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Most Likely Kill You in the Morning

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Because she didn’t know what else she could do, Rose waited.

Tense at first, she started at the derelict spaceship’s every clank and clatter, while Mickey wandered in circles, picking and poking at anything that looked even remotely interesting. Eventually, he fell asleep, sprawled out on the floor next to her, and Rose whiled away the hours rubbing circles on his back and counting the bolts in the floor.

When Mickey woke up, she was still there, a careful watchman. With some coercion they moved back into the TARDIS, and Rose found that there were three waiting, rather than only two. Mickey was all impatience and bluster, but Rose took her cues from the ship, which didn’t seem at all put out. So, while Mickey stomped about, looking like thunder and ranting about the nerve of some aliens and the irresponsibility of leaving people stranded without so much as a directive or a failsafe way to get home, Rose sat quietly in the console room. Long after Mickey had stormed out his ire and gone grumbling to bed, Rose was still there, tucked up on the jump seat, thinking about emergency programs and days that were long past.

The TARDIS vibrated in a way that felt like consolation, but if it had answers, it didn’t offer them. And, though Rose waited, the engines remained quiet and still, and no holograms appeared with apologies and explanations.

*

And then the real waiting began. They three--Rose, Mickey and the TARDIS--settled into it without much trouble.

Of course, the TARDIS was never one to complain.

Mickey said that he was used to waiting, and gave Rose a significant look that she didn’t seem to notice. But, then, Rose didn’t seem to notice much, at all. She spent most of her time in the main room, sometimes pacing along the walls, but more often sitting near the centre, staring vacantly at the console’s glowing lights.

Mickey amused himself by playing with the TARDIS, who turned out to be as good company as most of his mates back home. At first they played simple games, like schoolchildren on a rainy Saturday. The ship set its corridors into labyrinthine mazes for Mickey to find his way through. When that was no longer amusing, they devised a sort of scavenger hunt. Mickey spent hours searching out a jar of berry jam, an oversized striped scarf and a Betamax copy of Risky Business. The ill-conceived hide-and-seek phase ended when the TARDIS found Mickey crouching behind a sofa in the library, and triumphantly brained him with the 26th Century edition of the Complete Oxford English Dictionary.

Once he’d recovered from the concussion, Mickey turned his eye to science. He cooked up elaborate experiments with the ship, testing exactly just how relative the dimensions of time and space were. He would spend long periods lying in the front doorway, half of his body inside the TARDIS and half out in the empty spaceship. At first, there was a great deal of one-sided discussion as to which end of him was most deserving of being saved for posterity. Once that was decided, the experiment went off without a hitch, and after some time it was determined that, yes, his toenails were, in fact, growing faster than his fingernails.

Sometimes, at the ship’s nudging, he brought Rose cups of tea, or plates of biscuits, or fuzzy jumpers. Though she’d thank him and look appreciative, her brow was always wrinkled, her smiled always forced.

For Rose, who was unused to being left behind, the wait was a burden, gnawing at her innards like hungry rats.

*

A fortnight into their exile, Mickey disappeared out of the TARDIS for seventy-six hours.

Rose had just begun to wonder if she ought to be worried, when he returned, dressed only in trainers, pants and a found gladiator’s helmet, his shirt and trousers nowhere in sight. He was filthy and battered, and claimed that he had survived on a sort of wild, lurking pest that looked like a cat, but had monkey hands. Shuffling off in, Rose hoped, the direction of a bath, he declared the vagrant vessel boring, and said he was over it.

“It’s getting a bit Lord of the Flies, don’t you think?” Rose, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the console room, asked the TARDIS. While she didn’t exactly remember how that book ended, she recalled that it didn’t involve all of the boys on a rescue boat, enjoying spiced cocoa and pasties. “It’s possible we’re on the verge of desperate times.”

The TARDIS gave a hum that travelled up through Rose’s spine. It reminded her of when she’d been so upset about Jimmy Stone that she couldn’t stop crying for long enough to do anything useful. Shireen had stayed with her for hours, just rubbing her back and letting her blubber. The ship’s vibrations were that sort of feeling--a feeling Rose made out to be sympathy.

*

Rose began to feel as though something was sneaking up on her.

She heard footsteps behind her in the corridors and voices in the kitchen. While she was brushing her teeth, she’d swear she saw something behind her in the mirror. There was a tickle in the back of her throat, a buzz in her ears and lights sparking in the periphery.

Rose hoped she was going mad. The wild alternatives she imagined were rather more unpleasant.

It came upon her suddenly, the monster under the bed, late one night while she was tidying the console room. Mickey’s jacket, left draped over the console, slipped out of fingers gone suddenly numb.

In the end it wasn’t madness or sinister ghosts. It was much worse. It was the full-body tackle of a long-denied hard truth.

“He’s not coming back, is he?” she said aloud.

Rose lay down on the floor.

She lay on the floor for a very long time, until her back ached and her legs were asleep, and she could feel the grating digging into her skull.

“He’s not coming back,” she said again, finally. “But I suppose you’ve known all along, haven’t you?”

Rose waited for a response, but received none. She sighed and stood. She’d been in the same position for so long that her knees cracked with a loud, painful snapping sound, sharply audible even over the hum of the TARDIS. It made her feel primitive, like she was so much less than the ship was accustomed to. As she walked back to her room, she brushed her fingertips over the wall in apology.

“I know it takes me a long time to figure things out,” Rose said. “But I’m not so clever, you know. Just a stupid ape, after all.”

If the ship disagreed with her, it gave no indication. Rose reached her bedroom and stopped. She grasped the doorframe and rested her forehead on the closed door.

“I promise,” she said. “I’ll figure it all out in the morning. I’ll do better. I promise, I will.”

Inside her room, Mickey was already in her bed, hogging the covers. Rose curled up next to him, too tired to take even her boots off.

*

Despite the sincerity of her pledges, the morning found Rose no closer to resolving the issues at hand. When she woke, Mickey was already gone, leaving the blankets arranged over her in a haphazard fashion.

She spent an extended period in bed, staring at the ceiling and mulling the situation over.

In the bath, as much time was spent muttering at the loofah, as was spent using it to scrub her back.

A breakthrough was almost made whilst she was putting on her face, though it was lost again when she poked herself in the cornea with the mascara wand. Rose sat on the side of the tub, scrubbing at one bloodshot eye with a wad of damp toilet paper and swearing, and thought that it was certainly a bloody great hassle to be the problem-solver of the group.

Upon reaching the main room, though, Rose realized that she wasn’t the only one on the job. On the console, lit from above as though it were a holy relic, was a very thick paper book. The top page was a thick blue cover, stained with linking rings from mugs of tea and smeared with what looked like doughnut jam. In the centre of the page, in faded typewriter print, was the title.

Your TARDIS and You: A Step-by-Step Guide to Travelling in Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Rose said.

The TARDIS, it seemed, was not.

*

Rose read the first paragraph of the TARDIS instructions eight times, following the lines with her index finger. And then she counted how many words there were in that paragraph that she actually understood.

It was twelve. Including “the” and the title of the introduction, which was, cleverly, “Introduction”.

Directly following the counting was a period of giving up. She retreated to the kitchen to drown her sorrows in Jaffa Cakes and found Mickey stuffing the last one in his mouth. He mused that, when they ran out of food, the cat-monkeys were reasonably good eating.

Thus, the period of giving up abruptly ended.

Rose installed herself in the least distracting room she could find (which she was certain the TARDIS had plucked directly from her brain, as it looked very much like her Year 9 Maths classroom), and committed herself to studying in earnest.

It was, at best, slow going.

Rose devised a system of note taking and page marking that got her through some of the worst bits. When she came upon a bit that she could not decipher, she placed a post-it note sticking out from the margin, with the intent of going back to it later. Before long, the book was positively aglow with neon bits of sticky paper.

It was, she reckoned, like revising for another universe’s A-levels. Which, upon further reflection, she realized might actually be true. In fact, it was possible that she, Rose Tyler, would finally be qualified for exams.

On a planet that no longer existed.

The thought made her giggle.

*

Two months and three days after they were left adrift, Rose finished reading the instruction manual and decided that, between the two of them, she and the TARDIS might be able to get themselves back to Earth. When she told Mickey, she expected him to protest or, at the very least, be a bit sceptical. Instead, he grabbed her around the ears and gave her forehead a smacking kiss. He knew all along she’d sort it out.

Rose, Mickey said, could do anything.

She was grateful for his confidence, as she was feeling very little of her own.

They made ready to leave that very day. Rose opened the manual to Chapter 109, Section 48, Paragraph 87. She propped it up on the console, and regarded Illustration 6. There were notes made on the page, some in her own handwriting and some in several that she didn’t recognize. At the bottom of the illustration was perhaps the most helpful note in the entire manual. In her own Doctor’s penmanship--rounded, like her second Doctor’s, not spiking capitals like her first’s--was the note, “Every pilot finds their own way to fly.”

Rose took a deep breath, located the Main Engine Thrust Control and gave the lever a decisive pull.

The ship dematerialized with an ungainly shudder and lurched drunkenly into the vortex. Rose slapped the Systems Equalization button and turned the Dimensional Stabilization knob clockwise three clicks. The ship flailed to the side, shuddering.

Mickey hit the deck and the TARDIS hissed at her.

“I know,” Rose snapped at it. “I know I’m not doing it right.”

The ship screeched, sparks popping from the console.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Rose said. She tightened her grip on the console and gave the engines another boost. “If you could just give me a little help.”

The TARDIS shook roughly. The manual fell off the ledge, onto Rose’s foot. She yelped and lost her grip, falling over backwards as the ship hurtled forward.

“I’ve read the bleeding thing,” she yelled from the floor. “But I’m not him and I can’t do this. I can’t!”

But the TARDIS paid no attention. It twisted and contorted, destabilizing in the vortex. Over the ship’s klaxons, Rose heard Mickey vomit. She set her jaw and clawed her way back up to the console. She brought up the Navigational Centre on the screen, flipping switches that made planets and cities and dates whizz across the screen. Rose found the coordinates she wanted and locked them in. She took a breath, shut her eyes and spun the wheel.

They materialized, sloppy and imprecise, flying ghostlike through one building, tipping hard and solid off of another before finally setting down with a long, rough skid.

The ship was silent, save for roaring in Rose’s ears and the fast sound of Mickey breathing.

They were home.

*

Rose spent a week sleeping in her old bedroom and letting Jackie fuss over her before she was back in the TARDIS. She stayed overnight, catching up on Footballers’ Wives and polishing off the supply of Kettle Corn she’d bought when they’d visited Coney Planet.

The next day, Rose had tea with her mum. Buttered bacon sandwiches. Hollyoaks. Jackie’s boyfriend.

Afterward, she went back to the TARDIS, claiming that she had to keep an eye on it until the Doctor came back. Her mum watched her leave with a doubtful eye.

Rose fought the urge to run back to the ship as though she was escaping some deadly horror. But even when she was undressed and tucked into her own bed, she still felt jittery and unsettled.

Barefoot, she paced the edges of console room, running her fingers over the uneven walls. There was a strange sort of tension in the air, as though the TARDIS was holding its breath.

“Instead of waiting around for him,” Rose finally said, “what would you say about trying to find him on our own?”

The ship fired up its own engines with such speed that Rose was left frantically dialling her mum while slapping buttons and pulling levers.

*

The trip was better than her first had been. She reached for levers and buttons with confidence and let the TARDIS do as it thought best. They materialized with a teeth-clattering thump, not unlike the Doctor’s own landings.

Rose peeked outside the TARDIS and gasped. It was exactly what she thought the French countryside should look like, all lush and green and expensive-looking. Stunned by the beauty of it, she stepped outside, barefoot and still dressed in a camisole and pyjama shorts, TARDIS key warm against her breast.

She walked out onto a sun-warmed walkway and did a little skip of joy. It wouldn’t hurt, she thought, to just look around for a few minutes. Then she’d go back and get properly outfitted to set out in search of the Doctor. She skipped down the path, the dazzling gold of it leading her further and further from the ship.

Rose stopped when she came upon a little garden of daisies next to the path. They shined with a perfect crystalline beauty. Spellbound, she stooped to pick one. The brittle stem broke off, edges slicing her fingers. She dropped the flower onto the path. It shattered at her feet.

The sky, which wasn’t really sky so much as a dome, lit up with an angry red pulse. A shrill, ear-splitting alarm sounded, making Rose clap her hands over her ears. Over the rise ahead of her, three men appeared. Rose made out the word “Security” on their caps.

She began to have serious doubts that this was, in fact, Eighteenth-Century France.

“You there!” one yelled. They came after her, pulling what looked like tasers from their belts.

“Merde,” said Rose.

She ran.

*

Rose ran faster than she’d ever thought she could. Her legs scissoring wildly, lungs pumping the thin air in and out, she kept her arms tucked close to her chest trying to make herself as small a target as possible.

An arrow whizzed by her shoulder. Rose felt dizzy, chest heaving with the exhaustive work of breathing. The incline was getting steeper, the hard-packed dirt giving way to rockier terrain. Her footing became less sure, trying to avoid the looser rocks that would slow her, or worse, roll over and break her ankle. She could hear the outraged screams of the valley folk grow nearer. They were gaining on her. Another arrow flew past. It veered off in to the side and into the ledge above, disrupting the natural balance of the mountain. Dirt and rocks tumbled down, one winging her forehead. She saw spots.

A frantic scramble over a ridge and the TARDIS was just ahead. The key in Rose’s palm throbbed hot and urgent. Her arms felt numb. She fumbled clumsily at the lock, the clamour behind her becoming louder and more terrifying with every second she wasted. Another arrow bounced off the door near the soft flesh of her belly, and the lock clicked open. Rose flung the door open and fell into the ship, landing hard on her side. She kicked the door shut to a thudding rain of arrows, scrambling backwards as though they could break the TARDIS doors down and find her prone in the entrance.

Her breathing was wretched in the safe silence of the ship. She thought she might vomit. Something wet ran down her forehead and dripped into her eye. Rose touched her fingertips to her face. They came away red. She wiped the blood from her face onto the sleeve of her jumper. It was filthy, stained and torn, anyway. A little more ruin wouldn’t matter.

Rose tucked herself into a tiny, foetal ball. She heaved dry, hitching sobs, eyes stinging with unshed tears.

*

London, lovely London.

The air had a thick, city smell, comforting in its industrial modernity. It seemed like a lifetime since she’d last set foot in her city. It was only fitting that she should find the Doctor here. Rose set out from the TARDIS with a light, quick step.

She walked without direction, just wandering where instinct led. The streets, though not quite alien, weren’t entirely familiar, either. It was London, though not the London of Rose’s time. That was alright with her; she felt more comfortable in a time when she wouldn’t be recognized. Assured anonymity was easier than the possibility that she might meet someone who knew her.

It was when she rounded a corner onto an ordinary-looking street that discovered her mistake. There, not a block ahead of her, stood the Doctor, his back to her. He was tall and broad shouldered, firm and sure, clad in black leather and hard workman’s boots. His head was nearly bare, and even from a distance, she could see the way his ears jutted away from his skull. One hand was shoved into the pocket of his trousers. The other was firmly grasped in her own. Or rather, the hand that had been hers so many miles and years before.

Rose wondered if her bum was really that big and felt a headache coming on.

As if in slow motion, the Doctor turned his head and looked over his shoulder. She was frozen in place. His eyes met hers and it felt like a reward and a punishment all at once. The faintest traces of emotion moved him – confusion at first, and then, briefly, anger. She’d grown so accustomed to his regeneration, to the bare joy and sorrow and anger that he expressed, that she’d forgotten how very little that face gave away. Rose shook her head and pressed a finger to her lips, trying to tell him that everything was fine, that she wasn’t doing something pigheaded and impetuous and human. He nodded briefly, seeming to understand what she couldn’t communicate in words. He looked her up and down, saw the different clothes, the shorter hair, the older face, and he nodded again.

Rose wanted to cry.

Instead, she pressed a kiss to her fingertips and held it out to him. His face split into a grin that made his angular face and irregular features beautiful. Rose curled her hand into a fist and held it to her heart. The Doctor nodded his shaven head one last time. And then, with him still watching her, she turned around and ran.

She didn’t look back.

Rose ran to the TARDIS, slamming through the door and sprinting for the engine, hitting the console with hip-bruising force. She pulled levers and controls almost unconsciously and flung the ship into the time vortex without thought for where they’d go next. Once they were safely away from the paradox, from the reapers, from the past, she powered down the engines. She didn’t discuss their next move with the TARDIS or plot a new course. Spinning endlessly in the suspended animation of the vortex, Rose went to her room.

She didn’t return to the console room for a long time.

*

There was the planet Karfel during its renaissance. Rose met a sculptor named Astor who was haunted by the displaced echo of a creature caught in the time stream. Like a tugboat, the TARDIS pulled the ghast from the riptide, giving both it and the artist long-sought peace. Astor kissed Rose and told her that she would be his new muse; Rose slipped out the back entrance with her shoes in her hand.

In Killingworth, she met a man who grabbed her hand and told her to run. She happily obliged – that is, until he screamed, “Death to machines!” and brought a mine shaft down between her and the TARDIS. To rectify the situation took a week of spelunking, during which Rose decided that when a man says “run”, it is sometimes an incomplete statement, best finished by “…in the opposite direction.”

Scotland, just as the Battle of Culloden was claimed a victory for the British. Rose found a dying piper on the rocky slope outside the TARDIS door. When she knelt next to him, he called her Aileen and pressed his bonnet to her chest. She held his hand tightly there, sharp juniper needles poking through her top, as he sang in wheezing wet breaths, “No more, no more, no more…”

There was Drahva, where Rose was indoctrinated into a race of Amazonian warriors, and then a planet on which Rose was nearly eaten by a carnivorous pineapple. There was Terra Alpha, which she found disturbing for its normality, and a library that covered an entire planet and was filled with visitors from every corner of the universe. There was Ribos, which required an anorak, and Miasma Goria, which gave Rose such a sense of dread that they couldn’t stay for more than a few moments. The TARDIS sped out of that time and place with such conviction that Rose was certain that it wasn’t the Doctor that had brought them there.

There was a planet inhabited by sentient toffee (Rose licked the Crown Prince) and the bathroom at CBGB during a Talking Heads show (David Byrne, it turned out, was originally from Pluto). There was Earth’s moon and Logopolis and the Horsehead Nebula and then Earth’s moon, again.

Across the universe, Rose followed traces of the Doctor from planet to planet, time to time. There were bits of him everywhere, it seemed, and yet he was nowhere to be found.

*

One day, the TARDIS behaved strangely, hesitant and shivering as they followed a thread of the Doctor through the vortex and to a time and place that it couldn’t seem to name. It passed its disquiet on to Rose, who clenched and unclenched unsteady hands and wondered if their next stop would be their last.

They had hardly come out of the vortex when there was a scrambling sound at the lock.

Rose felt her heart beating in her throat, tasted the contents of her stomach just behind her palate. She called his name at the same time the door was bounced open. To her surprise, it was echoed back to her. There was a woman, thin and wasted and weary, in the entrance, looking about her in a wild, desperate way.

“Doctor!” she called. “What are you doing back here?” And then spying Rose at the console: “Who are you? Where’s the Doctor?”

“I’m Rose,” Rose said. “The Doctor’s gone missing, and me and the TARDIS, we’re looking for him. Only we keep ending up in the right place at the wrong time.”

“Is that so?” She against the door, the back of her head hitting with a loud thump. “Dumb luck for you, then. And bad luck at that.”

Disappointment was Rose’s familiar companion. “He’s not here, then.”

“No, he’s most certainly not.” The birdlike woman shut her eyes. “You’ve only just missed him.”

“Is he coming back?” Rose asked. “Could I wait for him?”

“No,” she said, almost too quietly to hear. “You can’t.”

Rose, twisting her fingers together uncomfortably, took a few steps toward her guest. “Would you like to stay for a bit, maybe?” she asked and was surprised by the lonely want in her own voice. “I could put a kettle on. You look like you could use a cup. And we have biscuits. From Centauri 6. They’re chocolate. Well, chocolate-ish. But they're still very nice.”

The woman opened her eyes. They were very blue, hollowed out by a desolation that made Rose feel small and petty for her own minor solitude. “I haven’t the time,” she said, standing straight again. “And neither do you. You should go now. Go as far from here as you can.”

She opened the door. Rose caught a glimpse of a great, empty room and strange, twisted metal columns. Of high windows and red-orange sky beyond. She felt the TARDIS quaking through the soles of her shoes.

“Wait,” Rose called. “Who are you?”

The woman paused, turned half-way and peered at Rose through a curtain of bedraggled blonde hair. “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she said with a harsh laugh. “Or it won’t very soon, anyway.”

There was a moment that Rose would later recall as the instant when it all became quite clear.

It was as though she could feel time all around her, like a malleable bubble. That bubble could be twisted and shaped, but stretched too thin, it would burst. Rose could feel the danger in that place; she could feel the TARDIS’ fear, and knew it as her own. All around them, it was as though time had been worked with rough hands, and the bubble was going to rupture.

The other woman’s red robes rustled as though the fabric itself wrestled with indecision. They swayed back and forth between the open TARDIS and the room beyond, carried by an unfelt wind.

And Rose found that she understood.

“He misses it,” Rose blurted. “Your planet, I mean. And everyone.”

The light from the room beyond turned the woman’s hair into a shroud of fire. “He’s lucky.” She gripped the edge of door, resting her head on its solid frame. “It’s quite something, you know. To miss.”

“To be missed is something, too.”

“No, it’s not,” she said, moving quickly through the door. “It’s really nothing at all.”

The door slammed behind her, a hollow, echoing finality. Rose and the TARDIS returned to the vortex, watching the woman on screen as they dematerialized. The last Rose saw of her, she was at one of the windows, one palm flat on the glass. The TARDIS trembled.

“Alright then, you,” Rose whispered to the ship. “It’s about time we find him, for real.”

*

They landed in Paris, but it was 1765. Madame de Pompadour was already dead, and the Doctor was nowhere to be found. Rose and the TARDIS skipped back a few years, skimming lightly over the timeline like a flat stone on a lake, and Rose stepped out into Versailles like it was Marks & Spencer’s, answering questions with vague affirmations and brushing aside threats like gnats.

Reinette was still alive, still lovely, but still, there was no Doctor.

The Frenchwoman looked out at the magnificent gardens and told Rose how the Doctor had saved her. How he had disappeared, promising to return for her. She didn’t ask for answers or have any to offer in return, and the exquisite brocade of her dress looked too heavy for her pale shoulders.

For a brief, baffling moment, Rose thought about inviting Reinette to join her.

*

Like smell-hounds, Rose and the TARDIS followed the trail back to New New York. The TARDIS landed in an alley where there was garbage and an old, sweet smell, like attics and trunks. A hard rain fell, drenching Rose the moment she walked out the door. It was nothing like the New New York she remembered, and of course, there was no Doctor.

Rose kicked over a folding chair someone had left upright in the alley.

Returned the familiar safety of the vortex, she sat, legs crossed and tucked, on the floor in the control room. With her elbow propped on her knee and her chin propped on her fist, they discussed the situation.

“Sometimes,” she said, “I think he doesn’t want to be found.”

The TARDIS hummed noncommittally.

*

On Gadolinium, Rose was the key player in a violent uprising of the enslaved Lanthanoids. In the middle of storming castle, a slave woman in the Supreme Leader’s harem went into labour, and Rose helped deliver the baby. Later, she held the little boy while the mother watched from the comfort of a bed the castle’s modern infirmary. His skin shimmered silver and mercurial, and he grasped at her nose with his wee, three-fingered hand.

“I will name him Rosetyler,” his mother said, hushed and reverent.

“Sometimes,” Rose said, when she left Gadolinium to its new day, “I forget he ever existed at all.”

The whir of the TARDIS did not seem to indicate that it disagreed.

*

Rose Tyler stood outside of her ship.

She wore jeans, trainers and a white linen top, in sharp relief to the bright blue of the TARDIS, the brilliant green suns above and the deep orange sand on which they’d landed.

Rose dug into her pocket for a pair of sunglasses, and set off across the dunes.

There was a settlement just out of sight of the TARDIS. Sturdy white tents crisscrossed the dunes and pale-shrouded nomads stopped to watch her approach.

As Rose neared them, a woman with skin the colour of the sands emerged from one of the tents, led at the skirts by a little boy. She wound her long, black hair into a bun and affixed a long, protective headpiece over her skull. Holding out her hands, she went straight to Rose.

“My Trevarius told me the Blue Box appeared,” the woman said, indicating the little boy, “And I was filled with grateful joy at the Doctor’s return.”

She grasped Rose’s hands in her own and bent her forehead to them. The woman straightened, and following her cue, Rose repeated the gesture. Both women laughed when little Trevarius seized his guest’s hands and insisted on mimicking his mother’s ritual. Rose played along with him, and then allowed herself to be led by her trousers back to the tent.

“So, the Doctor isn’t here, anymore,” Rose sighed, stepping into the shady relief of the yurt. “Have you seen him recently, then?”

“Him?” The woman looked confused. “But you came out of the blue box. Aren’t you the Doctor?”

*

“Maybe I am,” Rose said later, lying on the floor in the control room, her feet propped up on the console. “Maybe I am the Doctor. Who’s to say?”

The TARDIS hummed and Rose felt like she’d finally got something right.