and the Doctor patted the armchair next to him, indicating for Rita to sit as well.

“So, how are you likin’ the telly?” the Doctor asked Tommy.

“Oh, I think it’s brilliant,” he said.

“Good man.” The Doctor looked over his shoulder to check on the flag hanging progress. “Keep it up, Mr. Connolly!” he commanded and then turned to Rita and spoke quietly, “Now then, Rita, tell me what’s wrong.”

Rita eyed her husband nervously and leaned forward on her seat. “Did you say you were a Doctor?” she asked barely louder than a whisper.

He nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“Can you help her?” she pleaded profusely. “Oh, please. Can you help her, Doctor?”

Mr. Connolly heard his wife and stopped working to interrupt the conversation. “Now then, Rita,” he warned, “I don’t think the gentleman needs to know—”

“The gentleman does,” the Doctor forcefully cut off the man’s disapproval.

Rita covered her mouth and her shoulders shook with silent sobs.

Rose scooted forward on the sofa. “Tell us what’s wrong and we can help,” she prodded gently.

But instead of feeling comforted, her sob’s grew louder. Rose stood and crossed the short distance to the chair and wrapped her arm around Rita’s shoulders in a hug. The Doctor looked on with a frown, wondering what could possibly be going on in this quiet, suburban street to cause Mrs. Connolly such distress.

“Hold on a minute!” Mr. Connolly piped up, angrily watching the scene in front of him. “Queen and Country’s one thing, but this is my house! What the...” He paused and threw the flags to the ground. “What the hell am I doin’?!”

With an exaggerated eye roll, the Doctor slouched back into the sofa, throwing his arms on the back of the cushions to appear casual. But, inside, he was growing tired of the man’s backward attitude.

Mr. Connolly rounded the couch and pointed a furious finger in the Doctor’s face. “Now you listen here, Doctor! You may have fancy qualifications, but what goes on under my roof is my business!”

The Doctor talked over him, trying in vain to rein in his temper, “People are bein’ taken away—”

“I am talkin’!” Mr. Connolly shouted.

With a menacing scowl, the Doctor shot up off the couch and loomed over the shorter man.

“And I’m not listenin’!” he bellowed and Mr. Connolly’s jaw snapped shut. “You are starin’ into a dark, swirlin’ storm of trouble if you don’t let me help. So I’m orderin’ you, sir, to tell me what’s goin’ on!”

Mr. Connolly’s mouth gaped open and closed several times, not knowing how to answer the full force of the Oncoming Storm. But a loud thumping sound interrupted his thoughts before he could find his voice. All eyes in the room raised towards the ceiling.

“She won’t stop,” Mr. Connolly grumbled. “She never stops.”

“We started hearin’ stories, all ‘round the place.” Tommy piped up and the Doctor backed away from the cowering form of Mr. Connolly to listen to the boy. “People who’ve… changed. Families keepin’ it secret ‘cause they’re scared. Then the police started findin’ out. We don't know how, no one does. They just turn up, come to the door and take them. Any time of the day or night.”

“Will you show me?” the Doctor asked, relieved to finally be getting to the root of the problem.

Tommy nodded and led them up the stairs. He turned the knob of a door at the end of the hall, and it creaked as it opened into a darkened room.

“Gran? It’s Tommy,” he called out and swung the door wider to allow everyone in the room. “It’s alright, Gran. I’ve brought help.”

A figure was standing at the other end of the room, silhouetted in front of the window. The floorboards creaked as the person slowly moved toward them. Tommy flicked the lamp on and illuminated the horror hidden in the shadows.

The elderly woman had no face. The rest of her body remained unharmed, but there were no eyes, nose, or mouth. Smooth, taut skin was stretched over the places where those unique features should be.

Rose’s eyes widened as she pondered the implications. How was this person alive? How was she breathing or eating? She cautiously moved forward with the Doctor to inspect the woman further.

“Her face is completely gone,” the Doctor murmured in wonder. He pulled out his sonic and waved it over where the eyes should have been. “Barely an electrical impulse left, nearly a complete neural shutdown. It’s like her brain’s been wiped clean.”

“What’re we gonna do, Doctor?” Tommy asked. “We can’t even feed her!”

A crash downstairs interrupted the investigation.

“Sounds like we’ve got company,” Rose said.

“It’s them!” Rita lamented. “They’ve come for her!”

The Doctor needed answers before the suited men barged into the room and took their Gran. “What was she doin’ before this happened? Where was she?” he quickly asked. Rita hesitated. “Quickly! Please!”

“She doesn’t leave the house!” Tommy cried. “She was just—”

The same men that had taken Mr. Gallagher pushed into the room before Tommy could finish his explanation. The Doctor held his hands up to stop them, and Rose moved in front of the elderly woman as a shield.

“Now you, just hold on!” the Doctor demanded. “No one is goin’ anywhere until I get some answers! You’ll not be takin—”

The angry protest was forcibly cut off as a burly man’s fist collided with the Doctor’s jaw. He fell to the ground like a giant sack of potatoes as the men snatched the elderly lady.

“Doctor!” Rose yelled, falling to the ground beside him. She had never seen him knocked unconscious!

“Leave her alone!” Rita desperately tried to pull her mother away from the men, but she was too weak.

They threw a blanket over the woman and forced her out of the room and outside. The family chased after them, pleading for them to stop.

Rose frantically tried slapping the Doctor’s cheeks to wake him up before the men escaped. He finally gasped in a breath and shot up.

“Oi! Who hit me!” He cracked his neck and stood quickly.

The Doctor fled the room and down the stairs to catch up to the men he had lost last time. Rose attempted to follow his rapid pace but found herself lagging behind.

“Rose! C’mon!” The Doctor hollered over the many bickering voices in the house as he jumped through the front door. He hopped on his motorcycle and glanced quickly from the front door to the rapidly retreating vehicle.

“ROSE! We’re gonna lose them again!”

If he didn’t follow that car now, he’d never catch it. But Rose was still inside. He didn’t want to leave her, but he was left with little choice.

“ROSE! Stay there! I’ll be right back!” He started the engine, squealing the tires along the pavement as he pursued the men in black.

Rose had heard the Doctor’s command over the Connolly’s clamor, but a strange sight in the living room had her transfixed and frozen inside. The television set was crawling with red, crackling beams of electricity. Curious, she rushed forward and pulled the telly away from the wall. Wispy bits of the energy continued on the backside next to a label that read “Magpie Electricals.”

These brand new television sets seemed to be at the center of this puzzle. Everyone had one, even though they should be rare, and Tommy had said his Gran never left the house. She was willing to bet good money that the elderly woman was watching telly when her face had disappeared.

The family’s shouts of protest finally died down and they reentered the house.

“How did they know? How did they find her? Who told them?” Tommy wondered, distraught.

“You!” Mr. Connolly spat when he spotted Rose by his precious telly. “Get the hell outta my house!”

Rose rolled her eyes as she stood. “I’m goin’, hold your horses!” She crossed the room and offered the boy and his mother a sincere smile. “It was lovely to meet you Tommy, Mrs. Connolly.”

Then she directed a scowl at Mr. Connolly. She was also willing to bet this callous man was responsible for calling the police on everyone in the neighborhood.

“And as for you, Mr. Connolly, only an idiot hangs the Union Flag upside down.” Rose couldn’t resist torturing the chauvinist further. “Shame on you!” With a manic Doctor-like grin, she fled the house, laughing to herself the whole way.

~*~

Meanwhile, the Doctor revved his motorcycle and increased his speed as fast as he dared to go. He was determined to catch the car and discover where the kidnapped, faceless people were being taken.

He followed the car around the same corner he had whipped around earlier and caught sight of the vehicle’s taillight disappearing behind the same market stall doors at the end of the alley. Before he was discovered, he parked his bike on the side of the street and cut the engine.

There had to be another entrance to the market nearby. He quickly canvassed the area on foot and found a very small, red door made out of the same material as the taller market gate; it was even the same color red. Following his hunch, the Doctor pulled out the sonic to unlock it and ducked inside.

The vehicle and men were standing in a courtyard ahead of him. He stayed hidden in the shadows until they walked off, and the Doctor discreetly followed them. He ended up walking alongside, what looked like, a series of chain-link cages. Through the dim lighting, he could see the contours of numerous people standing in a huddled mass. Not one of them made a sound, and they were standing eerily still.

This must be where they were keeping the faceless people. He pulled out his sonic again and quietly unlocked the gate in front of him, then crossed the short distance to the other cage and opened the door to slip inside. He adjusted the sonic to the torch setting and illuminated the bizarre, barren faces of the people inside.

They had been motionless but some started to appear irritated, clenching and unclenching their fists. Slowly, they swarmed around the Doctor, backing him up into the chain-link fence. For a heart-stopping moment, he wondered if they were about to suck the features off of his face, but then a blinding bright spotlight illuminated the cage and the faceless people backed away.

The Doctor squinted against the harsh light but recognized the shape of one of the suited men.

“Stay where you are,” the man ordered.

~*~

Even though the Doctor had told her to stay put, Rose decided to investigate Magpie Electricals. She had her mobile on her and she knew the Doctor still carried his; if any trouble found her, she’d just give him a ring.

She hadn’t walked far down the neighborhood street when she found the shop and pushed the door open. The bell tinkled overhead and attracted the attention of the shop owner.

Mr. Magpie looked surprised to see anyone at this time of night. “I’m sorry, miss. I’m afraid you’re too late. I was just about to lock the door.”

“Yeah? Well, I’d like to buy a telly,” Rose firmly stated.

Magpie was fiddling with a device on the counter and didn’t appear to have any patience to be a salesman at this hour. “Come back tomorrow, please.”

“Tomorrow? You’ll be closed, won’t you?”

“What?”

“For the big day?” Rose recalled his earlier bewilderment when the Doctor hadn’t known about the grand celebration and now he seemed to have forgotten as well. “The Coronation?”

“Yes, yes, of course. The big day.” Magpie nodded, distractedly working on his device. “I’m sure you’ll find somewhere to watch it. Please go.”

The businessman seemed too eager to get rid of a paying customer. Rose narrowed her eyes and sauntered across the floor to lean over the counter in front of him. She had a nagging suspicion that all of the problems in the neighborhood originated in this establishment.

“Seems to me half of London’s got a television,” Rose mused and surveyed the various models in the room, “since you’re practically givin’ them away.”

“I have my reasons,” Magpie grumbled.

“And what are they?” she prodded.

Magpie lifted his head and gulped. A high-pitched feedback noise filled the room, and Rose turned her head to see one of the television sets had tuned itself into a channel filled with static. The picture cleared to reveal a woman’s face.

“Hungry!” the woman moaned and licked her fingers. “Hungry!”

“What’s that?” Rose scrunched her nose at the odd woman.

“It’s just a television. One of these modern programs.” He smiled weakly but it instantly turned to a frown. “Now, I really do think you should leave right now.”

The feedback noise increased in volume as Magpie marched across the room and opened the shop door.

Rose shook her head and held her ground. “Not until you’ve answered all my questions. How comes your televisions are so cheap?”

“It’s my patriotic duty. Seems only right that as many folk as possible get to watch the Coronation. We may be losin’ the Empire, but we can still be proud.” He feigned enthusiasm. “Twenty million people they reckon will be watchin’. Imagine that. And twenty million people can’t be wrong, eh?” He frantically swept his arm towards the open door. “So why don’t you get yourself back home and get up bright and early for the big day?”

“No, I’m not leavin’ ‘til I’ve seen everythin’.” She stubbornly refused to go. She had to get to the bottom of the mysterious red energy. And a telly that turned itself on? What was that about?

“I need to close.” Fear laced his voice as he desperately urged her to go.

“Mr. Magpie, something’s happenin’ out there.” He was acting cagey, and Rose suspected he had some answers. “Ordinary people are bein’ struck down and changed and the only new thing in the house is a television. Your television. What’s goin’ on?”

“I knew this would happen. I knew I’d be found out.” Magpie closed the door and locked it, trapping her inside.

Anxiety flooded Rose’s veins. “All right then, just you and me,” she shakily said. She stuck her hands in her jacket pockets, as casually as possible, and felt for her mobile. “You gonna come clean, then? What’s really in it for you?” Rose ran her thumb over her phone, finding the number one, and pressing it to speed dial the Doctor.

“For me? Perhaps some peace,” he declared, despair coloring his voice.

Rose heard the muffled voice of the Doctor answering her call in her pocket, and she increased the volume of her voice. “From what?”

“From her.” Magpie glared at the woman on the television.

Rose followed his gaze, perplexed. “Well, that’s just a woman on a telly. That’s just a program.”

“What a pretty little girl,” the woman spoke and Rose’s eyes widened in shock.

“Oh, my God. Are you talkin’ to me?” Rose stared into the face of the strange woman on the screen and had the haunting feeling that the woman was staring back.

“Yes, I’m talking to you, little one,” she said condescendingly. “Unseasonably chilly this time of year, don’t you think?”

“What are you?” If she had to hazard a guess, Rose would say this telly was housing an alien consciousness.

“I’m The Wire. And I’m hungry!”

The same creepy, red energy she had seen at the Connolly’s shot out of the screen and latched onto her face. Rose limb’s immediately locked, and she felt a slithery presence force itself into her mind, similar to the feeling when Cassandra had overtaken her body. Except, this time, Rose didn’t stay trapped in her mind. She tried to ask Magpie to help her, but it was hopeless.

The world dissolved around her and she was transported to a dark place, devoid of all light and life. There was no up, no down, and no escape.

Rose’s mouth opened and closed in a silent scream. “Doctor!”

~*~

The same man that had knocked the Doctor out earlier had dragged him out of the cage and into a dingy office. He flicked on a lamp and aimed it directly in the Doctor’s eyes. A balding man leaned over the desk with a menacing scowl.

“Start from the beginnin’. Tell me everything you know,” he demanded.

“Technically, the universe has no beginnin’,” the Doctor retorted. “You see, time isn’t a straight line. It’s more of a ball—”

“Don’t get clever with me!” the man cut him off with an angry point of his finger. “You were there on Florizel Street and now you’re breakin’ into this establishment. Oh, you’re connected with this. Make no mistake.”

The Doctor suddenly realized the police weren’t the enemy; they were investigating the same thing he was. “Well, Detective Inspector Bishop—”

“How do you know my name?!”

“It’s written on the inside of your collar.” The Detective glared at him as he continued, “You’re not doin’ a whole lot of inspectin’, Inspector.”

“I’m doin’ everythin’ in my power!” D.I. Bishop argued.

The Doctor laughed sarcastically. “Grabbin’ people? Hidin’ them? You’re not doin’ anythin’ other than makin’ sure no one sees the problem.” He leaned back in his chair. “Lemme guess. Coronation Day, the eyes of the world are on London Town. Best sweep any problems under the rug, am I right?”

The D.I. fidgeted and sighed. “The nation—”

A ringing in the Doctor’s pocket interrupted the conversation.

“S’cuse me.” the Doctor held up a finger and pulled out his mobile. “Hullo!” He grinned brightly at the annoyed D.I.

“What in the blazes is that thing?!” the D.I. exclaimed, confused by the mobile.

But the Doctor wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. He was listening to the frightened voice of Rose on the other line. “Rose?” he frantically called. “Rose, what’s goin’ on?”

He heard muffled voices, but then a loud, high-pitched feedback noise blared through the speaker and the call ended.

The Doctor sprang to his feet, ignoring the shouts of protest from the D.I., and fled the building. The men hopped into their vehicle to chase after him as the Doctor’s bike roared to life, and he whipped around the corner towards the Connolly’s where he had left Rose.

Only a few blocks from his destination, the Doctor forcefully applied the brake and skidded to a stop. His hearts seized and he cut the engine, leaping off his seat while the bike clattered to the ground.

Up ahead, under the murky beam of a streetlight, was Rose. She was wandering around like a zombie in a tiny circle, occasionally tripping in her heels.

“Rose!” The Doctor sprinted the short distance and froze in horror at the sight of her.

Her face, her gorgeous, precious face was wiped clean: the caramel eyes that took in the wonders of the universe, the adorable nose that scrunched up slightly when she was deep in thought, and the soft lips that formed her dazzling smile — all gone.

“Rose?” His voice came out strangled, and he sucked in a breath of anguish.

He had left her. And she had suffered as a result.

With trembling fingers, the Doctor gently cupped her vacant face; her skin was cold and clammy. He’d never been in Rose’s mind before, but he had to know if she was still in there. Hoping she’d forgive him, he moved his fingers to her temple and tentatively brushed the surface of her mind.

It was a terrifyingly blank void. There was not one glimmer of consciousness left, not one spark of the Rose he loved so dearly. He’d only just gotten her back, and now she was gone.

The universe never stopped torturing him.

“No, no, no,” he chanted in misery.

The police car screeched to a halt next to him, and the D.I. climbed out. “Someone left her in the street? That's unusual, that's the first one out in the open. Heaven help us if somethin’ happens in public tomorrow for the big day. We'll have Torchwood on our back, make no mistake.”

All the Doctor heard was “left in the street,” and he dropped his hands from Rose’s face to ball them into tight fists at his side. “Someone left Rose in the street.”

“Do you know her?” the D.I. asked, joining him under the streetlamp.

“She’s… she’s my Rose,” he whispered to himself.

“Well, we need to move her. Crabtree, bring the blanket!” The D.I. waved over one of his men.

“You’ll not touch her!” the Doctor growled, cradling and protecting Rose’s body in his arms.

“You can’t order me around!” The D.I. snatched the blanket from Crabtree, but the murderous look on the Doctor’s face kept him at bay.

“Someone or somethin’ took her face and chucked her on the street like rubbish. And that makes things around here very, very simple,” he spoke slowly, but the danger in his voice was palpable. “D’ya know why?”

“Why?”

The Doctor’s rage hit a boiling point. “‘Cause there’s no power on this Earth that can stop me.”

Chapter Text

Previously...

“You’ll not touch her!” the Doctor growled, cradling and protecting Rose’s body in his arms.

“You can’t order me around!” The D.I. snatched the blanket from Crabtree, but the murderous look on the Doctor’s face kept him at bay.

“Someone or something took her face and chucked her on the street like rubbish. And that makes things around here very, very simple,” he spoke slowly, but the danger in his voice was palpable. “D’ya know why?”

“Why?”

The Doctor’s rage hit a boiling point. “‘Cause there’s no power on this Earth that can stop me.”

~*~

After he had calmed down enough to talk to the police, the Doctor had ordered them to take him and Rose back to the warehouse. Unfortunately, he needed to get Rose into the cage with the other faceless people. It broke his hearts to have to do it, but he couldn’t risk her wandering around on the streets alone and vulnerable.

With a heavy swallow, the Doctor gently placed a kiss on Rose’s clammy forehead and then coaxed her body through the door of the cage. She moved in a small circle until her disturbingly vacant face was looking right at him.

“I’m sorry,” he spoke gently, hoping she could at least hear him. “I promise I’ll fix this. I’ll bring you back to me.”

After sonicing the lock, the Doctor turned around and took a few moments to collect himself. He was no use to Rose if he was too emotional to think logically. Everything would be fine, like always. He’d save the day, she’d be fine, and they’d sail across the stars once more.

But what if he couldn’t find a solution? What if she was doomed to be a soulless body forever?

He banished his fears from his mind with a forceful shake of the head and marched to the D.I.’s office. He flung the door open, bouncing it forcefully against the sheetrock. Every head in the office turned as the resounding crash interrupted their ineffective inspecting.

The Doctor locked eyes with Detective Inspector Bishop. “Tell me everything you know.”

~*~

By the time the D.I. had filled the Doctor in on every detail of the case, it was a new day — Coronation day. The only useful information he had gleaned was the problem appeared to have started on Florizel Street: the same road where the Connolly’s resided.

He exited the building with the D.I. in tow, squinting in the sunlight. “So, Detective Inspector, ready to do some actual detective inspectin’?”

“Absolutely.” D.I. Bishop nodded in determination and pulled on his fedora. “The big day dawns.”

“That it does,” the Doctor agreed. “I think it’s time to visit the Connolly’s again. Mr. Connolly must miss me.”

They walked swiftly to the house and rang the doorbell. The Doctor didn’t bother to pretend to be nice this time around. The time for nice was over.

Tommy opened the door and the Doctor fixed him with an imploring stare. “Tommy, talk to me. I need to know exactly what happened inside your house.”

The sounds of chatter floated from the living room, briefly distracting Tommy. He glanced over his shoulder before stepping outside and pulling the door closed. But, moments later, Mr. Connolly yanked it open with a stormy expression and became even angrier when he spotted the Doctor on his doorstep.

Mr. Connolly glared at Tommy. “What in the blazes do you think you’re doin’?”

“I wanna help, Dad.” Tommy had had enough of his bullying father and decided to stand his ground.

The Doctor tried hard to reign in his temper. “Mr. Connolly—”

“Shut your face, you!” Mr. Connolly snarled at the Doctor. “Whoever you are, we can handle this ourselves!” The man had lost any shred of patience he’d had and directed his rage at his son. “Listen, you little twerp. You’re hardly out of the bloomin’ cradle, so I don’t expect you to understand. But I’ve got a position to maintain. People ‘round here respect me! It matters what people think.”

Before the Doctor could chastise Mr. Connolly, a look of incredulous awareness crossed Tommy’s features. “Is that why you did it, Dad?” he accused.

“What do you mean? Did what?”

For the first time since the Doctor had met him, Tommy was furious. “You ratted on Gran! How else would the police know where to look? Unless some coward told them!”

“How dare you?!” Mr. Connolly bellowed, spit flying from his mouth as he invaded his son’s space. “You think I fought a war just so a mouthy little scum like you could call me a coward?!”

The Doctor fought down the urge to intervene as the man inched closer into the boy’s face, but he decided to allow Tommy to fight his own battle.

“You don’t get it, do you?” Tommy firmly stated. “You fought against fascism, remember? People tellin’ you how to live. Who you could be friends with. Who you could fall in love with. Who could live and who could die.” He shook his head sadly. “Don’t you get it? You were fightin’ so that little twerps like me could do what we want, say what we want. Now you’ve become just like them. You’ve been informin’ on everyone, haven’t you? Even Gran. All to protect your precious reputation!”

“Eddie, is that true?” Rita emerged from the shadow of the hallway. No one had noticed she’d been standing there the whole time.

“I did it for us, Rita.” Mr. Connolly’s face twisted in disgust. “She was filthy! A filthy disgustin’ thing!”

“She’s my mother.” Abhorrence filled Rita’s eyes as she stared at her husband. “All the others you informed on, all the people on our street, our friends.”

“I had to,” Mr. Connolly stubbornly insisted, glancing at the many faces around him. “I did the right thing.”

“The right thing for us or for you, Eddie?” Mrs. Connolly frowned at her husband and then turned to her son. “You go, Tommy. Go with the Doctor and do some good. Get away from this house. It’s poison. We’ve had a ruddy monster under our roof all right, but it weren’t my mother!”

With a final glare of revulsion, Rita slammed the door in the astonished face of Mr. Connolly.

“Rita!” Eddie shouted, jiggling the locked doorknob in vain.

“You comin’ with me, Tommy?” the Doctor asked.

The boy glanced from his flustered dad to the Doctor. For the first time, Mr. Connolly appeared apologetic, but Tommy ignored his contrite face and turned on his heel to follow the Doctor and the D.I. down the street.

“Tommy, tell me all about the night your gran changed,” the Doctor urged as they walked down the street.

“She was just watchin’ telly,” Tommy said.

“Telly?” The numerous TV aerials on the rooftops caught the Doctor’s eye, and he muttered a curse. “Rose said it straight off. She knew it wasn’t right. Should have looked into it from the start.” He quickened his pace, irked that he hadn’t investigated her discovery earlier in the day. “Why are there so many tellies? It’s not right.”

Tommy pointed up the street. “Bloke up the road, Mr. Magpie, he’s sellin’ them cheap.”

“Is he, now?” the D.I. asked, curious.

The Doctor took off running, eager to question Mr. Magpie and his practically free televisions. Tommy and the D.I. followed at a slower pace. When they arrived at the front of Magpie’s shop, the Doctor instantly recognized the building’s facade; this was the spot where he had discovered Rose last night.

With a growl of frustration, the Doctor broke the glass of the front door to unlock it, too impatient to whip out his sonic.

“Here now! You can’t do that!” the D.I. yelled.

The Doctor ignored him, jerking the door open and storming inside. He headed straight for the counter and hammered repeatedly on the little bell.

“Mr. Magpie!” he shouted. “Some lovely customers here to have a chat!” He swept the irritating bell off the counter in a fit of pique, breathing heavily as his rage teetered on the edge.

Tommy eyed the Doctor warily. “Maybe he’s out?”

“I doubt it.” The Doctor rounded the counter and yanked opened the drawers, rifling through the contents for any clue to solve this puzzle. Hidden underneath a bunch of useless rubbish was a portable television.

“What have we got here?” He picked it up and flipped it around in his hands, inspecting the craftsmanship.

“Looks like iron,” the Doctor mused and held it up for a sniff. “Definitely iron. And some Bakelite. This was obviously put together by human hands but,” he reached into his pocket for his sonic and waved it over the device, “this design is alien. Simple, but alien.”

D.I. Bishop and Tommy stared at the device in awe.

“That’s incredible!” the D.I. exclaimed, leaning over the counter to inspect it further. “It’s like a television but portable. A portable television!”

The Doctor detected an odd signal with the sonic and scanned the room to find the source. “There’s somethin’ else in here,” he muttered.

Suddenly, all of the televisions tuned themselves to a different channel. Faces appeared on every screen — the faces of those that had been taken. All of their mouths were moving in silent pleas and shouts of confusion.

“Gran?” Tommy moved towards one of the sets when he spotted his missing grandmother.

The Doctor scanned every screen in the room until he found the only face he needed to see right now. And there she was, at the very bottom, silently calling his name over and over.

“Rose,” the Doctor breathed and knelt down by her image. The terror in her eyes cut him to the core. “I’m comin’ for you, sweetheart. Just hold on a bit longer.”

“What do you think you’re doin’?” shouted a voice from behind.

The Doctor peeled his eyes away from Rose and glared at Magpie. He jumped to his feet and strode fiercely across the room.

“I want Rose restored!” he bellowed and came within inches of Magpie’s face, forcing the man against the wall. “I think this is all beyond a little backstreet electrician, so tell me, who are you workin’ for?”

“Yoo-hoo!” called a feminine voice. “I think that must be me. Oh, this one’s smart as paint.”

The Doctor moved back over to the rows of televisions and stared at the prim and proper woman on the set. He recognized her voice from Rose’s phone call.

“Is she talkin’ to us?” the D.I. asked, flabbergasted.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. I’m afraid you’ve brought this on yourselves,” Magpie said. “May I introduce you to my new friend.”

“Jolly nice to meet you,” the woman greeted.

D.I. Bishop knew the woman from another program. “Oh, my God, it’s her! That woman off the telly!”

“No, its just usin’ her image,” the Doctor corrected. He had recognized the species as soon as he laid eyes on the sentient television: a creature made of electricity far from home.

“What?” Tommy darted his eyes all over the screen in bewilderment. “What are you?”

The woman grinned like a snake. “I’m The Wire. And I will gobble you up, pretty boy. Every last morsel!” The image morphed from black and white to color. “And when I have feasted, I shall regain the corporeal body which my fellow kind denied me.”

D.I. Bishop’s eyebrows jumped up his forehead. “Good Lord! Color television!”

“So, your own people tried to stop you?” the Doctor asked with a steely glare.

The Wire shifted her eyes over to him. “They executed me, but I escaped in this form and fled across the stars.”

“And now you’re trapped in a telly.”

Her smile dropped and the color dissolved away. “Not for much longer.”

“Doctor, is this what got my gran?” Tommy asked.

“Yes. It feeds off the electrical activity of the brain, but it gorges itself like a bloody pig, takin’ people’s faces, their essence, as it stuffs itself,” the Doctor snarled. How scared must Rose have been when the world disappeared around her?

“And you let her do it, Magpie?” the D.I. accused.

“I had to!” Magpie claimed. “She allowed me my face. She’s promised to release me at the time of manifestation.”

“What does that mean?” Tommy wondered.

“The appointed time. My crowning glory,” the Wire boasted.

D.I. Bishop’s face paled. “Doctor, the Coronation!”

“It’s the first time in history that millions will be gathered ‘round the telly.” A callous smile crossed the Doctor’s face, and he locked eyes with the Wire. “But you’re not strong enough yet, are ya? Why else would you need this?” He held up the portable television and waved it, tauntingly, in the air. “Somethin’ more powerful! This will turn a big transmitter into a big receiver.”

The Wire shook her head, agitated. “What a clever thing you are. But why fret about? Why not just relax? Kick off your shoes and enjoy the Coronation. Believe me, you’ll be glued to the screen.”

Red bolts of energy discharged from the screen and latched onto their faces. The Doctor felt the alien presence crawl over his mind, but it was too weak to fully break through his mental barriers.

“Doctor!” Tommy cried.

“Hungry!” the Wire shouted. “Hungry! The Wire is hungry!”

It tried to freeze the Doctor in place like the others, but the plethora of neural connections in his brain distracted the Wire from fully immobilizing him.

“Ah, this one is tasty! I’ll have lashings of him!” the Wire cackled, giddy over the abundance of activity in his mind. “Delicious!”

The Doctor was able to slowly pull out his sonic screwdriver and twist it to the correct setting.

“Armed.” The Wire’s enthusiasm disappeared. “He’s armed and clever! Withdraw! Withdraw!”

Before the Doctor could use his sonic, the beams of energy retreated back into the screen, and the three men slumped to the ground unconscious.

~*~

When the Doctor came to, the Wire’s screen was blank and Magpie had fled with the portable television. He sat up on the floor and glanced at his two fallen companions; the Bishop’s face was gone but Tommy appeared to be fine.

“Tommy, c’mon, wake up.” The Doctor shook the boy’s foot to rouse him. “Tommy!”

He stirred and blinked blearily. “What happened?”

“Where’s Magpie?” The Doctor sprang to his feet and ran out the shop door with Tommy following in his wake.

“We don’t even know where to start lookin’. It’s too late!” Tommy cried.

“There’s always time,” the Doctor asserted. He’d hop in his Tardis and break the rules of physics if it meant rescuing Rose. “Now, what do we know?”

He crossed his arms and surveyed the area as his mind worked overtime. “The Wire’s got big plans. In order to become corporeal, it’s gonna have to harvest half the population. Which means she’ll need a great, big receiver.” He recalled the portable television had the capability to revamp a transmitter. “Where are we?”

“Muswell Hill,” Tommy answered.

“Muswell Hill. Why did it choose this place?” A large building on the horizon caught the Doctor’s eye. “Oh! Alexandra Palace! Biggest TV transmitter in North London.”

He spun around on the ball of his feet and re-entered the shop.

“What are you gonna do?” Tommy followed as the Doctor, once again, rifled through the drawers behind the counter.

“A bit of shoppin’! C’mon!” The Doctor waved the boy over and instructed him on what to look for.

They frantically dug through the various bits and bobs, forming a small pile on the counter top.

Tommy held up a bulb. “Is this what you want?”

“Fantastic!” The Doctor grinned and added it to his stash of parts. “I just need one more thing.” He loaded Tommy’s arms down with the stack of gadgets and pulled the boy out of the shop.

Tommy dashed as fast as he could with his arms weighed down and stopped outside of a blue police box. The Doctor told him to stay put as he popped through the doors, grabbed the item he was missing (which the Tardis had helpfully placed on the console), and popped back outside.

“Got it! Let’s go!”

They sprinted through the streets, Tommy holding all of the parts as the Doctor assembled his device on the move. The Coronation was beginning and he needed to act quickly. A conniving, bitter electrical creature was not going to take Rose away from him. By the time they reached Alexandra palace, the machine was nearly finished.

“There!” Tommy shouted and pointed towards the towering transmitter.

Magpie was precariously climbing and had almost reached the top.

“C’mon!” the Doctor instructed, running faster.

A guard tried to stop them. “Wait, wait, wait! Where do you think—” The Doctor waved the psychic paper in the man’s face. “Oh! I’m very sorry, sir. Shouldn’t you be at the Coronation?”

“They’re savin’ me a seat!” the Doctor yelled as he rushed past.

“Who’d he think you were?” Tommy asked, panting heavily as they continued their sprint.

The Doctor glanced at the paper. “Prince Axel of Denmark, apparently.”

They finally made it to the control room, and he quickly hooked up his device to a bank of monitors and switches.

“Keep this turned on,” he instructed Tommy as he grabbed a reel of copper wire. “Don’t let anyone stop you, you got that? It all depends on you.”

Tommy gulped and nodded. The Doctor flashed him a reassuring grin as he fled the room trailing wire behind him. He sprinted past the same confused guard and wound up the staircase towards the transmitter.

“You’ll get yourself killed up there! Your Majesty!” the guard shouted, but the Doctor didn’t dare slow down.

Being faster and stronger, the Doctor was able to rapidly scale the transmitter and gain on Magpie, who had just reached the top.

“Feed me!” the Wire screamed.

Magpie quickly connected the portable television to the main plug. A spiderweb of red, crackling electricity shot out from the transmitter and crawled through the air. It linked to every TV aerial on every roof, and the Wire began its feast.

“It’s too late!” Magpie sobbed as he spotted the Doctor. “It’s too late for all of us!”

“I shall consume you, Doctor!” The Wire laughed in triumph.

It zapped him with a fierce bolt of electricity, nearly throwing him off the tower, but the Doctor held on. “I won’t let you do this, Magpie!”

“Help me, Doctor! It burns! It took my face, my soul!” Magpie clutched the top rung for dear life.

“You cannot stop The Wire. Soon, I shall become manifest.” It tried to blast the Doctor off again, but he was no mere human.

“No more. No more of this. You promised me peace,” Magpie beseeched the Wire.

“Then peace you shall have,” the Wire soothed.

Before the Doctor could reach out to help him, Magpie was fried with electricity and disintegrated into dust. The Wire laughed maniacally and zapped the Doctor with more beams as he reached out to unplug the portable telly.

“I think Magpie pushed you over your limit, you witch.” He pulled the box off its perch and was immediately shocked with a forceful current, but it had no effect on him. “That’s why I always wear rubber soles. I like to stay grounded!”

He yanked a bit of the copper wire from his side and plugged it into the device.

Nothing happened.

“Oh, dear. Has our little plan gone horribly wrong, Doctor?” the Wire taunted.

Something must have happened down in the control room with Tommy. The Doctor hoped the boy fixed the problem soon because he didn’t have time to climb down and do it himself. The Wire was seconds away from sucking the life out of every soul in England, taking Rose away from him forever.

Finally, the copper connection worked, and the red beams of electricity were leached back into the transmitter.

“No!” the Wire shouted.

“Your closeup is over,” the Doctor growled.

The Wire’s terrified shrieks died and the screen went blank. With a breath of relief, the Doctor descended the tower. By the time he re-entered the control room, Tommy was watching the Coronation.

“Did I miss anythin’?” the Doctor asked.

The boy was visibly relieved to see him. “Doctor! What happened?”

“I defeated an electrical entity with electricity and trapped it in this device.” He pushed a button on the homemade machine and ejected a fresh tape. “Not bad for a day’s work. Think I just invented the home video thirty years too early.”

“Are all the people back to normal now?” Tommy hoped.

“I believe they are. Shall we?”

They ran in giddy anticipation all the way back to Florizel Street. Everyone that had been hidden away in the dark cage was now out in the open, smiling and laughing, ecstatic to be restored. Tommy spotted his gran and rushed to greet her with a hug.

There was only one face the Doctor wanted to see, one face he had nearly lost forever. He frantically scanned the group with increasing urgency until he spotted a familiar blonde head. As if she sensed his gaze, Rose turned around at the exact same moment he found her.

She locked eyes with him through the crowd and smiled. Not just any smile — the one he had been waiting weeks to see, the one he had feared he would never see again. All the air left the Doctor’s lungs as he gazed upon her boundless elation and soaked in the jubilant, tongue-touched grin he lived and breathed for. He internally cursed himself for being the cause of its absence in the past.

No more wasted chances. No more holding back.

With a ridiculous, dopey grin of his own, the Doctor swiftly strode towards her like a man who had spotted the first glimmer of light in a world of shadow. She met him halfway and looped her arms around his neck as his mouth crashed down on hers. It had been far too long since he had last sampled her lips and a zing of heavenly relief flooded through his veins. He cupped the back of her head with one hand and pulled her into him with the other, fitting her bottom lip between his and sucking lightly. Rose responded to his fervor with a moan and arched into him as she ran her fingers along his scalp. A groan escaped his lungs, and he felt her smug smile as he pressed into her further, nearly bending her in half at the waist.

With a satisfying pop, Rose broke away to gasp in a breath and he watched in shameless fascination as her chest heaved up and down.

Her eyes darted over his shoulder. “We’re scandalizin’ the neighbors,” she whispered and bit her lip.

“Good.” He rescued her lip from her teeth and continued his amorous assault, contemplating the logistics of being sealed to her mouth for the rest of time.

Eventually, Rose had to break for air again. “As much as I’d like to continue this, the neighbors are throwin’ a party in honor of the Coronation. Fancy a short appearance?”

The Doctor playfully rolled his eyes and threaded their fingers together. “I’m fully domesticated, aren’t I?”

“I’m afraid so.” Her tongue broke through her smile again, and he couldn’t resist one last smooch before he strolled with her to the celebration.

The Doctor told Rose all about the Wire as they passed through a mass of party-goers. There were numerous tables set up, all sorts of edibles, and a dizzying array of decorations right in the middle of the street. The Doctor eyed some of the biscuits, wondering if it would be rude to pocket a few for later.

“Will it… that thing… is it trapped for good on the video?” Rose asked warily.

“Well, to be on the safe side, I’ll use trans-temporal extirpation methods to neutralize the residual electrical pattern.” He decided to go for it and stuffed an iced biscuit in his jacket while no one was looking.

“In other words, you’ll tape over it?”

The Doctor nodded with a manic grin. “Yeah.”

“Just give it to me. I’m good at that.” She chuckled and hugged his arm.

A thought occurred to him, and he pulled her to a stop. “How’d you know that?”

“Know what?”

“That I just made up a pretentious way to say ‘tape over.’” He recalled her computer savvy work in the parallel world. “And Jake said you knew how to hack Lumic’s computers.”

She shrugged. “I’ve been doin’ a lot of readin’ lately since you…” Her gaze dropped to the pavement. “Ya know, since I’ve had a lot of free time.”

Regret flooded through him. He had missed a lot over the past few weeks while she had hidden from him on the Tardis. The Doctor frowned and tilted her chin up. “I’m sorry.”

“S’alright. You’re here now.” She grinned and stood on her toes to plant a firm kiss on his lips.

He smiled in delight and slung his arm around her shoulders, pulling her tightly to his side. They walked quietly for a few paces until the Doctor spotted Tommy up ahead.

“Tommy! Good man. Couldn’t have done it without ya,” the Doctor said gratefully. “Tell ya what, why don’t you take the Black Shadow? Just don’t let anyone touch the pipes.”

Tommy smiled briefly, distracted by something in the distance. “Good riddance,” he muttered.

Rose and the Doctor followed his line of sight. Mr. Connolly popped out of the house with a sour countenance and a suitcase. Tommy looked both pleased and upset to see his father retreating.

“Tommy, go after him.” Rose nudged his shoulder.

“What for?” Tommy asked bitterly.

“He’s your dad.”

“He’s an idiot!”

“‘Course he is. Like I said, he’s your dad.” Rose would give anything for a second or third chance to get to know her father, and she didn’t want Tommy to make this mistake. “But you’re clever, clever enough to save the world so don’t stop there.” She nudged him again with a smile. “Go on.”

Tommy returned her grin and ran over to his father, taking the suitcase from his hand and walking alongside him. Rose watched the scene with a satisfied grin, but the Doctor was fixated on her, marvelling at the endless compassion and forgiveness that ran through her veins.

She caught him staring at her and a blush formed on her cheeks. “We don’t have to stay, if you don’t want.”

The exhaustion in her voice was evident, and he mentally kicked himself for not insisting she go straight to the Tardis. She had been awake since they had crash landed on the parallel world. He retook her hand and guided her down the street towards their home. Rose settled on the jumpseat as soon as they entered the console room.

“So, I don’t know if I said,” the Doctor flicked the lever to send them into the vortex, “but you were brilliant back there. Spotted those TV aerials straight away.”

He spun around with a daft grin and she briefly returned it, but then her face crumpled under the weight of tears. Alarmed, the Doctor joined her on the seat and pulled her into his arms.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

“It was just a void… an endless void of nothin’,” Her shoulders shook and she clung to the lapels of his jacket. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

“I’m right here.” He swallowed the lump in his throat, having had the same fear throughout the day, and gently shushed her. “I’m not goin’ anywhere. You’re safe now.”

Rose softly sobbed as she forced the remains of her terror from her mind. It had been a horrible place to be trapped, a frigid nightmare of darkness. Warmth slowly replaced her invisible chills as the Doctor held her tightly, and her tears subsided.

A huge yawn cracked her jaw, and the Doctor chuckled. “I think it’s bedtime for humans.”

“Yeah, s’pose you’re right. Would you…” she cleared her throat nervously, “could you come to bed with me? Just to sleep?”

He kissed her temple with a smile. “Of course.”

He gently pulled her off the jumpseat and they walked hand-in-hand through the corridors until they arrived at her bedroom.

“I’m just gonna get changed first, that alright?” he asked.

Rose nodded. “Yeah. I’m gonna hop in the shower real quick.”

The Doctor departed for his room with a grin, and Rose entered hers with a quick twist of the knob. She rapidly straightened the mass of books strewn about the floor and flung them under the bed, not wanting him to see how messy she was. He probably knew already, but the butterflies in her stomach were overriding her critical thinking abilities. She had never spent the night with him before.

Eager to wash the clammy feeling off her skin, she dashed into the en-suite and turned on the shower. A weary sigh left her lips as she stripped out of her pink dress, hung it on the door, and stepped under the warm spray. The hot water felt heavenly against her skin. She hadn’t realized how tired she actually was until they had re-entered the Tardis. It had been forty-eight hours since she had woken up with the memories of the Game Station; she was astonished she hadn’t collapsed yet.

When she had finished washing and dressed in a simple, fleece jim-jam set, Rose stepped out into her room to discover the Doctor already in her bed. He was wearing a familiar white t-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms, an outfit John had used to wear while they snuggled and watched telly. It was the first time she had seen the Doctor in any of his old things. Even more startling was the fact that he was currently sketching in his dream journal.

The sound of the bathroom door opening caught the Doctor’s attention, and he lifted his head with a sheepish smile. “Sorry. Hope you don’t mind that I made myself comfortable.”

Rose bit her lip and climbed over him, settling under the covers. “Decide to start drawin’ again?”

“Never stopped.” He finished the final strokes and placed the journal in her lap.

The pink poodle skirt and beehive hairdo stared back at her from the page. He had captured her in full fifties gear from earlier in the day before it had all gone pear-shaped. She flipped through a few of the other pages and saw herself lying in the apple grass on New Earth, laughing in Scotland, and dancing at the Tyler Mansion.

Rose closed the journal and met his eye, attempting not to break down into a puddle of tears over the sentiment etched in the pages. “I still think you make me look too pretty.”

“You are far more beautiful than I could ever manage with a pencil,” he confessed and plucked the notebook from her fingers to drop it on the nightstand. “Now then, like I said earlier, bedtime for humans.”

The Doctor slid under the covers and opened his arm tentatively, unsure if she wanted to cuddle or not. But his worries were nullified when she immediately settled against his side and rested her head on his chest.

For the first time in weeks, or what felt like years, everything felt right in Rose’s world as she nestled into his embrace. But seeing the journal had filled her with memories and questions. She wondered if the Doctor would answer without evading her since he seemed to be more open now than he had ever been in the past.

Rose traced idle circles in the fabric his shirt. “What made you change your mind… about us?”

The Doctor drew in a sharp breath. “France.”

“France?” Her nose crinkled at the memory of the unwanted kiss with the Madame.

His arm tightened around her shoulder, his voice full of regret as he spoke softly, “I should have never let you go to begin with, and I’ll never forgive myself for hurtin’ you. But… after I crashed through that window and you weren’t with me…” He paused to swallow and run his fingers through her hair. “After thirty minutes stuck there I started havin’ a panic attack. I was beyond terrified that I would get back to you too late… and you’d be gone.”

Rose propped her chin on his chest to look at him. “It was only five minutes for me. How long were you there?”

“Five and a half miserable hours,” he grumbled.

She squeezed his middle and frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“You have absolutely no need to be sorry. I’m the one that was an idiot.”

“A bit, yeah.” She smiled softly. “But you’re my idiot.”

He laughed and held a palm against the side of her face, trailing his thumb along her cheekbone. “And you’re my shinin’ star. I can’t navigate the universe without you.”

Rose felt her eyes burn with tears of overwhelming love and she buried her nose in his shoulder, not knowing what to say in return. He placed a kiss on her hair and she angled her head up, silently asking for a goodnight smooch. He smiled in the dark and pressed his mouth softly against hers.

But one kiss suddenly wasn’t enough, and Rose chased his lips as he pulled away, seeking more affection. He eagerly obliged and initiated a glorious pattern of tender sucks and nibbles until Rose licked his bottom lip, needing more. A slightly shaky breath wafted across her cheek before the Doctor locked her in an intense kiss that had her toes curling within seconds.

The kiss that she had initially sought out in comfort rapidly morphed into a fiery and heated dance. Rose wound one arm around his shoulder and nudged him until he took the hint and rolled on top of her. She scratched her nails through his hair and he grabbed her hip with a whimper, trying in vain to stop the slow undulations she had started.

As sublime as his body felt on top of her, something was missing. Rose internally screamed in frustration, having no clue what she was craving other than their lust-filled snog. It wasn’t sex, that much she knew, but a part of her still felt hollow. She cradled the sides of his head in her hands, desperately deepening the kiss even further as she sought out the missing sensation. Without conscious thought, her thumbs brushed across his temples and a silver light flared beneath her eyelids.

The Doctor pulled back with a strangled gasp. “You’re telepathic!”

“What?” Rose panted.

“You just tried to touch my mind!”

Her brow furrowed. “I did?”

“Yes!” His eyes darted around her face in amazement as he caught his breath. “I had no idea. Very few humans have that ability. I didn’t know you were one of them.”

“I didn’t know either. Is that a bad thing?”

The Doctor rolled off her and sat up. “No, it’s fantastic! It’s just…” He paused and his former excitement fell.

Rose leaned up on her elbows. “What is it?”

He blew out a breath and laid back down. “It’s one of the ridiculous reasons I was tryin’ to keep myself away from you. My people were highly telepathic and a romantic relationship always involved the mind. It’s nearly impossible not to want to connect while doin’... things.”

Rose frowned. “And you didn’t want that with me?”

“No!” He rushed to correct her. “Of course I do! It’s me. I was afraid you’d hate me if you saw the things in my head. It’s not… pleasant.”

“Because of the war?” He nodded sadly and Rose cupped his cheek, remembering his confession on the dance floor. “I doubt you’d ever make such a terrible decision if there were no other option. And if you ever want to talk about it… I’m here.”

A look of gratitude washed over his face, and he tucked her into his side again. “Maybe one day.”

“I’ve never been in anyone’s mind before.” She marvelled over her newfound ability. “What’s it like?”

“With the right person, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

A few beats of silence passed before Rose asked, “Could we try it?”

He peered at her curiously. “You’d be alright with that?”

“With you? Yeah.”

The Doctor could barely contain his excitement. He had worried the telepathy would be too alien for her since she had reacted with anger after first discovering the Tardis was in her head. Instead, she looked as eager to discover the joys of mind-sharing as she was about anything else in the universe.

But Rose succumbed to another yawn, and he chuckled lightly. “Perhaps another time. You need sleep.”

She hummed and closed her eyes, burrowing further into the crook of his arm. Three words were on the tip of his tongue, but her breathing evened out in a deep sleep before he could confess them. Instead, he watched her for a while, soaking in the features of her face that had been taken away from him, until his own eyes fluttered shut.

The Doctor was used to dreams, even more accustomed to nightmares. Sometimes he was plagued by the war, other times he witnessed possible timelines. Tonight, he was trapped behind an endless white wall without Rose beside him.

Chapter Text

The Doctor jerked awake in an unfamiliar room covered in a fine sheen of sweat. He blinked rapidly, clearing the white wall that had bleached his vision. He wanted to dismiss it as a regular nightmare, but he had witnessed that scene weeks ago when his human fingers had brushed the fob watch. It wasn’t a dream; it was a possible future. He had been pressed against a never-ending barrier in extreme pain, feeling Rose’s misery on the other side as she desperately tried to claw her way to him.

But she wasn’t screaming and trapped on the other side of a wall. Rose was lying right next to him, breathing deeply and sleeping peacefully.

The Doctor wiped a hand down his face and pushed the vision into the furthest recesses of his mind. Rose was here. She wasn’t going anywhere. Over his dead body would he ever allow anything to happen to her.

Rose mumbled in her sleep and he couldn’t hold back a daft grin from spreading across his face. He was in bed with Rose — and it was fantastic! At some point in the night (or what qualified for night on the Tardis), she had rolled to lay on her side facing away from him. Her hair was covering her face and the sheets were wadded up at the end of the mattress. He peeked over her shoulder and held back a snicker when he discovered she was breathing through her mouth. And, every now and then, her nose wiggled like a bunny.

It was ridiculously adorable, and he wanted to wake up to this ridiculousness every time he needed sleep.

He sent a silent thank you to the universe that she had accepted him back into her arms, and he molded his body behind her to soak in her warmth. She let out a sigh and unconsciously pressed against him. It had only been a few hours: enough rest for him but Rose still needed more. He draped his arm around her waist, unwilling to vacate her presence, and passed the time with some recreational mental math.

After only two more hours had passed, Rose began to stir. She yawned and stretched her arms over her head, sliding her body deliciously along his.

“Good mornin’,” the Doctor greeted softly.

“Mornin’,” she mumbled groggily and squeezed the hand clutching her mid-section. “You stayed?”

He squeezed back. “Of course.”

“You haven’t changed your mind then?”

The vulnerability in her voice was palpable, and he hated himself for giving her numerous reasons to doubt him. He unthreaded his fingers from hers and swept the hair off her neck.

“Never gonna happen,” he murmured and placed several delicate kisses to the juncture of her shoulder.

Rose suppressed a shiver as he ghosted his lips along her skin. She shifted and turned to face him, ducking her head under his chin to nibble along his throat. “I could get used to wakin’ up like this.”

“Easily arranged.”

She ceased her ministrations on his neck and pulled back with a smile. “Be right back.”

With more energy than he figured she would have right after waking, Rose hopped off the bed and darted into her en-suite. After a few minutes, she reappeared with a wicked grin. She crossed the room, whipped the covers off his body, and dumped them on the floor.

“Oi!” He laughed. “Now I’m chilly.”

“Not for long.” She jumped on the mattress to straddle his waist.

Her hair curtained around his face as she leaned over to resume her feast on his neck. He gripped her thighs, wondering what he had done to deserve the goddess on top of him.

“Definitely not chilly.” The Doctor bit back a groan as she rediscovered the spot below his ear she had relentlessly tortured when he’d been human. “If this is your idea of wakin’ up, I could get used to it.”

“Easily arranged,” she repeated his words with a purr and bit his earlobe.

With a low growl, the Doctor flipped them and rolled her under his body. She giggled but was quickly silenced by his mouth as he greedily devoured her minty tongue. A cold hand insinuated itself under his shirt to grab his naked back, so he retaliated by hooking her thigh around his waist and pressing into her. Rose moaned and raised her hips to meet him, bringing her free hand up to join the other that was pressing indentations into his spine.

Neither of them had meant for a simple good-morning-snog to turn this heated, but it shouldn’t have been surprising; they had barely kept their hands to themselves while stuck on Earth, and it was easy to slip back into pleasurable habits.

“I never did explain,” Rose panted when he released her mouth in favor of traveling down the column of her throat.

“Explain what?” he mumbled as he nibbled her collarbone.

“Why I left you that night. Before we…” she paused to reach down and squeeze his bum, “ya know. When I called you ‘Doctor’.”

A wicked smile stretched across his face, and he lifted his head to pierce her with a smoldering gaze. “I liked that.”

She laughed. “I bet you did. But I left without explainin’.”

His eyes drifted to the rose charm and Tardis key laying on her chest; he remembered that night as if it had happened yesterday. Poor John had been confused and devastated but, as soon as he’d changed back, the Doctor had understood the shocked look on her face and the reason she had fled. Perhaps he could repeat the evening with better results in the future.

“No explanations needed. But, for the record,” he dipped his head back down to resume his torturous pattern of licks and nibbles on her neck, “I wouldn’t have been mad if we had.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Not in the slightest.”

Rose yanked his head back up and reclaimed his mouth, kissing him fervently. The combination of her tongue twirls and her hips tangoing against his was quickly rendering him into a lust-filled puddle of pheromones. Kissing Rose as a human had been fantastic. Kissing Rose with all of the faculties of his Time Lord senses restored was intoxicating. She smelled like sunlight and tasted like nectar — it was quickly driving him barmy. He needed to sample all of her, but a loud stomach grumble broke through their passionate interlude.

The Doctor pulled away from her mouth with a laugh. “I think someone needs food.”

“Not hungry for food,” she tried to argue but another loud protest from her midsection interrupted her plans. “Damnit.”

He chuckled and rubbed his nose along hers. “This can continue after you’re fed. You’ll need the fuel.”

“Is that a promise?” She tucked her tongue in her teeth and he dipped his head back down to capture it in a slow, spine-tingling kiss.

When Rose was out of breath again, the Doctor released her with one last, light press to her lips. “That’s a promise.”

She whined as he jumped off the bed and pulled her up to sit. “I never did take you for those chips after our date was so rudely interrupted by an electrical creature.”

Her face brightened. “Chips for breakfast? You spoil me.”

“That’s the plan, sweetheart.” He pecked the tip of her nose. “Kartul III: best chips in the universe. Meet me in the console room in half an hour?”

Rose nodded and headed back to her en-suite with a silly smile permanently stretching her mouth. The Doctor sent her a wink before he disappeared to get ready in his own room.

Impatient to set foot on a new planet and feed her hungry belly, Rose dressed in record time. It had been a while since she had gorged on chips. In fact, the last time she’d had worth eating was when they had been stuck on Earth hiding from the Family.

The grin that had been plastered on her face fell as her thoughts turned to Jack. He had loved the chip shop next to the garage as much as she had. And now, Rose had no idea where he was or if he was mad about what she had done to him.

She pulled out her mobile and dialed his number, but the line indicated it was no longer in service. With a deep frown, Rose walked to the console room.

“Doctor?” she called out.

His head popped up on the other side of the central console. “Ready?”

“Not quite.” She bit her lip and pocketed her mobile. “I was wonderin’, is there a way to visit Jack?”

“I honestly hadn’t looked into it.” He pursed his lips and stood. “He’s a fact in the universe now, and it makes me and the Tardis queasy.”

“Don’t you miss him?”

“I do,” he admitted, feeling a familiar pang of guilt for the way he had abandoned the Captain.

“I tried callin’ him but his number doesn’t work anymore. Can the Tardis find him?” Rose asked hopefully.

“Maybe. Could try and trace his vortex manipulator.” The Doctor switched on the scanner and typed in a few commands but frowned when his search produced no results. “Hmm, that’s odd. Tell ya what, I’ll see what I can do in our spare time. Maybe even find a way to lessen the effects of his impossible timeline.”

“Like a Jack Patch?”

The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. “Exactly. But, for now, shall we fill your stomach with starch?”

“Absolutely.” Rose hopped on the jumpseat as he flicked the dematerialization lever with a flourish.

The Tardis shuddered slightly, and Rose felt her distressed hum; it almost sounded like a moan of pain. The Doctor clutched the side of his head, clearly feeling the same thing she had.

“That’s odd. She doesn’t want to land,” he mumbled and worked the controls to help the ship. “It’s almost like she’s sick.”

A frail hum echoed in Rose’s mind before the Tardis reluctantly touched down on the planet’s surface. Concerned, Rose crossed the console room and poked her head out of the door.

“Why’d you land us in a cupboard?” she called over her shoulder.

The Doctor joined her and frowned when he surveyed the tight space. “This isn’t Kartul III. No wonder she didn’t want to land.”

Rose took in the stacks of metal boxes and the grated floor. “Where are we then?”

“No idea.”

“Should we go back?”

They looked at each other and burst into giddy laughter. An incorrect landing had never stopped them before. Why would it now?

“Let’s take a quick peek and see where we are. Then I’ll get you those chips.” He took her hand and locked the Tardis behind them.

A vague, somber feeling washed over him, but he ignored it in favor of exploring for a few moments with his favorite human. The Doctor turned a large, metal wheel on the door of their cupboard.

“Open door fifteen,” chimed a computerized voice as it swung open.

They walked out into a corridor, similar in style to the spaceship full of Madame de Pompadour, but there was an odd noise echoing around them, lots of rusty pipes, and steam obscuring the air.

“Looks like a base,” the Doctor mused. “Easy to make, these. There’s plenty of kits available in your future for buildin’ bases in space, the sea, even on the moon.”

“Glad we’re indoors. Sounds like a storm out there.” Rose eyed the ceiling warily. The rushing noise on the other side of the hull reminded her of a documentary she had once seen on hurricanes.

“Would you care to spin this wheel, Dame Rose?” the Doctor gestured gallantly toward the next metal door labeled with a giant “16.”

“Why, thank you, Sir Doctor.” Rose turned the wheel and passed through to a tighter corridor where they had to walk single file.

With a sneaking suspicion, she glanced over her shoulder and caught the Doctor leering at her bum. Rose whirled around and placed her hands on her hips. “Are you oglin’ me?” she playfully chastised.

“Tryin’ to.” He smirked and grabbed her hips to spin her back around.

“Bein’ human gave you some bad habits.” Rose laughed and continued her trek down the hall.

“You think I wasn’t bad before that?”

“Were you?” She arrived at another door and turned the wheel.

“My ‘bad habits’ started the moment you stepped onto my ship.” He leaned over her shoulder to smack a kiss to her cheek.

“Is that so?” Rose grinned cheekily and stepped out into a large, round room.

The Doctor’s eyes lit in recognition as he scanned the area. “Oh, this is a sanctuary base!” The computerized voice chimed overhead again as he shut the door. “These are used for deep-space exploration.”

He glanced out a porthole window and then pointed to the floor. “Do you hear that?” Rose listened closely to the humming he was referring to. “Sounds like someone’s drillin’.”

Rose’s eye caught odd writing on the wall behind him. “Welcome to hell,” she read.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far. It’s a bit dingy in here, but it’s not all bad.”

She laughed and shook her head. “No, over there.”

The Doctor followed her finger to the black writing on the other side of the room. Indeed, it said “Welcome to hell,” but there was also a bizarre, vertical alien language painted underneath. His brows furrowed in confusion, and he moved closer to inspect it.

“That… that should be translated. Why won’t it translate?” He’d never seen it before, and it was disconcerting that the Tardis wasn’t deciphering the scribbles for them.

“But I thought the Tardis translated everythin’? Writin’ as well.” Rose peered at the wall, confused. “I should see English.”

“Yes… you should. The only explanation is that this writin’ is old.” His forehead crinkled further and he frowned. “Impossibly old!”

“And that means… what?”

The faint, ominous feeling from earlier grew and settled in the Doctor’s stomach. He stared at Rose while she trailed her fingers curiously over the symbols. With the horror of the Wire and the terrifying nightmare wall fresh in his mind, there was no way he was risking an adventure in this “hell”.

“That means… we need to leave.” He stood and pulled Rose up with him. “We’ve gone beyond the reach of the Tardis’ knowledge. Not good. Not at all. C’mon.”

The Doctor strode hastily to the nearest door, not realizing it was the wrong one, and quickly opened it. He jumped and Rose yelped in surprise when the door swung open to reveal a mass of pale, bald aliens with tentacles hanging from their faces. Each one was holding an odd, round ball connected by a cable to their mouth.

“Sorry, hello,” the Doctor said, grinning nervously. “Nice base. We were just leavin’.”

The orbs of the aliens glowed as they said, “We must feed.”

His eyebrows flew up. “What?”

“We must feed,” they repeated.

Rose tugged hastily on his sleeve. “Yeah, I think they mean us!”

The strange aliens pushed into the room in a simultaneous march. The Doctor raised a protective arm in front of Rose as they walked backward. He spun her around towards another door, but the aliens were coming out of it as well. All of the doors opened, and the tentacled creatures swarmed in and forced them into a corner.

“We must feed. We must feed,” they loudly chorused.

Rose picked up a chair to use as a weapon and the Doctor brandished his screwdriver. He wasn’t sure how he was going to use it yet, but it helped to look intimidating.

“We must feed.” The alien in front of them stopped chanting with the others and tapped his orb. “You, if you are hungry.”

The Doctor blinked at the sudden change. “Sorry?”

“We apologize,” the alien said cordially. “Electromagnetics have interfered with speech systems. Would you like some refreshment?”

Rose placed her stool down beside her. “Refreshment?”

The computerized voice spoke overhead, “Open door eighteen.”

An older man and two armed soldiers burst through the open door. They took one look at the Doctor and Rose and froze in shock.

“What the hell?” exclaimed the older man. “How did—?” He stopped mid-sentence and marched across the room to peer curiously in the Doctor’s face.

Wide-eyed, he raised his arm to speak into a wrist-comm, “Captain, you’re not gonna believe this. We’ve got people. Out of nowhere. I mean, real people. I mean… two living people just standing here right in front of me!”

“Don’t be stupid,” snarked a voice on the radio, “that’s impossible.”

“I suggest telling them that.”

Rose didn’t understand the confusion. “Aren’t you a sort of space base? You must have visitors now and then. We can’t be that impossible.”

“You’re telling me you don’t know where you are?” the man asked condescendingly.

The Doctor cut in, “We usually don’t. More fun that way.”

The man looked annoyed, but his inquiry was cut short by a female voice on the overhead intercom, “Stand by, everyone. Buckle down. We have incoming, and it’s a big one. Quake point five on its way.”

The man sprung into action and yanked open one of the doors. “Through here, now,” he commanded. “Quickly, c’mon! Move!”

Suddenly, the entire base began to shake and the Doctor snatched Rose’s hand, deciding it might be a good idea to follow the man’s orders. They hurried down a corridor, but not fast enough for the man in charge.

“Move it! C’mon! Keep moving!” A forceful shake knocked them off balance and the man shouted in earnest, “C’mon! Quickly! Move it!”

They burst into a room full of people working rapidly at control panels. Everyone stopped and stared in shock at Rose and the Doctor.

“Oh, my God,” murmured a dark-skinned man, “you meant it.”

A curly-haired woman gaped at the pair of them. “People! Look at that, real people!”

“Yeah, definitely real,” Rose said with a shaky smile.

“Last I checked,” the Doctor added.

“My name's Rose, Rose Tyler,” she waved hesitantly and pointed at the Doctor, “and this is the Doctor.

“C’mon,” another man jumped off his chair and strolled up to them in disbelief, “the oxygen must be offline. We're hallucinating. They can't be…No, they're real!”

“Come on! We're in the middle of an alert!” shouted the dark-skinned man, obviously the Captain. “Danny, strap up. The quake's coming in! Impact in thirty seconds!” He looked apologetically at the Doctor and Rose. “Sorry, you two, whoever you are. Just hold on, tight.”

“Hold on to what?” Rose asked.

“Anything, I don’t care. Just hold on. Ood, are we fixed?” the Captain asked one of the tentacled aliens.

The Ood bowed its head in thanks. “Your kindness in this emergency is much appreciated.”

The Doctor ushered Rose to the metal door. The tremors they had experienced so far were fairly strong, and if this crew were worried about something stronger then they really did need to hold on.

“Here, stand there.” He positioned her back against the sturdy door and wrapped both arms around her middle to grip the large wheel behind her.

Rose quirked a brow. “And are you gonna stay standin’?”

“Steady as a rock, me,” he assured her. He still had no idea where they were so he looked over his shoulder to ask, “What’s this planet called?”

A woman nearby rolled her eyes. “Now, don't be stupid. It hasn't got a name. How could it have a name?” Her eyes widened at the look of genuine confusion on the Doctor’s face. “You really don't know, do you?”

“And impact!” the Captain bellowed in warning.

The entire base shook violently for a few seconds, but it wasn’t any stronger than some of the Tardis’ rough landings.

The Doctor cockily removed one of his hands from the wheel. “That wasn’t so—”

His retort was cut off by an extreme round of tremors and he fell onto his back, taking Rose down with him. It lasted much longer than a few seconds, and the Doctor held onto Rose tightly as sparks and flames burst around the room from the force of the quakes.

The shaking stopped and Rose straightened her arms to gaze down at the Doctor in amusement. “Steady as a rock?”

“Guess not,” he grumbled and they both stood.

“Okay, that's it. Everyone alright?” the Captain shouted over the blaring alarms. “Speak to me! Ida?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Ida yelled.

“Danny?”

“Fine.” Danny typed furiously at the controls.

“Toby?”

Toby looked at the captain and nodded. “Yeah, fine.”

“Scooti?”

“No damage!” yelled the curly-haired Scooti.

“Jefferson?”

“Check!” shouted the man that had discovered the Doctor and Rose.

“We’re fine, too, thanks. Don’t worry about us,” the Doctor stated sarcastically, brushing dust and debris off his jacket.

“The surface caved in. I deflected it onto Storage five through eight. We've lost them completely.” The Captain frowned at the base schematics on the monitor. “Toby, go and check the rocket link.”

“That's not my department,” Toby argued.

“Just do as I say, yeah?” the Captain ordered, exasperated.

Begrudgingly, Toby brushed by the Doctor and Rose and strolled out of the room.

Ida checked the readings on the monitor in front of her. “Oxygen holding. Internal gravity fifty-six point six. We should be okay.”

Rose glanced worriedly at the ceiling where she could still hear the sound of a raging storm. “Never mind the earthquake. That’s… that’s one hell of a storm. Is it a hurricane?”

“You'd need an atmosphere for a hurricane. There's no air out there,” Scooti answered. “It's a complete vacuum.”

Rose frowned. “Then what's shakin’ the roof?”

Ida stared at her, incredulous. “You're not joking. You really don't know. Well, introductions. FYI, as they said in the olden days.” She moved closer to them and pointed at herself. “I'm Ida Scott, Science Officer.” She then pointed to each person as she named them. “Zachary Cross Flane, acting Captain, sir. You've met Mister Jefferson, he's Head of Security. Danny Bartock, Ethics Committee.

“Not as boring as it sounds,” Danny insisted with a smile.

 

Ida continued, “And that man who just left, that was Toby Zed, Archaeology, and this is Scooti Manista, Trainee Maintenance. And this…” She pulled a lever on the wall. “This is home.”

“Brace yourselves,” Captain Zach warned. “The sight of it sends some people mad.”

The hull overhead pulled back to reveal the stars above them. It was usually a gorgeous sight, but this section of space contained a heated mass of nebulous clouds swirling around an inky-black center.

Rose stared, wide-eyed, at the broken bits of space in the distance. “That’s… that’s a black hole.”

The Doctor gaped overhead and the dreadful feeling ticked up another notch. “That’s impossible.”

“I did warn you,” Captain Zach said.

“We're standin’ under a black hole.”

“In orbit,” Ida corrected.

“But we can’t be,” Rose asserted.

Ida gestured to the angry black hole. “You can see for yourself. We're in orbit.”

The Doctor turned to her and reiterated Rose’s statement, “But we can't be.”

Ida continued to argue, “This lump of rock is suspended in perpetual geostationary orbit around that black hole without falling in. Discuss.”

Rose looked at the Doctor in alarm. “But, that’s a dead star. It collapses in on itself until the matter’s so dense and tight that it pulls everythin’ else in as well. Nothin’ should be able to escape it, not even light, gravity, or time. How comes we’re not bein’ pulled in?”

The Doctor stared at her for a beat. “You weren’t kiddin’ when you said you’ve been readin’. But you’re right, we should be pulled in. We should be dead.”

“And yet, here we are, beyond the laws of physics,” Ida stated in awe. “Welcome on board.”

“So, I’m watchin’ whole solar systems break up?” Rose murmured to the Doctor, fascinated by the terrifying power of nature.

He nodded. “Yeah, stars, dust, you name it. It just eats everythin’ within reach.”

“So, bit worse than a storm?”

“Just a bit.”

Another quake shook the base, and the Doctor quickly grabbed Rose before she fell over.

Toby strolled back into the control room. “The rocket link’s fine,” he announced to the Captain.

Captain Zach pulled up a hologram of the black hole. “That's the black hole, officially designated K-Three-Seven-Gem-Five.”

Rose and the Doctor moved up to the console to get a better look at the display.

“In the scriptures of the Veltino, this planet is called Krop Tor, the bitter pill,” Ida expanded. “And the black hole is supposed to be a mighty demon who was tricked into devouring the planet, only to spit it out because it was poison.”

“The bitter pill.” Rose huffed a laugh, amused by the name. “I like that.”

The Doctor stared at the hologram image and folded his arms over his chest. “We are so far out. How did you lot even manage to get here?”

“We flew in.” Captain Zach switched the image to a diagram to explain their arrival. “You see, this planet's generating a gravity field. We don't know how, we've no idea, but it's kept in constant balance against the black hole. And the field extends out there as a funnel, a distinct gravity funnel, reaching out into clear space. That was our way in.”

“You flew down that thing? Like a rollercoaster.” Rose was impressed at the nerve it must have taken to stare down a black hole and barrel into it.

“By rights, the ship should have been torn apart. We lost the Captain, which is what put me in charge.”

“You're doing a good job,” Ida affirmed.

Captain Zach shrugged. “Yeah, well. Needs must.”

“But if that gravity funnel closes, there's no way out,” Danny mentioned from his station.

Scooti laughed beside him. “We had fun speculating about that.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah. That's the word,” he bopped her playfully on the head with a rolled-up tube of blueprints, “fun.”

The Doctor was internally calculating the impossibilities of this entire scenario. “That field would take phenomenal amounts of power to hold. This is absurd.” He pointed to a calculator. “May I?”

Ida nodded. “Help yourself.”

Pursing her lips, Rose grabbed another calculator nearby. This whole situation was mad, but she decided it may be fun to put her maths reading to good use. Ida was showing the Doctor some of their data so he could work the problem, so Rose looked over his shoulder as she typed numbers on the tiny screen in her hand.

After a few minutes, the Doctor tossed his calculator on the central console. “To generate that gravity field and the funnel, you’d need a power source with an inverted self-extrapolation reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.”

Rose grinned at the correct number on her calculator. “Oh, good! I got it right!”

The Doctor whipped his head around and gaped at her. “What?”

“It took us two years to work that out!” Captain Zach said in disbelief.

But the Doctor barely heard him. He was staring in horrified wonder at Rose. Odd things kept popping up around her: the speed reading, the computer knowledge… and now she was solving equations beyond the power of a simple human brain.

Rose fidgeted under his intense stare. “What?”

The Doctor opened his mouth, but Ida piped up before he could say a word, “But that's why we're here. This power source is ten miles below through solid rock. Point Zero. We're drilling down to try and find it.

“It's giving off readings of over ninety Statts on the Blazon Scale,” Captain Zach said.

“It could revolutionize modern science.” Ida grinned, thinking of the possibilities.

“We could use it to fuel the empire,” Jefferson said.

The Doctor heard the hunger in the man’s voice. “Or start a war.”

“It's buried beneath us, in the darkness, waiting,” Toby said ominously.

Rose scrunched her nose. “What's your job, Chief Dramatist?” The Doctor snorted softly next to her.

Toby scowled. “Well, whatever it is down there, it’s not a natural phenomena. And this planet once supported life aeons ago, before the human race had even learned to walk.”

The Doctor recalled Ida had said Toby was an archeologist. “Did you put that writin’ on the wall?”

Toby nodded. “I copied it from fragments we found unearthed by the drilling, but I can't translate it.”

“No, neither could we. And that’s sayin’ somethin’,” the Doctor boasted.

Toby continued, “There was some form of civilization. They buried something. Now it's reaching out. Calling us in.”

“And you came?”

“Well, how could we not?” Ida asked, as if it were unthinkable to not investigate.

“So, when it comes right down to it, why did you come here? Simple — because it was there.” The Doctor grinned at the exuberance of the human race before he sobered. “But you’re all mad.”

“We’re not mad!” Ida argued.

“Yes, you are. I’d recommend you get on that rocket and fly away. That’s what I’ll be doin’.” The Doctor grabbed Rose’s hand, eager to get her off this lump of rock. “See ya.”

“How the hell did you get here, anyway?” Ida stopped him with her question.

“I’ve got a ship, same as you. Parked in Habitation Area Three. Like I said, see ya.”

“Wait,” Captain Zach piped up. “Do you mean Storage six?”

“It did look like a cupboard, yeah,” Rose agreed.

The Doctor paled. “Storage six. You said…You said Storage five to eight.”

He dashed out of the room with Rose hot on his heels.

“What’s wrong?” Rose cried in alarm.

But he ignored her and kept retracing their steps back the way they came, sprinting desperately and cursing violently. He flew through door after door until he reached door sixteen. The wheel wouldn’t turn to open.

The Doctor hammered on the control, trying to force it open. “No, no, no, no!” he shouted.

“What’s goin’ on? What happened?” Rose touched his shoulder, but he flinched violently and pressed his face against the porthole. “Doctor? You’re scarin’ me.”

“You should be scared,” he uttered in misery. “The Tardis is gone. This section collapsed in the quake.”

The Doctor reached out his mind to his ship and was comforted to feel her hum, but he had no idea how they were going to get to her. He pulled back from the window so Rose could peer out for herself.

Rose’s eyes widened in alarm to see the huge piece of the base missing. “But, she’s got to be out there somewhere.”

“Look down,” he softly instructed.

Dread filled Rose’s stomach as she cast her eyes downwards and stared into a wide, gaping chasm. Parts of the base and the Tardis had been swallowed into a massive rift in the planet.

“How are we…” Rose swallowed and continued, “How do we get down there?”

“I should have turned around straight away,” the Doctor growled and scrubbed a frustrated hand over his hair. “I had a bad feelin’ straight off and I ignored it!”

“It’s alright, we’ll figure it out.” Rose grabbed his hand, noticing the hopeless look in his eyes.

He squeezed her fingers but didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m supposed to keep you safe. And I keep failin’.”

“Hey.” She dropped his hand in favor of grabbing the sides of his face to force him to look at her. “It’s impossible to keep me safe all the time. This is what we do, yeah? We don’t look for trouble. It sorta finds us, like magnets. But, you rescued me from the middle of a Dalek fleet. Compared to that, this should be a cakewalk, yeah?”

A sigh escaped the Doctor’s lips and he pulled her into his arms, taking comfort in her boundless confidence in him. “Don’t know about cakewalk, but when you put it that way… maybe.”

“Alright. Now, put that big, Time Lord brain to use.”

He laughed and squeezed her shoulders. The sounds of the storm outside and the humming under his feet filled his ears as his brain worked overtime for a solution.

Wait, humming…

“They’re drillin’. The drill!” He disentangled himself from Rose and grabbed her hand, pulling her back down the corridor.

Rose smiled and squeezed his hand, delighted that he had hope in his eyes again. They swiftly trekked back to the main control room and burst through the door.

“You’ve got drills headin’ down in the heart of this planet,” the Doctor announced and walked up to the Captain. “Our ship fell down there when the ground gave way.”

Captain Zach shook his head. “We can’t divert the drilling.”

“I need that ship. It’s all we’ve got,” the Doctor implored. “Literally the only thing.”

“Doctor, we've only got the resources to drill one central shaft down to the power source and that's it,” Captain Zach stated forcefully, leaving no room for argument. “No diversions, no distractions, no exceptions. Your machine is lost. All I can do is offer you a lift if we ever get to leave this place. And that is the end of it.”

Ida looked at the Doctor sympathetically. “I'll put you on the duty roster. We need someone in the laundry.”

The crew left the room, presumably to attend to their duties, and the Doctor and Rose were left alone. Rose swallowed heavily and leaned against the central controls. With no options left, the Doctor stood petrified for a moment before he took a calming breath and joined Rose by the captain’s chair.

“I’ve trapped you here,” he said quietly, hardly believing the words were leaving his mouth.

“No, don’t worry about me.” Rose leaned her head on his shoulder, but a sudden tremor forced her to jump back in surprise. “Nevermind. We’re on a planet that shouldn’t exist, under a black hole that should be eatin’ us, and now we have no way out.” She stared at the ominous mass of space dust overhead. “I’ve changed my mind. Start worryin’ about me.”

The Doctor frowned and pulled her tightly into his arms, placing several tender kisses on her crown. “I never stop worryin’ about you, sweetheart.”

A day that had started out so lovely had rapidly devolved into a nightmare. Rose tucked her nose into the Doctor’s neck and held him tightly. She hoped he wasn’t blaming himself for their perilous situation; she had agreed to investigate the base as enthusiastically as he had.

One of the doors squeaked open behind them.

“We’re about to start night shift,” Scooti said. “I could show you to a room for now. I’m assuming one?”

“You assume correctly,” the Doctor confirmed.

With nothing else to do, he threaded Rose’s fingers through his and they followed the curly-haired woman to a bunk for the night. Scooti escorted them to a spare, utilitarian room; there was a twin bed, a work desk, and not much else. Rose blew out her cheeks and plopped down on the stiff mattress. Her stomach chose this moment to announce its unfulfilled hunger.

“I’m sorry,” the Doctor apologized and rifled through his pockets to find a protein bar. “Looks like we’re not gettin’ those chips.”

Rose accepted the food and peeled open the wrapper. “S’alright.”

The sound of the roaring winds continued to pound the outer hull as Rose noisily chewed her meager snack. The Doctor leaned against the small desk and folded his arms, deep in thought. Putting aside the looming threat of becoming black hole chow for now, he concentrated on the perplexing matter of Rose’s newfound brilliance.

He always knew she was smart, despite her opinion to the contrary; she always asked the right questions and usually followed his train of thought, even if the information was beyond her scope of knowledge. But solving an equation that had taken the other humans, most of which had advanced degrees, two years to figure out? Something was wrong; she should not be able to do that.

The Doctor cleared his throat. “How’d you know how to solve that problem?”

Rose stopped mid-chew. “The maths problem? I dunno. I’ve been readin’ a lot of maths books. Thought I’d see if I’d actually learned anythin’.”

“What else have you been readin’ up on?”

She shrugged. “Lots. Physics, chemistry, languages… why?”

“You shouldn’t have been able to solve that problem.”

“Are you sayin’ I’m stupid?” Rose glared at him.

“No, not at all.” He sat on the mattress beside her. “I’ve always thought you were brilliant. But you solved a highly advanced equation as quickly as I did.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“My brain has more neural connections than yours, so it works faster. I’m absolutely not sayin’ you couldn’t solve any math problem you wanted, given enough time. It’s just physically impossible for a human brain to have sussed it out that quickly.”

Rose swallowed her last bite of granola and pursed her lips. She suddenly felt like a moron for not realizing there was something wrong with her. She’d just assumed age and maturity had allowed her to grasp advanced concepts easier. What was going on?

“I read faster than I used to,” she confessed.

He nodded. “I noticed back in Scotland. How fast?”

“I’m not sure. But I can usually polish off three to five books in an evenin’.”

The Doctor’s jaw popped open in alarm. “And you didn’t think to tell me?!”

“Oi! Don’t yell at me!” She angrily chucked her food wrapper in the bin. “I just… I dunno, I wasn’t really payin’ attention. There’s been a lot goin’ on.”

“There’s time now, think about it. What else is different?” He took her hand and squeezed, apologizing for his outburst and encouraging her to continue.

Her nose scrunched up in thought. “Well, I definitely haven’t been sleepin’ as much as I used to.”

“Now that you mention it, you only slept a few hours last night… are you tired?”

Rose shook her head. “No, not at all.

“And you knew how to hack into Lumic’s computer systems.” The Doctor frowned as he recalled her knowledge of Tardis parts. “And how did you know about the temporal stabilizers?”

“Oh, that’s easy; I’ve got a manual.” She waved her hand dismissively.

“A manual?”

“Yeah, the Tardis gave me a manual.”

The Doctor looked at her skeptically. “She just… gave you a manual?”

“She gave me a bunch of other books when I asked. Guess she thought I’d like that one, too.”

“Wait, what…” he shifted to face her fully, “what do you mean you asked her?”

“I asked her for books.”

His eyes narrowed. “How?”

“What do you mean ‘how’?” She wrinkled her brow, confused. “I just put my hand on the wall and asked.”

His heartsbeat quickened. “That’s… that’s not possible.”

“Well, obviously it is because I did it,” Rose objected.

“No, you shouldn’t be able to do that. No human should. She can get in your head to translate languages, but that’s it.”

“But… you said I was telepathic. Maybe that’s why?”

The Doctor slowly shook his head. “No. Still shouldn’t be possible. You touch the wall and she responds?”

“Yeah, but sometimes things just appear, too. When I had a headache, she gave me paracetamol without me havin’ to ask.” Rose wasn’t sure what the big deal was. The Tardis didn’t seem to be concerned that they could communicate.

The Doctor’s eyes darted all over her face, wondering what had happened to his precious Rose. There was no logical reason that a human should be able to do the things she had been doing. Only one major event could possibly be to blame.

“Bad Wolf?” the Doctor queried softly and raised his hands to her temple. “May I? I need to see how well developed your telepathy is.”

“How does it work?”

“I’m just gonna establish a light connection, just for investigative purposes. I promise I won’t look very far. Just imagine a door over anythin’ you don’t want me to see.”

Rose nodded and closed her eyes. The Doctor lightly brushed across her mind and was immediately greeted by a brilliant, golden light.

“Is that you?” she breathed as she saw a silver glow fill her vision.

All he could manage was a shaky “yes” as he explored her aura further. He had scanned many brains in his day, most recently when he had needed information from Reinette, but none of them were as pleasurable and seductive as being in Rose’s mind. Light and warmth filled every corner of her being. It spoke to him like a siren’s call. He had to force himself not to bathe in the beauty of it all and keep his search purely for data collection.

He sucked in a breath and gently pulled away. “You have nearly as many neural connections as I do.”

Rose’s eyes fluttered open. “I do?”

The implications were astounding, and the Doctor managed to nod his head as he stared at her in awe. Not only was she capable of a higher level of knowledge, but her telepathy appeared advanced enough to bond with him. Normal human telepathy would only get brief glimpses of his mind and would never be able to establish a deeper connection. But Rose? She was capable of seeing and experiencing the core of his soul.

“What happened to me?” Rose asked nervously under his scrutinizing gaze.

He gulped. “A lot. But my best guess? Somethin’ happened when you were the Bad Wolf. It’s the only explanation.”

“Should I be worried?” She bit her lip anxiously

The Doctor softened his features and gathered her into his arms. “No. As far as I can tell, you’re perfectly healthy.”

She blew out a shaky breath. “This is all a bit much. I’m not tired but… would you hold me for a bit?

He smiled and kissed her temple. “Always.”

The Doctor guided her to lay down on the rigid mattress so he could spoon behind her. A soft sigh escaped her lips and she pulled his arm around her waist to clutch his hand. The grin dropped from his face and he buried his nose in her hair.

Ever since she had absorbed the Heart of the Tardis, he had feared the worst. He had assumed it would manifest itself as something physically harmful, but he never thought to look into mental alterations. It all seemed so obvious now, and he berated himself for not looking into her mind sooner. But what, exactly, had Bad Wolf done? He had a theory swirling through his mind that was both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. But he needed the Tardis back to perform the necessary tests for confirmation.

And he was getting his ship back. He was getting off this blasted rock and he was going to figure out exactly what his meddlesome Tardis had done to his precious Rose.

Chapter Text

The Doctor and Rose huddled together on the small bed, taking comfort in the dark while they listened to the storm raging above the base. Swaddled in each other’s arms, they could pretend, for a little while, that they weren’t on an impossible planet orbiting a black hole with no Tardis. And with no Tardis, the Doctor had no medbay with specialized equipment to scan Rose. He was at the mercy of the tiny human crew stuck on this sanctuary base with them. The odds were stacked against him, but he wouldn’t stop until he got Rose off of this rock.

“Tell me about telepathy?” Rose quietly requested.

The Doctor secured his arm more tightly around her. “What would you like to know?”

“Everything I guess.”

He drew in a breath and launched into lecture mode. “There are lots of telepathic species out there. Humans, in general, aren’t telepathic but are susceptible to it. That’s why I was worried about my telepathy; it’s strong enough to get into your mind whether you want it to or not. And it’s very difficult for me to control it while I’m preoccupied by a beautiful woman.” He tickled a kiss to the back of her neck.

Rose laughed and turned in his arms to face him. “Are you still worried about what I’ll see?”

“I am.” He tapped his temple. “It’s dark and stormy in here.”

She lifted a hand to caress his cheek. “I’m not worried. And I’m not goin’ anywhere.”

A small smile lit his face and he cupped her hand. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Yes, you do.” She returned his smile and pressed a light kiss to his lips. “Now, tell me about my mystical mind powers.”

The Doctor guided her hand off his cheek and placed it against his chest in a familiar embrace. “There are very few humans who have the ability to enter another mind. It’s what I thought was happenin’ last night, after our attempted visit to Elvis. But, because of your plentiful neural connections, your telepathy is advanced — very advanced. Like your maths skills, it’s something humans aren’t capable of. But you’ll need to practice. It’s like a muscle that needs to be stretched and strengthened.”

He ghosted his fingers along the side of her face and towards her temple, still puzzled over her sudden mental prowess. “But, you have the ability to block others, build mental defenses, establish your own connections to other minds, and even… bond.”

“Mental defenses?”

“It’s a sorta wall you build in your mind to thwart unwanted psychic attacks. Yours are very weak right now because you haven’t known about your telepathy and haven’t been exercisin’ it.”

Rose nodded along as she followed his explanation. “And what’s a bond?”

“The deepest connection possible between telepaths. It’s a literal joinin’ of the mind.” The Doctor paused, reigning in his excitement over the possibilities. There was no guarantee she would ever want to bond with him, but he found himself desperately hoping she might.

He cleared his throat and continued, “There are several kinds. Children are born with a connection to their parents and friends can establish temporary links. But the most intimate one is the lover’s bond. Practically non-existent on my planet by the time I was loomed as marriages became political. But, if you found the right person, romantic partners would form a permanent bond. You literally bare your entire soul to your other half and knit your timelines together. Sometimes I wonder if it’s where the soulmate myth came from.”

“That sounds… wonderful,” Rose breathed in awe.

He threaded their fingers tighter together. “It is, so I’ve heard. Never had one, me.”

Rose wondered what sort of relationships he’d had in the past since he’d lived nine hundred years without her. “Never? So, you never got married?”

“I was once… but not for love.”

They stared at one another in weighted silence until Rose dropped her gaze.

“Could we…” She paused anxiously. “Would you show me how to use my telepathy?”

“Now?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “We’re not doin’ anythin’ else.”

“Alright.” The Doctor brought her hand up to his temple. “Shouldn’t be all that difficult. Your instinct will take over like it did before. Just reach out.”

Rose swallowed down her nerves and closed her eyes. Tentatively, she let her brain work for her and searched for the Doctor’s mind. Within seconds, she felt a tiny spark leap from her fingers into his skin and a brilliant, silver light flashed beneath her eyelids. She recognized it as him and cautiously greeted it with her own golden aura.

A slight sigh left the Doctor’s lips as he welcomed her into his mind. It was only surface thoughts and emotions, but it was wonderful. She’d never felt so close to anyone before.

“Hello.” Rose laughed shakily, hoping she was doing all of this correctly.

“Hello.” The Doctor smiled and brought his fingers to her temple. “May I?”

“Yeah.”

Their connection deepened as his silver essence mingled with the gold of hers in a joined space. She could feel his giddy happiness to be sharing this with her and also the underlying worry about their current predicament on the base.

But the strongest feeling was his all-encompassing adoration and pride in her. No man had ever had this much respect and confidence in her; she was used to being viewed as an object. She fought back tears and leaned forward to press a kiss of gratitude on his lips. A disoriented gasp ripped from her throat as she was immediately overwhelmed by his desire and hers at the same time.

Rose’s breathing quickened. “That’s… fantastic.”

“Stole the words outta my mouth,” the Doctor whispered and brushed featherlight kisses along her lips.

She greedily deepened the kiss as lust raged through their minds in a powerful feedback loop. One of them moaned, probably both, and Rose hooked her thigh over his hip, gently undulating against him in a dizzying rhythm. With a herculean effort, the Doctor dug his fingers into her denim-clad bum and stilled her movements. He unlatched from her mouth with a strangled sound and rested his forehead on hers.

“Probably not a good idea,” he panted.

“I’m sorry.” She attempted to pull away but he reigned her back in.

“No, no, it’s alright. It’s just a bit…” He blew out a ragged breath and slotted his lips over hers one more time. “You’re intoxicatin’, but I’d rather not go further on a dingy bed in a dingy space base.”

The Doctor gently disconnected their minds and Rose sagged against him, suddenly bone tired.

He chuckled and tucked her head under his chin. “Told ya, like workin’ a muscle. It’ll get easier.”

Rose nuzzled her nose along his throat. “Can we do that again sometime?”

“Oh, absolutely,” he huskily agreed.

They didn’t sleep a wink, preferring to chat quietly in their tiny cocoon before they had to face the maelstrom surrounding them. The Doctor filled her in a bit more about telepathy, but it was mostly an instinct she would learn to hone on her own and with his expert tutelage.

As soon as breakfast was announced over the PA system, the Doctor and Rose joined the rest of the crew in the common area.

“Would you mind gettin’ me a bit of whatever you’re havin’? I’m gonna inspect that writin’ some more.” The Doctor tilted his head toward the untranslated language scribbled on the wall. Rose nodded and he kissed her cheek in thanks, pulling out a notebook to jot down the alien script.

Scooti and Danny were being served breakfast by a few of the Ood behind a kitchen window. Rose grabbed a tray and joined them.

One of the Ood handed her a plastic cup. “Would you like a refreshment?”

“Thanks, yeah. I’m sorry, what was your name?” Rose asked.

“We have no titles,” it politely informed her. “We are as one.”

Rose turned to Danny. “I heard you guys call them “Ood”. How comes they don’t have names? What are they?”

“Oh, c’mon,” Danny scoffed. “Where have you been living? Everyone's got one.”

“Well, not me, so what are they?”

He shrugged. “Just the Ood. They work the mine shafts. All the drilling and stuff. Supervision and maintenance. They’re born for it. Basic slave race.”

Rose scowled. “You've got slaves?”

“Don't start.” Scooti laughed at her. “She's like one of that lot. Friends of the Ood.”

“Well, maybe I am, yeah,” Rose said indignantly. “Since when do humans need slaves?”

Danny gestured to the aliens in the kitchen. “But the Ood offer themselves. If you don't give them orders, they just pine away and die.”

Rose addressed one of the Ood, “Seriously, you like bein’ ordered about?”

“It is all we crave,” it said.

“Why's that, then?”

“We have nothing else in life.”

Rose frowned. “Yeah, well, I used to think like that, a long time ago.”

Captain Zach’s voice rang over the PA system, “Danny, check the temperature in the Ood Habitation. It seems to be rising.”

“That’s my cue.” Danny offered Rose a tight smile and left to attend to his duties.

“Help yourself. Just don't have the green or the blue.” Scooti picked up her tray and walked toward a table.

An Ood looked at Rose expectantly, so she pointed to the blue pile of, hopefully edible, food. “Er, bit of that, thanks.”

“Would you like sauce with that?” the Ood asked after he had dished out the sloppy blue beans.

“I'll give it a go, yeah.” Rose looked at the alien sympathetically. “Do you actually get paid, though? Do they give you money?”

Its communication ball glowed brighter than it had previously as it spoke, “The Beast and his Armies shall rise from the Pit to make war against God.”

Rose stared at it, slack-jawed. “I'm sorry?”

It tapped on its ball and tried again, “Apologies. I said, I hope you enjoy your meal.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Rose furrowed her brow and crossed the room with a sinking feeling in her gut.

The Doctor was writing furiously in his notebook, so Rose plopped into a seat across from him. The lights flickered overhead for a few seconds before they returned to full power.

Ida noticed the power fluctuation and spoke into her wrist-comm, “Zach, have we got a problem?”

“No more than usual. Got the Scarlet System burning up,” Captain Zach informed them over the PA. “Might be worth a look.”

Ida looked at the Doctor and Rose. “You might want to see this. Moment in history.”

She pulled the lever for the overhead shutters to reveal the starry sky. Everyone in the room craned their heads up to observe the churning black hole as a brilliant, magenta glow was slowly sucked in and eaten.

Ida pointed to the black hole’s latest victim. “There. On the edge. That red cloud? That used to be the Scarlet System. Home to the Peluchi, a mighty civilization spanning a billion years, disappearing forever. Their planets and suns consumed. Ladies and gentlemen, we have witnessed its passing.”

They solemnly observed the last remnants of the Scarlet System as it dissipated into a fine mist and disappeared into the blackness. Ida reached up to the lever to close the shutters.

“No,” the Doctor stopped her, “could you leave it open? Won’t go mad, me.”

“How would you know?” Ida asked and then turned towards the rest of the crew. “Scooti, check the lockdown. Jefferson, sign off the airlock seals for me.”

Finished with breakfast, everyone left the common area and the Doctor and Rose were alone once more.

Rose sighed and handed the Doctor a fork. “I got some blue.”

He hummed and pushed some of the slop around the tray. “Blue’s me favorite color. Dunno if a bean should be blue though.” He popped a bit in his mouth and grimaced. “Definitely not.”

Rose laughed at his disgusted face and dipped some of the beans in the sauce. “Not bad with the sauce. Could be worse.” She chewed thoughtfully and gazed at the furious storm in the air. “I thought black holes could be gateways to another universe.”

The Doctor shook his head. “Not that one. It just eats.”

“Long way from home.”

He set his fork down and pointed into the blackness. “Go that way, turn right, keep goin’ for about, oh, five hundred years, and you’ll reach the Earth.”

Curious, Rose pulled her phone out. “No signal. That's the first time we've gone out of range. Mind you, even if I could, what would I tell Mum?” She bit her thumbnail, upset that she had no way of contacting Jackie. She would just stop visiting, and her mum would be left to wonder what had happened to her daughter.

“Can you build another Tardis?” Rose laughed half-heartedly, knowing it was probably impossible. The Doctor leaned forward and pulled both of her hands in his, rubbing consoling circles over her knuckles.

“They were grown, not built.” He gulped and stared at his fingers as they glided across Rose’s skin. “My planet’s gone, so, we’re kinda stuck.”

With a heavy heart, Rose turned his hands and knitted their fingers together. “It could be worse.” She forced her voice to be cheery. “This lot said they’d give us a lift.”

“And then what?” he grumbled, wondering what they were going to do if he couldn’t get back to his ship.

“You’ve done the slow path before. We’ll find a planet, get some jobs, live a life — same as the rest of the universe.”

“Domestic.” He scowled. “Does that mean we have to get a proper house or somethin’?”

“Maybe even some carpets,” she teased.

“Oh, just kill me know.” He banged his head on the table and Rose laughed at his maudlin display.

“You’ll have to help me with the mortgage.”

“Doin’ what?” he queried, voice muffled against the metal.

“Well…” Rose bit her lip shyly. “You know how to be a mechanic.”

The Doctor lifted his head to peer at her suspiciously. “I do.”

She averted her gaze and continued gnawing on her lower lip. “I may have a… thing… for you in coveralls.”

“Is that so?” He smirked. “Guess I’ll have to be a mechanic then. Stuck with a grease monkey, you are.”

“Yeah? Well, you’re stuck with me, too.”

The Doctor smiled and raised both her hands to press a kiss on her knuckles. “No one I’d rather be stuck with.”

A joyful smile spread across Rose’s face and he rained more kisses on her hand, causing her to giggle. Suddenly, her phone rang even though it had no signal. Bewildered, she pulled a hand from the Doctor’s grasp to answer it.

“He is awake,” growled a furious voice through the speaker.

The color drained from Rose’s face and she threw her mobile on the floor.

“What the bloody hell was that?!” the Doctor exclaimed, bending over to collect the phone.

“I don’t know!” An apprehensive shiver raced up her spine. “It’s as weird as what that Ood said.”

“What Ood?” He handed her mobile back, and she took it between two fingers like it was a ticking time bomb.

“It seemed to be havin’ problems with its ball thingy, but it said somethin’ about the beast risin’ from the pit to make war.”

The Doctor’s mouth formed a thin-line, and he straightened his jacket as he stood from the table. His bad-feeling meter kept rising, and he needed to explore the base for answers. “Right. Time to do a bit of investigatin’. C’mon”

He held out his hand and Rose grabbed it without hesitation, taking comfort in the habitual activity. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of their surroundings, at least she could always count on the comfort of their fingers stitching together as one.

They walked through various doors and corridors until they found Danny in the Ood habitation.

“Hello!” the Doctor greeted, playing nice.

“Only us,” Rose announced as they descended a short staircase.

Danny glanced at them from a computer terminal. “The mysterious couple. Settling in?”

“Sorry, no time for chin-waggin’,” the Doctor stated impatiently. “I’d like to know more about the Ood. For starters, how do they communicate with each other?”

“Oh, just empaths.” Danny shrugged. “There's a low-level telepathic field connecting them. Not that it does them much good. They're basically a herd race — like cattle.”

Rose and the Doctor peered over the edge of a nearby railing. All of the Ood were sitting orderly below them on benches. With the straw-lined floor, it resembled an animal pen. Rose screwed up her face in disgust. Even this far in the future, humans hadn’t learned to treat life with respect.

Clenching his jaw, the Doctor continued to question Danny. “And can this telepathic field pick up any messages?” He hadn’t noticed anything trying to get through his mind, but his mental barriers were far superior than most life in the universe.

“‘Cause I was havin’ breakfast, and one of the Oods said something, well, odd,” Rose added.

“Hmm. An odd Ood.” Danny dismissed her concern.

Rose ignored his condescension and pressed on, “And then I got something else on my uh,” she paused, unsure if it was safe to mention cell phones, “communicator thing.”

“Oh, be fair.” Danny picked up a clipboard and walked over to the railing. “We've got whole star systems burning up around us. There's all sorts of stray transmissions. Probably nothing.” Danny noticed they didn’t look convinced and continued to placate them. “Look, if there was something wrong, it would show. We monitor the telepathic field. It's the only way to look after them. They're so stupid, they don't even tell us when they're ill.”

Rose reigned in the urge to Tyler-slap the man and took a calming breath.

“Monitor the field. That's this thing?” The Doctor tilted his head at the computer terminal which read “Basic: 5”.

“Yeah.” Danny flipped unconcerned through his papers. “But like I said, it's low-level telepathy. They only register basic five.”

“Right. Basic five.” The Doctor watched as the number started to increase. “Ten. Twenty. Oh, they’re thirty now.”

“But they can’t!” Danny protested, high confused.

Rose eyed the Ood warily as they suddenly lifted their heads in unison. “Doctor, the Ood.”

She tugged lightly on his sleeve, and he turned his attention to the synchronized movements of the aliens in the pen. They had all swiveled in their seats to stare up at them on the balcony.

Rose turned to Danny. “What does basic thirty mean?”

“Well, it means that they're shouting,” Danny stared at the computer terminal. “They’re screaming inside their heads.”

“Maybe somethin’ is shoutin’ at them,” the Doctor mused, observing the group of Ood with trepidation. Something powerful would have to be nearby in order to control this many minds at the same time.

“But where is it coming from? What is it saying?” Danny was panicking and he turned to Rose in fear. “What did it say to you?”

“Somethin’ about the beast in the pit,” Rose answered.

“What about your communicator? What did that say?”

“He is awake.”

“And you will worship him,” the Ood chorused.

Danny gasped. “What the hell?”

“He is awake,” the Doctor repeated to the group of Ood.

“And you will worship him,” they chorused again.

“Worship who?” he demanded but the Ood remained silent. “Who's talkin’ to you? Who is it?”

A sinister presence probed the Doctor’s mind, but he was easily able to thwart its advances. Beside him, Rose clutched her temples and screamed in pain as she crumpled to the ground.

“Rose!” The Doctor fell to her side and grabbed the sides of her head, cursing himself for not building her mental defenses earlier.

She panted and stared at him, wide-eyed and terrified. “W-what’s goin’ on?”

“It’s tryin’ to get in your mind. I need to shore up your barriers.”

He dived into her mind without preamble, quickly blocking the malevolent force and strengthening her weak mental shields. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she went limp as the telepathic attack ceased.

“Alright?” the Doctor asked softly, releasing his hold on her head.

Rose peeked at him through her eyelids and nodded weakly. Thankful he had stopped the intrusion in time, the Doctor pulled her to sit and gathered her in his arms. She whimpered and clung to him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t have time to ask,” he apologized, stroking her hair as she continued to catch her breath.

“S’ok,” Rose mumbled against his chest. “Always ok with you.”

The Doctor breathed out a sigh of relief and pressed a kiss to her crown.

Without warning, a huge tremor shook the base and they tumbled sideways onto the grating. Pipes exploded around them and ejected steam into the air as Danny struggled to stay on his feet at the computer terminal.

“Emergency hull breach,” a computerized voice announced. “Emergency hull breach.”

“Which section?” Danny frantically yelled into his wrist-comm.

Captain Zach screamed through the intercom, “Everyone, evacuate eleven to thirteen! We've got a breach. The base is open. Repeat, the base is open!”

The Doctor quickly pulled Rose to stand and fled the habitation room with Danny. More pipes burst and wires sparked as they dashed along the halls and through various doors. Rose coughed as billows of smoke infiltrated her lungs and she pushed to keep up, still recovering from the physic attack.

Danny yanked the door open to the common area and they tumbled inside, sprinting across the room towards the next door. They converged in a hallway with the rest of the crew where Jefferson was struggling to keep a door open against the vacuum of space.

“C’mon! Keep moving!” Jefferson shouted as he ushered crew members inside. “You too, Toby!”

Toby spilled onto the grating and Jefferson slammed the door shut.

“Breach sealed. Breach sealed,” chimed the computerized voice.

Everyone gasped in lungfuls of air, safely quarantined from the parts of the base that had breached.

“Is everyone alright?” the Doctor asked, scanning the crew for any signs of injury. “What happened?”

“Hull breach.” Jefferson bent over his knees to catch his breath. “We were open to the elements. Another couple of minutes and we'd have been inspecting that black hole at close quarters.”

Rose kneeled down by Toby to see if he needed help. The man’s eyes were darting all over the place and he was trembling in fear.

The Doctor furrowed his brow. “That didn’t feel like an ordinary quake. What caused it?”

“We've lost sections eleven to thirteen,” Captain Zach informed them over the intercom. “Everyone alright?”

“We've got everyone here except Scooti,” Jefferson spoke into his wrist-comm but she didn’t answer him. “Scooti, report. Scooti Manista? That's an order. Report!” he barked.

“She's all right. I've picked up her biochip. She's in Habitation three. Better go and check if she's not responding. She might be unconscious,” Captain Zach instructed. “How about that, eh? We survived.”

“Habitation three. I don't often say this, but I think we could all do with a drink” Jefferson puffed out an exhausted breath. “C’mon.”

The crew followed Jefferson down the hallway, but Toby remained on the floor, rubbing his face and breathing heavily. He seemed to be the only crew member that was visibly shaken and unable to quell his terror.

The Doctor bent down next to Rose to question the man. “What happened?”

“I don't, I don't know.” Toby stuttered. “I-I was working, and then I-I can't remember. A-all that noise. The room was falling apart. There was no air!”

“C’mon, up you get.” Rose helped him to his feet. “Come and have some protein one.”

The Doctor grimaced. “Have you gone native already?”

“Oi, don’t knock it! Maybe you didn’t like it, but I thought it was nice. Protein one with just a,” she clicked her tongue cheekily, “dash of three.”

When they reached Habitation three, the crew was frantically searching for Scooti.

“There's no sign of her,” Jefferson announced. “The biochip says she's in the area. Have any of you seen Scooti?”

“Scooti, please respond,” Ida spoke fervently into her wrist-comm. “If you can hear this, please respond.”

“Nowhere here. Zach?” Jefferson shouted into his wrist-comm. “We've got a problem. Scooti's still missing.”

“It says Habitation three,” Captain Zach reiterated, staring at the location beacon in front of him.

“Yeah, well, that's where I am!” Jefferson argued, exasperated. “I'm telling you she's not here.”

The Doctor lifted his head to the open shutters, and his stomach dropped at the sight outside. “I’ve found her.”

A collective gasp rang around the room as everyone followed his eyeline and discovered Scooti, dead, floating in the abyss of space above them.

“Oh, my God.” Rose covered her mouth in horror.

“Captain,” Jefferson solemnly spoke into his comm. “Report Officer Scootori Manista PKD… deceased. Forty-Three K Two point One.”

A somber silence fell around the room, disturbed only by the constant hum of the drill.

“She was twenty,” Ida lamented. “Twenty years old.”

Scooti’s body drifted farther away from the base as the black hole claimed her. Ida sobbed and strode quickly to the lever on the wall to close the shutters over the grisly sight.

“For how should man die better, than facing fearful odds?” Jefferson softly recited. “For the ashes of his father and the temples of his Gods?”

The shutters finished closing and the room dimmed, no longer bathed in the glow of the swirling mass of space dust. The humming suddenly stopped and total silence swept through the base.

“It's stopped,” Ida murmured.

“Was that the drill?” Rose softly asked the Doctor, not wanting to disturb the quiet atmosphere. He answered her with a nod.

“We've stopped drilling. We've made it. Point Zero.” Ida tried to sound cheery over their accomplishment, but Scooti was no longer with her to share the joy.

Captain Zach’s voice broke the bleak atmosphere, “Time to suit up, Ida. Best head down there while there’s no quake alerts. Everyone, to your stations. Meet up on the Exploration Deck.”

“Yes, sir,” Ida confirmed into her comm. She smiled tightly at everyone and walked out of the room.

The crew followed in her wake, and the Doctor glanced anxiously at Rose beside him.

She sighed. “You want to go, too, don’t you?”

“It’s the only way to find the Tardis,” he reasoned, even though there was a small part of him protesting the logic.

The reasonable part of Rose’s brain knew he was right. There were no other options available to them to search for their ship. It was either explore the mineshaft or never see the old girl again. But the unreasonable side of her brain didn’t want to go. It felt wrong for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on.

“Alright,” Rose puffed out her cheeks and grabbed his hand, “then let’s get suited up, too.”

With a small smile, the Doctor squeezed her fingers and walked through the door the crew had disappeared through. By the time they found the Exploration Deck, Ida was already in her spacesuit and the rest of the team were making final preparations. The Doctor pulled Rose into a ready room before the crew could spot them; there was only one orange spacesuit left.

“Guess I’m not goin’ with you,” Rose muttered dejectedly.

“You can be my eyes and ears up here,” the Doctor provided with false bravado. “Help me in?”

“How’s your jacket gonna fit in there?”

With a daft grin, he whipped out the sonic. “With a little jiggery-pokery.” He waved the blue light over the suit and then stuck his legs in the boots.

Rose shook her head, amusement relaxing the tension in her shoulders. “Did you just make the spacesuit bigger on the inside?”

“A smidge.” He easily pulled the suit over his leather jacket, and she zipped and buckled the spots he couldn’t reach

“Orange coveralls.” Rose laughed lightly as the image of his blue mechanic coveralls floated in her mind, but she bit her lip as her anxiety resurfaced.

He used his thumb to pry her bottom lip from her teeth. “I won’t be gone long.”

“I know, sorry.” She tilted her head down and wrung her fingers together. “I just don’t want to lose you down there, too.”

The Doctor gently nudged her head to meet her eye. “You’re not gonna lose me, sweetheart.”

Rose lifted on her toes at the same time he angled his head down and they met in a soft, comforting press of lips. He dropped a hand to the small of her back to pull her closer, and she moved as tightly into him as his bulky spacesuit allowed, sending a plea out into the universe to keep him safe.

The foreboding in both of their minds increased and the kiss grew desperate. Rose’s thumbs stroked along his temples with a will of their own and the Doctor hummed a confirmation against her mouth. Silver and gold met in the only calm space around them, exchanging warmth and comfort. In their internal refuge, Rose’s fear for his safety was palpable and she nearly wept as he used his mind to soothe her. The Doctor detached from her lips in favor of resting his forehead against hers to bask in their mental connection for a few peaceful moments.

“You’re already better at this.” He rubbed her nose with his and gently broke their connection.

Rose kissed him lightly one last time. Three words were about to roll off his tongue, but he hesitated. He’d hurt her when he pushed her away and he wasn’t sure if she was ready for his confession of love just yet. Before he could make up his mind, their quiet solitude was interrupted by the Captain.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Captain Zack exclaimed.

The Doctor heaved a sigh and picked up his helmet. “I’m reportin’ as a volunteer for your expeditionary force.”

Captain Zack shook his head and walked passed them. “This is breaking every single protocol. We don’t even know who you are.”

The Doctor and Rose followed him down a catwalk towards the lift capsule where Ida was waiting in nervous anticipation to be lowered into the mineshaft.

“Genius, me, remember? Solved your equation in no time. Plus, you can’t let Ida go down alone,” the Doctor reasoned. “Go on, trust me.”

I should be going down,” Captain Zach muttered, conceding to the Doctor’s request.

“The Captain can’t lead the mission. He stays here, in charge.”

“Not much good at it, am I?” he said bitterly and turned from the Doctor to address the crew, “Positions! We're going down in two. Everyone, positions! Mister Jefferson! I want maximum system enhancement.”

Before he descended into the capsule, the Doctor checked the readings on his suit. “Oxygen, nitro-balance, gravity. I feel like an old man; I haven't worn one of these in ages.”

Rose tugged on his sleeve and stared him down in warning. “I want that spacesuit back in one piece, you got that?”

“Yes, sir.” He winked cheekily and lowered his helmet over his head.

“It's funny, ‘cause people back home think that space travel's gonna be all whizzin’ about and teleports and anti-gravity.” Her eyes burned with unshed tears, suddenly feeling like she was sending him off to battle. “But it's not, is it? It's tough.”

“It’s better with two.” The Doctor gripped her hand with the bulky gloves. “I'll see you later, sweetheart.”

“Not if I see you first.” She smiled and angled his head down to press her lips to the glass of his helmet, needing a piece of good luck to travel down with him.

He returned her grin and joined Ida in the capsule.

Captain Zach’s voice boomed overhead. “Capsule active. Counting down in ten, nine, eight, seven, six…”

Jefferson shut and locked the door, sealing them inside.

“...five, four, three, two, one. Release.”

Rose forced a grin on her face and waved at the Doctor as the capsule was lowered on its cable. He waved back as he disappeared down the mineshaft.

Toby sat on the grating, looking as anxious as Rose felt while he fervently inspected his hands. Needing something to do, Rose grabbed a handheld comm from the progress monitor and held her breath while she watched the capsule’s descent into the impossible planet. The readout told her how far they’d gone and how much oxygen was in the air at their current depth.

Inside the capsule, the Doctor and Ida heard Zach tell them they’d gone beyond the oxygen field and they switched their tanks on.

Rose gasped in a breath, not realizing she had been holding her lungs while anxiously watching the numbers on the screen. “Don’t forget to breathe,” she advised into the comm. “Breathin’s good.”

“Rose!” Captain Zach scolded. “Stay off the comm!”

“No chance,” she argued. They’d have to pry the comm out of her cold, dead hands.

A snort of amusement and pride issued from the Doctor and Ida peered at him curiously. The capsule shuddered slightly for a few seconds before a sudden jolt knocked them off their feet and they plunged faster into the pit. After a few heartstopping moments, a harsh thud rattled the cage — it had reached the bottom.

An alarm blared and a tremor shook the catwalk Rose was standing on. She clutched the railing to stay upright. “Doctor? Doctor, are you alright?” she shouted into the comm.

“Ida, report to me,” Captain Zach demanded. “Doctor?”

The Doctor helped Ida up and rushed to assure the crew at the base, “Just a bump, we’re alright. Made it to Point Zero.” He pushed the metal door open. “Gettin’ out of the capsule now.”

Ida and the Doctor stepped out into a huge, rocky cavern. It was eerily quiet and nearly pitch-black; their torches did little to illuminate the surroundings. But the Doctor ignored the murky atmosphere for a moment as he felt the joyful hum of the Tardis in the back of his mind, stronger than it had been on the base; she was nearby. He was one step closer to getting Rose off of this blasted rock.

“What's it like down there?” Rose asked

The Doctor smiled, happy to have her voice in his ear. “It’s hard to tell, really. Some sort of… cave? It’s massive.” He squinted in the darkness and swept the torchlight around.

“Well, this should help.” Ida tugged a large, glowing orb from her pack. “Gravity globe.”

She tossed it in the air and it hovered above them. The faint glow rapidly intensified until the entire cavern was brightly lit and they barely needed the extra flashlights. Now, they could clearly see their environment, and it wasn’t just a regular cavern. Monolithic pillars and statues lined the walls: remnants leftover from an ancient civilization. There was even a small pool of still water that traveled through canyons as far as the eye could see.

“That's, that's…” Ida breathed in wonder as she turned in a circle. “My God, that's beautiful.”

“Rose, you can tell Toby we've found his civilization.” The Doctor scanned the area in wonder, noting the alien script carved repeatedly into the stone edifices; it was the same language that was written on the wall in the base.

Up top, Rose pulled away from the comm to smile cheerily at Toby. “Oi, Toby. Sounds like you've got plenty of work.”

The twitchy man stayed huddled in a ball on the floor and barely acknowledged her. “Good, good,” Toby muttered.

“Concentrate now, people. Keep on the mission,” Captain Zach chastised. “Ida, what about the power source?

Ida motioned for the Doctor to follow her as she checked the readout on her side. “We’re close. Energy signature indicates north, north-west. Are you getting pictures up there?”

“There’s too much interference,” Captain Zach said. “We’re in your hands.”

They traipsed beneath a towering arch, etched with more of the foreign symbols.

“Well, we've come this far. There's no turning back,” Ida professed.

The Doctor scoffed. “Oh, c’mon! Did you have to say that? No turnin’ back? Might as well say ‘nothin’ could possibly go wrong’!”

Ida stopped and faced him with a challenging quirk of her brow. “Are you quite done?”

“Yeah, finished. Wouldn’t want to jinx the mission.” He plastered a smile on his face and pressed on.

Danny’s concerned voice floated over the comm, “Captain, sir. There’s something happening with the Ood.”

“What are they doing?” Captain Zach asked.

“They're staring at me. I've told them to stop, but they won't.” Danny sounded spooked. The Ood were a slave race and should listen to him without hesitation.

Captain Zach sighed. “Danny, you're a big boy. I think you can take being stared at.”

“But the telepathic field, sir, it's at basic one hundred!” Danny stressed. “I've checked, there isn't any fault. It's definitely one hundred.”

“But that's impossible,” Captain Zach countered.

In the drilling area, Rose frowned as she felt a pang of dread sink in her stomach. “What's basic one hundred mean?”

“They should be dead!” Danny exclaimed softly.

Next to Rose, Jefferson shook his head, confused. “Basic one hundred's brain death.”

“But they're safe? They're not actually moving?” Captain Zach asked, needing more details over the situation.

“No, sir,” Danny confirmed.

“Keep watching them,” Captain Zach instructed. “And you, Jefferson, keep a guard on the Ood.”

“Officer at arms!” Jefferson picked up a weapon leaning against the railing.

Rose hated guns and fretted over the deadly instruments. “You can't fire a gun in here. What if you puncture the hull?”

“I'm firing stock fifteen. It only impacts upon organics.” Jefferson eased her worries and then turned to a member of the crew behind her. “Keep watch. Guard them.”

The Doctor, having heard the entire conversation, didn’t like the idea of Rose suddenly being around live weaponry when he had no way to protect her. “Is everythin’ all right up there?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Rose quickly said in a poor attempt at easing his concern.

Captain Zach and Danny chimed in with half-hearted assurances of their own. With a roll of his eyes, the Doctor continued to follow the readouts on Ida’s equipment until it led them to a colossal, metallic disc lying innocuously on the ground. The Doctor could feel the Tardis calling out to him in longing and in warning as he drew closer.

“We’ve found somethin’,” the Doctor announced. “Looks like some sort of metal seal. Got a nasty suspicion the correct term may be trapdoor.” He cautiously stepped onto the disc, and the ominous threat in the back of his brain increased tenfold. “Not a good sign, trapdoors.”

Ida acted as the Captain’s eyes, scanning the rim of the seal. “The edge is covered in those symbols.”

“Do you think it opens?” Captain Zach asked.

“That would be the proper function of a trapdoor,” the Doctor snarked.

“Trapdoor doesn’t do it justice.” Ida excitedly circled the perimeter, ignoring the Doctor’s flippant remark. “It’s massive, Zach! About thirty feet in diameter.”

“Any way of opening it?” the Captain wondered.

Ida shook her head, even though he couldn’t see her. “Don’t know. I can’t see any sort of mechanism.”

“Ten quid says the writin’ would tell us what to do.” The Doctor hopped off the seal and scrutinized the marks. “Still can’t translate them.”

“Toby, did you get anywhere with decoding it?” Captain Zach asked eagerly.

On the catwalk, Rose turned to the twitchy form of Toby on the grating. “Toby, they need to know that letterin’. Does it make any sort of sense?”

Toby stopped shaking. “I know what it says.”

Rose furrowed her brow, wondering when he had worked out the translation. “Then tell them.”

The dread that had settled over her increased to a fever-pitch as Toby suddenly stood and slowly turned his neck to pierce her with red irises. His face was covered in the black script of the untranslated symbols.

“These are the words of the Beast,” his voice was distorted and pitched disturbingly low. “And he has woken. He is the heart that beats in the darkness.”

Rose froze in horror and Jefferson aimed his gun at Toby’s chest.

“He is the blood that will never cease. And now he will rise,” Toby hissed and his face morphed into a deadly snarl.

“Officer, you will stand down!” Jefferson shouted in warning. “Stand down!”

As soon as he heard the fear in Jefferson’s voice, the Doctor turned from the door and started marching back to the capsule. “What’s goin’ on up there? Rose?” he shouted desperately into the comm. “Rose, talk to me!”

Rose was transfixed on Toby’s face as she answered his plea, “I dunno. Toby’s got those symbols all over him. He’s covered in them!”

Jefferson stalked forward. “Officer, as Commander of Security, I order you to stand down and be confined. Immediately!”

Toby cracked his neck. “Mister Jefferson, tell me, sir. Did your wife ever forgive you?”

Jefferson flinched. “I don't know what you mean.”

“Let me tell you a secret. She never did.”

Jefferson swallowed audibly and clenched his jaw. “Officer, you will stand down and be confined.”

“Or what?” Toby taunted.

“Or under the strictures of Condition Red, I am authorized to shoot you.” Jefferson cocked his gun and re-aimed it at Toby’s chest.

“But how many can you kill?”

In a scene straight out of a horror film, Toby opened his mouth wide with a grizzly growl. His eyes flashed a brighter red and the symbols dissipated from his face, floating in inky streams straight into the nearby Ood. They twitched and their eyes turned crimson as their minds were invaded by the sinister presence.

Toby, no longer possessed, coughed and collapsed onto the grating.

The Ood drifted their gazes towards Jefferson and Rose, speaking simultaneously, “We are the Legion of the Beast.”

In the cavern, feedback screeched through the comm and the Doctor feared the communications had just failed. “Rose? Are you alright?” he quickened his pace, panicking as she failed to answer him. “Rose, please, what’s goin’ on?”

Up on the catwalk, the Ood continued to chorus, “The Legion shall be many, and the Legion shall be few.” Their communication orbs glowed brighter.

“It's the Ood.” Rose stuttered into the comm, “D-doctor, I think whatever tried to get me has gotten them.”

“We have contamination of the livestock,” Jefferson reported into his wrist-comm. “They won't listen to us.”

“He has woven himself in the fabric of your life since the dawn of time. Some may call him Abaddon. Some may call him Krop Tor. Some may call him Satan or Lucifer,” the Ood chanted and stood eerily still, holding their orbs aloft. “The King of Despair, the Deathless Prince, the Bringer of Night. And these are the words that shall set him free.”

Rose pressed the comm to her mouth and whispered the words as the Ood recited them, trying to keep the Doctor abreast of the situation. But he hadn’t spoken back to her since Toby had been possessed. She suspected the comms system was down; the Doctor always answered her.

The red-eyed Ood started to advance on them.

“Back up to the door!” Jefferson barked.

Rose dropped the mic and shuffled backward, keeping an eye on the crazed aliens.

“I shall become manifest,” the Ood recited. “I shall walk in might. And my legions shall swarm across the worlds.”

“Move quickly! To the door!” Jefferson shouted over his shoulder as he kept his gun trained on the line of Ood. “Get it open!”

Deep under the base, a powerful quake knocked the Doctor off his feet and he tumbled to the ground.

“Doctor!” Ida shouted behind him. “It’s opening!”

Rocks rained down around the Doctor as he got to his feet and quickly backtracked to the massive disc. As the center seal sunk inward, it split into multiple pieces and retracted back to reveal a bottomless, inky-black pit.

The Tardis’ hum screamed at the Doctor in panic. The ominous feeling he’d had since they’d landed spiked and timelines burst across his vision — he was about to be ripped apart from Rose.

Up top, the Ood continued to chant and pushed Rose and the crew back against the door. “I am the sin and the temptation and the desire. I am the pain and the loss. I have been imprisoned for eternity. But no more.”

“Get that door open!” Jefferson bellowed.

Rose struggled to stay upright as the intense tremors rattled the base. She hammered on the metal door as another crew member attempted to turn the wheel.

“The pit is open and I am free!” the Ood chanted, steps away from them.

A computerized voice chimed cheerily overhead, “Door sealed. Door sealed.”

The door wouldn’t budge — they were trapped.

Chapter Text

Previously…

“Get that door open!” Jefferson bellowed.

Rose struggled to stay upright as the intense tremors rattled the base. She hammered on the metal door as another crew member attempted to turn the wheel.

“The pit is open and I am free!” the Ood chanted, steps away from them.

A computerized voice chimed cheerily overhead, “Door sealed. Door sealed.”

The door wouldn’t budge — they were trapped.

~*~

“Open fire!” Jefferson bellowed.

A thunderous round of automatic weapons fire pierced the air. Rose slammed her palms over her ears and ducked her head as Jefferson and another crew member rained bullets at the Ood. The red glow faded from their eyes upon impact and they slumped to the ground.

Silence replaced the hailstorm of bullets and a high-pitched ringing was the only thing Rose could hear for several moments. The violent tremors under her feet had stopped and she no longer had to fight to stand. With a heavy heart over the deceased Odd, she dashed back to the computer terminal and picked up the comm.

“Doctor? Doctor, can you hear me? Doctor, Ida, are you there?” she pleaded, but only static answered her.

The computerized voice chimed overhead, “Open door twenty-five.”

Jefferson and the crew member spun on their heels and aimed their weapons at the opening door.

Danny poked his head in and froze. “It’s me!” He scurried inside and slammed the door shut behind him. “But they’re coming. It’s the Ood. They’ve gone mad!”

Jefferson frowned. “How many of them?”

“All of them! All fifty!”

Jefferson marched to the door, a soldier prepared for battle. “Danny, out of the way.” When the boy didn’t move immediately, Jefferson shoved him to the side. “I said, out of the way!”

“But they're armed!” Danny protested, unable to control his panic. “It's the interface device. I don't know how, but they're using it as a weapon.”

Undeterred, Jefferson spun the door open. The red eyes of more possessed Ood immediately greeted him on the other side. Before he could close the entry, one of the Ood thrust its glowing orb into the forehead of the crew member standing next to him. Electricity crackled and fizzed against her skin and she wailed in pain before dropping to the grating, dead. Jefferson opened fire with a shout of rage, killing the red-eyed monsters.

As soon as the Ood were exterminated, Danny rushed forward and slammed the door shut. “Seal door twenty-five! Seal door twenty-four! Seal door twenty-three!” he rapidly instructed the computer before anymore Ood could burst into the room.

A screech of feedback pierced the air as the communications came back online. Down in the pit, the Doctor finally heard the panicked voices of the crew as they rushed to seal doors against the oncoming horde of possessed Ood.

“Rose!” the Doctor anxiously shouted into his mic. “Rose, are you there?”

Rose quickly pressed the comm to her mouth. “Where have you been you stupid, bloody prat!”

“Oi!” the Doctor protested. “The comms were down!”

Captain Zach’s panicked voice interrupted their bickering. “Jefferson, what's happening there?”

“I've got very little ammunition, sir,” Jefferson informed him. “How about you?”

“All I've got is a bolt-gun. With, er, all of one bolt. I could take out a grand total of one Ood. Fat lot of good that is.”

Jefferson nodded, grim. “Given the emergency, I recommend strategy nine.”

Captain Zach sighed heavily. “Strategy Nine.” The line went static as he weighed the decision. “Agreed. Right, we need to get everyone together. Doctor? Are you and Ida ok?”

“Peachy,” the Doctor quipped. “Oh, by the way, the seal opened up. I’m starin’ into a lovely, giant chasm.”

“How deep is it?” Captain Zach asked.

“No idea.” The Doctor swept his torchlight over the top of the pit, but it didn’t penetrate the darkness. “Could go down forever.”

“The pit is open.” Rose licked her lips nervously. “That's what the voice said.”

Having heard the warning too, Captain Zach felt slightly jittery. “But there's nothing, I mean… there's nothing coming out?”

“No, no. No sign of this mysterious beast,” the Doctor stated sarcastically, attempting to rebuff their concerns.

Despite his assurances, Rose’s voice trembled, “It… it said Satan.”

“Rubbish. No such thing.” He tried to keep his tone light so the crew didn’t fall victim to mass hysteria. He felt the glaring mauve alert from the Tardis in the back of his mind, but he needed everyone else to keep it together.

“Ida,” Captain Zach interrupted, “I recommend that you withdraw immediately.”

“But, we've come all this way!” Ida protested.

“Okay, that was an order,” Captain Zach scolded. “Withdraw. When that thing opened, the whole planet shifted. One more inch and we fall into the black hole, so this thing stops right now!”

“But it's not much better up there with the Ood!”

“I'm initiating strategy nine, so I need the two of you back up top immediately, no ar—” He was interrupted by a loud screech of feedback. “Ida? Ida!”

“Doctor!” Rose shouted into her mic. “What happened?”

“She switched off the comms!” Captain Zach’s voice growled furiously over the PA system.

Down in the pit, the Doctor glared at Ida. “Mind tellin’ me why you cut off your Captain?” And Rose.

“What do you think?” Ida asked, ignoring his ire.

“I think you’ve just been givin’ an order.”

“Yeah, but what do you think?” She gestured to the pit, fascination written all over her features.

The Doctor could tell she was trying to appeal to his scientific curiosity, and it (annoyingly) was working. He couldn’t deny being eager to discover the secrets of this ancient civilization with an ancient language not even known to his Tardis. But he was miles beneath the surface without Rose, and the situation up top had put her in danger.

The Doctor let out a sigh and stared at the inky blackness. “I think I should have turned around right after I landed.” He could feel the Tardis agreeing with him, still angry he had forced her to set down on this planet.

“But what about the beast. If there's something in there, why’s it still hiding?”

“Beast.” He scoffed. “Not only is this planet impossible, but it has to have a beast. If there is one, maybe we opened the prison but not the cell.”

Ida nodded her head in determination. “We should go down. I'd go. What about you?”

A rebuttal was right on the tip of the Doctor’s tongue, but something sinister in the darkness was calling out to him. It was the same foreboding feeling he’d had since he’d landed, but it was stronger with the seal of the pit opened. And now, there was a layer of seduction added to it, begging him to delve deeper.

Unable to help himself, he stepped closer to the edge of the pit. “Normally, I’d go in a second. Love a mystery, me. The feelin’ you get on the verge of discovery — the urge to dive without a parachute no matter where the wind may take you.”

The siren call to leap grew in his mind as he leaned further to stare into the shadowy void. But he tamped it down, his desire to see Rose safe squashing any psychic influences. “Whatever it is down there, maybe it’s relyin’ on that. So, for once in my life, Officer Scott, I’m not gonna jump.”

The Doctor groaned as he straightened and stepped back from the pit. “Definitely gettin’ old.” He switched the comm back on. “Rose, we’re comin’ back.”

Up on the catwalk, Rose blew out a huge sigh as she heard the Doctor’s voice again. “Best news I’ve heard all day.”

The sharp, jarring sound of a gun reloading broke through her happy moment. Rose turned her head to see Jefferson pointing his rifle at Toby.

Her eyes widened. “What're you doin’?!”

“He's infected.” Jefferson gritted his teeth. “He brought that thing on board. You saw it.”

Cautiously, Rose moved towards him to defend Toby. “Are you gonna start shootin’ your own people now? Is that what you're gonna do? Is it?”

Jefferson hesitated briefly. “If necessary.”

“Well then,” Rose lifted her chin and inched closer to Toby who was lying defenseless on the grating, “you'll have to shoot me if necessary, so what's it gonna be?”

Reluctantly, Jefferson lowered his weapon as Rose kneeled down by the twitchy man. “Look at his face. Whatever it was, it’s gone. It passed into the Ood. You saw it happen. He's clean.”

Toby heaved in shaky breaths as he stared at the barrel of the rifle. For a few tense seconds, Jefferson was silent, assessing the threat level of the man on the floor. But, without the influence of the demonic spirit, Toby was nothing but a spineless Archeologist.

“Any sign of trouble, I'll shoot him,” Jefferson threatened and stalked off.

Rose let out a puff of air and clutched Toby’s hand. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah, I…” he stuttered and shook his head. “Dunno.”

“Can you remember anything?”

“Just… It was so angry. It was fury and rage and death.” A visible shudder wracked his body, and Toby stopped breathing. “It was him. It was the Devil.”

Rose held out her arms. “C’mere.”

Toby willingly accepted the comfort of a hug and clung to her like a lifeline. His shoulders shook with tiny sobs as he struggled to control his breathing. Rose had felt the excruciating pain of the malevolent force when it had attempted to seize control of her mind. It was no wonder Toby was so shellshocked; she couldn’t possibly imagine the terrors he had witnessed.

Deep underneath the Exploration Deck, Ida and the Doctor were marching back to the capsule. The Doctor strode quickly, wanting to be reunited with Rose as soon as possible. He could still feel and see tiny segments of various timelines as the possibilities swarmed around him. There was enough psychic energy emanating from this planet to cause a plethora of scenarios to unfold. Something wanted to rip Rose away from him, and he wouldn’t be able to breathe properly until her hand was back in his.

The Doctor glanced at Ida from the corner of his helmet. “What's strategy nine?”

“Open the airlocks. We'll be safe inside the lockdown. The Ood will get thrown out into the vacuum.” She opened the door to the capsule and stepped inside.

He halted in his tracks briefly before he joined her. “So we're goin’ back to a slaughter?”

“The Devil's work.” Ida frowned as she spoke into the comm, “Okay, we're in. Bring us up.”

Over the PA, Jefferson counted down, “Ascension in three, two, one.”

The power shut off the moment Jefferson finished counting. Only the emergency lights and equipment were functioning. Rose’s heartbeat quickened as she whipped her head around in her dim surroundings.

“This is the darkness,” boomed a sinister voice on the PA system. “This is my domain.”

All of the monitors in the base, including the capsule deep underground, flickered until they revealed a group of possessed Ood; their communication orbs glowed blazingly bright.

“You little things that live in the light, clinging to your feeble suns, which die in the—”

Captain Zach’s voice talked over them, “That's not the Ood. Something's talking through them.”

“ —only the darkness remains.”

“This is Captain Zachary Cross Flane of Sanctuary Base Six, representing the Torchwood archive,” he stated forcefully. “You will identify yourself.”

“You know my name,” the deep voice echoed throughout the base.

“What do you want?”

“You will die here, all of you. This planet is your grave.”

The Doctor scowled at the threat and spoke into his comm, “And exactly which beast do you claim to be? ‘Cause the universe has been busy since you’ve been fiddlin’ away in the darkness. There's more religions than there are planets in the sky! The Archiphets, Orkology, Christianity, Pash Pash, New Judaism, San Klah, Church of the Tin Vagabond. Which Devil are you?”

“All of them,” the voice snarled.

“So… what? You’re supposed to be the truth behind the myth?”

“This one knows me as I know him.” A cackle rang through the comm. “The killer of his own kind.”

The Doctor’s spine stiffened and he clenched his jaw. “How did you end up on this blasted rock?”

“The Disciples of the Light rose up against me and chained me in the pit for all eternity.”

“And when was this?”

“Before time.”

The Doctor’s brow crinkled. “What does that mean?”

“Before time,” it repeated.

“You’re talkin’ nonsense!” he balked.

“Before light and time and space and matter. Before the cataclysm. Before this universe was created.”

“That's impossible,” the Doctor argued. “No life could have existed back then.”

The Ood on the screen tilted their heads curiously. “Is that your religion?”

“No, it’s a fact!”

“You know nothing. All of you, so small. The Captain, so scared of command. The soldier, haunted by the eyes of his wife. The scientist, still running from Daddy. The little boy who lied. The virgin.”

Rose chewed on her lip nervously as the voice in the darkness addressed each member of the crew, one by one, rubbing salt into the open wounds of their hidden insecurities. Everyone grew restless and nervous, eyeing each other in fear and trepidation.

“And the lost girl, so far away from home. The valiant child who will die in battle so very soon.”

Both Rose and the Doctor stopped breathing simultaneously, separated by miles of rock.

Rose’s voice wobbled as she spoke into her mic, “Doctor, what does that mean?”

The Doctor closed his eyes, wishing he could engulf her in a comforting hug. “Rose, don’t listen to it.”

“But what does it mean?”

A cruel, throaty chuckle echoed in the darkness. “You will die and I will live.”

All of the monitors in the base flickered and the footage of the Ood was replaced by a roaring, horned beast. Everyone jumped and stumbled backward, panicking at the sinister image on the displays.

“Doctor, what did it mean?” Rose spoke rapidly into the comm as disorder erupted around her.

The Doctor hated the tremble in her voice and he tried to answer, but everyone else on the base was shouting and panicking at the same time. Toby had devolved into a sobbing puddle, Jefferson and the Captain were attempting to get status updates, Danny was sniveling like a teenaged girl, and Ida was desperately trying to figure out if anyone had gotten an analysis of the intruder. Hysteria was quickly overriding their critical thinking abilities. The voice in the darkness was getting exactly what it wanted — chaos.

The Doctor could almost feel its smugness in the back of his mind. Whatever it was had played a very effective game, scanning everyone’s mind for their very basic fears. He was immensely relieved he had strengthened Rose’s barriers earlier.

“OI! Everyone shut it!” the Doctor bellowed at the top of his lungs, sending feedback through the comm system. It startled everyone into silence. “That’s more like it, a bit of a hush. Now, if you want a voice in the dark then listen to mine. That thing is playin’ on your fears. Darkness, childhood nightmares, all that rubbish.”

“But that's how the devil works,” Danny countered.

“Or a good psychologist.”

Ida stomped her foot next to him, unconvinced. “Yeah, but how did it know about my father?”

He paused briefly. How could he calm them down without telling her that it knew about her father because it was a physic interloper?

The Doctor rallied quickly. “Alright, every mediocre psychologist has their own version of the truth. What about mine? ‘Cause I’ll tell you what I see. I see humans — brilliant, mad little apes.” Rose’s small laugh tinkled in his ear and he smiled briefly. “You traveled across space and flew a rocket into the orbit of a black hole just because you wanted to. That’s fantastic! And you did it together. That beast is alone. We are not. If we can use that to fight against him—”

A deafening crack broke the silence on the catwalk and Rose whipped her head around to see the cable to the capsule splintering. Before she could blink, the steely threads snapped and plummeted into the gloom of the mineshaft. The resulting crash into the rock deep below was powerful enough to send dust and debris flying up to the Exploration Deck.

“Doctor, we lost the cable! Doctor, are you alright?” Rose shouted into the comm, fervently hoping they hadn’t been crushed in the capsule. “Doctor!”

“Rose, I think the comms are down.” Jefferson touched her arm, but she flinched violently away from him. She vaguely heard Captain Zach telling her the same thing over the PA system.

She banged on the computer terminal, refusing to believe she was cut off from him again. “Doctor! Answer me, you git!”

The crackling of the static was the only response she received. With communications down and the cable gone, how was she going to get to him?

“Send me down there.” Rose dropped the mic and strode towards the railing, staring into the abyss. “Have you got rappellin’ equipment or somethin’?”

Jefferson shook his head. “No.”

“But we’ve got to bring them back!”

“They're ten miles down. We haven't got another ten miles of cable.”

Rose’s turmoil was interrupted by a loud bang against door twenty-five. Everyone stopped and eyed the metal warily.

Jefferson raised his wrist-com. “Captain? Situation report.”

A sigh of defeat rasped through the intercom. “It’s the Ood. They’re cutting through the door bolts. They’re breaking in.”

Jefferson peered out the porthole of door twenty-five and met the face of a red-eye alien. “Yeah, it's the same on this door.”

With her nerves thoroughly rattled, Rose gnawed on her thumbnail. “How long's that gonna take?”

“Well, it's only a basic frame, it should take ten minutes.” A particularly loud bang vibrated the floor under their feet. “Eight,” Jefferson amended.

Captain Zach’s concerned voice filled the air. “I've got a security frame. It might last a bit longer, but that doesn't help you.”

Even though she was panicking over the Doctor, Rose closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. There was a crisis to solve and she would be useless if she couldn’t focus.

“Right. So we need to stop them, or get out, or both,” Rose mused out loud, putting her brain to work like the Doctor would.

“I'll take both, yeah? But how?” Danny half-shouted in frustration.

“You heard the Doctor. Why do you think that thing cut him off? ‘Cause he was makin’ sense! He was tellin’ you to think your way out of this. C’mon!” Rose shouted when no one moved in their dim surroundings. “For starters, we need some lights. There's got to be some sort of power somewhere.”

“There's nothing I can do,” Captain Zach growled and slammed something over the PA. “Some Captain, stuck in here pressing buttons.”

“Maybe that’s all you need to do. The right buttons got you to land on this impossible planet in the first place,” Rose reminded him, hoping to lift the futile-fog from the Captain’s brain.

“They've gutted the generators. But the rocket's got an independent supply. If I could reroute that…” Captain Zach started thinking clearly and instructed his crew, “Mister Jefferson? Open the bypass conduits. Override the safety.”

“Opening bypass conduits, sir.” Jefferson followed orders and punched in commands on the computer terminal.

“Channeling rocket feed in three, two, one.” Captain Zach sucked in a breath of hope. “Power.”

The lights in the base illuminated and the hopeless situation became a bit brighter.

Rose clapped happily. “There we go!”

“Let there be light!” Danny cheered

Now, they just needed a way to neutralize the Ood. Rose turned to Mr. Jefferson. “What about that strategy nine thing?”

He shook his head. “Not enough power. It needs a hundred percent.”

“Right, we need a way out. Zach, Mister Jefferson, you start workin’ on that.” Rose directed them and walked over to Toby. “Toby, what about you?”

He scrambled up from his perch on the grating. “I'm not a soldier. I can't do anything.”

“No, you're the archeologist. What do you know about the pit?”

“Nothing! We can't even translate the language.”

Rose frowned. “Right.”

“Hold on.” Toby stopped her before she walked away. “Maybe.”

“What is it?”

“Since that thing was inside my head, it's like the letters make more sense.”

“Well, get to work. Anything you can translate, just anything.” Toby nodded his head firmly and marched off.

Rose smiled encouragingly and stepped next to Danny. “As for you, Danny boy. You're in charge of the Ood. Any way of stoppin’ them?”

“Well…” He waved his arms about in irritation. “I don't know.”

“Then find out.” She pulled him over to a computer terminal. “The sooner we get control of the base, the sooner we can get the Doctor out. Now get goin’. Shift.”

Rose clapped him on the back and peered down into the pit. She’d continue to kick the crew into gear if they wallowed in hopelessness once more. Nothing was going to stop her from rescuing the Doctor.

~*~

The Doctor helped Ida stand and took in the destruction of the capsule. When the cable snapped, they had dived out onto the rocky ground and shielded their heads from the crash. They were unharmed, but now they had no way to get back to the surface.

The Doctor chucked a rock in anger. “How much air have we got?”

“Sixty minutes,” Ida surmised, but then looked at her readout and amended, “Fifty-five.”

Once again, the Doctor found himself cursing the fact that he hadn’t turned around as soon as the Tardis objected the landing. The ship hummed in the back of his mind in agreement —- she wasn’t happy with him either. The sinister psychic presence was cackling happily, still trying to invade his mind. But his barriers were firmly in place; he just hoped it wasn’t trying to get to Rose.

Now that miles of rock separated him from her, the timeline storm had calmed and disappeared. He cursed his time sense for failing him in his time of need; it felt like he was flying blind. Most days, he could tell if he was on the right track or not — but not this day. The strong telepath nearby was distorting the possibilities around him.

Ida surveyed the wreckage. “Well, we’ve got all this cable. We might as well use it.” She picked up a section of the twisted wire and began to pull it from the rubble. “The drum’s disconnected. We could adapt it, feed it through.”

The Doctor swung his torchlight by her feet to watch her work. “And what’s the plan?”

“Abseil into the pit.”

“Abseil. Right,” he muttered.

“We're running out of air with no way back. It's the only thing we can do. Even if it's the last thing we ever achieve.” She grunted and pulled at the heavy cable as the Doctor stood idle.

He folded his arms as much as possible, still annoyed by his situation. “Oh, I’m gettin’ back. Rose is up there.”

Ida huffed an annoyed breath. “Well, maybe the key to that is finding out what's in the pit.”

With a surly expression, the Doctor continued to watch Ida pull the cable from the pile of rocks. He didn’t want to admit she was right, that the correct course of action was to rappel into the darkness. He’d rather scale the rocky wall of the mineshaft instead of putting more distance between himself and Rose. But if he had any chance of getting back to her, the best solution was at the bottom of the pit where the Tardis was waiting for him. Only, it wasn’t just the Tardis — the mysterious beast was down there with his ship.

But, as Rose had said earlier, he’d once rescued her from the middle of the Dalek fleet. There were no monsters in this universe that would keep her from him.

The Doctor cracked his neck and yanked at a bit of cable. “You’ve got half of a good plan.”

Ida raised an eyebrow. “And what’s the other half?”

“I go down, not you.”

~*~

Rose continued to gnaw on her thumbnail as she observed the frantic activities of Jefferson, Toby, and Danny, but she was itching to get to the Doctor. She would attempt to help them herself with her, supposedly, higher functioning brain (according to the Doctor, anyway) but she didn’t want to disrupt the team dynamic when they had limited time. The Ood were perilously close to breaking through the door.

Danny wiped his forehead and continued his search. “There's all sorts of viruses that could stop the Ood. Trouble is, we haven't got them on board.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Well, that's handy, listin’ all the things we haven't got.” He frowned and she regretted her caustic quip. “Sorry, I know you’re tryin’ your best. Just, keep at it.”

Suddenly, the computer terminal he was working at flashed “affirmative.”

“Oh, my God. It says yes. I can do it!” Danny cheered. “Hypothetically, if you flip the monitor, broadcast a flare, it can disrupt the telepathy. Brainstorm!”

“What happens to the Ood?”

“It'll tank them, spark-out!” He smiled broadly at his discovery.

“Not kill them?” Rose worried.

“No, no. Just sort of reset them.”

“There we are, then. Do it!”

“I know, but…” Danny’s face fell. “I'd have to transmit from the central monitor. We need to go to Ood Habitation.”

“That's what we'll do, then.” Rose refused to let a small detail derail them. She ignored the banging noise on door twenty-five and turned to Jefferson for a solution. “Mister Jefferson, sir, any way out of here?”

“Just about.” He nodded and pointed to a diagram on the monitor. “There's a network of maintenance tunnels running underneath the base. We should be able to gain access from here.”

“Maintenance tunnels. I gather that means there’s no air for life forms?”

“No air, in fact, at all. They were designed for machines.”

“But I can manipulate the oxygen field from here,” Captain Zach chimed in overhead. “Create discrete pockets of atmosphere. If I control it manually, I can follow you through the network.”

“Right, so we go down, and you make the air follow us… by hand?” Rose clarified, warily.

“You wanted me pressing buttons.”

Rose huffed a laugh. “Yep, I asked for it. Okay, Captain, we need to get to Ood Habitation. Work out a route, yeah?”

“Aye, aye, sir,” Captain Zach remarked with a smile in his voice.

Despite having a strategy in place, Rose resumed chewing her thumbnail. They had a solution, now they just had to implement it — successfully.

She allowed herself a prideful moment as she watched the men work. People on the estates would never believe scientists orbiting a black hole were taking orders from a simple shopgirl with no A-levels. But it was only because of the Doctor’s belief in her abilities that she was able to confidently take control of the situation.

She needed him back. He may have claimed he couldn’t navigate the universe without her, but she had no direction without him. Her own words echoed in her head — it was better with two.

~*~

In a surprisingly short amount of time, Ida and the Doctor had the ten miles of cable wrapped around a drum. The Doctor secured it to his spacesuit with a series of knots and carabiners and walked slowly towards the edge of the seal.

“That should hold it,” Ida declared as she unraveled the cable from the drum. “How’s it going?”

The Doctor tugged on the line and peered down into the pit. “S’pose there are worse things than starin’ into a hole of uncertain depth and contents. Nothin’ comes to mind, though.” He stepped right up to the edge and felt a pulse of psychic energy. “And there it is again — the itch.”

“The itch to jump? Do you know where it comes from, that sensation? Genetic heritage. Ever since we were primates in the trees,” she explained as she made the final preparations on the cable. “It's our body's way of testing us. Calculating whether or not we can reach the next branch.”

For once, the Doctor bit down the urge to be pedantic and correct her assumptions. He already knew exactly why humans had the urge to jump, but he wasn’t a human anyway. This particular urge to jump wasn’t just for the thrill of discovery. There was something in this pit calling out to anyone within range to fling themselves into the void, heedless of the consequences.

And, unfortunately, he had to answer its invitation to plunge into the abyss.

But, he indulged Ida and listened to her lecture. “Nah, this isn’t quite the urge to jump. It’s deeper than that. It’s the urge to fall.”

Before he could over think the decision, the Doctor launched himself into the chasm. The cable unraveled rapidly as he plummeted, but Ida threw the break on the drum before he plunged too far. His fall halted with a sharp jerk and he bounced off the cliff wall, swingingly lightly in the still atmosphere.

“Doctor! Are you okay?” she cried.

“Peachy, thanks.” The Doctor surveyed his surroundings as he dangled in mid-air, but it was hard to see any detail with only a torch for illumination. “The wall of the pit seems to be the same as the cavern. Appears to be a crust about twenty feet down and then… nothin’.”

The Tardis sent him a wave of encouragement, and he took a steadying breath. “Right then. Lower me down.”

“Okay, here we go,” Ida declared with a shaky voice and slowly let out the cable.

The Doctor descended into the darkness.

~*~

The Ood were nearly through door twenty-five as Jefferson threw open a piece of grating on the catwalk; it was time to crawl through the maintenance shafts to Ood Habitation. Captain Zach was ready to push buttons, but Danny was still typing furiously at the computer terminal.

“Danny!” Rose shouted frantically.

“Hold on!” he yelled back. “Just conforming.”

Jefferson eyed door twenty-five warily. “Dan, we gotta go now! C’mon!”

“There!” Danny grabbed an orange chip from the computer and ran over to them. “Put that in the monitor and it’s a bad time to be an Ood!”

“We're comin’ back. Have you got that? We're comin’ back to this room and we're gettin’ the Doctor out.” Rose met everyone’s eye until they gave her a firm nod; she refused to leave the Doctor behind.

“Okay, Danny, you go first,” Jefferson guided him into the duct as he watched the Ood’s progress, “then you, Miss Tyler, then Toby. I'll go last in defensive position. Now, c’mon, quick as you can!”

Rose jumped down in the duct after Danny. “God, it stinks. You alright?”

“Yeah, I'm laughing,” Danny snarked and then spoke into his wrist-com, “Which way do we go?

“Just go straight ahead. Keep going ‘til I say so,” Captain Zach ordered.

Toby landed behind Rose, followed by Jefferson as he slammed the grating shut. All four of them began crawling straight ahead on their hands and knees as instructed.

Despite the perilous situation, Rose couldn’t help but huff a laugh at her current view of Danny’s bum. “Not your best angle, Danny.”

“Oi, stop it!”

“I don't know, it could be worse,” Toby chimed in as he got an eyeful of Rose’s bum.

“Oi!” Rose briefly craned her neck around to glare at him. “The Doctor likes it,” she mumbled.

Captain Zach cut off their childish insults, “Straight on ‘til you find junction seven point one. Keep breathing. I'm feeding you air. I've got you.”

Claustrophobia threatened to overtake Rose as she scrambled along the duct, bumping shoulders with Danny. She coughed a bit, breathing in the blessedly present but stiflingly hot air. After what felt like miles of banging her knees on the metal floor, they reached their destination.

“We're at seven point one, sir,” Danny announced into his comm.

“Okay, I've got you,” Captain Zach acknowledged. “I'm just aerating the next section.”

“Getting kind of cramped, sir. Can't you hurry up?”

“I'm working on half power, here.”

“Stop complaining,” Jefferson grumbled through heavy breaths.

“Mister Jefferson says stop complainin’,” Rose relayed to Danny.

He rolled his eyes. “I heard.”

“He heard.” Rose couldn’t help but smile at the exasperation on Jefferson’s face.

Toby shook his head and spoke into his comm. “But the air's getting a bit thin.”

Rose raised an eyebrow at Jefferson. “He's complainin’ now.”

He huffed a laugh. “I heard.”

A pungent smell wafted into Rose’s nostrils. “Danny, is that you?”

He scowled. “I'm not exactly happy.”

Captain Zach sighed heavily at their nervous banter. “I'm just moving the air. I've got to oxygenate the next section. Now, keep calm or it's going to feel worse.”

A loud, metallic bang echoed down the duct system. Jefferson quickly readjusted his body into a defensive position and prepared his rifle.

“What was that?” Danny squeaked.

Rose squinted into the darkness of the duct. “Mister Jefferson, what was that?”

“What's that noise?” Toby scooted further toward the safety of the junction.

Jefferson shushed them. “Captain, what was that?”

“The junction in Habitation Five's been opened. It must be the Ood,” Captain Zach surmised. “They're in the tunnels!”

“Well, open the gate,” Danny insisted frantically.

“I've got to get the air in!”

“Just open it, sir!”

“Where are they? Are they close?” Rose asked.

“I don't know. I can't tell. I can't see them,” Captain Zach growled. “The computer doesn't register Ood as proper life forms.”

Rose internally rolled her eyes and berated the human race. “Whose idea was that?”  

“Open the gate!” Danny didn’t care about the moral implications of the Ood’s classification and was quickly becoming hysterical as the noise of the possessed aliens grew louder.

A hiss of hydraulics announced their freedom and they lunged through gate seven point one.

“Danny, turn left, immediate left,” Captain Zach directed.

They scurried once more on hands and knees, quickly fleeing the sound of the Ood in the ducts.

“The Ood, sir, can't you trap them?” Jefferson asked as he crawled backward, keeping his eyes peeled for the oncoming threat. “Cut off the air?”

“Not without cutting off yours.” They heard a loud bang through the comm speakers. The Ood were almost through to the control room, but the Captain kept instructing them as he followed them on his monitor. “Danny, turn right, go right. Go faster, they're gonna catch up!”

Danny’s knees slipped as he forced them to shuffle faster. Rose nearly lost her own balance on her sweaty palms as she followed him. She hadn’t spotted an Ood yet, but she could hear them rattling along the metal.

“I'll maintain defensive position!” Jefferson announced.

Rose ceased crawling and shouted back at him, “You can't stop!”

“Miss Tyler, that's my job.” Jefferson braced his feet on the sides of the tunnel, aiming the barrel of his rifle down the shiny corridor. “You've got your task, now see to it.”

“You heard what he said, now shift!” Toby pushed Rose to continue, eager to keep moving.

Reluctantly, she resumed her hasty crawl and a volley of gunfire echoed in the tunnels as she rounded a corner. They reached their destination wide-eyed with fear as they heard Jefferson shooting.

“Eight point two. Open eight point two.” The pinging of the bullets on the metal caused Danny’s panic to reach a fever-pitch. “Zach! Open eight point two!”

“I've got to aerate it!” Captain Zach shouted.

“Open it now!”

“I'm trying!”

Logical sense had fled Danny’s brain, and he started hammering on the hatch of junction eight point two.

Rose grabbed one of his wrists. “Danny, stop it! That's not helpin’!”

“Zach, get it open!” Toby cried into his wrist-comm.

“Jefferson, I've gotta open eight point two by closing eight point one. You've got to get past the junction. Now move!” Despite Captain Zach’s instruction, Jefferson continued to fire. “That's an order, move! I'm gonna lose oxygen, Jefferson, I can't stop the automatics!”

Toby, Rose, and Danny listened to the frantic pleas of the Captain as Jefferson continued to defend them from the Ood. The sound of dropping bodies vibrated along the metal duct as the hatch released.

A manic smile sprung on Danny’s face. “That's it! C’mon, c’mon!”

He squeezed through the opening before the gate fully lifted and Rose and Toby shuffled after him.

Captain Zach tried to remain calm under pressure and continue navigating them. “Danny, turn left and head for nine point two. That's the last one. Jefferson, you've got to move faster!”

As the gunfire stopped, Rose turned her head to look for Jefferson. She saw him crawling down the duct as the gate for junction eight point one was lowering ahead of him.

“Mister Jefferson! C’mon!” Rose yelled, panicked that he wasn’t going to make it.

“Keep going!” Toby growled and shoved Rose along the metal floor.

The gate closed with a resounding thud before Jefferson could join them. Rose, Toby, and Danny arrived at nine point two, panting heavily at the final junction without their protector.

“Regret to inform, sir,” Jefferson’s voice floated over the comm, “I was a bit slow. Not so fast, these days.”

“I can't open eight point one, John. Not without losing air for the others,” Captain Zach informed him solemnly.

“And quite right too, sir. I think I bought them a little time.”

“There's nothing I can do, John. I'm sorry.”

“You've done enough, sir. Made a very good captain under the circumstances. May I ask, if you can't add oxygen to this section, can you speed up the process of its removal?” Jefferson requested.

“I don't understand. What do you mean?” the Captain asked, confused.

“Well, if I might choose the manner of my departure, sir, lack of air seems more natural than, well, let's say, death by Ood. I'd appreciate it, sir!”

Rose choked back a sob as she listened to Jefferson’s morbid plea.

“Godspeed, Mister Jefferson,” the Captain said softly.

“Thank you, sir.”

A rush of air left the ducting on the other side of the closed gate, and Rose wiped a tear from her cheek. Danny swallowed heavily and closed his eyes.

“Report. Officer John Maynard Jefferson PKD… deceased, with honors,” Captain Zach announced, barely above a whisper. “Forty-Three-K Two point One.”

“Zach, we're at the final junction: nine point two,” Danny’s voice cracked. “And, er, if my respects could be on record. He saved our lives.”

“Noted.” Captain Zach cleared his clogged throat. “Opening nine point two.”

The whoosh of the hydraulics broke their somber silence, but the grim atmosphere vanished as the gate opened on a waiting, red-eyed Ood.

“Lower nine point two!” Rose screamed and they immediately shuffled away from the hatch. “Zach, lower it!”

One of the Ood caught the gate before it could close completely, nearly severing its fingers, and strained to pull the heavy, metal hatch open with brute force.

“Back! Back! Back!” Danny kicked away from the door and pushed Rose to move faster.

“We can't go back!” Toby argued. “The gang point's sealed off — we're stuck!”

The Ood that was struggling with the gate now had it lifted halfway up.

I am not dying in a maintenance tunnel! Rose frantically whipped her head around and spotted grating above her head. “C’mon, up!” she shouted to the men and lifted the panel.

She poked her head up into a corridor and scrambled out of the tunnel with Danny on her heels. Rose could hear the Ood banging along the metal, but then they suddenly stopped. Toby hadn’t joined them yet and Rose glanced down to see him paralyzed on the floor of the ducting.

“No time for sittin’! C’mon! Toby, c’mon!” She knelt and stuck her hand down to help him.

He finally unfroze and craned his neck up at her. “Help me! Oh, my God, help me!”

Rose hoisted Toby out of the tunnel, surprised by her own strength, and stared, horrified, as a door at the end of the corridor popped open with more red-eyed Ood.

“It's this way.” Danny led the charge as the Ood marched rapidly behind them.

“Hurry up!” Captain Zach yelled through the intercom.

They burst through the door of Ood Habitation and skidded to a stop by the control terminal.

Rose frantically pulled on Danny’s sleeve. “Get it in!”

She joined Toby by the railing to keep an eye on the pen below them; it was filled with possessed aliens that were not happy to see them.

“Transmit!” she commanded Danny as the Ood glared at her.

“I'm trying, I'm trying!” Danny dug his hands in his pockets. “I'm getting at it.”

The Ood in the pen began to stomp up the stairs toward them while Danny searched for the computer chip. Their glowing orbs were held aloft, ready to electrocute the next victim.

Rose felt her heart stop as the red-eyed aliens reached the top step. “Danny, get that thing transmittin’!”

Finally, he yanked the chip out of his trousers and slammed it into a slot on the computer terminal. The telepathic field reading immediately fell from basic one hundred to zero. An electronic buzzing filled the air and the Ood grabbed their heads, writhing in pain. They collapsed throughout the base as their telepathic field was short-circuited.

“You did it.” Rose stood paralyzed for a few brief seconds before a wide grin stretched across her face. “We did it!” She jumped up and down and grabbed Danny in a hug.

“Yes!” Danny whooped in delight and let her go to engulf Toby around the shoulders in celebration.

Rose pulled back from a very relieved Toby and grabbed a nearby mic. “Zach, we did it! The Ood are down. Now we've gotta get the Doctor.”

“I'm on my way,” Captain Zach announced.

With the Ood no longer a threat, the three companions raced back to the Exploration Deck without a hitch. Captain Zach joined them moments later.

Rose yanked the comm on the catwalk and pressed it to her mouth. “Doctor, are you there? Doctor, Ida, can you hear me?”

Captain Zach joined her at the terminal. “The comms are still down. I can patch them through the central desk and boost the signal. Just give me a minute.”

A minute felt like too long, but she didn’t have a choice. Rose watched, distracted, as Captain Zach’s fingers flew across the keyboard, and used the opportunity to calm her racing heart and frantic breaths.

~*~

In the blackness of the pit, the Doctor talked to Ida to distract himself from his worry over Rose. “There’s representations of a horned beast all over the universe — myths and legends in a million different worlds. Same image, over and over. Maybe that idea came from here, bleedin’ across space. A thought in the back of the head of every sentient mind,” he mused, feeling the psychic energy grow stronger the lower he descended.

“Emanating from here?” Ida repeated.

“Maybe.”

“But if this is the original, does that make it real? Does that make it the actual Devil, though?”

He shrugged even though she couldn’t see him. “If that's what you want to believe. Maybe that's what the Devil is — an idea.”

The cable came to a screeching halt, and the Doctor’s descent ended.

“That's it. That's all we've got. You getting any sort of readout?” Ida wondered.

He checked the monitors on his wrist. “No, nothin’. Could be miles or thirty feet. No way to tell.” The blackness surrounding him made it impossible to discern any details. For all he knew, he was inches from the ground. “I could survive thirty feet.”

“Oh no you don't,” Ida argued. “I'm pulling you back up.”

She reversed the drum, but the Doctor stopped the cable before she could rein him in.

“What're you doing?” Ida yelled in his ear.

“If you bring me back, then we're just gonna sit there and run out of air. I’ve gotta go down,” he spoke softly, knowing he had no alternative. Even if he died trying, it was the only way to the Tardis.

“But you can't. Doctor, you can't!”

“Call it an act of faith.”

Ida’s voice broke, “But I don't wanna die on my own.”

“I know.” The Doctor closed his eyes briefly, saddened that he had to abandon Ida, before he slowly undid the carbineers keeping the cable in place around him. “I never did ask; have you got any sort of faith?”

“Not really. I was brought up Neo-Classic Congregational. Because of my mum, she was…” Ida paused as she reflected on her youth. “My old mum. But, no, I never believed.”

“Neo-Classics, have they got a Devil?” he asked to distract himself as well as her. There weren’t many more hooks left around his spacesuit to undo.

“No, not as such. Just, um… the things that men do.”

“Same thing in the end.”

A tiny laugh escaped Ida’s throat. “What about you?”

Rose’s face flashed across his vision and a fond smile sprung to his lips. He’d once thought he had nothing left to believe in, and then he’d stumbled across a shopgirl in London — a brilliant blonde who took his hand and flew with him across the universe.

Ida cleared her throat in his ear, and he stopped his reminisce to answer her, “I believe… that I haven’t seen everything. ‘Course, that’s why I keep travelin’. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d have believed it. But before time? Impossible. Doesn’t fit any rule or fact I believe in. S’pose that’s good for my scientific curiosity. I should be proved wrong every now and then.”

He gazed into the nothingness around him and sent a wave of affection up to Rose, even though she wouldn’t feel it. “Thank you, Ida.”

He heard her “Don’t go!” plea in the background of his buzzing mind, but he was too focused on one thought to hear Ida properly — why hadn’t he told Rose how much he loved her? He’d had many opportunities to tell her exactly what she meant to him; how she had changed him and made him believe in the wonders of the stars all over again. And he had wasted every chance to say it all because of some rubbish fear of scaring her off so soon after reconciling. John had told her without fear, but the words had never left his Time Lord lips. And now, he may not get the chance.

“If you get back in touch… if you talk to Rose… tell her—” He cut himself off, unwilling for Rose to hear it from someone else. She already knew. At least, he hoped she did.

The Doctor gritted his teeth and set his jaw. He refused to believe he would never see her again. Even if he died from the impact at the bottom of the pit, he’d regenerate and tell her then. Even if they were split up from the events around them, he’d scour every corner of the stars until he found her again.

“Oh, sod it. I’m tellin’ her myself as soon as I get off this blasted rock.”

He unclipped the last carabiner and spiraled down through the darkness.

~*~

Captain Zach nodded his head at Rose, indicating the comms were working.

Rose smiled, eager to hear the Doctor’s voice again. “Doctor, are you there? Doctor, Ida?”

Ida’s voice answered her, “He's gone.”

The grin vanished from Rose’s face. “What do you mean ‘he's gone’?”

“He fell… into the pit. And I don't know how deep it is. Miles and miles and miles.”

Rose blinked rapidly, confused; he couldn’t be gone. “But what do you mean ‘he fell’?”

“I couldn't stop him.” Ida audibly swallowed over the intercom. “He said your name.”

Without realizing what she was doing, Rose handed the comm to Captain Zach. He could have said anything and she wouldn’t have noticed. All Rose could hear was a ringing in her ears, as if a bomb had just gone off and damaged her eardrums. Her eyes unfocused, and the former catwalk of the Exploration Deck became a very confusing impressionist painting. The detail had vanished, leaving behind whispers of the world around her. Then the world became wet and Rose realized her eyes had filled with tears.

The Doctor fell? Why would he fall? He wouldn’t just leave her behind again — would he?

No, Rose thought vehemently as she angrily wiped her wet lashes, those confusing times were over.

She was positive he had meant it when he’d said he would never abandon her again, that he would cherish the rest of her life beside him. The pit must have been the only way to reach the Tardis — it was the only explanation.

She had many things to tell him; there were emotions she hadn’t uttered since he had swapped his mechanic’s coveralls for his leather jacket. And, until she saw his stupid, daft face again, she would wait right here on this dingy base for him.

Ida’s defeated voice broke through Rose’s haze. “It’s all right. Just go… Good luck.”

“And you.” Captain Zach closed his eyes around a heavy sigh and placed the comm back on the terminal. “Danny, Toby, close down the feed-links. Get the retrotopes online, then get to the rocket and strap yourselves in.” He met Rose’s eye. “We're leaving.”

Rose shook her head before the Captain brushed by her. “I'm not goin’.”

A disbelieving eyebrow lifted on his brow. “Rose, there's space for you.”

“No, I'm gonna wait for the Doctor. Just like he’d wait for me.” She folded her arms, ready to stand there as long as possible.

“I'm sorry, but he's dead.”

Rose shook her head again. “You don't know him. 'Cause he's not. I'm tellin’ you, he's not. And even if he was, how could I leave him all on his own, all the way down there? No, I'm gonna stay.”

“Then I apologize for this.” Captain Zach’s eyes darted over her shoulder. “Danny, Toby? Make her secure.”

Two sets of arms yanked Rose’s hands away from her body.

“No, no, no! Let me go!” she shouted.

Toby and Danny tightened their grip on her arms, but she kicked hard off the ground and spun to the side, dislodging the men and flinging them to the grating. But before she could sprint for freedom, a hand snatch her ankle and she crashed to the floor.

Rose craned her neck to see Toby gripping her shoe. “Get off!”

He scrambled to hold her with both arms, but she was quickly slithering out of his hold. “How is this little thing this strong?!”

Danny shot both of his hands out and secured her opposite ankle in a vice-like grip.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere!” Rose screamed and kicked her legs.

“Hold her!” Captain Zach yelled.

“We’re tryin’!” both men chorused.

Before she could escape their grasp a second time, Captain Zach landed hard on her back, pinning her down and plunging a syringe into her shoulder.

“No,” Rose protested weakly as the medicine flooded her veins and she fell into darkness.

Chapter Text

Previously…

“I’m not goin’ anywhere!” Rose screamed and kicked her legs.

“Hold her!” Captain Zach yelled.

“We’re tryin’!” both men chorused.

Before she could escape their grasp a second time, Captain Zach landed hard on her back, pinning her down and plunging a syringe into her shoulder.

“No,” Rose protested weakly as the medicine flooded her veins and she fell into darkness.

~*~

Harsh vibrations jolted Rose’s neck into an uncomfortable angle and her eyes popped open with a startled gasp. The crew had forced her onto the escape rocket. They were taking her away from the Doctor.

“Oi! Lemme go!” She attempted to get out of her seat, but a belt yanked her back down.

Danny rolled his eyes. “Captain, I think we're gonna have a problem passenger.”

“Keep an eye on her,” Captain Zach instructed, flicking buttons to prepare for launch.

Rose glared at Danny a few seats down from here. “You can eye my arse as I leave this rocket.”

“No can do.” Danny shook his head and pulled his belt tighter. “We’re about to leave. You’re safe.”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere! Get me out of this thing!” She yanked ineffectively at her restraints. “Get me out!”

Her teeth rattled in her mouth as the vibrations increased and she was slammed back into her seat as the rocket lifted off the ground.

“Liftoff!” Captain Zach cheered.

Toby and Danny whooped in joy while Rose screamed and fruitlessly continued to disentangle herself from her seat. The further they pulled away from that impossible lump of rock, the further away she was from the Doctor, and she was not about to let that happen without a fight. A bolt gun caught her eye and she impulsively snatched it in her grasp, aiming at the back of the Captain’s head.

“Take me back to the planet,” Rose pleaded desperately, but Captain Zach didn’t acknowledge her. “Take me back!”

“Or what?” he demanded in an annoyed tone.

“I'll shoot!”

He turned in his seat to eye her with a frown. “Would you, though? Would you really? Is that what your Doctor would want?”

The disappointed look on his face made her cheeks burn with tears of self-loathing and she slumped back into her seat, dropping the gun by her hip.

“Sorry, but it's too late anyway. Take a look outside. We can't turn back.” Captain Zach tilted his head towards a porthole window. “This is what the Doctor would have wanted. Isn't that right?”

Annoyingly, it was right. Above all, the Doctor always wanted her safe. She rubbed her palms against her eyes, willing her tears away, as Toby started to chuckle beside her.

Rose glared at him. “What’s so funny?”

He snorted a laugh. “Just… we made it. We escaped. We actually did it.”

“Not all of us,” she gritted out.

“We're not out of it yet,” Captain Zach warned. “We're still the first people in history to fly away from a black hole. Toby, read me the stats.”

With a toothy grin, Toby lifted his eyes to his computer station above him. “Gravity funnel holding, sir. Oh, it’s holding. Stats at fifty-three. Funnel stable at sixty-six point five. Hull pressure constant. Smooth as we can, sir, all the way back home. Coordinates set for planet Earth.”

He continued his odd laughter as Rose slumped further into her seat, doomed to be separated from the Doctor whether she wanted to or not.

~*~

A stinging sensation woke the Doctor with a grunt, and he rolled across the lumpy mattress to find a more comfortable position.

Lumpy?

His eyes popped open inches from a layer of dirt and rocks; he had survived the fall down the pit. Glass surrounded his head, and he realized he was breathing in the atmosphere with a breached spacesuit.

He pushed onto his elbows with a gasp. “I’m breathin’! There’s air down here! Maybe it cushioned my fall. Ida, you can breathe down here.” She didn’t answer him. “Ida, can you hear me?”

The Doctor stood with a groan, mindful of the broken shards from his shattered face shield. Since it was no longer necessary, he pulled off the helmet and raised a hand to his cheek. A small piece of glass stuck to his skin was the source of the stinging, so he pulled it out with an annoyed grimace. There was no way to know how far he had dropped, but it hadn’t been enough to trigger a regeneration — just a few cuts and bruises that would heal in no time.

The faint sound of a ship launching into the sky rattled the dust around him. The crew must have used their emergency rocket to leave the planet. He couldn’t blame them for leaving him behind. He hoped Rose was with them, even though he knew she would put up a fight.

“I’ll find you,” the Doctor whispered to himself.

The solution to finding Rose was finding the Tardis, so he squared his shoulders and turned on his torch; it was time to investigate the bottom of the pit. The gravel crunched under his boot as he moved cautiously through winding tunnels and caves in the rock.

As the beam of light swept ahead, he illuminated a series of cave paintings. It appeared to be a depiction of people battling a great, horned beast.

The Doctor brought his wrist-com up to his mouth. “Ida, I don’t know if you can hear me. Wish you could see this. There’s drawings down here of a great battle — man versus beast.” He moved the light down and followed the scene etched on the wall. “Looks like they defeated the beast and imprisoned it. Wonder how they managed that.”

He took a few steps and nearly bumped into two bronze urns on pedestals. With furrowed brows, he looked back to the wall and noticed the same urn shapes beside the pictographic entrapment of the beast. Cautiously, the Doctor reached out a gloved hand toward one of the handles. It glowed the moment it sensed his touch, and the second urn lit up moments later.

“Hmm, maybe they made a key?” he murmured and stepped up to the other pedestal. “Some sort of gate… bars?”

A low growl halted him in his tracks and the Doctor squinted into the darkness. Loud metal sounds reverberated against the ground, and he stepped forward, nearly falling into a huge cavern, bigger than any cave he had ever seen. Lava suddenly illuminated the area, as if it had been waiting for the beast to wake, and smoke drifted up from the depths of the pit below. An impossibly large, horned creature snorted and pierced him with its devilish glare as it woke and stood to its full height. It’s slimy, toothy maw opened and it lunged forward with an ear-piercing roar, straining against the weight of heavy, iron chains cinched to its wrist and horns.

The Doctor took a few steps back. “Alright, I accept that you exist. Don’t much believe in devils, me, but I’ll accept your physical existence.”

The beast only growled in acknowledgment and continued to stare at him. This was the source of the psychic presence he had felt the moment he’d landed: the foreboding in the back of his mind and the thing that had attacked his precious Rose.

“You expected me down here, didn’t you? Pulled me in with your mind games. You gave me a safe landin’ and air. What do you need me for?”

He clenched his fists and walked back to the edge of the cliff as the giant, red beast yanked its chains against the wall of the cave. Huge boulders broke free from splits in the rock as it bent forward to growl at him some more. It hissed and stared at the ceiling, silently begging to be free.

“Well, I’m not summonin’ any spells, if that’s what you’re after.”

Its dead eyes glared menacingly at him and it paced in its small space, chains rattling on the rocky terrain.

“Well, speak to me! I’m here!” the Doctor growled back. “You talked for all of England earlier, why are you so silent now?”

It only snapped its jaws in response.

“Why won’t you talk? Or… you can’t talk.”

His synapses fired in rapid succession as he thought about everything that had happened since he’d landed on this blasted rock: the ancient writing, the control of the Ood, the evil voice in the darkness, the possessed Toby.

With narrowed eyes, the Doctor addressed the so-called devil in front of him, “I heard your voice, we all heard your intelligence as you cherry-picked the worst fears from the human minds above and used it to torture them. Where’d that voice go, eh?” He laughed as he looked over the creature’s scaly, red skin. “You’re just an animal, just a body. And an ugly one, at that. What happened to that brilliant, psychic mind, eh? Gone and lost it?”

The Doctor’s short-lived amusement over the beast’s misplaced acumen abruptly fell as he realized where the creature had sent it. His eyes drifted to the ceiling of the cave.

“No,” he breathed.

The rocket. Toby. The beast’s mind was escaping.

“Oh, no you don’t,” the Doctor growled and swiftly moved to examine the cave paintings again, looking for a way to stop or defeat the impossible beast. It may not be the Devil, but it was still an extremely strong psychic force that could wreak havoc across the stars.

“The ancient civilization up top imprisoned you, a long time ago. Before time, as you claim, whatever, doesn’t matter. But this prison is perfect. It’s brilliant, absolutely eternal.”

He gritted his teeth and swept the light over a portion of the drawings he hadn’t seen yet. He grinned. “Ha! See here? Open the prison, destroy the urns, and the gravity field collapses. You’d be pulled into the black hole. You escape, you die. Fantastic! And if I destroy your prison, destroy your body, your mind goes with it! And that’s why there’s air down here — your jailors knew that if you were escapin’ then you’d have to be stopped!”

The Doctor threw his torch on the ground and picked up a large rock, heaving it above his head to smash one of the urns. A nagging suspicion stopped his momentum before he lowered his arms and he turned to stare at the beast — it wasn’t putting up much of a protest.

He tossed the rock on the ground. “You’re clever enough to use this whole system against me, aren’t you?”

A tortured laugh escaped the Doctor’s throat and he leaned his hands against the pedestal in defeat. “Destroy the planet and I destroy the gravity field. The rocket loses protection and falls into the black hole. I’d have to sacrifice Rose.”

Maniacal laughter bubbled up from the belly of the beast and it threw its head back as it cackled in twisted amusement.

~*~

Reluctantly onboard the rocket, Rose chewed on her thumbnail, deep in thought. “This doesn’t make sense. We escaped, but there’s thousands of ways it could’ve killed us. It could’ve ripped the air out or, I dunno, burst us or… anything! But it let us go. Why? Did it want us to escape?”

“Hey, Rose, do us favor,” Toby piped up, annoyed, and turned to glare at her. “Shut up,” he hissed and resumed working at his computer terminal. “Almost there. We’ll be beyond the reach of the black hole in forty, thirty-nine…”

~*~

The Doctor growled in anger as the beast continued to laugh at him. “So, if I kill you then I kill Rose. Well, that’s not happenin’.”

He pushed away from the urn and stepped to the edge of the cliff once more, directing the fury of the Oncoming Storm into the devilish creature in this pit of hell. No one threatened Rose and got away with it. The Tardis hummed in fervent agreement in the back of his mind.

“You’re operatin’ under the illusion that she’s just a victim, but you obviously don’t know her. I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods, demi-gods, would-be gods,” he mocked the creature in front of him. “And in that whole pantheon, if there’s one thing left that I believe in… just one thing… I believe in her.”

The Doctor turned to pick up the rock he had discarded and gave the creature a wicked smile. “If there’s anyone that could make the Devil himself beg for mercy, it’s her.”

The beast snarled and snapped its jaws as he hefted the rock over his shoulder, smashing the glowing urn in front of him. As the broken, bronze shards fell to the gravel, the planet trembled and he stumbled over to the second urn, breaking it into tiny pieces. The Doctor chucked the rock to the ground with a satisfied laugh.

“There you are then, your freedom. Feel free to die!” he bellowed. “Have fun on your journey into the black hole!”

Spit flew out of the beast’s mouth as it howled in anger, nearly ripping the chains from the granite while the cavern convulsed around it. Fire raged and billowed around its hulking body, spreading through its skin and veins as the creature burned in agony.

But the Doctor paid it no more attention and marched away on the unsteady terrain. Rock rained down around him, pelting off of his unprotected head, but he didn’t care. He reached out his mind and greeted the Tardis. Mercifully, she was close.

~*~

The rocket shook violently and alarms blared overhead.

“What happened?” Danny whipped his head around at the flashing lights. “What was that?”

“What's he doing?! What’s he doing?!” Toby panicked, eyes darting all around in confusion.

“We've lost the funnel,” Captain Zach shouted over the mayhem. “Gravity collapse!”

Rose braced herself on a panel to stay seated as the rocket continued to shudder and tremble like a bad ride on the Tardis. “What does that mean?”

“We can't escape. We're headed straight for the black hole!”

The ship pitched to the side and the metal groaned as the hungry collapsing star dragged its latest victim into its clutches. With a heavy gulp, Rose stared out the porthole window. The planet was being pulled into the mouth of the black hole as well.

“The planet’s movin’. It’s fallin’. No wonder we lost the funnel.” She closed her eyes briefly, hoping the impossible had happened and the Doctor had managed to escape unharmed.

When she opened her eyes, Rose was staring at Toby’s face. It was once again covered in the black writing of the untranslated language.

“I am the rage and the bile and ferocity!” Toby growled in the low-pitched voice of the beast.

“It’s Toby!” Rose yelled. “Zach, do something!”

“I am the prince and the fool and the agony!” Toby writhed in his seat. “I am the sin and the fear and the darkness!”

Danny stared and scrambled to put distance between them. “It’s him! It’s him! It’s him!”

“Stay where you are!” Captain Zach cautioned before they tried to leave their seats. “The ship's not stable!”

Fire erupted from Toby’s mouth and he snarled as his jaw snapped shut.

Captain Zach’s eyes grew impossibly large as he glanced at Toby over his shoulder. “What is he? What the hell is he?!”

Toby roared, “I shall never die! The thought of me is forever! In the bleeding hearts of men, in their vanity and obsession and lust!”

As the possessed man continued to squirm and twist in his seat, Rose eyed the bolt gun and snatched it as a plan formed in her mind. She aimed the weapon at the ship’s windshield.

“Nothing shall ever destroy me! Nothing!”

“Go to hell,” Rose growled and fired.

The trigger pulled and an ear-piercing shot rang through the cabin. Air whooshed and rushed rapidly out the front of the ship, pulling anything unfastened through the shattered window. Toby continued to roar and Rose quickly unclipped his seatbelt, sucking him and his screams out into the vacuum of space.

“Emergency shield!” Captain Zach cried and a metal shutter slammed down over the punctured ship. “We've still lost the gravity funnel. We can't escape the black hole.”

Rose felt the rocket spinning out of control. “But we stopped him. That's what the Doctor would've done.”

“Some victory. We're going in!”

A loud beeping interrupted the chaos, and Danny frowned at the screen in front of him. “The planet’s gone.” He turned to Rose with an apology. “I’m sorry.”

Rose closed her eyes, resigned to the fate of the black hole. At least she had stopped the beast from escaping — that’s all that mattered. If she never got to see the Doctor again, if these were her last moments, at least she went down knowing she’d done exactly what he would have wanted. She mentally chanted her love for him, comforting herself as the ship continued to spin out of control.

“Accelerate!” Captain Zach growled and pounded his steering controls in frustration. “I did my best. But, hey, the first human beings to fall inside a black hole. How about that? History.”

The tremor and rattles grew more violent, and the crew braced themselves for their fate. But their end never came. The shaking of the cabin stopped and the alarms ceased ringing as the rocket glided smoothly through space once again.

Rose cautiously opened her eyes. “What happened?”

Danny’s face was full of shock as all three passengers slid to the side in their seats when the rocket turned on its own.

“We're turning,” Captain Zach uttered in disbelief. “We're turning around. We're turning away!”

Feedback crackled through the intercom system.

“Sorry, had to hijack you, Captain,” said the most wonderful voice in the universe. “This is the good ship Tardis. Now, before you ask questions, is Rose Tyler with you?”

“Yes!” Rose immediately shouted as tears of joy leaked down her cheeks. “I’m here! Doctor, where are you?”

She could hear the smile in the Doctor’s voice, “I’m just towin’ you home. Little bit of gravity can’t stop me. My people invented black holes. I’ll have you on the safe side in a few minutes.” Rose’s face ached from the grin that stretched across her face as she continued to listen to him through the speakers, “Oh, Captain, mind a swap? I’ll give you Ida if you give me Rose?”

“She's alive!” Captain Zach crowed in delight.

“Yes! Thank God,” Danny praised.

“Bit of oxygen starvation, but she’ll be alright.” The Doctor’s voice turned more somber, “I tried to save the Ood, but I ran out of time. I’m afraid they went down the with the planet.” Rose frowned, feeling his disappointment keenly. “Enterin’ clear space now.”

Rose heard the Tardis materialize behind her on the rocket, and she fumbled with the seatbelt in her haste to return to her beloved ship. Danny was faster and leaped out of his seat just as the blue doors creaked open.

“Ida!” Danny shouted and clutched the disoriented woman as she exited the strange police box.

Rose smiled and helped him usher Ida into a seat. “It’s good to see you again, Ida.”

She nodded absently, still struggling with her oxygen deprivation.

“Rose?” The Doctor peeked his head out of the door and locked eyes with her.

Twin smiles bloomed on their faces and Rose left the Science Officer in the capable hands of her fellow crewmen. She leaped into the Doctors arms, uncaring of their audience, and wrapped her legs around the orange spacesuit. She couldn’t control her tears of joy and tucked her nose into his neck as much as the bulky material allowed. A breath of relief fluttered across her hair and the Doctor secured his arms tightly around her back.

“Right then,” his Northern burr rumbled through her chest, “we’ll be off. Have a good trip home. I’d warn you about the dangers of curiosity but you’ll just blunder in anyway. Humans.” He turned toward the Tardis, impatient to have Rose safely onboard once again.

“Wait!” Captain Zach stopped the Doctor before he disappeared. “What did you find down there?”

“Dunno.” The Doctor shrugged as much as he could with the bundle in his arms, but he wasn’t letting Rose go for anyone. “Never deciphered that writin’. But that’s alright. Day I know everything? Might as well stop.” He felt Rose’s laughter against his neck.

Danny’s eyes darted from the Doctor, to Rose in his arms, to the blue box on the rocket, unable to figure out which question to ask first. “And, you two? We never did ask — who are you?”

Rose pulled away from the Doctor’s neck and met his eye. She bit her lip and he smiled.

“Us? The stuff of legend,” he answered mysteriously.

“Thanks, boys!” Rose waved as the Doctor strolled back into the Tardis.

He didn’t stop walking with her in his arms until he sent the ship safely into the vortex. Slowly, the Doctor set her down until her feet touched the grating and relocated his hands to cradle her face in his calloused palms. Tears continued to leak down her face as the events of the day caught up with her. Rose reached up to grab his wrists, anchoring herself to him and taking comfort in the feel of his skin again after the agonizing uncertainty on that damn planet. She met his eyeline, soaking up the blue of the irises she had thought she’d never see again.

A daft grin sprung to his lips, unable and unwilling to contain himself any longer. “I love you.” Rose choked back a sob as the Doctor continued, “I fell in love with you long before I was John. The stupid ape just had the guts to say it first.”

“I love you, too,” Rose’s voice wobbled around a smile.

“Even though I’m a — what did you call me? A stupid, bloody prat?”

She huffed a watery laugh and wiped the moisture from her cheeks. “But you’re my stupid, bloody prat. Who else would put up with you?”

“Oi!” He dropped his hands in mock-offense. “I’ll have you know—”

But the Doctor’s protest was cut off as Rose threw her arms around his shoulders and slammed her mouth against his. He opened immediately for her questing tongue and pulled her tighter into his chest. But the bulky spacesuit wasn’t allowing her close enough, nothing would ever be close enough, and he growled in frustration.

He ripped his mouth away from her with a gasp. “Help me out of this bloody thing.”

Rose tucked her tongue between her teeth. “Is that supposed to be a come on? ‘Cause I’ve got notes.”

With an amused roll of his eyes, the Doctor dropped several quick kisses along her lips before he tended to the burdensome, orange monstrosity. Rose circled around him, just as eager to have him safely in her arms again, and unbuckled the straps along his back, pinching his bum in the process.

“Oi! You’ll pay for that.” He hurriedly stepped out of the spacesuit and kicked it across the grating.

That damn tongue made a second appearance and her smile grew impossibly wide. “Promise?”

“And you accuse me of bad habits.”

Rose laughed but he stopped her mirth by lifting and depositing her on the jumpseat, then covering her mouth with his before she could process the move. As the Doctor chased her tongue, he felt for the button on the side of the seat and raised it so he didn’t have to tower over her tiny frame.

Rose popped away from his bottom lip and blinked, confused. “I had no idea this seat moved.”

“Told you I was impressive.” He winked and attacked the side of her throat, nibbling at the patch of skin under her ear.

With a breathy moan, she angled her head to the side and ran her fingers through his short hair. He nipped her harder and ran wet kisses along her jawline. She brushed her thumbs across his temples and Rose’s impossible brain was forced into the front of the Doctor’s lust-clouded mind. Even though he wanted to continue down their pleasurable road, there were questions that needed answering. He ceased his ministrations along her skin and settled his forehead on her shoulder with a frustrated groan.

“I need to scan you,” he mumbled.

She dragged her palms along the back of his neck, willing him to continue. “Is that some sort of alien foreplay?”

A bark of laughter flew from his lips and he straightened to meet her eye. “Not that I know of, but we could always make something up.”

“You keep makin’ promises.”

The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. “Later. I need to get you to the medbay and find out what Bad Wolf did to you.”

Rose’s face sobered and she allowed the Doctor to pull her off the jumpseat. He threaded their fingers together and guided her down the Tardis corridor. They didn’t have to journey long, as the old girl was kind enough to move the infirmary next to the console room.

“Alright,” Rose hopped onto the exam table, “let’s solve this riddle.”

The Doctor rummaged through the drawers and selected a few hand-held scanners. When he turned to face Rose, she was worrying the cuticle around her thumb and tapping her toe in the air. He crossed the room and deposited his equipment by her hip, gently prying the digit from her teeth.

“Hey,” he cradled her face again and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ve scanned you multiple times already. If there had been anything physically wrong with you, I would have picked it up. Whatever happened, it hasn’t harmed you, alright?”

She nodded and blew out a breath. “Alright.”

With a reassuring grin, the Doctor performed the various tests he had performed immediately after the Heart of the Tardis had been leached from her body. But he received the same results: normal. He pursed his lips and dug through a few drawers again until he found the one test he hadn’t performed yet.

A cotton swab entered Rose’s line of vision.

“Open up,” the Doctor instructed.

She bit back the dirty thoughts that had sprung to her mind (now wasn’t the time) and popped her mouth open. He gently swiped the inside of her cheek and popped the wet swab into a machine.

“And now we wait.”

Rose lifted her thumb to her teeth again, but the Doctor stopped the nervous tick by taking her hand in his. She cleared her throat nervously. “How long do we wait?”

“Only a few minutes. Rapid DNA test. Used widely across the universe by the time Earth rounded into the thirtieth century.”

Not knowing what else to do, Rose recounted the torturous events of the day, glad to be alive and have the Doctor back. She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back without a word.

The paper crinkled under her as she shifted to pull a leg under her knee. “So, what do you think that thing was, the thing in the pit? You never said.”

“I think…” He paused for several moments as he stared at the stark-white floor. “I think that we beat it. That’s good enough for me.”

She bit her lip. “It said I was gonna die in battle.”

“It lied,” he retorted immediately.

“But—”

“It. Lied.” The white wall from his nightmare invaded his sight, and he suppressed the shudder of dread that threatened to overtake him.

A ding interrupted their thoughts, and the Doctor reluctantly dropped Rose’s hand to read the results. The blood drained from his face when he glanced at the monitor.

“What?” Rose asked, but he remained rooted to the floor. “What is it?”

He turned very slowly to look at her and her heartbeat quickened at the worried, confused, and hopeful expressions warring on his face.

“You’re Gallifreyan,” he said barely above a whisper.

“What’s a Gallifreyan?”

“I am!” the Doctor half-shouted and re-crossed the room to stare in shocked wonder at her eyes.

Her brow furrowed. “I thought you were a Time Lord?”

“That’s a title. My species is Gallifreyan from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation Kasterborous at galactic coordinates ten dash zero dash eleven and two seconds,” he rambled and rubbed a palm over his hair. “You’re supposed to be Human from the planet Earth on the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.”

Rose’s eyes popped wide. “I… I changed species?”

His eyes continued to dart all over her face. “When you looked into the Heart of the Tardis, what did you say?”

“Say? I dunno—”

“Think!”

“Oi! Stop yellin’ at me when you’re confused!” She lightly swatted his shoulder in chastisement and folded her arms across her chest.

“Sorry.” He puffed his cheeks, reining in his turmoil. “Remember when Margaret looked into the Tardis and turned into an egg? She asked for that. What did you ask for, Rose?”

“I…” Her nose crinkled in thought. “I remember askin’ to get back to you, to help you.”

“Anything else?”

Her eyes unfocused and she relived the panicked desperation when she’d asked for the Tardis’ help. Timelines had been presented to her like an endless buffet, easily gorged on as the power of the vortex had bonded with her veins. In a flash of gold, she remembered which future she had chosen, a future where she could be with him and he wouldn’t be the last of the Time Lords any longer.

Rose’s eyes snapped to his.  “I didn’t want you to be alone.”

“What did you ask for,” the Doctor repeated.

“I chose this.”

“Chose what?”

“To be with you forever.” She grinned, oddly okay with the fact that she was no longer human. The Doctor didn’t have to say goodbye to her, not for very long time. Her life wouldn’t be frustratingly short compared to his and he wouldn’t have to travel on his own ever again. He had said he could live for thousands of years, and now, so could she.

But the Doctor didn’t seem to be sharing her joy. If possible, his skin paled even further. “What have you done?”

Rose’s smile fell. “Why aren’t you happy?”

“Happy? You’re gonna live as long as me and I should be happy?!” A hysterical burst of laughter flew his throat and he paced in a small circle.

Rose glared at him and hopped off the table, stopping his movement with an angry finger jab to his chest. “I thought you were paralyzed with fear by my witherin’ and dyin’? That’s not a factor anymore.” Her angry scowl fell and was replaced by slack-jawed shock. “Oh, my God. Is it me? You were ok when you thought this would just be a short little fling—”

“No!” the Doctor cut her off, horrified. “That’s nonsense!”

“Then why are you so upset? Is the thought of forever with me so…” She trailed off and sucked in a breath. “Do you not love me as much as I—”

For the second time that day, conversation was halted as mouths crashed against one another and the Doctor put an abrupt end to her train of thought with his lips and tongue. Rose kept up with his frenzied movements as she gripped his shoulders, willing him to be as delighted by the discovery as she was. He pulled back after several minutes and rested his forehead against hers.

“You are my entire world,” he breathed against her lips.

Rose felt his lashes flutter against hers as she recovered from the impromptu snog. “Then what’s wrong?”

He sighed heavily and gathered her in his arms, moving his forehead to her shoulder. “I’ve lived a long, long time, Rose. I’d never wish that upon my worst enemy. You just grow tired of all the hatred, all the ugliness the universe contains as you watch the people you care about crumble into dust at your feet. A long life isn’t always a better life.”

Rose held back tears as she pondered the horrors he could have experienced on his own and placed a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles. “Wouldn’t it be better with two?”

The Doctor straightened and offered her a soft smile. “Always better with two. You’re just stuck with me longer than you had planned.”

“Ah, stuck with you? Not so bad.” She grinned as they repeated sentiments confessed under a dying star and pushed up on her toes to peck his nose.

He still had to have a conversation with his interfering ship, but, for now, the Doctor’s smile grew as he thought of the many, many years he had with his favorite former-human. “I still think I don’t deserve you. But, I will spend your incredibly, wonderfully long life tryin’ to be worthy of you.”

“So…” Rose bit her lip nervously and smoothed his jacket lapels. “You won’t get tired of me?”

He still her hands and tipped her chin up. “Never.”

Their lips met in a kiss of hope, gratitude, and giddy anticipation for a life together — a life now gloriously expanded thanks to a meddling Tardis and the effortless love of a human for a battle-weary Time Lord.

Chapter Text

In the seclusion of the Tardis infirmary, two lovers met in a soft caress of lips as they celebrated the start of a longer life together. But a loud stomach rumble broke through the quiet and interrupted their ardor. Reality reasserted itself into the Doctor’s lust-fogged brain as he remembered Rose hadn’t eaten a proper meal since before they had tried to see Elvis.

A whine escaped Rose’s throat when the Doctor detached himself with a throaty chuckle. “I still haven’t fed you.”

She frowned. “My supposed new biology is quite annoyin’ with its insistence on interruptin’ me!”

She shot her hands out to rein him back, but he caught her wrists with a playful smile. “I have a better idea.” He pressed a kiss to the corner of her pout. “Why don’t you go get changed, cleaned up, whatever it is that women do before dates, and I’ll procure some nourishment.”

“Date?”

“Yes, date.” The Doctor bopped her nose. “Isn’t that what blokes are supposed to do for the women they love?”

“I could think of better things to do , but you’re dead set on fillin’ my stomach.”

“Like I said before,” he leaned down and tickled his lips along the shell of her ear, “you’ll need the energy.”

A vibrant blush cascaded along Rose’s cheeks. “Then I guess I’ll go get changed. What’s the dress code?”

“Whatever you want, nothin’ specific.”

“Alright. Should I meet you in the console room?”

He grinned and tapped her temple. “The Tardis will let you know.”

“She will?”

“You said you’ve been usin’ skin contact to talk to her, but you should have no problems usin’ just your mind now.”

Rose beamed. “Really?”

“Give it a go.” His smile stretched wider, eager for her to communicate with the ship like he did.

She reached out her mind with a tentative “hello” and was delighted to hear the Tardis’ warm greeting. She went further, asking the sentient ship about her day (what else did you ask a sentient ship?) and was astonished to hear the worry, fear, and joy she had experienced while trapped in the deep chasm on the impossible planet. A few curses in several languages filtered through as the old girl grumbled over the Doctor’s insistence on having her land on the lump of rock in the first place.

Rose giggled. “She’s mad at you.”

“Quite right, too. But I’m not pleased with her either, changing my favorite human without tellin’ me.” The Doctor glared at the ceiling and sent a few choice words to his ship. “Anyway, dinner! Run along, I’ll have the Tardis let you know when I’m ready.”

She tucked her tongue in her teeth and pressed up on her toes to kiss his cheek. He winked at her before she skipped out of the medbay to prepare for their meal.

When Rose entered her en-suite, she used her newfound ability to ask the Tardis if she had time for a wash-up. She could feel the ship’s mental version of a smile, still excited over the ease of communication, and confirmed that she had time for a refreshing shower. Crawling through the maintenance ducts had left Rose feeling dusty and, if the evening led where she hoped it might lead, it would be best not to smell like cobwebs.

While she was selecting a matching pair of lingerie (not something she normally cared about, but… just in case), Rose felt the ship land and wondered if she needed to hurry, but the Tardis assured her she had plenty of time. While she dressed in a simple jeans-and-jumper combo, the ship dematerialized back into the vortex, and the Tardis told her where to meet the Doctor. Rose was confused; they weren’t leaving the ship? Where had he landed a few minutes ago?

With a shrug, Rose clasped her necklace around her neck and padded through the corridors to the location provided to her. Her eyebrows furrowed when the ship’s directions led her to a door — not just any door: John’s door. The very same disco-shade of orange from the estates back home, complete with metal numbers “909” nailed to the wood.

Laughter bubbled up her throat, and Rose knocked. The knob twisted to reveal the Doctor’s cheeky smile, and he wasted no time pulling her through the entry. Every detail from the flat he had lived in on Earth was still there, down to the scratches in the floor and the dust on the ceiling fan.

Rose swept her eyes around the area. “When did you have time to do this?”

“Just now.” The Doctor ushered her to the table already laid out with dinner. “The Tardis might be old, but she’s quick.”

Smug satisfaction filtered into her head as the ship preened and Rose smiled. “So why are we back on the estates?”

The Doctor matched her grin and pulled out a chair for her to sit. “So many lovely memories here, even if I was a stupid ape for most of it. It’s where you first agreed to travel with me, where I first kissed you.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek before taking his own seat. “And, best of all, where I first told you I love you.”

Her cheeks ached as her mouth stretched into a bright grin. “I love you, too.”

“I should hope so. I got your favorite.” He gestured to the covered dish in front of her, and Rose eagerly pulled off the top.

“Chips!” She immediately popped the crispy treat into her mouth and moaned. “Gorgeous! Where’d you get them?”

“Made a quick pit-stop to Kartul: III. Like I said, best chips in the universe.”

“I definitely agree.” She stuffed more fluffy bits of starch in her mouth, happily filling her sorely empty stomach.

“Wine?” the Doctor offered, raising a bottle in the air.

She nodded and he filled her glass to the brim. “Wine and chips. Classy.”

“Classy’s overrated.” He poured his own glass equally full. “Life’s no fun with too much pomp and circumstance.”

“Does that mean I have no hope of ever gettin’ you to take me dancin’?”

“That depends,” he met her eye with a smoldering gaze, “will you wear that gold dress again?”

Rose took a sip of her wine and bit her lip. “I’ll wear any dress you like.”

“Then we’ll go anytime, anywhere. But we don’t have to leave the ship to dance. ” He winked and popped a chip in his mouth, chewing in amusement as a blush crept up her neck.

She cleared her throat, suddenly feeling nervous over the prospect of finally dancing , and changed the subject. “So, I was wonderin’, if I’m Gallifreyan now, why don’t I have two hearts?”

“Well, I should’ve clarified; you’re nearly Gallifreyan. You’re still developin’ but most of your DNA has already changed.” His brow furrowed as he pondered her curious case. “What I don’t understand is why you aren’t in pain. Literally every single cell in your body is changin’ species.”

The ship hummed in Rose’s mind and showed her the bottle of multivitamins she had insisted she take. “The Tardis gave me pills. I assumed they were vitamins, but now she’s tellin’ me they’re for pain.”

The Doctor’s eyes lifted to the ceiling. “You’re a cheeky machine.” She blew raspberries at him in response.

“So, how exactly am I changin’? I know I asked for this, but how is it even possible?”

“I’m fuzzy on the details meself,” he admitted, crossing his arms to lean against the table. “Brillant, me, but I’ve never heard of this happenin’ before.” The Tardis pulsed an image of the chameleon arch in his mind and the Doctor laughed at the brilliance of his machine. “Like I said — cheeky. Seems our old girl used the technology of the chameleon arch when she poured the vortex into your body.”

“The chameleon arch; that’s the machine that turned you human?” Rose internally cringed as she remembered watching the Doctor writhing in pain.

“The very same. Gallifreyans evolved and developed under exposure to the Untempered Schism: a hole in the vortex. It’s responsible for our time-sense. You were injected with the entire vortex and the chameleon arch at the same time. It’s no wonder you’re evolvin’; the Tardis gave you quite a jump start.”

“So, will I grow another heart or something?”

He swallowed heavily. “No, that… the second heart doesn’t appear until after your first regeneration.”

Rose’s brow crinkled. “What’s that?”

“There’s so much I’m gonna have to tell you.” The Doctor wiped a palm over his face and frowned. “This isn’t my first body. When I’m dyin’, when you… We have this trick, a way of cheatin’ death. Every single cell in my body will change into something new. Your mind remains the same, but the outward appearance and some personality traits change.” He flicked one of his earlobes. “I haven’t always had these ears.”

Rose blinked in confusion. Changing species suddenly didn’t seem appealing if it was this complicated. “How many bodies have you had?”

“This is my ninth.”

Her eyes widened. “Ninth?! How many can you have?”

“If you believe the books, thirteen. But my people loved to experiment; some found ways to have close to twenty.”

“Guess I’ve got some more readin’ to do,” Rose murmured, downing the last of her wine in a final gulp.

The Doctor slid his palm along the table and covered her hand. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know. You’re not alone.”

She met his eye with a soft smile. “Neither are you.”

He returned her grin. “No, guess I’m not. And, on that note,” he reached to the chair next to him and pulled out a small, wrapped package, “I got you something.”

“Again?” Rose laughed, experiencing déjà vu as he placed it in her open palm. “When did you have time to do this?”

“Same time I got you those fantastic chips.” He motioned for her to open it.

Grinning tongue in teeth, she tore open the wrapping and popped the lid on the small box. Nestled inside was a beautiful, golden star charm. The light glinted off the polished metal and Rose stared at the gift until it blurred with her tears, remembering how he had called her his shining star.

“Oh, none of that.” The Doctor leaned over and wiped away the drops falling down her cheeks.

She sniffed and tore her eye away from the jewelry. “Sorry. It’s so lovely. Thank you.”

“May I put it on?” She nodded eagerly and stood. He swept her hair aside to unclasp her necklace and slid on the charm. “You seem to have turned me into a walkin’ cliche. First a rose for my Rose, now a star for my star.”

Rose touched the new piece of jewelry next to her key and rosebud, succumbing to another round of happy tears. She turned to bury her face in his chest and he immediately wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tightly.

“You’ll give a bloke a complex with all these tears, ya know.”

She huffed a watery laugh and tilted her chin up to look at him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He broke out in a daft grin before kissing her tears away, meeting her mouth with a contented sigh, but he pulled away much too soon for Rose’s liking. “I’ve got music cued up, if you wanted to continue the evenin’ with a dance.”

The invitation sounded lovely, but Rose had other plans. She may be nervous, but she had wanted this man, the love of her life, since the day he first took her hand. In a, hopefully, seductive move, she tucked her tongue between her teeth and slid her palms up his jacket lapels. “I don’t want to dance. I want to dance.

He stilled the journey of her hands as his smile turned wicked. “Your wish is my command.”

Without warning, the Doctor swept her off the floor in a bridal carry. Rose squealed in surprise and clutched his neck as he strode purposefully towards the bedroom. Even though there was no one onboard to interrupt them, he kicked the door shut, cocooning them in their own sanctuary as he crossed the short expanse to deposit her by the bed.

The Doctor wasted no time bending down and capturing her lips in a searing kiss as Rose slid her hands under his jumper to tickle the skin of his stomach. He removed his jacket and then pulled the wool barrier over his head, tossing them both in a heap on the floor. Impatient to equalize the playing field, he tugged the hem of Rose’s jumper up and off her body, discarding it next to his own forgotten garments.

He paused and stared at her. “This looks familiar.” His eyes flicked to hers, pupils dark and hungry. “And still incredibly gorgeous.”

A pink-tinged blush flooded her body and Rose pulled his head down to crash his mouth against hers, swiping her tongue along his top lip. There was a part of her that wanted to go slow, to cherish each moment as they discovered one another, but her desire had been building for much too long and needed to be quenched immediately. She fumbled with the button of her jeans, over-eager to be rid of the tortuous barrier of her clothing. With a light chuckle, the Doctor waved her hands away and deftly undid the pesky fastening. Rose quickly wiggled out of the denim and kicked them to the side, now bare in nothing but her lingerie.

The scratchy fabric of his trousers rubbed uncomfortably along her thighs as Rose reached up to run her nails through his short-cropped hair, arching into his chest as much as humanly — no, gallifreyanly — possible. He growled and yanked his zipper down, stepping out of the garment and nearly tripping over in his haste to be rid of the obstacle. As soon as he was clad in nothing but his pants, he grabbed her hips and pulled her back into his body, molding wide expanses of skin together. Rose hummed low in her throat and brushed her thumbs along his temples, her new biology guiding her fingers with a will of their own.

“I should warn you,” the Doctor relocated his lips to her neck, “before we go further. It’ll be hard to hold things back, this first time. You may see things you don’t want to see. You may also share things with me that you don’t want me to know.”

Despite the warning, her desire to connect was an uncontrollable impulse, like a desperate need to breathe, and Rose continued to massage his temples. “Please?” she gasped. “I trust you.”

Silver flared in her vision as he begged entrance into her mind and she immediately granted him access. Rose sagged a bit in his arms as their thirst for one another mingled and she felt his hunger for her as keenly as her own.

She clutched his shoulders on a strangled moan. “How’d you…” He bit down on her shoulder. “Ohhh… how’d you do that without usin’ my temples?”

“We’re touch telepaths,” he explained, gripping her hips tighter and coaxing her back onto the bed. “We have quite a bit of skin touchin’.”

“Need more.” Rose slid back on the bed and pulled him down on top her, cradling his hips in her thighs as she attacked his mouth.

With a smirk against her lips, the Doctor slid a hand tortuously slow around her back and unclasped her bra. He raised up on his knees to peel it off of her and his blue irises shrunk further until they were nearly black with want.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, trailing his eyes hungrily over her bare chest.

A blush bloomed on her skin as she observed the lust in his eyes and took the opportunity to assess his lean, muscular build. “So are you.”

Rose tugged on his arm, and he quickly darted down to invade the junction of her neck and shoulder. The sucking and licking sensations on her delicate skin caused a frenzied shudder to race across her body, forcing a loud moan from her throat. The Doctor groaned and thrust his hardness against her hip, seeking relief. She felt her body melting under his ministrations, and her mind relaxed as lust raged through her veins.

And suddenly, his silver light became brighter and she saw all that he was. Snippets of the Time War flickered by like a tattered movie reel and she bit back a sob over the devastation. His previous faces swam through various memories and a giggle threatened to bubble up in her throat as she observed his past fashion choices.

And then warmth flowed into her mind from his as she felt the all-consuming love he harbored for her and only her. His close-kept secrets were laid bare: every time he looked at her and she hadn’t noticed; every time he wanted to kiss her and couldn’t; every time he wanted to tell her and didn’t. In a universe full of chaos and pain, she was his constant, his salvation, and his deepest desire.

“Doctor,” Rose whispered in awe, clinging to any patch of skin within her reach as she became overwhelmed by the strength of his devotion to her.

He lifted his head as much as possible in the limited space she had created, gazing at her with naked affection. A tender smile lifted the corner of his mouth and he tucked her hair behind her ear. “Rose.”

The love drenched in his voice forced moisture to spring to her eyes. She smiled through her tears and angled her neck to press her lips back to his, pouring her love for him through their connection. A ragged sigh brushed across her cheek through his nose as he became overwhelmed by the tidal wave of her emotions, and he tangled his fingers through her blonde locks to pull her closer. Their combined flame of desire scintillated once more, and Rose scrambled to remove the last bit of cloth wrapped around her hips as he did the same with his.

She used her lips to brush across any available skin she could reach while the Doctor attached himself firmly to the patch of skin under her ear. Rose drifted her hands across his chest and down his ribcage, eagerly grabbing handfuls of flesh as she mapped his body. Finally having his fill of her neck, the Doctor began to move his lips lower to her collarbone and brought a hand up to caress the side of her breast.

A thought occurred to her and she briefly stopped his descent down her body. “Wait, if we’re the same species now, what about birth control?”

“Already took care of it,” he mumbled against her skin. “Gave myself a shot.”

Rose relaxed back into the pillows, relieved they didn’t have to stop. “Oh, thank God.”

“Just ‘Doctor’ will do nicely.”

“You’re such an— ohhh…” A retort died on her lips as he laved the hollow of her throat and resumed his toe-curling trek along her chest.

Rose panted heavily while he licked a trail around and between her breasts, placing little nibbles randomly down her sternum. He slowly traveled lower, massaging and pinching one of her nipples between his fingers as his tongue glided across the sensitive skin of her abdomen. It was the most erotic feeling in the world, made even more dizzying as she felt how strongly he was affected by her smooth skin.

He swirled his tongue in her navel, causing Rose to moan louder. “Oh, Doctor…”

Vibrations tingled across her skin as he laughed wickedly into her stomach. “Mmm, there is it.”

“Shut up and get up here.”

The Doctor eagerly obliged her request and trapped her bottom lip in his mouth, teeth clacking together as Rose mentally begged him to fill her. Finally, after months of waiting, he slowly pressed in and a feeling of utter completeness cascaded through them, groaning in synchronization when he was fully seated. Rose hooked her legs up and around his hips, digging her heels into his bum in a silent plea to move. Their hipbones danced together as the Doctor set up a deliciousness rhythm, randomly licking and biting any patch of her skin he could reach from his position.

Every sensation was shared, overwhelming their synapses and threatening to burn them from the inside out. Pleasure and fire raced across both of their minds as the Doctor moved faster and Rose dug her fingernails into his biceps. His palm glided down her thigh, grabbed her hip, and angled her into a more pleasurable position. Then, the Doctor found her hand and molded their palms together beside her head, needing to be anchored to her as they neared the precipice.

“Rose,” he panted, “I don’t think I’ll last.”

“Me neither,” she managed to gasp out, sliding her free hand down her stomach to where they were joined.

Her eyelids started to flutter closed against the building pressure deep in her gut, but she forced them to remain open and locked her gaze with the Doctor hovering above her. The rhythm he had set up faltered as his breathing stopped and his jaw went slack in utter bliss, mentally pleading her to join him. Her muscles seized as she experienced his completion and stars bursts across her vision, succumbing to her own fiery ecstasy. He dipped his head down and swallowed her cries with his mouth, slowing the movement of his hips to draw out their mutual euphoria.

When the pleasure dwindled to a trickle and endorphins settled into their bones, the Doctor sagged against her, burying his face into her neck. Their gold and silver auras pulsing brightly in their minds as they basked in the shared afterglow. Rose swaddled her arms around his shoulders, rubbing soothing circles across his upper back.

His muscles relaxed under her tender touch. “I love you, sweetheart,” he mumbled against her skin.

She smiled lazily and squeezed him tighter. “I love you, too.”

His breathing finally evened out and he sluggishly lifted his head, eyes half-closed in fatigue. “Hello.”

“Hello.” Rose laughed, reaching up to trail a finger along his jawline.

He pressed his lips to hers and disconnected their minds before he rolled to the side. Rose pulled the sheet around their bodies and settled into the crook of his arm, splaying her hand on his chest. The Doctor shifted his head to press his nose in her hair, inhaling deeply and letting out a long, contented sigh.

“That was…” Rose paused, trying to find the right word.

“Fantastic?” he offered.

She craned her head to look at his satisfied smirk. “Yeah, fantastic.”

“Told you I was impressive.” He placed his hand on hers to play with her fingers. “Move in with me?”

“Don’t we already live together?”

“We don’t sleep in the same room.”

“Oh.” Rose bit her lip and nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Fantastic.” A daft grin spread across his face and he placed a kiss in her hair.

Giggles bubbled through her lips. “You need a new word.”

“Rubbish. Best word in the universe.”

She laughed again, but her mirth was interrupted by a large yawn.

“Bedtime for humans,” he teased.

“Not human anymore,” she mumbled and snuggled further into his embrace.

He hummed happily, combing his fingers through her hair to lull her to sleep. Feeling happier than she had ever felt in her entire life, Rose drifted off with a smile on her face.

~*~

White. Why was everything so white? And why did the sight of it make her stomach clench in fear? She would expect a darker color to send chills up her spine, but white? It was a bright color, a fairly happy color that contained all the other hues in the rainbow.

So why was it making her lungs hyperventilate? Why did she have the urge to dig through it to the other side?

“Rose!”

Doctor? Her eyes widened and she attempted to run through the nothingness around her, but she slammed into a wall she hadn’t noticed in her bleached surroundings.

“Doctor! Where are you?”

Silence answered her. A silver glow flared in her mind, and she instantly recognized it as her bond with the Doctor, calling out to her in panic. She followed him and gasped in a strangled breath when she realized he was on the other side of the white barrier.

“Doctor!”

She screamed and pounded her fist against the wall, desperately trying to crawl her way back to him. But his silver essence fled her mind, and she screamed in pain as their bond was severed.

“Rose!” The Doctor panicked as Rose flailed beside him, crying out as though she were being tortured. “Rose! Wake up, love.”

Her eyes flew open and darted around the room like a cornered animal. As soon as she locked onto him, she flung herself into his arms, gasping for air. She squeezed her eyelids and willed away the nightmare. He was alive. He was here. His heartsbeats were pounding reassuringly through her chest.

He gently shushed and rocked her back and forth. “It’s alright. You’re fine, love.”

“It was just all white,” she mumbled and sniffed back her tears.

“White?”

“Yeah, I dunno. Shouldn’t have been so scary. Just a white wall.”

Rose felt the Doctor stiffen beneath her. “A white wall?”

“Yeah.” She looked up at his face and was alarmed by the fear etched in his features. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I’ve had that dream, too. It’s not a dream. Your time sense is developin’.”

“Time sense?”

“Yes. Sorta like when the vortex was runnin’ through your head? You could see all that was, all that ever could be?” She nodded as he explained. “Time Lords see that, too. It’s not as powerful as you experienced then, but still there. Snippets of time, possible futures and echoes of the past will leak into your mind every now and then. Sometimes it’s random, sometimes it’s very specific.”

“So, is that my future? Am I’m gonna lose you?” She buried her face in his neck. A fearful shudder wracked her frame and she clung to him again.

“I don’t know.” He wrapped her arms around her shaking shoulders and willed the rest of the world away. “It’s a possible future, that much I can tell you. It’s still murky and unsettled. Sometimes when I see it, I’m in a future regeneration with hedgehog hair.”

Her nose scrunched. “Hedgehog hair?”

“It was definitely sticky-uppy. And I was a pretty boy,” he grumbled. “I’m gonna blame you for that one.”

Rose managed a weak laugh at his comment and squeezed his middle. The nightmare slowly faded into the back of her mind as the Doctor’s warm skin erased the chill that had settled in hers. When the last of the white was replaced by nothing but the back of her eyelids, she relaxed fully in his embrace.

“I’m still naked,” she commented, realizing the sheets had pooled at her hips.

One of his hands glided down her bare back. “Yes, you are.”

“You’re naked, too.” She slid into his lap and straddled his waist, needing to be as close as possible to him after the horrifying separation she had felt in her nightmare.

“Yes, I am.” His eyes glazed over and he trailed his fingers down her ribcage to the tops of her thighs, lighting brushing against the goosebumps that had erupted on her skin. “Did you want to do something with this information?”

She bit her lip and lowered her hips to press against him, stirring him to life with a breathy groan. Before she could think of a cheeky retort, he pulled her bottom lip between his and sucked lightly. She hummed and scratched her nails through the short hairs at the top of his neck.

A shrill ringing sound pierced the air and Rose popped away from his mouth to search for her phone. The Doctor turned her head back and reclaimed her lips.

“Don’t answer it,” he requested between nibbles.

Rose giggled and melted back into his teasing affections. But as soon as the ringing stopped, it started again. She pulled away with a muttered curse and hopped off his lap, trodding naked across the floor until she found her jeans. She yanked her mobile out of the pocket and glanced at the screen: Mum.

“I have to get this, it’s Mum.” The Doctor groaned and flopped back onto the bed as she answered, “Hi, Mum.”

“Rose?” Jackie sounded frantic. “Are you alright? I swear I didn’t know. I thought he liked me!”

“Mum? Slow down. Thought who liked you?”

“Bloke named Elton. I swear I thought he was interested in me! But he was only usin’ me to get info on the Doctor.”

Rose froze and clenched her jaw. “What kind of info?”

Upon hearing her angry tone, the Doctor jumped off the bed and pulled his pants on. He crossed the room to stand by her with a concerned frown.

“I dunno!” Jackie wailed and Rose realized she was crying. “I-I thought he was my friend!” She dissolved into harsh sobs.

“What day is it, Mum, what time?” Jackie rattled off the date. “Right, stay put. I’m comin’.” Rose jabbed the button to end the call.

“What happened?” the Doctor asked as soon as she tossed the mobile on the bed.

“Some bloke named Elton pretended to be her friend to get info on you.”

He mirrored her clenched jaw and grabbed his trousers off the floor. “Get dressed. We’re goin.”

Rose nodded firmly and was just about to march to her own room, but the Tardis interrupted her trek to inform her that her things had already been relocated. She sent a wave of gratitude towards the ship and pulled open the drawers of the bureau to discover all of her clothes nestled within. She quickly tugged on random garments and braided her bed-frazzled hair haphazardly as she followed the Doctor to the console room.

In record time, he piloted the ship to the date Jackie had provided and was out the door seconds after the ship materialized in the Tyler flat.

“Where is he?” the Doctor growled, stalking through the rooms in search of the busybody man.

Rose crossed the room to her mum perched on the couch. She was all dolled up, even had on a nice skirt and jewelry. “Are you alright?”

“He’s gone,” Jackie informed her. “I kicked him out soon as I found a picture of you in his pockets.”

The Doctor froze in the entryway to the kitchen and slowly turned around. “He had a picture of Rose?”

Jackie nodded and her eyes widened at the pure menace in his eyes. “Yeah. Said he wasn’t pervy, just lookin’ for you. Wanted to meet ya.”

“What picture?” Rose wondered when someone had snapped a photo of her without knowing.

“Dunno. Just a shot of you when your hair was longer.” Jackie flopped back into the cushions of the couch and groaned. “Can’t believe I wasted my good wine on that wanker.”

“Wine? Did he drink any? Where’s his glass?” the Doctor asked in rapid-fire succession.

“In the kitchen.”

Quick as a shot, he bolted through the doorway and snatched both glasses resting on the counter. He turned on his heel and marched straight for the Tardis doors. “Rose, let’s go.”

“Where are we goin’?” Rose furrowed her brow and stood. “We just got here!”

“Need to have a chat with Elton.” The Doctor turned to Jackie before disappearing through the blue doors. “Back in two ticks. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t talk to anyone.”

Jackie managed a nod and Rose quickly bid her mum goodbye before she followed the Doctor back into the ship. He was already at the central console examining the wine glasses, arms folded tightly across his chest.

“Doctor?” Rose laid a comforting hand on his forearm, wondering why he was so upset over a simple bloke.

His muscles relaxed slightly and he clutched her hand. “Some mystery bloke stalked you. All because of me.” He frowned and looked her in the eye. “What if he’s dangerous? He knows where Jackie lives.”

“Well, we won’t know until we find him. How do we do that?”

He gestured to the glasses sitting on the console. “DNA search. Already figured out which was his and plugged it into the mainframe. The Tardis will find him any moment now.” The scanner dinged and he peered at the monitor. “Bollocks. She wasn’t able to find him sooner than at dinner-time tomorrow.”

He flicked the dematerialization switch with an impatient growl and flung open the doors as soon as the ship had landed. They stepped out into, what looked like, a basement, where a blonde-haired man was angrily gesticulating at a portly man behind a desk.

“It’s all gone wrong, Mr. Kennedy!” the blonde cried. “Ever since you—”

“Which one of you is Elton?” the Doctor demanded, cutting off the man’s tirade.

Four heads swiveled and four pairs of eyes stared at the man in leather and the blonde woman next to him. They hadn’t heard the sound of the ship over the shouting. There was a dark-haired bespectacled girl, eyes widening comically as she gawked at the blue box in the corner. A man with salt and pepper hair sat near her, blinking rapidly as he stood slowly to his feet. The portly man at the desk was the only one who didn’t appear shocked; in fact, he looked positively delighted.

The blonde-haired man ran a nervous hand through his hair. “I-I’m Elton.”

Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stomped closer towards him. “You upset my mum!”

“Jackie? No, no. I’m sorry, honestly. I didn’t mean to upset her.” Elton’s eyes darted over her shoulder to the Doctor. “I just wanted to meet him.”

“Well, now you’ve met me.” The Doctor glared, but then his eyes softened and a curious expression washed over his face. “Wait a minute. Why do you look familiar?”

“The famous Doctor,” sneered the man behind the desk. “We meet at last.”

The Doctor met each eye in the room, finally noticing their shock and awe. “Well, I’m certainly popular with you lot. What do you want?”

Giddy laughter bubbled up from the throat of the man in the desk chair and he rose to his feet, cackling louder. A high-pitched hum filled the air, irritating Rose’s eardrums, but the other humans in the room didn’t appear to be affected. The Doctor grimaced, hearing the frequency as well.

Seconds later, the rotund man shimmered and his human flesh and human garments were replaced by pimply, green skin swathed in nothing but a loincloth. His hands morphed into a three-fingered club with sharp talons and his body sagged with numerous weighty folds. Saliva dripped from his toothy smile, but the most disgusting thing of his entire transformation were the two human faces melted into his chest. Their eyes darted around the room, still alive while trapped in a fleshy prison.

Elton jumped back and immediately grabbed the bespectacled girl’s hand, pulling her away from the creature. The older gentlemen scurried into a corner repeating obscenities and panicking.

“At last, the greatest feast of all — the Doctor,” the creature snarled, his voice vibrating eerily in his chest.

Rose wrinkled her nose. “What the hell is that?”

“Interestin’.” The Doctor raised a curious eyebrow. “What are you? Some sort of Absorbalese? Absorbatrix? Absorbaloff?”

“Absorbaloff, yes,” the creature confirmed.

Rose pursed her lips as she eyed the new alien. “I dunno. You sorta look Slitheen.”

“Slitheen!” the Aborbaloff raged. “I am not that swine! I was born on their twin planet.”

“Were you?” the Doctor prodded. “And what’s the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius?”

“Clom.”

He quirked an eyebrow. “Clom?”

“Clom, yes.” The Absorbaloff nodded vigorously and stalked around the desk. “And I'll return there victorious once I possess your traveling machine.”

The Doctor scoffed. “Well, that's not gonna happen.”

“Oh, it will. You'll surrender yourself to me, Doctor, or I’ll kill everyone in this room. You see, I've read about you, Doctor. I've studied you. So passionate, so sweet. You wouldn't let innocents die.” The Absorbaloff stepped further away from his desk and towards the humans. “And I'll absorb them all unless you give yourself to me.”

“Sweet? No. Passionate?” He glanced at Rose and she bit her lip. “Maybe. But don't ever mistake that for nice. Do what you want.”

“They’ll die, Doctor.” The alien raised a threatening arm towards Elton and the others.

“Go on, then.” The Doctor watched the confused face of the creature in front of him and discreetly nudged Rose towards the unoccupied desk. She took the hint and walked slowly, searching the desktop for anything out of place.

“So be it.” The Absorbaloff stepped closer to the cowering humans in the corner.

“Mind you,” the Doctor casually mentioned, “a smart alien wouldn’t leave his cane unattended.”

The creature whipped his head around. “What?”

As soon as the Doctor said “cane,” Rose spotted the long, black stick propped against the edge of the desk. She grabbed it and snapped it over her knee, sending blue sparks fizzling into the air. Clasped, silver hands on top of the cane opened and a ball of energy blinked brightly before disappearing into the air.

“My cane! You stupid girl!” the Absorbaloff snarled and wailed in pain. “Oh, no!”

The fleshy creature shuddered for a few moments before dissolving into a puddle of green goo. Two humans were left behind as the viscous jelly spread out and seeped into the cracks on the floor.

“Bridget!” the salt-and-pepper man cried, lunging forward to one of the women blinking in confusion on the ground.

“What did that cane do?” Rose asked the Doctor.

“Created a limitation field.” He observed the sickly-green liquid slowly disappearing into the ground. “You broke it, so now he can’t stop it. The absorber is bein’ absorbed.”

Elton and the bespectacled girl crouched down by the second woman on the floor, checking to see if she was alright and hugging her in glee.

“So, who are you lot?” the Doctor demanded, striding closer to the five relieved humans.

Elton took a steadying breath and rose to his feet. “We’re L.I.N.D.A: London’s Investigation ‘N’ Detective Agency.”

He launched into a tale of how the five of them formed a club to find the Doctor, although the activities eventually evolved into friendship and musical fun.  They each had strange encounters with alien lifeforms: the shop window dummies, the Slitheen crash-landing their spaceship, and sightings of the mysterious Doctor and his impossible blue box.

“I saw you when I was younger,” Elton explained. “You were in my house one night. Still dunno why.”

A spark of recognition lit the Doctor’s eyes and he frowned. “I remember now. But you don’t, do you?” Elton shook his head. “There was a shadow in your house. A livin’ shadow in the darkness. An elemental shade had escaped from the Howling Halls. I stopped it, but I didn’t arrive in time to save her.”

Elton sagged into a nearby chair, remembering the frightening evening. “My mum,” he whispered in anguish. “That was the night my mum died.”

The Doctor’s former anger with the man vanished and was replaced by sympathy. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Elton.” The girl in the glasses wrapped Elton in her arms as his shoulders shook.

“You’ve seen a number of aliens now.” The Doctor crossed his arms and shifted his weight on his feet, feeling uncomfortable in the somber atmosphere. “Perhaps you should disband your investigatin’ group. You lot had a close call with that Absorbaloff.”

“But you’re all friends,” Rose chimed in. “Maybe keep the group limited to musical numbers and potluck, yeah?”

The Doctor nodded. “Humans only end up gettin’ hurt when they look for me.”

Elton eyed the alien and the blonde. “But, what about her? She’s human.”

The Doctor offered him a tight-lipped smile and grabbed Rose’s hand. “She’s no ordinary human.” He tugged her back to the Tardis without another word.

As soon as he sent them back into the vortex, he wrapped Rose into a comforting hug.

She squeezed his middle. “See? They didn’t really mean any harm. Just curious apes.” She laughed lightly to calm the rest of his anxiety.

He sighed heavily. “This time. But what about the next?”

“You’ll go nuts if you fret over future possibilities that haven’t happened yet.”

That damn wall flashed in his vision again and he clutched her tighter. “You’re probably right.”  He unwrapped an arm from her shoulder and piloted them back to Jackie’s flat.

Before Rose could exit the Tardis, the Doctor stilled her. “Did you want to tell your mum about… your non-humanness?”

Rose frowned and stared at the grating, weighing her options. She knew she would need to tell her mum eventually. Jackie Tyler would not glance over the fact that her daughter wasn’t aging. “Not right now. She’s been through enough with Elton.”

The Doctor nodded in agreement and opened the doors.

“It’s about bleedin’ time!” Jackie cried as she exited the kitchen, wiping her hands off on a tea towel. “You’ve only been gone ten bloody hours!”

Rose opened her mouth to explain, but the Doctor cut her off, “That’s my fault, Jackie. Bad driver.”

She cursed under her breath and re-entered the kitchen. Rose sent the Doctor a grateful look for taking the fall before she followed her mother.

“We took care of Elton. He wasn’t a bad bloke, just ran into a nasty alien without knowin’ it. He really didn’t mean any harm.” Rose propped her hip against the cabinets and watched her mum prepare a roast for dinner. “I can see why you took a shine to him though. He’s a bit pretty.”

A scoff escaped the Doctor’s throat as he leaned against the doorjamb.

Jackie glared briefly at the Doctor before she answered Rose’s question, “I was… lonely.” She resumed her work chopping up carrots and onions. “I go a bit mad sometimes, wonderin’ where you are.”

Rose frowned. “I’m sorry, Mum. I should visit more often.”

Feeling guilty for hogging all of Rose’s time, the Doctor cleared his throat and offered, “I’ll bring her for a visit whenever you want, just call.”

Jackie turned from the cutting board. She narrowed her eyes at the alien leaning in her kitchen and then at her daughter resting against her counter. “Did you finally let him into your knickers?”

“Mum!” Rose cried and the Doctor pinched the bridge of his nose, ears going red in embarrassment.

“Well, why else is he suddenly all jolly to see me?”

“Look, regardless of…” the Doctor twirled a hand erratically in the air, ears getting redder by the second, “that! I mean it when I say we’ll come by whenever you or Rose wants. Just say the word.”

Jackie pressed her lips together, staring at him in silence for a few moments, assessing the truth of his statement. She turned back to her cutting board and resumed chopping. “I’ve got plenty of roast for the three of us. Set the table, will ya?”

The Doctor half-heartedly rolled his eyes, but he didn’t seem all that bothered. Rose watched him and smiled as she realized her daft alien loved her mum more than he was willing to admit out loud. All of his anger today wasn’t simply because someone had been stalking her; Jackie had been threatened as well. She crossed the kitchen to give the Doctor a soft, chaste kiss of gratitude. He grinned in return and grabbed her hand to lay out the plates and utensils as instructed.

It was all horribly domestic, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

The Doctor had allowed Rose to visit with her mum for a few days (Truthfully, he enjoyed Jackie’s company, too. But he wasn’t about to admit that out loud). They had missed each other and spent their time bonding over numerous cups of tea and shopping trips. Rose hadn’t known how or when to bring up her new DNA to her mum, so she never mentioned it. By the time they were ready to travel again, Jackie was smiling brighter and had even roped him into a tight hug before they left with promises to return soon.

That was a few weeks ago. The Doctor smiled into his cup of tea as he reminisced about their travels since then. The most notable stop had been the planet Barcelona. He had always wanted to take her to the land of dogs with no noses, and she had been just as delighted to see them as he had hoped.

“Doctor?” Rose whispered and pulled excitedly on his jacket sleeve as they strolled through the markets. “The dogs… have no noses!”

He smiled and watched a group of canines loping through the streets. He hadn’t told her beforehand, preferring to see the shock of discovery bloom on her face. “I know. They smell awful.”

She laughed loudly and stopped in front of a jewelry cart. Since their hands were clasped, the Doctor could feel her curiosity over some of the shiny baubles. They liked to maintain a light mental connection with their knitted fingers; it felt safe and warm while they traversed alien planets. He wondered if she would ever want to bond fully with him someday but, for now, he focused on her excitement over a pair of sapphire earrings.

“Would you like them?” he asked with a squeeze to her palm.

“No, no.” Rose shook her head. “They’re too expensive.”

“Nonsense. I’ve got plenty of money this time. Didn’t forget me wallet,” he joked.

“No, really, it’s too much.” Her eye caught a treat cart. “How about something sweet instead?”

He had sent her off to purchase them a snack while he had made up a lame excuse about exploring a table full of odd gadgets and tools. When her back was turned and her attention was focused on the menu at the food cart, he’d quickly purchased the earrings — and a matching ring. He had given her the earrings right away and she had, predictably, chastised him for spending too much on her. But her protests were short-lived, and she had a ridiculous smile etched on her face after he had placed them on her and called her the most beautiful blonde on Barcelona.

The ring had stayed stashed in his leather jacket for later.

They had continued to wander through the stalls, hand-in-hand, like a normal couple out shopping on a boring Sunday afternoon. But it wasn’t boring when it was with Rose. She had found a weather predictor, Bazoolium, for Jackie and various lovely outfits to fill their bedroom drawers. He had ended the wonderful trip by parking the Tardis on the beach and they had slept under the stars, making love on the sand.

Everything that had been missing from his life while he had been busy being an idiot had gloriously returned: Rose had tea with him before every adventure, she smiled with her tongue in her mouth so often that he was in danger of being permanently attached to her lips, and he got to indulge on her fabulous burnt toast again.

But there were new, fantastic additions to his life among the stars now: watching a film almost always ended up in a snogging session (or other carnal activities), he was no longer alone in bed when he needed rest, and they both said “I love you” as frequently as possible, never tiring of hearing the phrase. Their hands were always stitched together during their explorations, which wasn’t new, but now the Doctor was content and at peace with the knowledge that Rose was his and the pretty boys of the universe could only observe in jealousy.

The only reason he was having tea without his love this morning was because a nightmare had woken him and he hadn’t the heart to disturb Rose. She looked so peaceful (and rather exhausted from their night of pleasurable pursuits), so he had tiptoed out as quietly as possible and brewed a pot of tea in solitude.

He had dreamt about that bloody, white wall again; it was a future timeline so strong that it refused to leave him alone. The hopelessness and pain haunted him on a daily basis, but he tried not to let Rose see his panic. She hadn’t mentioned dreaming about it again and he didn’t want to hold a dark cloud over her head. He had no idea how far in the future the event was supposed to take place, but he could feel it closing in on them by the second like the leading edge of a superstorm.

~*~

Rose yawned and stretched as she woke. Thanks to her new biology, she knew she had slept exactly three hours, forty minutes, and twenty-seven seconds. The day her internal clock had kicked in was a fun one because she no longer needed a watch to know the exact time. Her full time-sense hadn’t developed yet which would allowed her to glimpse timelines, but she could at least feel fixed points now.

It seemed like every day she was discovering something new, and the Doctor was there to help her along every step of the way. And even though she was changing, she was still Rose. Her cells may be turning into something completely different, but she still felt like the same girl from the estates. Only now, she was an improved model of her original self: a Rose 2.0.

But adjusting to a completely new biology was surreal. She knew she had asked the Tardis for this, but there were times it frightened her. Would she forget her human roots one day? What would her mum say? She still couldn’t think of a way to tell Jackie that she was going to live for a very, very long time. And the fact that she had to continue to live a very, very long time without her mum was something she didn’t like to dwell on. It was easy to see now why the Doctor had been so afraid of her short lifespan. Since she was going to outlive her mum by hundreds, maybe thousands of years, it felt like she would blink one day and her mum would be gone.

It was also bizarre to suddenly be a genius. The former shop-girl with no A-levels was now smarter than the smartest human on Earth. The brains certainly came in handy when she inevitably had to rescue the Doctor from whatever sticky situation his rude gob had gotten him into.

There was one instance on Vegalous that made her giggle every time she thought about it. The Doctor had taken her there to view the fantastic foliage during the planet’s version of fall, but he hadn’t realized the indigenous population was strict Vegans. As soon as they had stepped foot into an indoor market, an alarm had gone off. Since his leather jacket was made of animal hide, the Vegalous police had arrested him and confiscated his coveted article of clothing. However, just to be sure, they had taken every scrap of cloth off his body.

Rose waited, tight-lipped to hold back her laughter, as the officer explained the situation.

“As you can see, ma’am, your partner has committed a serious crime!” The officer gestured to his scanner as he waved it over the leather jacket. “This article of clothing is made from animal hide!”

“And you saw fit to take all his clothes then?” Rose asked, trying to keep her composure as the Doctor scowled at her, naked, in the cell behind her.

“He’s wearing an animal! How dare he kill a precious creature and sling it over his body! We must make sure none of his other garments are soiled in such a sacrilege manner!”

“Do you really think he looks the type?” Rose waved a hand at the Doctor and the officer followed her movements. “I mean, he may be big and burly, but he’s as soft as a kitten when you get to know him.”

“Oi!” the Doctor objected and started to ramble about his many manly attributes.

While the guard was distracted by the Doctor’s soliloquy, Rose slipped the sonic from his jacket and pulsed it at the scanner.

“Try again,” Rose requested firmly. “I assure you, there is no rawhide here or any other animal tissue.”

The officer sighed and waved his scanner over the jacket once more. He frowned as he glanced at the new results. “This can’t be right.”

“You see? This is poromeric imitation leather: no animal skin at all. I recommend you calibrate your spectrum analyzer. It’s obviously calculatin’ the incorrect wavelengths.”

“Huh.” The officer scratched his head in confusion. “I guess you’re right.”

After many apologies, the Doctor had been allowed to get dressed and was released. When they had traveled far enough away from the station, the Doctor had surprised Rose by pressing her up against the nearest wall and snogging her senseless. For whatever reason, he got all hot and bothered when she talked technical. She’d have to do it more often.

Speaking of the Doctor… Rose blinked her eyes opened and frowned when they didn’t meet his blue irises; he usually stayed with her even though she still needed just a bit more sleep than he did. She had been looking forward to a bit of telepathic foreplay before she had to start the day.

She also wanted to ask him about bonds. He had briefly mentioned them on Krop Tor but hadn’t gone into specifics. Even though they used telepathy during their lovemaking and while holding hands, Rose couldn’t deny wanting him in her mind more often. Would he want a bond with her? She could only hope so. She felt complete when he was there, like a missing piece of her had finally found its way home. The Tardis had provided her with textbooks on her new biology but, other than a few vague terms, there wasn’t much information on bonds. The Doctor would have to fill her in on the details.

Missing her daft alien, Rose hopped out of bed and trekked the halls towards the galley; he always had tea after waking. She stuck her head through the doorway and smiled when she caught sight of him at the table.

The Doctor met her eye over the rim of his mug, eyes crinkling as he grinned. He set his cup down and smiled wider. “Mornin’, love.”

“Mornin’!” she greeted cheerily, crossing the room to pop slices of bread in the toaster.

With her tongue in her teeth, Rose skipped to the table and jumped into the Doctor’s lap without preamble, immediately pressing her lips to his for the good morning snog she had wanted in bed.

He hummed happily and slid his palms over the tops of her thighs, causing goosebumps to ripple across her skin. He laughed and popped away from her mouth. “Haven’t I warned you about traipsin’ around the Tardis in nothing but your skimpy shorts and vest top?”

“Maybe I just want you to warm me up,” Rose purred and hooked her arms around his neck.

“As you wish.”

She cocked a brow. “Have you been watchin’ ‘The Princess Bride’?

“Was tryin’ to. But someone decided to attack me ears,” he accused with a playful squeeze to her bum.

“Oh, was that what we were watchin’?” A cheeky grin spread across her face. “Couldn’t help it. They’re fun to nibble.” She tilted her head to demonstrate with a series of licks and bites to his lobe.

His eyes fluttered closed at the sensation and he sucked on her collarbone, feeling like the luckiest being in the universe.

The toast popped and Rose slid off of his lap as he whined in protest. She buttered the charred slices and brought them over to the table, sliding innocently next to him on the bench seat and happily chewing her breakfast as if they hadn’t been in the middle of something.

“Minx.” He snatched a delightfully burned piece and took a large bite.

Rose licked a crumb from the corner of her mouth and grinned. “You love it.”

“I do.” The Tardis chimed in his head, reminding his distracted brain that he had brewed Rose a mug of tea. “Here’s your tea, love.”

“Ta.” She gratefully accepted the cup as he slid it across the tabletop.

The Doctor wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against his hip as they enjoyed their gourmet meal in companionable silence. He loved this part of the morning — the calm onboard their home before they ventured out into the world. It was a small slice of a simple life, something he had always wanted but never thought he would find. And he couldn’t wait to do this for hundreds — perhaps thousands — of years to come.

After she was finished eating and had moved on to sipping tea, Rose started to fidget more than usual against his side.

The Doctor peered at her curiously from the corner of his eye. “Something wrong?”

“Not wrong, no.” She gnawed on her thumbnail and shifted to face him better. “Just… a question I’m a bit anxious to ask.”

The Doctor pried her thumb from her mouth and threaded their fingers together. “You can ask me anything.”

Rose took a deep breath and traced idle circles on the tabletop with her free hand. “I was wonderin’... if you’d ever maybe… ” She paused for a while and the Doctor squeezed her palm to urge her to continue. “I remember you talkin’ about bonds a while ago and I came across the term ‘temporary bond.’ Would that be something we could try? If you want?” The final words squeaked out of her mouth and she bit down on her bottom lip, wracked with nerves.

He blinked rapidly and felt his hearts skip a beat. Rose wanted to bond with him ? He had hoped to ask her about it one day, but he never thought she would mention it on her own. However, since he knew that Gallifreyan textbooks could be skimpy on important details, he suspected she didn’t realize what she had asked.

“Um… did you actually read about temporary bonds?” She shook her head with a confused look, so he continued, “A temporary bond is formed before a lover’s bond. You, um… basically just asked me to marry you.”

Her eyes bulged and she stumbled over her words. “I-I did? I didn’t mean to… I mean not that I’d never… I didn’t know…” She groaned and snatched her hand back to cover her quickly reddening face, feeling like the biggest moron in the universe. “Bollocks.”

With a grin of amusement, the Doctor gently removed her hands from her face and placed his own palms on her cheeks. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the bloke supposed to do the askin’?”

“M’sorry. I didn’t mean to ask… that,” she muttered. “Forget I said anything.”

Forget she had asked him exactly what he wanted? He was about to open his mouth and say as much when a better idea sprung to his magnificent brain. Clearly, she hadn’t meant to propose, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t.

Suddenly feeling giddy, he smacked a kiss on her lips. “Get dressed and meet me in the gardens.”

Her brow furrowed. “We have gardens?”

“Magnificent gardens.” He pecked her nose and nudged her off the bench. “Go on.”

Rose frowned, assuming he was avoiding her question about bonds, but left the galley to get dressed as instructed.

As soon as she left, the Doctor bolted from his seat and made a pit stop to his workshop (for a very important piece of jewelry) before entering the gardens. He scoured the area for the perfect spot, grumbling to himself that nothing looked picturesque enough, but then he spotted the little patch of flowers he had planted after their trip to New Earth. It had been a while since he had tended to them, but it looked like the Tardis had been keeping up the maintenance. The old girl had outdone herself — it was flawless.

Ten minutes after the Doctor had abruptly changed the topic of conversation, Rose hesitantly opened the door to the gardens. He was nowhere in sight. The Tardis chimed excitedly in her head and directed her through the maze of impeccable greenery. Most of the plants were obviously alien, but they were magnificent, just as the Doctor had claimed. There were so many different varieties that Rose wondered if he hadn’t managed to create a microcosm of the entire universe onboard the ship.

She pulled back a curtain of purple ivy and finally spotted his leather jacket peaking through the branches of pink and yellow flowers. As she ventured further, she realized he was sitting in a pergola covered with the little buds; the thorny vines climbed the dark-wood, smothering it from top to bottom. Trellises formed the sides of the structure to create a living wall of roses.

And in the middle of the flora was the Doctor, casually sitting with one leg crossed over the other and one arm slung over the back of a bench. It wasn’t any bench; it was the tired, splintered one from the playground on the estates.

Rose couldn’t decide which pink and yellow flower to focus on. “This is beautiful.”

He grinned and patted the spot next to him. “Join me?”

When she sat on the bench, the bright light of the conservatory faded into a sunset and then into the pitch-black of night.

She craned her head around in confusion. “Ok, what’s happenin’?”

The Doctor found her hand in the dark. “Just watch,” he whispered.

Stars slowly began to appear overhead and Rose squinted to see them through the dense foliage. They dotted the canvas of the sky, one by one, as if an invisible painter were deciding where to put them. Orion, Cassiopeia, and other constellations she recognized came to life in the blackness and Rose wondered if it was programmed to reproduce the night sky of any planet in the universe. Just as a small moon was brushed into existence, a warm light found her cheeks and her attention was ripped from the sentient space above her to their floral cocoon.

Each small flower bud bloomed and glowed brightly as the petals stretched out into the night. The ground beneath her feet became dotted with tiny spotlights of pink or yellow as the tiny roses came to life, illuminating the darkness with their cheery hues.

Rose shifted to look at the Doctor, his own face washed in lovely shades of color. “What is this?”

A gentle smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “You.”

“Me?”

“I planted these flowers, all pink and yellow like you. And they’re a special sort of rose, because, as you can see,” he waved at the flora around them, “they bloom in the night.”

“And what’s that got to do with me?”

One of his calloused palms cradled her cheek and the other tightened its hold on her hand. “Before I met you, I was all alone in the universe. Mind you, I liked it that way, didn’t think I deserved any better. Then you blundered in, all warm and bright, and breathed new life into me. Not sure what I could have possibly done to ever deserve you, but I’m not all dark and stormy anymore. You illuminate the night in me. You made me better.”

He dropped his hand from her face and took her free one, gazing at their knitted fingers. “I love you. I’ve been rubbish about showin’ it in the past but, if you let me, I’ll spend forever makin’ you the happiest woman in the universe.” He pulled the sapphire ring he had purchased on Barcelona out of his pocket and held it out to her. “Will you be my wife?”

Pink and yellow light glinted off of the moisture cascading down Rose’s face as she stared at the glittering jewel. Her throat clogged tightly with emotion, making speech impossible. All she could manage to do was gasp out a sob and climb into the Doctor’s lap, throwing her arms around his neck as she cried jubilant tears into his shoulder.

He squeezed his arms around her waist. “Is this…” he cleared his throat and swallowed thickly, his own tears burning in his eyes. “Is this a ‘yes’?”

A small laugh puffed through her lips and she lifted her head to look at him. “Yes, you daft alien.”

The Doctor’s eyes crinkled as he smiled and a few beads of moisture were unleashed. “Ah, technically, to you, I’m no longer an alien.” He retook her hand and slid the ring into its rightful place.

Rose’s eyes went wide as she observed the precious stone on her finger. “This is gorgeous! And it matches my earrings!”

With a dazzling smile, she pressed her mouth to his, bringing her hands up to rest on the sides of his neck. His fingers threaded through her hair as they kissed for several minutes, their tears of happiness mingling together on their cheeks.

When she felt her lungs burning for air, Rose released her hold on him and rested her forehead on his. “I love you, so, so much.” The light from the flowers pulsed in her vision and she turned her head to observe them with a smile. “This is quite possibly the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“It seems I always desire to be surrounded by a pink and yellow Rose.” The Doctor tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Which brings your earlier question to mind, about a temporary bond?”

“Yeah, I was wonderin’ if that was something you’d… want to try.” She fiddled with the lapels of his jacket, still wary of the answer.

“Oh, absolutely.” He felt the nervous tension leave her body. “A temporary bond precedes the lover’s bond, which was basically marriage for love instead of political gain on my planet. Because a lover’s bond is irreversible, a temporary bond was seen as a sorta engagement, testin’ the waters so to speak. You’re left completely bare to another person, you expose your entire soul. You’d have to trust that person with everything you are.”

Rose met his eye. “Do you trust me that much?”

“Of course I do. I trust you with my life.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. “But the real question is, do you want me in your head all the time?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“There isn’t anything I’d love more.”

“Me too.” Rose smiled.

The Doctor matched her grin. “Well then, since we’re engaged in the custom of your homeworld, shall we get engaged in the way of mine?” She nodded eagerly. “And remember, this is temporary. We can reverse it later. If you want to. If you get tired of me.”

“I love you. I’ll never get tired of you.”

A warm, bubbly sensation settled around his hearts as he brought his fingers to her temple. She mirrored his movements and they delved into each other's minds with a practiced ease. Love and contentment immediately washed over Rose while she watched the Doctor bound their minds into a more intimate connection.

Some of his memories had been open to her before, but now, everything was open for her to peruse at will. Every thought or emotion he had experienced in the last nine hundred years was hers to observe and share. His guilt over the Time War was endless. The pain and the scars he still bore were open wounds for her to sew together. Channeling an instinct she didn’t know she had, Rose used her golden light to relieve the burden and acted as a balm on his bruised and battered soul.

But the love she saw was overwhelming. She had thought she knew how he felt about her before, but it was, apparently, just icing on the cake. Now, it was stronger, deeper than she had seen the previous times they had used telepathy. There was never a time he didn’t love her, even as he had foolishly pushed her away. It was as eternal and immortal as time itself, woven into the very fabric of his existence.

The Doctor watched in utter amazement as Rose slotted herself effortlessly into his mind. Her love shone like a bright beacon in the dark, never wavering, never ending. “Love” no longer seemed like a sufficient word to describe the depth for which she was devoted to him. She filled every dark corner, banished every skeleton, and fit into the broken pieces so easily that he couldn’t help but think she had been made for him. Perhaps soulmates existed, after all.

Words were no longer necessary. They could read each other like an open book. The Doctor slid his palm down Rose’s cheek to cradle her jaw, fitting their lips together as easily as their minds. Her glee poured into him as he slid his free hand up her back, eager to explore her with their new bond.

Under the glow of the night sky and pink and yellow roses, the two lovers melted into one being, more complete and whole than they had ever been in their entire lives.

Chapter Text

The Doctor and Rose traveled in uninterrupted bliss for three weeks; there were no unexpected alien invasions, no blundering into danger, and no random arrests that resulted in a night squashed together on an unyielding cot behind bars. They used their unexpectedly-trouble-free leisure adventures to adjust to and explore their new, temporary bond.

Just as the Doctor had warned her, it was a very intimate connection and Rose appreciated the ability to acclimate to his presence without the threat of permanence. Not that she regretted it, quite the opposite; she couldn’t wait for the day their bond was everlasting. It was thrilling to be connected this way, for the Doctor to know the very heart and soul of her. He knew every little memory, every dark corner she had shrouded from the world, and he still loved her unconditionally. He fit inside her mind so perfectly that it felt like they were two halves of one whole; that they had always been circling each other and drawn together like magnets across the cosmos. If her ability to read timelines were fully functioning, Rose mused she would see their connection had been inevitable — that they had always been made for one another.

Light steam from a joint shower still lingered in the air as Rose eyed her gorgeous fiancé in the en-suite’s mirror. He was clad in nothing but a towel wrapped around his hips, wiping the remnants of shaving gel from his neck. She was dutifully brushing her teeth (something that didn’t have to be done often now, thanks to her new DNA) but, even though her mouth was preoccupied, she could still talk to him.

I kinda miss the beard, Rose said telepathically.

His brow quirked up. Do you now?

It was rather… sexy.

Really? He met her eye in the mirror and smirked. Isn’t smooth skin better for this?

A barrage of sultry images of the Doctor’s head between her thighs bombarded her vision, and Rose clutched the countertop for support. She playfully narrowed her eyes at his amused reflection and rinsed out her mouth.

“I’ll get you back for that,” she threatened.

He hummed and pulled her into his half-naked body, placing tiny, ticklish kisses along the exposed skin of her neck. “I have a feelin’ your idea of retribution will involve more pleasure than torment.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that.” She regretfully disentangled herself from his embrace. Otherwise, they’d never leave the ship and she was full of exploratory energy. “So, where’re we goin’ today?”

“Dunno. Hadn’t really thought about it. There’s… ”

Rose tuned out his voice as the Doctor dropped the towel from his waist and walked naked into their closet to get dressed. She bit her lip and stared at his bare bum, missing the rest of the sentence.

“... but those aren’t the only options. What do you think?” The Doctor cleared his throat when he noticed her vacant expression lingering on his lower half. “Rose?”

She blinked rapidly and relocated her gaze. “Sorry?”

He smiled and tugged a maroon jumper over his head. “Why don’t you choose? I’ve picked the last five or so locations. Anywhere you’ve never been that you’d like to go?”

The desire lifted from her eyes as she pondered his question. “Well, I’ve always wanted to see the Olympics in person.”

“Because of your mediocre foray into gymnastics when you were younger?” he teased.

“Oi!” Rose cocked her hip and pointed a finger at him. “I may have only got the bronze, but I do believe I have exhibited my flexibility numerous times for your benefit.”

In retaliation for his earlier telepathic torment, Rose sent the Doctor the diverse array of positions she had contorted herself into over the past few weeks.

His ears turned red as he relived some of the pleasurable encounters. He gulped. “I’ll need another demonstration if you keep that up.”

Rose teased him further with a tongue-touched, Cheshire cat grin. “Promise?”

He growled and lunged for her, but she squealed and raced out of their en-suite and through the corridors until she arrived at the console room. Various sexual fantasies drifted across her mind as the Doctor caught up to her and clutched her around the middle, swinging her onto the jumpseat and finally catching her seductive tongue.

Rose giggled against his lips and looped her arms around his neck as he pressed her further back into the seat. You have a very active imagination.

I blame you.

“Olympics?” she reminded him as he abandoned her mouth in favor of his favorite spot on her neck.

He sighed dramatically and sucked the sensitive patch of skin before straightening. “If we must. London hosted the summer games in 2012. Wanna give it a go?”

“Ok, sure. But on one condition: I drive.” She playfully waggled her eyebrows.

Thanks to her Tardis manual and the Doctor’s tutelage, Rose had been learning to pilot her favorite time ship, but the Doctor hadn’t let her try a solo journey yet.

“You sure you’re ready?” he asked, leaning against the console with crossed arms.

Rose hopped off the jumpseat and met his challenge. “Absolutely. Bet you five quid I can do it better.”

The Doctor grinned and swept his hand in a “go ahead” gesture at the controls. The Tardis buzzed happily in Rose’s mind, eager for her favorite companion to guide her.

Putting all of her knowledge to use, Rose flew around the console in a complicated but precise dance. She hit the correct buttons, pulled the appropriate levers, and even managed to send the Doctor a flirty wink as she steered the old girl with nary a bump or tremor.

The only shudder felt in the bigger-on-the-inside ship was the one that raced up the Doctor’s spine as he watched the love of his lives prance and circle around the grating, elegantly handling the Tardis in the most enticing display he had ever seen. She was full of effortless grace and beauty, and his eyes darkened in want as she contorted herself to reach various pieces on the console in a calculated move to tease him.

And, just as Rose was about to hit the final switch, the Doctor snuck up behind her and bit down on the ticklish spot on her neck. She shrieked in surprise and the Tardis landed with an inelegant thump.

Rose whirled around in his caged arms with a stern glare. “You cheated!”

“You were tauntin’ me,” he accused.

Rose smiled sheepishly and pecked the corner of his mouth. “Yep.” She ducked out of his arms, raced down the ramp, and threw open the doors. “Still managed to land us in the correct spot though!”

The Tardis chimed smugly in his mind and the Doctor darted a suspicious eye to the time rotor. He straightened his leather jacket and ventured outside to join Rose. She had expertly parked the ship between two blue gates, blending the similarly colored doors into the surroundings. They had landed in a quaint, London neighborhood with a banner hanging above the street announcing the upcoming Olympic games. The Doctor grumbled to himself, slightly jealous that Rose had gotten the time right on her first try. He suspected the Tardis had something to do with that.

“C’mon, slowpoke!” she called out.

When he caught up to her, Rose threaded her arm through his and bounced on her toes. “This is great!” she gushed. “So glad I thought of it!”

The Doctor beamed beside her and bumped her shoulder. “At least you won’t have to experience the extra traffic cloggin’ London’s street. Got your own transport.”

“And I drive it better than you,” Rose sing-songed proudly.

“Careful now, don’t get too high on your horse. That was only your first go — beginner’s luck.”

“You just don’t want to admit that she likes me better. Maybe if you re-installed the macaron dispenser she’d warm up to ya.”

“I let her have those bloody French biscuits for two hundred years!” Rose unthreaded her arm from his without him noticing as he griped about his machine. “Does she say thanks when I oil her gravitic anomaliser? No!”

Rose furrowed her brows as she eyed numerous “Missing” posters taped to the lampposts. “Doctor…”

“I journeyed to Yugaloogalaloo just to get a switchboard for the helmic regulator. Did I get a whiff of gratitude for nearly bein’ kidnapped by their cult of Yagaloos? No!”

Noticing the posters featured children, alarm bells blared in Rose’s head. “Doctor, you should look at this… ”

“I didn’t even get to stick around to snatch one of their famous banana cakes! Best desserts in the universe! They dip it in banana frostin’ for twice the banana goodness.”

“Doctor!” Rose bellowed at the same time she mentally pinched the back of his neck.

“What?” He rubbed his stinging skin and whirled around on his heels, finally noticing she wasn’t beside him anymore. He joined her by the lampposts and scrutinized the posters.

“This is a rather quiet street. Wouldn’t think kids would be in danger of bein’ snatched.” Rose frowned as she imagined how frightened the children must be. “Who do you think is takin’ them?”

“Or what,” the Doctor mused. He looked around at the boring, brick-lined buildings, finally taking stock of the atmosphere. “It’s not half-cold. Like someone’s reducin’ the temperature.”

“Says here they all went missin’ this week.” She craned her head around at the sound of a woman taking out her garbage, disturbing the eerie silence in the suburban neighborhood. “Whatever it is, it’s got the whole street scared to death.”

Feeling her concern as keenly as if it were his own, the Doctor grabbed her hand and offered her a small smile. “Time to ask the neighbors?”

Rose nodded and he walked with her along the pavement, stretching his senses out to gather data. They both paused at the same time as they approached a lonely football goal set up on a front lawn. Feeling a misplaced tingle in the air, the Doctor held a hand out over a worn spot in the grass.

“Do you feel that?” he murmured to Rose, tilting his head for her to join him.

She held her hand out next to his and wrinkled her brow in concentration, honing in her new senses to discover what had piqued his interest. A tiny fizzle glided across her skin, like a bit of leftover static electricity that was trying to dissolve into the wind. She followed the Doctor as he bent down to get closer to the source of the disturbance emanating from the dirt.

“It tickles.” She giggled and the Doctor grinned in agreement.

A car engine backfired and stopped in the middle of the street. Rose dropped her hand and stood to peer curiously at the stalled vehicle.

“There you go, fifth today.” A man in a high-viz vest walked over to try and help the driver. “Not natural, is it?”

“I don’t know what happened.” The driver banged his wheel in frustration. “I had it serviced less than a month ago!”

“Nah, don’t even try and explain it, mate. All the cars are doin’ it. And do you know what? It’s bonkers. Bonkers! C’mon then, pal. I’ll help you shift it.” The driver hopped out of the vehicle and both men walked to the rear bumper. “Quicker you’re on the way, happier you’ll be!”

The men grunted as they pushed the small but heavy lump of metal along the pavement, willing it to restart.

“Do you want a hand?” Rose called out.

The man in the high-viz shook his head. “No, we’re alright, love,” he insisted through clenched teeth.

“You’re not. I’m tougher than I look. Honest.”

Rose walked over to help. The three of them pushed for a few more feet until the engine finally burst back to life with a throaty roar. The man in high-viz fell over as the car gained speed and the driver quickly hopped back into his seat.

“Cheers, mate!” The driver waved in thanks as he sped away.

“Does this happen a lot?” Rose asked the man as she helped him up.

He brushed the gravel from his palms and let out a heavy sigh. “Been doin’ it all week.”

“Since those children started goin’ missin’?”

He shrugged. “Yeah, s’pose so.”

“Hmm. C’mon,” she gestured for the man to follow her, “come and tell the Doctor.”

“The Doctor?” With a bewildered look, the man walked alongside her.

They joined the Doctor who was still bent down low to the ground, fascinated by the ticklish sensation near the goal post. He was also totally oblivious to everything else going on around him. A man, presumably the goal post’s owner, had exited the house and was staring at the Doctor in equal parts curiosity and annoyance.

“What’s your game?” the man demanded.

Startled, the Doctor whipped his head around and stood. “Game? No game here.”

Sensing an argument if she didn’t intervene, Rose darted in front of the Doctor to explain, “He’s a geologist — loves a bit of dirt. Don’t mind him.” The homeowner appeared mollified by her explanation but continued to pierce the Doctor with a stern glare.

Rose shook her head in amusement at the Doctor’s confused expression. “Doctor, er, sorry,” she turned to the man in the high-viz jacket, “what was your name?”

“Kel.”

“Right, Kel and I just restarted this car that stopped in the middle of the road. Says it’s been goin’ on all week? Same time that the children started goin’ missin’?” Maybe there’s a connection? she added telepathically.

Hmm, maybe. The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest and assessed Kel in front of him. “Cars stoppin’ in the middle of the road?”

Kel nodded. “Every car cuts out. The council are goin’ nuts. I mean, they’ve given this street the works. Renamed it. I’ve been tarmackin’ every pothole.” He pointed to a fresh patch of asphalt. “Look at that. Beauty, init? And all that is because that Olympic torch comes right by the end of this close.” He moved his arm to point at the end of the road. “Just down there. Everything’s gotta be perfect, ain’t it? Only, it ain’t.”

“It takes them when they’re playing!” screeched a voice behind them.

Four heads swiveled to the speaker, an elderly lady that had snuck up like a stealthy cat padding along the ground.

Someone should put a bell on her, the Doctor commented and Rose discreetly rolled her eyes in playful amusement.

“What takes them?” Rose asked the old woman.

“Danny, Jane, Dale. Snatched in the blink of an eye.”

A dark-haired woman and another lady with ginger hair exited their own houses when they heard the voices and joined the group huddled on the street.

The owner of the goal post appeared to have had enough of the snooping on his street and stepped threateningly closer to the Doctor. “Look, what do you lot want? Why are you pokin’ your noses where they don’t belong?”

The Doctor held his palms up in defense. “We’re, um… Police Officers!”

The man scoffed. “We’ve had plenty of coppers pokin’ around here, and you don’t look or sound like any of them!”

“Sure I do.” He started digging into his pockets when Rose mentally suggested it was time for the psychic paper. “I can prove it. We’re colleagues, me and her.”

“She looks less like a copper than you do!”

“She’d investigate circles ‘round me,” the Doctor asserted firmly and thrust the psychic paper in the man’s face. “See? Police. Now apologize to the lady.”

With a thoroughly chastised scowl, the man lifted guilty eyes in Rose’s direction. “Sorry, ma’am.”

“Quite alright.” Maybe he lost a kid, she said to the Doctor in the man’s defense.

Can’t very well stand by and allow you to be insulted though. He gave her a mental kiss on the cheek, and Rose smiled at his gallantry.

“What are you going to do?” the dark-haired woman asked the Doctor.

“The police have knocked on every door,” the old woman cut in. “No clues, no leads — nothing!”

The angry man rolled his eyes. “Look, kids run off sometimes, all right? That’s what they do!”

“I saw it with me own eyes!” she argued. “Dale Hicks in your garden playing with your Tommy and then — pfft! Right in front of me like he was never there! There’s no need to look any further than this street. It’s right here amongst us.”

Time for a plan of action, Doctor? Rose mused.

Quite right , he agreed. “Why don’t we…”

The ginger woman cut him off, “Why don’t we start with them!” She angrily pointed at Kel and another council worker. “There’s been all sorts like them in this street, day and night.”

“Fixin’ things up for the Olympics!” Kel defended.

“Yeah, and taking an awful long time about it!” the angry man retorted.

“Right, look,” the Doctor started. “All we’ve gotta do is just—”

“What you just said… that’s slander!” Kel cried in offense.

“I don’t care what it is!”

“I want an apology off her!”

“Stop pickin’ on him!”

The neighbors devolved into a voluminous shouting match, stabbing angry fingers at each other. With a heavy eye roll, the Doctor looked to Rose for help, but she was smiling in amusement, knowing how much he loathed domestics. Never with her, but he hated these types of trivial quibbles.

Little bit of help here? he pleaded.

She stuck her tongue between her teeth in a teasing grin. You’ve got big, Time Lord lungs; use them.

“OI!” the Doctor bellowed at full volume. Everyone stopped talking at once. “Bit of a hush, if you don’t mind. Argue on your own time.” He glared at each person, making sure they weren’t about to start yapping again. “Now, in the past week, three children were stolen.” He looked at the old lady. “Accordin’ to you, snatched out of thin air?”

She nodded vigorously. “Look around you.” She waved a finger around at the quaint buildings. “This was a safe street ‘til it came. It’s not a person. I’ll say it if no one else will. Maybe you’re coppers, maybe you’re not. I don’t care who you are. Can you please help us?”

As the old woman beseeched the Doctor for help, Rose’s eye drifted along the various stone edifices until she caught the silhouette of a figure in a second-story window. She squinted in the sunlight, sharpening the features of a small child. The dark-haired woman in the group followed Rose’s curious eyeline and scurried back into the home with the lonely girl in the window.

“We can help,” the Doctor vowed. “Rose and I will get to the bottom of this.”

The angry man muttered to himself and stalked back into his house. All of the other neighbors abandoned the street for their own homes, too spooked by the eery kidnappings to offer any more assistance.

“Right then,” the Doctor straightened his shoulders and cracked his neck, “as usual, it’s just you and me.”

Rose smiled. “Good.”

“Now, this might sound daft, but come and have a sniff with me.”

She laughed and followed him back to the goal post he had been inspecting. “Is that your way of tellin’ me that I’ve finally become a bloodhound?”

“‘Course you have, love. You are now in possession of superior olfactory neurons like me.” He took in a large lungful of air, searching the atmosphere for traces of anything unusual. “Can’t you smell it?”

Rose mimicked him and took a whiff of the passing breeze. “Hmm. Sort of metal?”

“Right in one.” She beamed when he smacked a kiss on her cheek in pride. “C’mon, let’s follow the trail.”

“Takin’ bloodhound a bit too literally,” Rose muttered.

With his nose in the air, the Doctor weaved a path along the houses until the scent led him between the fences of the back gardens.

“So, accordin’ to that domestic yappin’ fest, the neighbors say Danny Edwards cycled in here at that end,” he pointed over his shoulder indicating the entrance between the fence posts, “but he never made it to the other end and back on the street.”

A fizzy sensation crawled along Rose’s skin and she abruptly stopped. “There’s that ticklin’ again!”

The Doctor nodded, feeling the same thing. “And the smell, too.”

“Sorta like, um… a burnt fuse plug? Like when the Tardis travels too quickly through the vortex.” Her nose crinkled at the offending odor. “Do you think Danny vanished here, in this exact spot?” She pointed to the grass beneath her shoes.

“I’d say so. There’s a residual energy where the kids vanished. Whatever it was, it used an awful lot of power to do this.”

They ventured forth with a determined stride and popped back out onto the street. A ginger cat was trotting along the garden beds, meowing incessantly.

“Oh, aren’t you a beautiful boy?” Rose smiled brightly and bent down to pet the feline’s silky fur.

The Doctor scoffed. “Beautiful? Are you tryin’ to compare me to one of your former pretty—” He turned his head and spotted Rose stroking the friendly cat. “Oh.”

“I used to have one like you.” The cat purred and preened under Rose’s fingers.

“Cat person, eh?” The Doctor grinned and reached a hand out to stroke the orange fur, but he darted away towards a cardboard box. “Guess he doesn’t like me.”

Rose laughed and stood, running her palms along the lapels’ of the Doctor’s jacket as he frowned. “I like you.” She kissed his pout and turned it into a smile. “And, for the record, you’re much prettier than any pretty boy I’ve come across.”

He groaned. “You take that back.”

The cat meowed and pounced inside the cardboard box. A strange whining noise filled the air and Rose’s skin prickled.

“What was that? Did you feel that?” She darted over to the box, tipping it over and finding it empty. “The cat’s gone!”

“Well, that was quite a disappearin’ trick.” The Doctor plucked the box from the ground and twirled it in the air.

Rose coughed a bit as she inhaled an overwhelming burnt smell. “Whoa! It’s really strong now. Is that ion residue?”

“Fantastic!” He took a whiff of the strong odor permeating the cardboard. “Definitely ion. It takes a massive amount of power just to snatch a livin’ organism out of space-time. I’d be impressed if I weren’t worried about the implications.”

“So the cat’s been transported like the kids?”

The Doctor tossed the box aside with a concerned frown. “Something is harnessin’ huge reserves of ionic power. We need to find the source.”

Rose squinted in the sunlight and surveyed the area. “Should we split up, cover more ground?”

“It’s not that big of an area, but the quicker the better,” he agreed and then added telepathically, Give a shout if you need me.

She gave him a cheeky salute. Aye, aye, Captain.

Oh, don’t do that. He pursed his lips in amusement before they parted ways.

She walked down a brick-lined street, keeping her eyes and nose peeled for anything out of the ordinary.

As soon as Rose was no longer by his side, the Doctor felt an itch in his skin. He was more on edge these days, feeling the ominous, white wall looming closer than ever before. It seemed to be just on the horizon, and he still had no idea what it meant or if there were a way to avoid it.

Find anything yet? The Doctor asked, eager to hear her in his mind again.

I only just left you! Impatient. A loud thud against metal startled her, and Rose whipped her head around until she honed in on the source behind a garage door. There’s a weird bangin’ noise inside one of the garages.

Careful… He sent her a wave of concern and urged her not to do anything rash.

She cautiously moved closer to the door as the banging and rattling increased. Could it be the cat?

Maybe. But I highly doubt whatever it is would bother to trap a cat in a garage. What would be the point of that? I’m comin’ over to check.

The noise suddenly stopped, so Rose curiously pressed her ear against the cool metal. After a few moments, something angrily banged against the door and continued to pound incessantly. She reared back in surprise, wondering what tenacious being, cat or otherwise, yearned to be free. There was only one way to find out what was causing such a ruckus.

Rose tried the latch and found it unlocked. I’m gonna open it.

Wait, I’m almost there.

She huffed an impatient breath, wanting to just throw open the door, but she knew he’d worry needlessly if she did.

“Always good to have backup.” The Doctor rounded the corner and plucked the sonic from his jacket. He aimed the screwdriver and nodded for her to open the door.

Carefully, Rose lifted it with a creaky groan. They peered into the dim garage, but nothing jumped out at them.

“Huh. Where’d it g—!”

A black mass shot out of the darkness and knocked Rose to the ground. It buzzed in angry lines and swirls, vibrating violently as it hovered perilously close to her head.“Don’t move!” the Doctor shouted.

He quickly found the correct setting on his sonic and pulsed it at the odd scribbly ball. It shrunk into a tight, black mass and fell into Rose’s open palm

“Alright?” the Doctor helped Rose to her feet and brought her into his arms for a hug, mentally bombarding her with his concern. “Any cuts or scrapes?”

“No, m’fine.” She blew out a breath and assured his mind she was free of wounds. She squeezed his shoulders before pulling away to scrutinize the bizarre sphere in her hand. “What the hell is this thing? Smells like ion energy again.”

The Doctor gently took the ball from her open palm. “Animated by the same energy snatchin’ the kids. Put up quite a fuss in the dark, I’ll give it that.”

“It’s all dinky now.”

“I neutralized the energy. C’mon, let’s go analyze this in the Tardis.” He handed it back and Rose stashed it in her pocket. When her hand was free, the Doctor threaded their fingers together, trying and failing to keep his worry for her safety to himself.

Rose frowned as they strode back to their ship. “Are you alright? You’re all swirly.” A wall of white flashed across her mind and she squeezed his hand. “Still seein’ that wall?”

He reeled her in closer, hip-to-hip, which made walking nearly impossible. “Yes.”

“Maybe it won’t even happen. You did say it was a possible future, after all.” She keyed open the blue doors and they walked up the ramp. “But, whatever it is, we’ll face it together, yeah?”

A soothing caress brushed across the Doctor’s mind. “Yeah, together.”

He watched Rose place the black ball in the Tardis’ analyzing port without needing instruction; she was a pro at traveling with him now. He smiled and shared his pride with her. She turned around and beamed at him in response.

Unable to resist, the Doctor pulled her into his arms and pressed his mouth to hers. A pleased sigh left Rose’s lips and she wrapped her arms around his waist to deepen the kiss. Her mind stirred in arousal and he relished the shared sensation. As far as the Doctor was concerned, the day they officially knitted their timelines together and bonded forever couldn’t come soon enough.

The scanner beeped in the background and disturbed their small respite. Keeping one arm circled around him, Rose swiveled the monitor towards them to peer at the results.

“What’s it say?” she asked, still unable to read Circular Gallifreyan.

The Doctor’s brow rose in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kiddin’ me.”

He dislodged Rose from around his body as he dug into his pockets for a pencil. When he finally found one among the other random contents, he plucked the ball up and used the eraser to wipe away the dark mass of scribbles in mid-air.

“Well, that’s a neat trick.” Rose laughed. “Don’t tell me that’s graphite.”

With a daft grin, the Doctor tossed it to her. “See for yourself.”

She took the pencil from his fingers and brushed away bits of the black lines with the eraser. Her eyes widened. “It’s graphite!”

“Yep, same material as an HB pencil.”

“I was attacked by a pencil scribble?” She brought the ball up to her nose, smelling the pencil lead, still not believing it was really a drawing.

“Indeed you were. Brought to life with ionic energy.” The Doctor folded his arms across his chest as he pondered the anomaly. “Whatever we’re dealin’ with here seems to be able to create as well as take. But why make a scribble creature?”

“Maybe it was a mistake? You scribble over something when you want to get rid of it. Like a… a child’s drawing.” Rose eyes unfocused as she worked the facts through her head. “That old lady; she said it was on the street. There was a girl…”

The silhouette of a child flitted through the Doctor’s mind as Rose remembered everything she saw that day. “What was she doin’ in the window?”

“I dunno, but she sorta gave me the creeps. Even her mum looked scared of her. Maybe we should see what’s goin’ on?”

“Hmm.” He leaned against the console and looked her up and down, more turned on then he should be to see her effortlessly solving puzzles. “Good deductin’.”

“Thank you.” Rose shivered slightly at the low timbre of his voice and stuck her tongue through her teeth, knowing exactly how much it drove him crazy.

Just like she knew he would, the Doctor growled and resumed his attack on her lips, backing her up to the jumpseat.

She giggled against his mouth and attempted to pry his arms from her hips. Case to solve, Doctor.

He nipped her bottom lip. Busy.

We’ll never get this solved if you insist on bein’ attached to my mouth.

Fantastic place to be attached.

With a laugh muffled by his lips, Rose gently pushed at the Doctor’s shoulders until he pulled away with a loud pop. “Later.”

He groaned theatrically and grabbed her hand. “Later. Let’s follow up on your hunch.”

They quickly strolled back to the neighborhood street and located the home where Rose had seen the little girl. With a mental reminder to be nice, Rose rang the doorbell.

For several minutes, no one answered, so the Doctor knocked impatiently. Finally, the dark-haired lady from earlier opened the door with a wary expression.

“Hello!” Rose waved and pointed to the smiling Time Lord beside her. “This is the Doctor and I’m Rose.”

“Coppers, remember?” The Doctor waved the psychic paper in the homeowner’s face. “Never did catch your name earlier with all the other jolly neighbors.”

“It’s Trish,” she provided meekly.

“Trish, hello! Just followin’ up on a bit of questionin’. May we talk to your daughter?”

Her brow crinkled in confusion. “Why do you want to talk to Chloe?”

“Kids vanishin’ in thin air, strange things goin’ on. Thought maybe she’d seen something and might like to tell us.” The Doctor grinned wider, hoping to gain access to the home.

Trish darted her eyes between the strange man and woman on her doorstep. “You’re not really the police, are you?”

“We’re help,” Rose insisted softly.

Trish took in a deep breath and glanced nervously over the Doctor’s shoulder. “You said you’re a Doctor?”

He nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“Can you help her?” she pleaded in a whisper.

“Yes, I can.”

With a little more hope in her eyes, Trish waved the Doctor and Rose into the house and led them into the living room. The television was on and tuned to a channel showing the Olympic Torch Bearer running through the streets. Trish gestured for them to have seat, so Rose plopped onto the sofa with the Doctor.

Trish wrung her hands nervously in front of her, unsure of where to begin. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Chloe. She stays in her room most of the time. I try talking to her, but it's like trying to speak to a brick wall. She gives me nothing, just asks to be left alone.”

“What about Chloe's dad?” Rose wondered.

Trish’s eyes hardened. “Chloe's dad died a year ago.”

“I'm sorry.”

A bitter huff of laughter escaped her lips. “You wouldn't be if you'd known him.”

“Can we say hello to Chloe?” the Doctor asked hopefully.

“I should check on her first. She might be asleep.” Trish fidgeted on the spot as she hesitated to move.

Noting her reluctance to see her own daughter, the Doctor frowned. “Trish, are you afraid of her?”

Trish evaded the question and plastered a tight smile on her face. “I want you to know before you see her that's she's really a great kid.”

“I'm sure she is.”

“Yeah.” A genuine grin finally lifted the corners of her mouth. “She's never been in trouble at school. You should see her report from last year. A's and B's.”

I’m not sure when Trish will let us see her. Mind doin’ a bit of snoopin’? the Doctor asked Rose as Trish continued listing Chloe’s good attributes.

Can do, Rose agreed and smiled brightly at Trish. “Can I use your loo?”

Trish nodded and pointed up the staircase as Rose passed by. Each step creaked as she ascended to the second story and Rose winced as she landed on a particularly loud floorboard at the top. Someone moved behind a closed door so Rose scurried inside a linen closet before she was seen.

Rose peered through the slats in the closet as a bedroom door swung open on the other side of the hall. Chloe popped out, half-heartedly trudging across the carpet. When she heard the sound of the little girl going downstairs, Rose exited her hiding spot and darted across the hall to the open room.

Chloe’s comin’ down, she informed the Doctor.

Thanks, love , the Doctor said from his perch at the dining table. He and Trish had relocated to the kitchen.

Chloe entered the room moments after Rose had sent her warning and headed for the fridge. She pulled out a carton of milk and drank it straight from the container.

Doctor, her room is covered in drawings, Rose provided from her investigating a floor above.

So’s the fridge. “Hello.” The Doctor waved at the little girl, but she ignored him. “I’m the Doctor.”

After a final gulp, Chloe set the milk back in the fridge and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “I’m Chloe Webber.”

Ok, there’s something in her closet, Rose worried, and you’re gonna think I’m crazy but I swear one of the drawings just moved!

I believe you. The Doctor peered curiously at the child in front of him. “And how’re you doin’, Chloe Webber?”

“I’m busy. I’m making something.” Her voice was emotionless as her eyes darted to Trish. “Aren’t I, Mum?”

“Like I said, Doctor, she’s not been sleeping,” Trish attempted to explain Chloe’s odd behavior.

The Doctor nodded along and smiled softly at Chloe. “But you’ve been drawin’. I’m rubbish meself, but I can do this.” He held up his hand and gave her the Vulcan salute. “Rose wanted me to be more Spock. Can you do that?”

Chloe stared at him with a vacant expression. “They don’t stop moaning. I try to help them, but they don’t stop moaning.”

The Doctor lowered his hand. “Who don’t?”

“We can be together.”

“Sweetheart…” Trish moved to console her daughter.

“Don’t touch me, Mum.” Chloe glared at her mother.

Trish stopped mid-stride and dropped her arms to the side, shocked by the venom in her daughter’s voice. She exchanged a worried glance with the Doctor.

“I’m busy, Doctor,” Chloe dismissed their looks of concern and marched back to her bedroom.

The Doctor followed her. “Busy drawin’? Mind if I have a look. Bet you’ve got lots more fantastic pieces of art upstairs.”

A wave of fear and panic flew through the Doctor's mind as he felt Rose’s heartbeat quicken. Rose, love? What’s goin’ on?

In her closet… the drawing… Doctor, this thing is alive. She sent him the image from the back wall of the wardrobe; a bearded man was scribbled forcefully into the sheetrock with angry lines swirling around his body. His face was contorted in rage, eyes burning red as he snarled, “I’m coming!”

The Doctor raced passed Chloe on the stairs and dashed into the child’s bedroom. Rose was standing, transfixed, in front of the open closet and bathed in an ominous red glow. He pulled her back from the sinister drawing and slammed the doors shut.

Rose drew in a breath and snapped out of her trance. “Don’t you want to look at it?”

“No, thanks. No time to be paralyzed by a scribble.” He placed a relieved kiss on her forehead and then scanned the drawings in the room, amazed at how they lined the area like cheap wallpaper.

“What the hell was that?” Trish asked as she entered the room with Chloe.

“A drawin’. The face of a man,” Rose answered.

“What face?”

Trish moved to open the closet doors but Rose blocked her. “Best not.”

Trish turned to her daughter. “What have you been drawing?”

“I drew him yesterday,” Chloe answered nonchalantly.

“Who?”

“Dad.”

“Your dad?” Trish’s eyes widened, visibly upset to hear about her late husband. “But he's long gone. Chloe, with all the lovely things in the world, why him?”

Chloe remained unfazed. “I dream about him, staring at me.”

“I thought we were putting him behind us. What's the matter with you?”

“We need to stay together.”

“Yes, we do.” Trish nodded adamantly.

“No,” Chloe barked. “Not you, us. We need to stay together, and then it'll be alright.”

Alarmed by her daughter’s confession, Trish moved to cradle Chloe’s face in comfort. She flinched at her mother’s touch and stiffened on the spot. The Doctor dropped the drawing he was scrutinizing and eyed the girl’s reactions.

I think she’s possessed by something, he mused to Rose.

She nodded slightly behind Trish. Yeah, I think so, too. A girl her age wouldn’t normally be so cold to her own mother.

And movin’ art? Alien, that is.

“Trish, the drawings,” Rose gently inquired. “Have you seen what Chloe’s drawings can do?”

She spun around, keeping her arms protectively around her daughter, and leveled a glare at Rose. “Who gave you permission to come into her room? Get out of my house!”

“It’s alright, Trish, we only want to help,” the Doctor calmly stated. “I need to know more about these drawings to help her.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to hear any more of this.”

“But, that drawin’ of her dad,” Rose prodded. “I heard a voice. He spoke.”

“He’s dead!” Trish spat. “And these? They’re kid’s pictures. Now get out!”

“Chloe has a power. And I don't know how, but she used it to take Danny Edwards, Dale Hicks. She's usin’ it to snatch the kids.”

“Get out.”

Rose knew the woman’s angry words were driven by fear — fear of her own daughter and the strange art covering her house. “Have you seen those drawings move?”

“I haven't seen anything!” Trish shook her head and laughed dismissively, unwilling to admit the insane things inside her own home.

“Yes, you have. Out of the corner of your eye,” the Doctor insisted.

“No.”

“It’s easy to ignore, easy to pretend you hadn’t seen anything. Because how do you explain pictures that move? But I need you to start talkin’.”

Chloe watched the Doctor curiously as he talked, idly twiddling a pencil in her fingers.

Trish deflated, her defensive stance giving way to her fear. “She’s a child.”

“And you’re terrified of her.” The Doctor stepped closer, imploring her to trust him. “I know you feel like you’ve got no one to turn to. Who would believe you? No one. Except us.”

Once again, Trish eyed the strange man in front of her and the strange blonde behind her. “Who are you two?”

The Doctor smiled softly. “Help.”

Slowly, she nodded, finally accepting the fact that no one else out there was going to be able to believe the strange things about her daughter. Chloe had sat back at her desk to draw, so Trish tilted her head towards the bedroom door. “Let’s talk downstairs.”

When they entered the kitchen, the Doctor immediately nicked a banana off the counter, peeled it, and took a large bite. He leaned against the counter as he chewed, one arm tucked under the other.

Doctor…

His eyes swung from a point on the floor to the two women in the room. Trish looked confused with his behavior, but Rose was trying to hold back laughter.

One amused eyebrow lifted on Rose’s face. Bit rude to steal someone’s food, yeah?

Bananas help me think! He swallowed the large chunk and threw the rest of the fruit back on the counter.

“Right then, Doctor,” Rose switched to non-telepathic communication for Trish’s benefit, “those pictures are alive. Like that scribble? Are they brought to life by the ionic energy as well?”

The Doctor nodded. “Appears so. Somehow, Chloe is harnessin’ it to steal kids and put them in some sort of stasis. Holdin’ them with ionic power.”

“And what about the dad from hell in her wardrobe?”

Trish scoffed. “How many times do I have to tell you? He’s dead.”

“Exactly,” Rose agreed. “How’s a dead bloke comin’ to life?”

“If the livin’ things can become drawings, maybe drawings can become livin’ things,” the Doctor theorized.

“Well, that’s… horrifyin’.” A shiver raced up Rose’s spine. “So, Chloe’s real dad is dead, but I bet she sees him in her nightmares. To a twelve-year-old girl, that’s very real.”

“And that’s what she’s drawn. I reckon he’s itchin’ to crash into this world again.”

“She always got the worst of it when he was alive.” Trish sighed, eyes vacant with past memories, but she quickly shook it off. “How’s my daughter doing all of this?”

“We think she may be possessed or under a spell,” Rose explained, hoping not to scare the poor woman too much.

Trish grimaced. “By what?”

“Let’s find out.” The Doctor pushed off the counter and jogged back up the stairs to Chloe’s bedroom.

When they reentered the room, Chloe was sitting calmly in the middle of her bed. She raised her hand with a Vulcan salute as the Doctor stepped closer.

“Well done.” He smiled at Chloe and turned his head to address Trish, “I’m gonna find out what’s wrong, but don’t be alarmed. I’d never hurt her.”

“What are you going to do?” Trish asked nervously.

“Talk.” The Doctor turned back to Chloe and placed his fingers on her temples, lulling her into a dream before whatever creature had overtaken her mind could protest. He gently lowered her body to mattress into a comfortable position. “There we are. Chloe’s asleep so we can have a lovely chat.”

“I want Chloe,” the creature rasped through Chloe’s lips. “Wake her up. I want Chloe.”

Trish gasped. “What’ve you done to my little girl!”

Rose grabbed her arm before she could dart forth to intervene. “It’s alright. She’s fine. Trust the Doctor.”

Reluctantly, Trish pinched her lips and stayed where she was, keeping a close eye on the Doctor’s movements.

“I want Chloe Webber!” The little girl banged her fists on the mattress but remained asleep.

“Who are you?” the Doctor demanded. “I’m speakin’ to you, the entity usin’ this child. I request parley in compliance with the Shadow Proclamation.”

“I don't care about shadows or parleys!”

“What do you care about?”

“I want my friends.”

“You're lonely,” the Doctor lowered his voice to a gentle timbre and knelt by the bed. “I used to be, too. Identify yourself.”

“I am one of many,” the entity claimed. “I travel with my brothers and sisters. We take an endless journey. A thousand of your lifetimes. But now I am alone. I hate it. It's not fair and I hate it!” Chloe’s eyes popped open but she did not wake.

“Name yourself!” the Doctor repeated forcefully.

“Isolus.”

“Of course,” the Doctor murmured, putting the puzzle together. “Isolus.”

“Our journey began in the deep realms when we were a family.” The Isolus guided Chloe’s arm towards a piece of paper lying on the duvet.

“What's that?” Trish pointed to the drawing of a flower rapidly forming before their eyes.

“That’s the Isolus Mother, driftin’ in deep space,” the Doctor explained. He stood and watched Chloe’s hand. “She jettisons millions of developin’ spores — her children. They’re empathic beings with intense emotions. So, when they are separated from their mother, their only empathic link, their need for one another is the only thing that sustains them. They cannot be alone. They need one another.”

“Our journey is long,” the Isolus bemoaned

“The children travel in their own pods. They ride the heat and energy off of solar tides. It takes thousands of years for them to reach maturity.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “Thousands of years just floatin’ in space? Poor things. Don’t they go mad with boredom?”

“We play,” the Isolus said.

“You play?”

The Doctor nodded. “While they travel, they play games. They use their ionic power to create worlds to play in.”

“Sorta like in-flight entertainment?” Rose mused.

“Keeps them happy. While they're happy, they can feed off each other’s love. Without it, they're lost.” The Doctor sent a wave of love to Rose and she happily returned the affection. He knew he’d be lost if he didn’t have her.

He returned his attention to the entity. “Why did you come to Earth?”

“We were too close.” The Isolus grabbed a fresh piece of paper and drew a giant circle with angry, red lines shooting off in all directions.

“That looks like a solar flare from the sun. Would have made a tidal wave of solar energy that scattered their pods.”

“Only I fell to Earth. My brothers and sisters are left up there, and I cannot reach them. So alone!”

Rose frowned and knelt by the bed to glance at the drawing. “Your pod crashed. Where is it?”

“My pod was drawn to heat and I was drawn to Chloe Webber,” the Isolus told her. “She was like me, alone. She needed me, and I her.”

“So you empathized with her,” Rose clarified. “You wanted to be with her because she was alone like you?”

“I want my family. It's not fair!”

A sharp pang of loss surfaced in the Doctor’s mind as he recalled his own family, and he met Rose’s eye as she felt it too. She soothed his hurt as best as she could and he sent her a grateful smile in return.

The Doctor reached out and took Chloe’s tiny hand. “I understand. You miss your family, but I can’t let you stay in this child — it’s wrong. You can’t keep stealin’ friends for yourself. They have their own families.”

“I am alone!” the Isolus’ voice broke as it wailed in a raspy whisper.

A sudden crash rattled the door of Chloe’s wardrobe and Rose stood in alarm. Trish gasped and backed a few steps away from the red glow spreading across the carpet.

“I’m coming to hurt you. I’m coming!” growled a sinister voice.

As the pounding and cackling laughter leaked from the closet, Chloe’s body quivered in fear.

The Doctor placed his hand on Chloe’s shoulders as her tremors grew more violent. “Trish, she’s havin’ a nightmare. How do you calm her?”

Trish ripped her eyes away from the closet and gasped at her daughter’s flailing body. “Chloe!”

“Trish, what do you do?” he repeated urgently.

“I-I-” a violent thud on the closet doors caused her to jump.

The Doctor was barely able to keep Chloe from flying off the bed. “Trish!”

“I sing!”

“Start singin’!” He let go of Chloe’s shoulders and gestured for Trish to come to her daughter’s side.

Trish knelt by the bed and began singing, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. Merry, merry king of the bush is he—”

“Chloe. Chloe. Chloe. Chloe. Chloe!” the voice chanted.

Trish sang louder, “Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, gay your life must be. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, gay your life must be.”

Can’t you do something? Rose pleaded the Doctor as she watched the terrified girl on the bed.

I can’t force her out of her nightmare, he lamented.

The nightmare tormented her for several more moments as the wardrobe door rattled, but Trish continued to serenade her over the ominous growls. Finally, Chloe’s chest expanded in a deep, calming sigh and her lashes fluttered against her cheek. The red glow faded from the closet as her dream morphed from horror to peace.

A sob escaped Trish’s throat. “It came to her because she was lonely. Chloe… I’m sorry.” She encircled her arms around her daughter and wept into her hair as she slumbered.

Rose swallowed the lump in her throat. “We should hide all her pencils.” Trish lifted her head from its burrowed position on Chloe’s shoulder. “So she can’t unintentionally snatch any more kids. I’m sure your daughter wouldn’t want this.”

With a loud sniff, Trish nodded once and placed a kiss on Chloe’s temple. The three of them quickly gathered all of the drawing tools in the room while Chloe was still asleep and unable to protest. There seemed to be colored pencils, pens, and markers everywhere as they continued to move throughout the house.

“Chloe usually got the brunt of his temper when he’d had a drink,” Trish said as she snatched more pencils in the living room. “The day he crashed the car, I thought we were free. I thought it was over.”

Rose handed her some of the markers she had collected. “Did you talk to her about it?”

“I didn’t want to.” She averted her gaze, feeling guilty for how she had handled the situation after Chloe’s dad had died.

“But… maybe that’s why Chloe feels so alone,” Rose suggested. “‘Cause she has all these terrible dreams about her dad, but she can’t talk to you about them.”

Trish nodded slightly, agreeing with Rose’s assessment.

“Chloe and the Isolus,” the Doctor twiddled some of the markers in his hand before he passed them along to the growing pile on the coffee table. “Two lonely children who needed a friend.”

Rose looked at him. “It won’t stop, will it, Doctor? It’ll just keep pullin’ kids in.”

“It’s desperate to be loved. Used to quite a large family.”

“How large?”

“Oh…four billion or so.”

“Four billion?” Trish repeated in awe.

The Doctor nodded. “We need that pod so I can help them.”

With a promise to return, the Doctor and Rose exited the house and quickly trekked back to the Tardis so they could scan the area for the alien vessel.

“Do you think the pod is close?” Rose wondered.

“Must be. The Isolus wouldn’t have survived long enough to find Chloe if it wasn’t.”

“It won’t be destroyed?”

“Probably not. Most likely suckin’ in all the heat so it can to keep itself ready for launch. I did say it wasn’t half-cold here.”

“It should be leakin’ ionic energy as well, yeah?”

The Doctor smiled at her brilliance as he fished the key out of his pocket. “Yep, just need to rustle up a portable heater.” With a daft grin, he swept open the door and gestured for Rose to enter. “Find the pod in a jiffy, rescue the Isolus, and restore Chloe. Home in time for tea.”

Rose laughed and greeted the Tardis as she walked up the ramp. “Are you cookin’ tonight or am I stuck in the kitchen?”

“Joint venture this evenin’? Oh, could make that fantastic banana puddin’?” He kissed her cheek and started gathering parts for the portable heater. “Help me find the steino-magnetic bolt and a binary dot.”

Since Rose knew exactly what pieces he required, she wordlessly handed him each bit and bob as he held out his hand from his perch on the jumpseat. The heater rapidly took shape in his lap with their teamwork. Even though he wasn’t showing outward signs of distress as he worked, she picked up on his urgency to find the pod through their bond.

“You feel bad for the Isolus, don’t you?” She popped a piece of gum in her mouth and started to chew it into a sticky ball, knowing he’d probably need it.

His hands faltered as he twisted a screw. “I know what’s it’s like to travel alone.” He met her gaze with a soft smile. “Glad I don’t have to do it anymore.”

Warmth bubbled between their minds and Rose returned his grin. “Me too. But I don’t think the neighbors share our sympathy.”

“It’s just a scared child. It didn’t know any better. Gum.” Rose spit the tacky wad into his open palm and he used it between two wire connections. “Kids aren’t too difficult; all they need is a little understandin’.”

The sting of lingering bereavement caused Rose’s breath to catch. When they had formed their temporary bond, she was gifted with the privilege to see all nine hundred years of his memories whenever she wanted: all the faces he had seen, all the places he had been, all the companions that had traveled with him. She had also gazed upon the sweet, exuberant faces of his children, lost to the Time War and never to be seen again. Those faces were currently swimming through the Doctor’s mind as he tried, and failed, to keep his grief to himself. Rose mentally consoled him, but he kept his eyes latched onto the device in his hands.

He cleared his throat awkwardly and closed the lid on top of the heater. “All done.”

He stood and stepped up to the console, switching on the scanner as he avoided Rose’s eyeline. “At least we’re not dealin’ with something that wants to conquer the Earth this time. It’s just scared and lonely. Big emotions, those. Some of the most terrible acts ever committed have been inspired by them. You need a lot of things to get across the universe, but, most of all, you just need a hand to hold.”

The Doctor’s voice had dropped to barely a whisper and Rose took his hand. He pressed his lips together and bowed his head, but she cupped his cheek and nudged, encouraging him to look at her. On a ragged sigh, he lifted his eyes and rested his forehead against hers, bathing in the love and affection she was wrapping around his mind.

“Sorry, love. Didn’t mean to make you miserable,” he murmured.

She stroked his jaw with her thumb and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “You’re not, not at all.”

He encircled her in a grateful hug. “Thank you.”

Rose continued to soothe him, but she couldn’t stop her our mind from wandering down the path of children. They hadn’t discussed the topic at all between them, so she had no idea what his thoughts were on having kids now. Even with the bond, she hadn’t gleaned any information from him. But they were the same species now, so wouldn’t he want to repopulate his people? She was terrified to ask, but he picked up on her strong thoughts anyway.

“I do,” the Doctor said quietly. “With you.”

Rose released a puff of air. “You do?”

“Of course I do. I love you.” He pulled back to meet her eye. “I’ll always miss my children terribly. But…” he sniffed and swallowed forcefully. “I’d love to have kids with you… someday.”

She cupped both of his cheeks and pressed a tender kiss to his lips. “I’d love it, too. But we can talk about this another time, yeah?”

He smiled softly. “Yeah.”

The scanner beeped and interrupted their quiet moment. Keeping one arm wrapped around Rose’s waist, the Doctor swiveled the monitor over to view the blinking dot.

“There we are! The pod’s in the street.” He released Rose and picked up the portable heater. “Let’s reunite the Isolus with its family, eh?”

“And then home in time for tea.” Rose followed the Doctor down the ramp and stepped out the door as he held it open for her. “If I’m makin’ you puddin’ then you’re makin’ me chips. Or can we stop off at Kartul III and get some of their chips? They were gorgeous!”

Suddenly, the Tardis shrieked and a violent stab of pain sliced through Rose’s mind. She stumbled and clutched her head as a roaring headache ripped across her skull. Glass shattered on the tarmac behind her and whirled around on the balls of her feet, freezing in horror at the sight.

The Doctor and the Tardis had vanished.

Chapter Text

Previously…

“There we are! The pod’s in the street.” He released Rose and picked up the portable heater. “Let’s reunite the Isolus with its family, eh?”

“And then home in time for tea.” Rose followed the Doctor down the ramp and stepped out the door as he held it open for her. “If I’m makin’ you puddin’ then you’re makin’ me chips. Or can we stop off at Kartul III and get some of their chips? They were gorgeous!”

Suddenly, the Tardis shrieked and a violent stab of pain sliced through Rose’s mind. She stumbled and clutched her head as a roaring headache ripped across her skull. Glass shattered on the tarmac behind her and whirled around on the balls of her feet, freezing in horror at the sight.

The Doctor and the Tardis had vanished.

~*~

For several minutes, Rose stood paralyzed in the middle of the street cradling the sides of her head as pain continued to pound her skull. She squinted through the torment and stared at the empty spot where the Tardis had been parked, hoping she wouldn’t collapse under the strain. Slowly, the stabbing sensation faded into a merciful, dull throb. She reached out her mind to the Doctor but was met with terrifying, garbled static. He was still there, but their bond was obstructed by an invisible barrier. Very little communication was making it through, but Rose managed to hear him as he desperately shouted one word: Chloe.

Gritting her teeth against her migraine, Rose sprinted for Chloe’s house and hammered on the front door. As soon as Trish opened it, Rose barreled past her and leaped up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time.

“It’s okay!” Trish called out. “I’ve taken all the pencils off her!”

Rose ignored her and flung Chloe’s bedroom door open, marching across the carpet and ripping the drawing from the child’s hand.

“Leave me alone! I want to be with Chloe Webber. I love Chloe Webber!” the Isolus insisted through Chloe’s lips.

A rock settled in Rose’s stomach as she gazed upon the broody face of the Doctor scribbled alongside the Tardis on the scrap of paper. His leather-clad arms were folded across his chest as he scowled. Rose felt him trying in vain to communicate with her over their bond, but she still received fuzzy feedback.

Rose’s eyes lifted from the paper and she glared at the child in front of her. “Bring him back. Now!”

“No!”

“Don’t you realize what you’ve done?” Rose gripped Chloe’s arms, imploring the entity inside. “He was the only one who could help you! Now bring him back!”

“Leave me alone!” the Isolus said in a shouty rasp. “I love Chloe Webber!”

Rose took a deep breath and reminded herself she was dealing with a frightened child. “I know. I know.”

She briefly closed her eyes and then opened them to stare at the Doctor’s scowling face on the page. Doctor, if you can hear me, I’m gonna get you out of there. I’ll find the pod.

Their connection pulsed faintly in her mind as the Doctor tried to send her a message back. Rose… love…

With a rueful smile, she sent a wave of love his way. I love you, too.

Rose set the paper back on the desk. “Don’t leave her alone, no matter what,” she instructed Trish as she exited the bedroom and marched out of the house into the bright sunlight.

“Heat,” she muttered and scanned the neighborhood. “They travel on heat.”

She recalled all of the facts surrounding this puzzle and thought quickly. Before the Doctor and the Tardis had disappeared, they had discovered the pod was in the street. Now, she just had to find it and bring it back to Chloe: easy, right?

A flash of bright yellow caught her eye and Rose turned to see Kel kneeling in the street, stroking and admiring a patch of tarmac.

“Look at this finish!” he boasted to himself. “Smooth as a baby’s bottom! Not a bump or a lump.”

Knowing he’d been patching up the pavement all week, Rose jogged over and crouched beside him. “Kel, was there anything in this street in the last few days givin’ off a lot of heat?”

“I mean, you could eat your dinner off this! Beautiful!” He smiled brightly, ignoring her question as he remained enthralled with his work. “So, you tell me why the other one’s got a lump in it when I gave it the same love and craftsmanship as I did this one.”

Rose wanted to rejoice with him, but she needed information so she could find the pod. “Well, when you’ve worked it out, put it in a big book about tarmackin’. But, before you do that, think back six days, yeah?”

“Six days?” Kel peered at her curiously. “Well, I was layin’ this the first time ‘round.”

“You filled that for the first time six days ago?”

“Yeah.”

“Hot, fresh tar?” What was a better source of heat for a crashing space pod than a patch of fiery tarmac?

“Blended to a secret council recipe,” Kel informed her proudly.

But Rose was no longer listening to him. She jumped up and raced to his nearby van.

“Hey!” Kel shouted and darted after her. “That’s a council van! Out!”

She continued to ignore him, a woman on a mission, and yanked open the doors, searching for anything she could use to bust through the street. With a manic-grin, Rose spotted a pick-axe and spun around wielding the sharp tool.

Wide-eyed, Kel raised his palms in the air. “Woah! Wait a minute! You just removed a council axe from a council van! Put it back! Gimmie the axe!”

Rose stomped over to the freshly patched pothole with the lump and raised the axe over her head.

“Wait! No! No!” Kel shouted in earnest.

The axe sliced through the air and penetrated the sticky tarmac with a satisfying thud.

“No! You! Stop!” Kel continued to yell in horror as he watched the deranged woman destroy his hard work. “You just took a council axe from a council van and now you’re diggin’ up a council road! I’m reportin’ you to the council!”

With little effort, Rose pummeled Kel’s crowning achievement until it was nothing but a hole in the street once more. The axe fell with a loud clatter as Rose got on her knees to dig through the rubble. She frantically searched the black rocks until a tiny, egg-shaped pod caught her eye.

“HA!” Rose cried in glee and scooped the golden pod into her palm. “It went for the hottest thing in the street, yeah? Your tar!” She laughed in triumph.

“What is it?!” Kel demanded, needing an explanation for her wrath of destruction.

“It’s a spaceship! Not a council spaceship, I’m afraid.” Rose caught his distraught expression. “Sorry ‘bout the mess.”

Ignoring Kel’s shouts of protest, Rose raced back to Chloe’s house and burst through the front door.

“I found it!” she shouted over the telly as it broadcasted a cheering audience at the Olympics. “Don’t know what to do with it, but maybe the Isolus will just hop on—”

Her words were cut short when Trish joined her in the living room without Chloe. “Hang on, I told you not to leave her!”

The formerly loud noise issuing from the telly stopped and was replaced by an eerie silence.

“My God!” exclaimed the commentator. “Uh, what’s going on here?”

Trish and Rose focused their attention on the screen. The formerly full and lively Olympic stadium was suddenly empty.

Kel popped through the open house door. “I don’t care if you’ve got Snow White and the Seven Dwarves buried under there, you don’t go diggin’ up—”

“Shut up and look!” Rose pointed at the screen, cutting off the man’s indignant rant.

“The crowd has vanished!” continued the stunned commentator. “Uh, they’re gone, everyone has gone! Thousands of people have just gone, uh, right in front of my eyes! Um… it’s impossible!”

Chloe! Rose’s eyes lifted to the ceiling. Doctor, what has she done?

Her connection with the Doctor fizzled a bit as he struggled to communicate. Love.

Yes, I love you, too! she sent back, unsure why he was thinking about how much he loved her. Not that she didn’t appreciate it, but she had a crisis on her hands!

The Isolus wouldn’t stop. The stadium full of people wouldn’t be enough companionship for a creature accustomed to four billion siblings. Needing to stop her somehow, Rose darted up the stairs to Chloe’s bedroom with Trish hot on her heels. She tried to turn the knob, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Chloe, it’s Rose! Open the door!” she called through the wood. “We found your ship. We can send you home!”

“Chloe?” Trish reached around Rose and tried the handle herself. “Chloe, open up this instant!”

“Open up!” Rose shouted again, but the child remained silent.

With a clenched jaw, she nudged Trish out of the way and kicked the door. The wood gave way slightly but still remained shut. Rose backed up as far as she could in the narrow hallway and then threw her body against the barrier, slamming into it with enough force to crack the door frame. She barreled into it one final time and the door gave way, sending her crashing onto the bedroom floor in a pile of splintered wood.

Several horrors greeted Rose from her fallen perch; the drawing in the wardrobe had come to life again, calling out and cackling in a sinister voice, and Chloe was frantically sketching the Earth on the wall of her bedroom.

The child glanced at Rose over her shoulder as her arm continued to move. “If you stop Chloe Webber, I will let him out. We will let him out together. I cannot be alone. It’s not fair!”

Rose held out her palm, showing her the spaceship. “Look, I’ve got your pod.”

“The pod is dead!”

“It only needs heat.”

“It needs more than heat!” the Isolus argued.

“What, then? What does it need?” Rose frantically asked.

Her connection with the Doctor sparked as he said, “love.”  She frowned in confusion and, once again, sent him a wave of affection in return. Why did he keep trying to tell her he loved her?

“That drawin’ moved!” Kel shouted in terror.

Rose followed his finger to the drawing of the Doctor; a heart that hadn’t been there originally was now etched onto the page. His drawing moved again and the Olympic torch appeared on the page next to the heart. Rose furrowed her brow and tried to suss out what he was telling her, but she was momentarily distracted by Chloe’s telly. The Olympic Torch Bearer was running through the streets and the cheering crowd had reached deafening levels.

“...still on its way. I suppose it’s much more than a torch now,” claimed the commentator. “It’s a beacon. It’s a beacon of hope and fortitude and courage. And it’s a beacon of love.”

Love, the Doctor repeated, nearly shouting at her through their obstructed connection.

Love! The pod needed the heat from the flame and the love symbolized in the Olympic Torch.

“Oh, I’m so thick!” Rose exclaimed, slapping a palm on her forehead. I’m sorry I didn’t catch on sooner!

She glanced at Chloe and her eyes widened in panic when she saw how much of the Earth had been drawn in a short span of time. The Isolus would capture the entire planet if she didn’t move quickly!

Rose raced out of the room and back outside. All of the neighbors were gathered to see the Torch Bearer as he jogged through their street. They cheered him on and clogged the road as everyone scrambled to get a glimpse of the torch. Rose sprinted forward to push her way through the crowd.

A policeman stopped her. “Sorry, you’ll have to watch from here.”

“No, I’ve gotta get closer!” she protested.

“No way!”

The pod beeped in Rose’s hand, distracting her from the policeman. It was responding to the cheering crowd and chittered happily as it glowed.

“You feel it, don’t you?” Rose raised it to her mouth and whispered, “Feel the love.”

Hoping her aim was accurate, Rose lobbed the pod into the air towards the runner. The tiny craft spun and turned as it sensed the heat coming from the torch, landing with precision into the dazzling flames. The runner stumbled as the torch flared briefly over his head.

“Yes!” Rose cheered and jumped up and down, ignoring the bewildered looks coming from the neighbors.

Kel had finally caught up to her, so Rose flung her arms around him in glee even though he had no idea what she was celebrating.

“You did it!” Kel cried. “What was it you did?”

Rose just laughed and hugged him again. Her bond with the Doctor burst back to life in her mind and she immediately sent him wave after wave of love and warmth. The Tardis buzzed happily, too, relieved to be restored.

Can’t say I make a very good scribble, the Doctor joked.

Are you alright? Rose worried.

Peachy, he assured her. All the kids should be back. The Tardis is, too.

Where are you? Rose darted away from the crowd, frantically scanning the neighborhood. She saw several of the missing children reuniting with their parents, but the Doctor was nowhere to be seen.

“Over here!” The Doctor popped out between two homes, smiling brightly.

With a beaming grin, Rose sprinted as quick as she could and jumped into his waiting arms, squeezing him tightly. He squeezed back with a laugh and spun her around in a circle.

“You two!” Their hug was interrupted by the old lady. “I don’t know who you are or what you did, but thank you!” she effused, smiling in glee.

Before he could protest, she pulled the Doctor down, smacking a kiss on his cheek before she walked away. Rose laughed at his bewildered face and pulled him back into a hug, soaking in the feel and smell of him. For several heart-stopping moments throughout the day, she’d thought she’d lost him.

“You’re not gonna lose me,” the Doctor assured her, picking up on her thoughts and kissing her hair.

Rose drew in a relieved breath and pulled back with a bright smile. “All the drawings came back to life!”

Her glee was short lived as she caught a red glow coming from the window of Chloe’s bedroom. “Oh, no.”

The Doctor saw the ominous display, as well. “That means all of them.”

They shared a mutual look of concern and ran back to Chloe’s house just in time to see the front door slam shut on its own. Rose tried the latch and found it locked.

“Trish, get out!” she yelled through the door.

“I can’t! The lock’s stuck!” Trish frantically called back.

“Mummy!” Chloe wailed.

The Doctor pulled out his sonic out of his jacket and tried to unlock the door but had no luck. “Right. Trish, stand back!” he warned.

He gave her a few seconds to scurry away and then kicked the door in, splintering the wood under his boot. Rose and the Doctor darted in and caught the red glow at the top of the stairs as it slithered from Chloe’s bedroom and down the staircase, bathing them all in its ominous light.

“Chloe, I’m coming to hurt you!” the voice growled and taunted.

With another loud cry, Chloe clutched Trish and buried her face in her mother’s side.

“Chloe, listen to me,” Rose commanded gently. “It isn’t real like the others. It’s just energy left over by the Isolus. But you can get rid of it.”

“Please, Dad, no more,” the little girl whimpered and burrowed further into Trish’s shirt.

Needing her to act quickly before the drawing came fully to life, the Doctor knelt down on the floor beside her and laid a comforting hand on her back. “I know you’re scared, that’s why it’s real. But you don’t have to be scared. You have the power to get rid of him, Chloe.”

“I’m coming!” the drawing snarled. “I’m coming! I’m coming!”

“I can’t!” Chloe mumbled into Trish’s clothing.

Trish gently pried her daughter away from her and bent down to meet her eye. “You’re not alone. I’m here. We’ll do it together. You’ll never be alone again.”

“Sing,” the Doctor urged them over the taunts of the heinous man.

Chloe sniffed and nodded, focusing on her mother instead of the shadow creeping in the hall upstairs.

Together, Trish and Chloe sang, “Merry merry king of the bush is he. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, gay your life must be. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra gay your life must be.”

The heinous glow began to fade back up the stairs and the shadow retreated.

“Keep goin’,” Rose encouraged.

With a triumphant smile, Chloe continued to sing louder with her mother, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree. Merry merry king of the bush is he. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, gay your life must be!”

A pitiful wail echoed overhead and the crimson light vanished from existence.

Chloe laughed and threw her arms around Trish, hugging her tightly.

The sound of the telly drifted into the foyer, “Just look at this! Utterly incredible scenes at the Olympic Stadium. Eighty thousand athletes and spectators, they disappeared, they’ve come back! They’ve returned!”

Rose moved to watch the screen with the Doctor, smiling brightly to see the once empty stadium teeming with cheers once more.

“And here comes the Olympic Torch now, Bob. It’s more than heat and light. It’s hope, and it’s courage, and it’s love.”

They watched the runner climb the final steps and tilt the flame into the cauldron. It flared brightly, reaching its white-hot glow into the night before it receded to a gentle simmer. A tiny trail of light shot from the flames, an incongruous spark to the uninformed observer.

“And there goes the pod.” The Doctor watched the sparkle trail off-screen. “Its brothers and sisters will be waitin’.”

“Thank you,” Chloe’s little voice piped up.

The Doctor turned and smiled at the little girl. “You’re welcome.”

Trish frowned at the damaged door. “Guess I’ll have to get a man in.”

“I can fix it, two ticks.” The Doctor pulled his sonic out of his pocket and walked over to the damage he caused, waving the blue light at the splintered door casing.

I thought it didn’t do wood? Rose asked.

Fixed that quirk. What good is a sonic that doesn’t do wood?

I may have busted a door upstairs as well. Rose looked at him with a sheepish smile. He playfully rolled his eyes and walked up the stairs to fix her mess.

“There’s a neighborhood party in a bit, once the sun sets,” Trish said. “If you wanted to stay.”

Chloe beamed. “Fireworks and everything!”

“Maybe, yeah.” Rose nodded and grinned at the little girl’s enthusiasm. It was wonderful to see her so full of life instead of the vacant shell when the Isolus had been controlling her.

After all the damage was mended, the Doctor bounded down the stairs. “Right then, we’ll be off.” He grabbed Rose’s hand with a parting grin to Trish and Chloe, pulling her out of the house.

She knew he usually liked to leave after a job well done, but Rose hopefully squeezed his fingers as they walked down the driveway. “So, what now?”

“Did you still want to go to the Games?”

“Nah.” She spotted the neighbors setting up tables. “There’s a party later. Mind if we stay for a bit?”

Unable to say no, the Doctor shook his head with a smile. “You know how much I love domestics.”

Rose felt his cheer in her mind and frowned as she thought about their garbled connection earlier. “When you disappeared, I got this massive headache. Is that normal?”

He nodded grimly. “Yes. It’s extremely painful for a bond to be blocked.”

“What happens when…” Rose trailed off and bit her lip.

“When?” he gently prodded, knowing where her thoughts had led.

She sucked in a breath. “When one of us… dies?”

He swallowed heavily and draped his arm around her, pulling her close. “It would be like torture for a while. But, it would eventually dull. I imagine it would feel like a piece of you had been ripped away.”

Rose pulled him to a stop and met his eye. “Is it still worth it? Knowin’ it will hurt later?”

“Absolutely.” With a soft smile, he pressed a delicate kiss to her lips.

Rose increased the pressure on his mouth and lifted up on her toes to hug him once again, eternally grateful to have their bond fully restored. One day with him in her mind was worth a lifetime of pain. And, as she pondered the sacrifice, she felt the Doctor agree wholeheartedly with her assessment.

She planted her feet on the ground and smiled brightly. “I’m gonna see if there’s any treats.”

The Doctor nodded and followed her movements as she joined the neighbors by the buffet tables. He watched with a grin as she charmed them, spinning a tale of a misguided prank gone wrong to explain the missing children. As the sun set in the sky, the Doctor revisited the sights of the disappearances to make sure all traces of ionic energy had vanished. It wouldn't do to have an unsuspecting human stumble across a cloud of the stuff and suffer an unwanted psychedelic high.

When Rose suspected the Doctor had had enough domestics, she swiped a piece of cake from the dessert table and found him in front of the Tardis staring at the stars.

"Cake?"

The Doctor spun around with a daft grin and accepted the treat with a large bite. His eyes widened. "How'd you find banana cake with banana frostin'?"

She shrugged and smiled. "Just lucky I guess."

He hummed and greedily devoured the treat, licking his fingers clean before he took her hand. They gazed up into the starry sky and thanked the universe for lost things found.

As the fireworks came to life in the night, a timeline burst through the Doctor's mind and he reflexively gripped Rose's hand tighter. The possibility of the white wall became cemented from quasi-fiction into truth, a future they would be forced to face — a future that loomed perilously close, much closer than he had ever felt before. It waited on the horizon, shadowing them in a cloud of fear. There were no details, only a white void filled with pain and separation.

Rose sucked in a breath beside him. "Doctor?"

Her frail voice banished the vision from his mind and he gazed down at her, knowing she had seen and felt it for herself. "It's coming."

"What is it?"

"I don't know."

Rose swallowed audibly and stared at him with wide, anxious eyes. "It feels like a storm, like I'm bein’ torn apart."

"I won't let anything happen to you," he vowed, clenching her fingers so tight she gave a small mew of discomfort.

She released her hands from his grip and cradled his face. "I know."

"Whatever it is, it will rue the day it tried to take you from me. Nothing will take you from me. No one can—”

"Doctor." She silenced him with a finger to his lip. "I know."

A rainbow of colors highlighted her face as the firework display continued in the night. They were surrounded by hope, by people brimming with so much celebratory cheer that they felt the need to illuminate the darkened sky. But the Doctor didn't share their joy; he felt as though everything he held dear was about to be ripped away from him, dooming him to a life of misery and torment once again.

The Doctor found Rose's lips among the sickeningly hopeful hues and clawed his fingers into her back, clutching her tightly into his chest. She welcomed the embrace, moving her arms to cage his shoulders, seeking out his warmth in the suddenly chilly night.

Refusing to let her go, the Doctor reached blindly behind him and pushed open the Tardis doors, walking Rose backward into the ship. She managed to pull the door closed while keeping herself firmly attached to his lips. They continued to stumble up the ramp and into the console room, unwilling to let go of one another as the Doctor flicked the dematerialization switch and guided them to their bedroom.

Rose finally broke away from his mouth to impatiently attack the zipper of his trousers. Clothes.

Slow down, love. He understood her urgency, but the Doctor stilled her fingers and tenderly swept away the flyaway hairs that obscured her eyes.

He paused to simply look at her, to soak in her presence for as long as he could. She met his gaze, eyes filling with tears as her fear over the future timeline was overpowering her desire.

You're not going anywhere , he vowed and reclaimed her lips, gently coaxing her to lay on the bed.

Desiring to be as close as possible to Rose, the Doctor undressed her slowly, savoring each piece of bare skin as it was revealed to his hungry eyes. Love was broadcasted so strongly from his mind to hers that it threatened to drown her in its pleasurable weight. When Rose was completely naked on the soft sheets, she brought a hand to the Doctor's cheek and wordlessly commanded him to lay down beside her.

As the Doctor settled among the pillows, Rose straddled the scratchy fabric of his trouser-clad hips and nibbled along his jawline. He sighed, drunk on the sensation of her teeth on his skin and the feel of her silky thighs under his fingertips. As he had done for her, Rose pulled off each item of his clothing, sliding it tortuously slow along his body. She used her fingers and lips to caress every piece of his bare body, filling his mind and skin with spine-tingling warmth. The chill of the white wall was banished to the furthest recesses of his mind as Rose cocooned him in love and lust.

When he could stand the tickles of her lips no longer, the Doctor flipped Rose onto her back with an impatient growl. His desire had ratcheted to its peak, begging to be fulfilled, but he forced himself to pause and focus on her pleasure before he found his own. Rose watch him as he worshipped her so tenderly that droplets of moisture trickled from her eyes in a continuous stream. She filled their sanctuary with an orchestra of gasps and sighs as his tongue cherished every square inch of her skin, leaving no patch untouched and searing this memory into his mind for all time.

He didn't know what tomorrow may bring but, right now, he had her in his arms and he refused to let go. If the worst should happen and she was taken from his side, at least he had this perfect night to sustain him along with every other perfect memory he had of his blonde salvation — his beacon of light in the night and the balm to his battered soul. He didn’t know how he would ever live without her, but one second of time bathed in her love was worth a thousand years of longing.

Her thumb wiped away the moisture that had leaked onto his cheeks without permission. Doctor.

Rose. He trekked back up her body and sought out the peace of her lips, replacing his maudlin thoughts with the mind-numbing dance of her tongue along his.

Their bodies finally connected with one shift of the Doctor's hips and Rose gasped in a lungful of air, closing her eyes against the sudden torrent of bliss flooding their bond. Her lashes fluttered opened and she met his eyes with a tongue-touched smile. He grinned and winked, sending a flurry of giggles past her lips as she angled her neck up to meet his mouth.

It was a messy kiss, but no less perfect. Their lips slid wetly against one another as the Doctor pushed and pulled away from her at an unhurried pace. Rose begged him with her heels in his bum to move faster, but he refused, preferring to draw out their mutual pleasure until the blood in their veins peaked to a fiery boil.

When their skin was covered in a fine mist of sweat and Rose was panting with need, the Doctor drifted a hand to where they were aligned and she keened loudly. She flew over the precipice, raking her nails down his back as he increased the rhythm of his hips, seeking out his own spark of release.

As his cadence faltered and the air caught in her throat, the universe paused and shuddered. Time stood still and immersed them in a pocket of bliss and euphoria before the world came crashing down around them. They were no longer the Doctor and Rose; they were one being with one heartbeat and one breath, tumbling over in an endless maelstrom of ecstasy.

As reality swam back to the surface, Rose blinked away the fog of endorphins shrouding her body and encircled the Doctor in her arms as he collapsed on her chest with a final gasp. His lips met the slick skin of her shoulder, pressing lazy nibbles while their breathing calmed.

The Doctor released a contented sigh and lifted his head to capture Rose’s lips in a parting, tender kiss. He rolled off of her body, pulling her into the safety of his arms and laying her head on his chest. She draped an arm around his stomach and trailed her fingers in absentminded circles and waves along his skin.

They laid together swathed in warmth under the sheets for several hours. The quiet solitude was a welcome respite from the normal chaos and never-ending expedition of their lives. For the time being, the universe didn’t intrude upon their solace and demand they rejoin reality.

“I don’t wanna wait any longer,” Rose whispered, breaking the still silence around them. “I love you. I’m never gonna change my mind about bondin’ with you.” She leaned up on her elbow to hover over him. “Can we make it permanent?”

“I’d love nothing more.” The Doctor threaded his fingers through the hair at the back of her head and brought her down to meet his lips in another eager kiss. He rained kisses all over her face until she giggled. “I know just the place.”

They dressed slowly, hesitant to leave the peaceful nest they had created in their bedroom, and strolled hand-in-hand to the console room. The Doctor punched in the coordinates of the perfect planet for such an occasion and effortlessly punched the series of buttons and levers to pilot the Tardis through the vortex. She landed without the usual bump or grind, merrily singing in their minds. With a gentle nudge to her side, the Doctor encouraged Rose to open the doors.

As soon as she stepped foot onto the new world, Rose gasped; it was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Mountain ranges dominated the sprawling vista, overpowering the landscape with delicate twists and turns in the peaks and valleys. The warm sun dipped low in the horizon and its fading light cast a mesmerizing glow along the rock; red, orange, and purple bathed the planet as the last vestiges of sunlight poked through the hollows of the curved ridges in the distance. Graceful creatures flew in the sky and became silhouettes as they passed over the sun. They resembled giant manta-rays, leisurely flapping their wings as they swam through the currents in the air.

Rose heard the leather of the Doctor’s jacket creak as he joined her, but her eyes stayed transfixed on the fascinating scene unfolding in front of her.

He smiled in delight as he watched the joy spreading over her face. “This planet’s called Dashuri përgjithmonë. One day, it will be put on the list of protected worlds by the Shadow Proclamation. Most of the universe agrees it's too beautiful to tamper with, colonize, or mine. It becomes a popular travel destination for those that are able to make a quick stop. But, as of this moment in time, we’re the first off-worlders to set foot on its soil.”

Rose finally tore her eyes away from the stunning sight. “It’s gorgeous. It feels… timeless.”

“That it does.”

They spent several moments observing the tranquility of the surroundings until the Doctor threaded their fingers together. He squeezed her palm, beckoning her to meet his gaze. “How long are you gonna stay with me?”

A slow, dazzling smile stretched across her face. “Forever.”

With a daft grin of his own, the Doctor pulled her into his arms, into her rightful place in the universe, and met her lips in a kiss full of bliss and love. He gently cradled her face and placed his fingers on her temples, requesting the golden light of her aura to meet the silver of his so he could complete their bonding. Without hesitation, she greeted him and lifted her own hands up to mirror his position.

Slowly, carefully, the Doctor and Rose worked together to twist the tendrils of their timelines until they were stitched into an invincible fabric. Gold and silver danced, creating a new color, painting all of space-time with their eternal love. Their souls linked, blending and molding into one being, forever connected so long as breath remained in their lungs.

When their bond locked into place, they simultaneously open their eyes, beaming with twin smiles.

“I love you,” Rose whispered.

“I love you, too.” The Doctor embraced his wife, bursting with more joy than he had ever experienced in over nine hundred years.

Chapter Text

A tornado of vicious wind whipped around Rose’s body, twisting her hair into angry knots and lifting her parallel to the ground. She locked her gaze on the Doctor’s terror-filled, blue eyes across the room, desperately hoping her grip on the lever was strong enough. But the vacuum of the void was relentless and her body took a beating in the storm swirling through the air, threatening to rip her from this world and all she held dear.

Rose, hold on!

The Doctor screamed at her across their bond and in a bellow from his lungs, but she could barely hear him over the maelstrom. He clung to his Magnaclamp and cursed the distance between them, unable to help her as the Cybermen and the Daleks were sucked into the dreaded white wall that had haunted him for weeks.

Bloody Cybermen. Bloody Daleks.

And, in an ironic twist of fate, this moment was the moment her budding time-sense decided to finish growing and she was suddenly bombarded by timelines. As the tendons in her hands popped and stretched to their limit, she watched the nightmare scenarios play behind her eyelids.

She was killed by a Dalek. Her spine was snapped as she crashed into the wall. She was trapped in the parallel world on her own. She was sucked into the vacuum of the void, doomed to eternal purgatory in the nothingness between the worlds.

In a thousand different ways and in a thousand different realities, Rose Tyler did not survive this day.

~*~

Two hours prior…

The Doctor scraped the last bits of banana pudding from his dish and gave Rose a daft grin as he licked the spoon clean. After they had left Dashuri përgjithmonë, they had spent a full day sleeping and not sleeping in their bedroom. Now that their bond was permanent, it seemed their hands had a mind of their own and had refused to stop traveling down pleasurable roads. Unfortunately, they had to rest and refuel at some point, so Rose had made him his favorite confection as a way to entice him out of bed.

With one last swallow of the delicious banana treat, the Doctor pushed his dish across the table and smacked a kiss to Rose’s cheek in thanks. She shook her head fondly as she finished her own serving.

“Back to bed?” He bent his head to press tiny nibbles on the exposed skin of her shoulder.

It would be easy to give in and continue to seclude themselves away from the rest of the universe, but Rose couldn’t stop thinking about her mum. Now that they were basically married, it was time to tell Jackie about their Gallifreyan nuptials and her new biology.

The Doctor picked up on her thoughts and sighed, lifting his head from her neck. “You’re probably right.”

“I’ve put it off long enough.” Rose bit her lip as she pondered her mum’s reaction.

He took her hand in comfort. “I can’t begin to imagine how Jackie may take it, but I’ll try and help best I can. I just hope I don’t get a slap.”

“Nah, I don’t think she’d slap her…” Rose paused and pressed her lips together to smother a laugh. “Son-in-law.”

With a dramatic groan, the Doctor wiped a palm down his face. “Jackie Tyler is my mother-in-law.”

“Yep.”

“I think the universe may implode.”

Rose laughed and poked him in the ribs, encouraging him off the bench with instructions to wash the dishes while she piloted the Tardis to London. She made a pitstop to get the Bazoolium she had bought on Barcelona before she strolled through the corridors to the console room.

Rose fought down her nerves on her journey. How was she going to begin to explain to her mum that she was not human anymore? Not all of her cells had finished the transformation, but on her latest full-body scan she had the beginnings of a respiratory bypass system. The Doctor predicted she’d be fully Gallifreyan within a few months.

As if her new biology wasn’t enough information at once, Rose also needed to announce she was a married woman. Even though Jackie had accepted their relationship (and had even encouraged the Doctor to make amends with an Elvis date), she still had no idea how her mum would feel about an alien son-in-law.

Tea. There would need to be lots and lots of tea on hand.

Feeling her swirling thoughts, the Doctor sent Rose a wave of encouragement and joined her in the console room as she was finishing the landing sequence. The Tardis materialized in Jackie’s living room (which now had a designated Tardis parking spot) with only a slight bump. Rose blew out a calming breath before she opened the doors.

“It’ll be fine, love.” The Doctor pressed a kiss to her temple and took her hand as they stepped out into the flat.

Jackie popped her head out of the kitchen. “Oh, you coulda phoned! I would’ve picked up a roast!”

“Oh, shut up. C’mere.” Rose smiled and released the Doctor’s hand to gather her mum into a tight embrace. “Love you.”

“Love you, too!” Jackie gushed and caught the sleeve of the Doctor’s jacket as he attempted to brush by. “Oh, no you don’t!” She engulfed him in a hug, smacking wet kisses to his cheek. “Oh, you lovely big fella!”

“Oi!” the Doctor protested, arms flailing at his side. “M’not a teddy bear!”

Rose laughed as her mum finally released the Doctor from her grabby hands. He grimaced and wiped his wet cheek as he plopped on the sofa.

“I got you something!” Rose pulled the gift out of her pocket and held it out. “Found it on Barcelona; the planet, not the city. It’s made of Bazoolium. When it gets cold, yeah, it means it’s gonna rain. When it’s hot, it’s gonna be sunny. You can use it to tell the weather!”

Jackie ignored the intricate, gold device in Rose’s open palm. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

“I get you Bazoolium and I don’t get a ‘thanks’?”

“Guess who’s comin’,” she asked, ignoring Rose’s annoyance. “You’re here just in time. He’ll be here at ten past. Who do you think it is?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, go on, guess.”

“No, I hate guessin’. Just tell me,” Rose grumbled and placed the unwanted Bazoolium on the coffee table.

“It’s your granddad, Grandad Prentice. He’s on his way. Any minute!” Jackie’s face brightened with a giddy smile. “Right. Cup of tea!”

Rose stared, slack-jawed, as her mum flounced into the kitchen to make tea for her “guest.”

The Doctor picked up on her shock and rose from the sofa to stand next to her. “Problem?”

“She’s gone mad!”

He quirked a brow. “Is that something new?”

“Shut up! I’m serious!” She swatted him lightly on the shoulder. “Grandad Prentice was her dad. He died ten years ago.”

He frowned. “And she thinks he’s comin’ to visit? Has she lost it?”

“Mum?” Rose marched into the kitchen, lips pursed in concern. “What you just said about Grandad…”

Jackie turned from the counter, still smiling like a loon. “Any second now!”

“But he passed away. His heart gave out. Don’t you remember that?”

“‘Course I do,” Jackie cheerily agreed.

“Then how can he come back?”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Jackie checked her watch. “Ten past, here he comes.”

Suddenly, a ghostly figure appeared out of thin-air, walking through the wall and into the middle of the kitchen to stand by Jackie’s side.

“Here we are, then. Dad, say hello to Rose,” she introduced with a wave. “Hasn’t she grown?”

As soon as the Doctor and Rose laid eyes on the silvery silhouette, a fixed point snapped into place; an event would occur today that could never be altered. Rose shivered as she felt the cemented timeline tickle her time-sense like a spider scurrying along her skin. It filled her with fear and she grabbed the Doctor’s hand. He threaded their fingers and squeezed her palm, sending her calming waves as he felt the same tingle of dread.

“Jackie,” the Doctor started, eyes never leaving the shadowy person, “when did your dad first appear?”

Jackie shrugged. “Same time as all the others.”

His eyes widened in alarm. “Others?”

Before she could clarify, the Doctor ran out of the flat with Rose in tow. They burst through the doors at the bottom of the stairwell and gaped at the sight before them. Ghosts were swarming the estates; walking around nonchalantly, playing ball with the kids, and sitting on random benches. Oddly, no one was panicking. Everyone on the estates seemed to be welcoming the bizarre shadow people with open arms.

Rose yelped and the Doctor glanced down to see one of the ghosts walking straight through her body. She stiffened and grimaced, but he detected no discomfort from the contact.

“What in the bloody…” Rose scrunched her nose as the ghost wandered off. “What are they?”

“No idea,” he admitted.

Jackie ran up beside them. “Midday shift only lasts couple of minutes. They’re about to fade.”

“I’m sorry, did you say ‘shift’?” The Doctor’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “I’m not aware of any ghosts that operate on a schedule. Are they on union time?”

“What’s goin’ on?” Rose echoed his concern. “Why isn’t anyone screamin’?”

“Oh, you two aren’t happy when I know more than you.” Jackie’s watch beeped. “Here we go. Twelve minutes past.”

Within moments, the ghosts vanished in the blink of an eye, disappearing from the world as mysteriously as they had appeared. The Doctor scowled and pulled Rose back towards the stairs. Jackie thought nothing of it, beaming as she followed them back to the flat to finish making tea.

Doctor, what should we do? Rose asked as they reentered the living room.

Well, can’t believe I’m gonna suggest this. He frowned and resumed his seat on the sofa, flinging an arm around Rose as she sat next to him. But we should watch some telly. See how popular these ‘ghosts’ are.

Rose worried her bottom lip as she watched the Doctor flip madly through the various channels on the television. The ghosts were everywhere; from a show called “Ghostwatch” to the weatherman telling viewers where they could spot the friendly apparitions, the mysterious entities had fully engrained themselves into British life. The Doctor tuned into a French broadcast and then a Japanese news report; both were talking about the ghosts.

This is insane! He exclaimed in his head, finally settling on an episode of “Eastenders” with a plot centered around, yet, another ghost. What the bloody hell is goin’ on here?

I dunno, but it’s worldwide . Rose burrowed further into his arm, needing the warmth of him as she continued to feel the dread surrounding the fixed point.

Jackie sipped her tea and settled in the armchair, watching the Doctor in amusement. “See? No one’s panickin’. Isn’t it nice?”

“Nice?!” the Doctor turned to Jackie to argue, but he suddenly stiffened instead and clamped his mouth shut.

Rose fought down a bizarre wave of nausea. “Ugh, what’s that?”

Someone knocked on the front door and the Doctor stood, eyes wide, dislodging Rose from his side. She was about to yell at him for flinging her away when she caught the panic running through his thoughts.

Jack. Jack. It’s Jack. Bollocks.

Why is that a bad thing? Rose asked, confused. We’ve been tryin’ to find him, after all!

I don’t… What am I supposed to say? How is he gonna affect you? What if he’s mad?

As the Doctor’s thoughts ran rampant, Jackie stood from her chair to answer as the visitor knocked again. The Doctor stilled her and advised her not to answer it. Rose glared at him, unhappy he was being a coward, and brushed past him to answer the door.

“Rosie!” Jack cheered as soon as the door swung open.

“Jack!” A bright smile bloomed on Rose’s face, but it quickly twisted in discomfort. She slapped a palm over her mouth and ran to the loo.

“Not exactly the ‘hello’ I was going for,” Jack commented, walking into the flat.

“Jack! Oh, you’re a sight for sore eyes!” Jackie gathered him into a tight hug, placing several kisses on his cheek. She turned to the Doctor with a frown. “Why didn’t you tell me himself was visitin’? I would’ve cooked something nice!”

“He didn’t know I was coming, Jackie,” Jack answered for him piercing the Time Lord with an assessing gaze. “Hello, Doctor.”

The Doctor tipped his head in greeting. “Jack.”

They stared at one another in a silent battle as the sounds of Rose’s vomiting wafted from the loo.

“What’s wrong with Rose?” Jackie fretted. “Is she up the duff?”

“No, Jackie. She ate some bad fish on an asteroid bazaar,” the Doctor said, fighting down his own reaction to the Captain’s impossible timeline. He sent a wave of sympathy to Rose as she expelled the contents of her stomach.

“So, Doctor,” Jack started, casually strolling closer, “last time I saw you, I was killed by a bunch of Daleks. Mind telling me what happened next? Seeing as you left me and all.”

“You left him?!” Jackie shrieked, swatting the Doctor hard across the shoulder.

The Doctor ignored her and continued staring at Jack. He had no idea how to make amends to the Captain. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry? You swanned off, no explanation, and you’re sorry ?” Jack asked in disbelief.

“Yes.”

Not wanting to be an impolite guest in Jackie’s home, Jack fought down the urge to punch the alien. “What happened?”

“I did,” Rose’s weak voice floated into the room as she exited the loo.

Jack watched as the Doctor gathered Rose into his arms, kissing her temple in comfort. She burrowed in his chest and sighed wearily. He’d seen them hug on multiple occasions, but Jack had never witnessed the Doctor holding her like this, cradling her in his arms like she was the most precious thing in the universe. It looked like the two of them had finally gotten their heads on straight in his absence.

“Not that I’m not happy to finally see the two of you together, because I am,” Jack huffed a bitter laugh, “but if you wanted to shag in peace you could’ve at least said so before you left me.”

“Oi!” The Doctor shouted with a glare. “Yell at me all you want, I don’t care. But don’t bring Rose into this. It wasn’t her fault.”

“Then what happened?!” Jack bellowed.

The Captain’s patience was stretched perilously thin. After he had been left for dead on the Game Station, Jack had used his vortex manipulator to chase the Doctor into the twenty-first century. However, his device had fizzled out and he had landed in 1869. But he had quickly discovered his new biological quirk when he was shot in the heart on Ellis Island. He had popped back to life, bullet gone and wound mended, nearly scaring his would-be-killer to death.

So Jack had waited for over a century for the timelines to allow him to visit Jackie Tyler. He figured the Doctor would be bringing Rose to visit her mum at some point. He refused to believe Rose would have agreed to his abandonment. She had been his best friend, hadn’t she? Maybe he had gotten it all wrong. One hundred years without his two companions had been long enough to plant the seeds of doubt in his chest and he wasn’t leaving this flat until the daft alien talked.

As the two men glared daggers at one another, Rose mentally calmed the Doctor down. She pointed out that Jack had every reason to be angry and he deserved an explanation.

The Doctor reigned in his temper and sighed. “Rose happened. After I sent her away, she looked into the Heart of the Tardis to come back to me.”

“The Heart… isn’t that what Margaret did?” Jack asked, glancing at Rose in concern.

“Yes. Rose took in the power of the entire time vortex; no one’s meant to do that. If a Time Lord did that, he’d become a god, a vengeful god.” He smiled fondly at Rose. “But not you. Too compassionate, you are.” He met Jack’s eye again and continued, “She used the power to wipe out the entire Dalek fleet and bring you back to life. But she didn’t know how to control it. She brought you back forever.”

Jackie gasped. “Forever?”

“When did you first realize?” the Doctor asked Jack.

“Earth 1892. I tried chasing you but my vortex manipulator broke. So I was stuck. Didn’t matter though. I got shot in the heart and came back to life. Thought it was a bit odd, but it kept happening. Fell off a cliff, trampled by horses, stray javelin.” Rose and the Doctor winced but Jack pressed on, “World War I, World War II, poison, strangulation… I’m the man that can’t die. And all this time, you knew?”

“That’s why I left you behind,” the Doctor explained. “You’re a fact, a fixed point in time and space. Fleein’ from you was a gut reaction, a survival instinct. You rub my time senses raw.”

Jack stared at him in silence for a moment, absorbing the information. He was tired of harboring so much resentment in his veins. He could continue to be angry, but the Doctor genuinely appeared to be sorry. Rose was wringing her hands together, obviously afraid he would be mad at her for causing his immortality. But he didn’t blame her. He had missed her, he had missed the Doctor, and he had desperately missed traveling with them.

“At least I’m finally rubbing you,” Jack quipped with a smile.

The Doctor groaned and rolled his eyes.

Rose laughed and tentatively grabbed Jack’s hand, squeezing gently. “I’m sorry we left you.”

“Well…” Jack looked from the Doctor to Rose and sighed heavily. “You’re here now.”

“You’re not mad at me?” Rose asked warily.

“No.” Jack shook his head. “I could never be mad at you. I’ve gotten used to not dying. I just missed you.”

Rose managed a weak smile, still nauseous from his proximity. “I missed you, too.”

“Sounds like this man deserves some tea!” Jackie pressed another kiss to Jack’s cheek before she walked into the kitchen to prepare her famous brew.

The Doctor fought down another grimace as Jack’s timeline grated on his nerves. But Jack noticed his discomfort and darted his eyes back and forth between the Time Lord and Rose.

Jack’s eyes narrowed as he realized Rose had the same queasy expression. “You didn’t eat bad fish, did you?”

“Shhh,” Rose shushed him urgently, glancing at the kitchen to make sure her mum hadn’t heard.

“What happened to you?”

Rose wanted to explain, but her mum was exiting the kitchen. She whispered, “I’ll tell ya later,” and plastered a smile on her face as Jackie handed Jack his tea.

“There ya go,” Jackie cooed. “Shame on you two for leavin’ him behind! How could you abandon this face?”

“Aw, you’re a charmer, Jackie.” Jack winked and sipped his warm beverage. He smacked his lips together and smiled broadly. He hadn’t had tea this good in a long time.

The Doctor cleared his throat. “Anyway, there are more important matters at hand. Ghosts walkin’ about on Earth?”

“I had noticed that, yeah. Any ideas?” Jack wondered.

“Bristlin’ with them, me.” The Doctor turned to Jackie. “Jackie, when did this all start?”

“Well,” she launched into gossip-mode, “first of all, Peggy heard this noise in the cellar, so she goes down—”

“No, no,” he cut her off impatiently, “I meant worldwide.”

“Oh. That was about two months ago. Just happened. Woke up one mornin’ and there they all were. Ghosts everywhere. We all ran ‘round screamin’ back then. Whole planet was panickin’. And no sign of you two, thank you very much!” Jackie scolded and then continued, “But it sorta sunk in. It took us time to realize that we’re lucky.”

“What makes you think it’s granddad?” Rose asked.

Jackie shrugged. “It just feels like him. There’s that smell, those old cigarettes. Can’t you smell it?”

“I wish I could, Mum, but I can’t.”

“You’ve gotta make an effort. You’ve gotta want it, sweetheart.”

Rose frowned. “And the more you want it, the stronger it gets?”

“Sort of, yeah.”

“Psychic link,” the Doctor provided. “Of course you want your dad alive, Jackie. But wishin’ him into existence won’t bring him back. And the harder you wish, the stronger the ghosts get. They’re usin’ you to pull themselves in.”

Jackie scowled. “You’re spoilin’ it!”

Jack pulled her into a sideway-hug. “I’m sorry, Jackie. It’s just a memory.”

“They’re not the Gelth, are they Doctor?” Rose theorized.

He shook his head. “No, can’t be. The Gelth were comin’ through just one rift. This lot are all over the planet.”

“But they’re human!” Jackie protested. “You can see them. They look human!”

“They do look that way, yeah,” the Doctor agreed with her. “But I don’t think they are. They’re pressin’ themselves into the surface of this world. But a footprint doesn’t look like a boot.”

“I do know who’s behind it,” Jack chimed in. “As soon as they started appearing, I started looking. Every lead I followed landed me at Torchwood.”

“Torchwood? Is Mickey still workin’ for them, Mum?” Rose asked and Jackie nodded.

“Is he? Glad we never ended up employed there, Rosie. Word on the street is they’re up to no good.”

“But we have an inside man.” The Doctor crossed his arms and smiled. “Perhaps it’s time to give Mr. Mickey a call.”

Rose pulled her mobile out of her pocket to dial Mickey, wasting no time to gather information on the strange ghosts. The phone rang throughout the flat as she put it on speaker.

“Rose!” Mickey answered. “Long time no chat.”

“Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. And sorry again but I have to get straight to the point: What’s Torchwood up to?”

Mickey scoffed. “No good. I was gonna ring you soon ‘bout this place. Lots of shady stuff happenin’. They stuck me in I.T. though, so I don’t know everything. I never mentioned I knew an alien though, figured the Doctor’d rather keep outta it.”

“I work better covertly, thanks,” the Doctor approved.

“Don’t mention it. Anyway, Martha’s cousin works in that ghost room, but she’s not allowed to say anything. It’s all hush-hush, super secretive. But I was able to bribe a bloke in maintenance. Said he’d overheard talk about some sort of spatial disturbance.”

Jack quirked a brow. “Spatial disturbance?”

“Yeah, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg!” Mickey exclaimed. “There’s also a room here kept under more surveillance than the Queen’s jewels. I heard it contains some sort of weird sphere, but Torchwood’s equipment doesn’t register it at all — like it doesn’t exist.”

The Doctor nodded along, eternally grateful to the man for all of the information. “Think you could sneak into that room?”

“No problem. I’ve been workin’ that out since day one. Just needed an excuse to do it.”

“Right. I think it’s time we paid Torchwood a visit. Keep on standby, Mickey. We’ll need you.”

“Can do, boss. I’m here now and I’ll keep my mobile on me. Send a text and I’ll come runnin’.”

“Good man.”

“Thanks, Mickey!” He called out a goodbye as Rose hung up the phone.

Jack set down his empty tea cup with a huge smile on his face. “Oh, I missed this! Do you have any idea how boring Earth is without an alien in tow?”

“Right, then! Let’s move the Tardis and catch a ghost.” The Doctor clapped his hands together with a daft grin. “Jackie, stay away from them while we get this sorted.”

“You don’t think it’s nice? You always do this. Reduce it all down to science. Why can’t it be real?” Jackie’s eyes became glassy as she wished the ghostly visitor was her dad. “All the people we’ve lost, our families comin’ back home. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?”

“No. I think it’s terrifyin’. Why would you want the ghost of your dad here, hauntin’ you?” he gently asked. “You can’t interact with him properly and it only makes you sad every time you see him. But it’s not