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A View From the Door

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A View from the Door

On the first day after the battle that may have devastated their entire planet, the Sisters of the Hallowed Words open their doors and invite the survivors in. The abbey is in a state of disrepair itself after the bombs, but there are enough rooms that are set in the wide outer walls that shelter them from the outside world and are old and sturdy enough to survive nearly anything. The yellow paint on the walls that signify light and truth is chipped, but it still gleams in the sun that shines in through the windows, making their new visitors stare in awe. Zuleika the novitiate helps to check them all in, taking down names and the locations where they were brought from. Thankfully the Sisters have been released from their vows of verbal frugality for the moment (words have power, as every devotee knows, and must not be used inappropriately), free to say whatever necessary in order to help people during this time.

On the third day, Zuleika interviews an interesting girl of about her own age. She appears to be just the same as every other neo-human that has come through their doors, but something's strange about her. She suspects it's not just the dyed blonde hair either.

"What's your name?" Zuleika says in a whisper, kneeling down in front of the plush but worn blue chair the girl is curled up in. The girl is chewing on a thumb nail, seeming not to notice that her lip is split, that there is a gash across the bridge of her nose that is still oozing dark red blood, and that her knuckles are beyond cracked.

"Rose," she says back, just as softly. "Rose Tyler."

Zuleika pauses a moment, not quite believing that someone would be audacious enough to take one of the Sacred Names as their own, but she scribbles the name down on her tablet anyway, and goes to the next question. "And where were you before you were brought here?"

"We — I was at Mount Neriton." The name sends a shiver down Zuleika's spine. According to the rumours flying around the abbey, Mount Neriton is the heart of the largest battle of them all. Their oppressors were taken down there, but at the cost of so many lives. She's spoken to many people in the past days, but no one has come from there.

"You said we — was there someone else with you?" she asks.

Rose nods. "The Doctor. He's my…" she hesitates on the word, making Zuleika wonder about all sorts of things. "…friend. He's my friend. We got separated, right before the end of the battle." Zuleika doesn't have the strength of heart to tell Rose that her friend is most likely dead, when Rose looks up and stares her straight in the eye, an odd glint in her face. "He'll be back. He'll come here, I know it." This girl believes.

Zuleika is the last person to ever take away someone's belief, even though it may be better in the long run to tell her the harsh truth and let her begin to recover. So she just nods and comfortingly pets the girl's hand, signaling for a nurse to come in and take care of her wounds.

On the night of the fifth day Zuleika comes to Rose's chamber. She expects to see the bright pink curtain still in place as a mock door, a vain attempt at privacy, however the chamber is exposed to all with the curtain in a small pile on the floor. She quickly corrects herself-the curtain is now serving as a blanket, wrapped snuggly around the two young children huddled up in there, lit by moonlight. One looks pale and human while the other has deep and vibrant blue skin, but they are wrapped around so tightly that they just look like a blur of colour to Zuleika's eyes. Rose sits on the floor by them, singing an unrecognizable tune under her breath as her hand strokes their heads.

Zuleika shifts suddenly, a bit puzzled by the young woman's actions. She doesn't recognize the language Rose is singing (her native tongue? They hear a multitude of languages come through their halls, but this one is so foreign and unnerving). The girl shouldn't be singing so casually in the first place. Sung Words are holy and powerful, they should be saved for times of intense worship only. The disturbance in the air brings Rose's eyes sharply to her. Both girls look guilty and awkward, one not sure if she should ask questions and the other not sure how to explain what she is doing.

"They were having nightmares," Rose says softly, staring back down at the children. "Could hear 'em three rooms over. My mum always used to sing me to sleep when I had bad dreams, thought it might help them too."

"That is fine, child," a voice says from behind her, and Zuleika spins to see the aged Mother Superior standing there, appearing as suddenly as a storm cloud sometimes does. "I'm glad you can help them."

"Thanks," Rose says with a quick and grateful look. As she begins to sing again in that foreign tongue, the Mother Superior ushers Zuleika out of her chamber and into the courtyard.

"Should not Rose be respecting the rules of our order while she is here?" Zuleika asks once they are out of earshot, puzzled. "The Sung Words are only for the high days."

Mother Superior just shakes her head, her face wrinkled and wise. "That child comes from further away than any of us can imagine; they do things differently there." She looks back at the room with its open door and chipped yellow frame. "Her singing is a comfort to them, let them be."

Zuleika huffs, feeling rather put out. "She is a mystery, that Rose. She was at the battle Mount Neriton with a friend of hers, and still believes that he's going to come back."

The Mother Superior smiles indulgently at her. "You are still young, my dear. You have an impressive amount of knowledge about our faith, but knowing people comes with years upon years of experience, if ever. She is a special one," she says, her voice suddenly distant and cryptic. "A rose always has a multitude of symbolism and meanings behind it. Help her when she needs it, and see what you can learn." With those words she left Zuleika to stand alone in the middle of the courtyard, her statements burning a path through her brain.

In the small, dark hours of the morning on the seventh day the battle comes back to their doors. Many of their occupants, both refugees and Sisters, are frail and old, but there are a number of novitiates and visitors who are young and strong. They help to spread the shield out over the open courtyard, seal up the holes in the walls, and barricade the doors.

Zuleika works on sealing up one of the side gates, her hands shaking with nerves. She can hear the soldiers outside and winces with every scream. This was not how she envisioned her life. She's been in the abbey since she was fourteen years old and it has always been quiet and sedate, a life dedicated to learning the Words and their meanings. A pathetic whimper escapes her lips and she drops the deadlock sealant machine into the dirt, with a stray bolt of red light slamming into the wall.

As she bends down to start up the machine again, she sees Rose running up out of the corner of her eye. Zuleika can't quite believe it's her at first, as she seems to have finally given up the foreign clothing she has been wearing for days to the washers, and is now garbed in a sleeveless and high waisted dress of gold with green accents and a green band under the breasts. It's the same outfit as all the novitiates wear, and the foreign girl looks surprisingly comfortable in it. In her hand is an empty frame from her chamber, and as she kneels down next to Zuleika she begins to snap it into long pieces.

"Here we go," Rose says, picking up two of the pieces and shoving them through the handles of the door. "'S a bit dodgy, but it'll keep until we can get this machine up and running, yeah?"

"Yes," Zuleika agrees with a nod and a small smile, finally getting a solid grip on the machine. Together, the girls seal up the door and take up a watch by it, staying there until the last sounds of battle outside have died away.

On the ninth day, after the smoke has cleared from the sky and it is safe to venture beyond the walls of the abbey, Zuleika decides to show Rose their garden. She isn't sure if she is preaching or enlightening, but she wants the girl to know more. Maybe it's because she likes Rose, and wants to share part of her life here with her. The two of them head out the main gates and down the softly sloping hillside that was once lush and green but now scarred dirt in the aftermath of the battle, until they reach the walled enclosure at the base of it. Zuleika unlocks the wooden door that just barely peeks out of the ivy and leads Rose inside. Somehow their garden was lucky enough to escape the worst of the disaster.

"Oh, it's gorgeous," Rose gasps, wandering out amidst fragrant blooms of all sizes and shapes. Zuleika knows the names of all of the flowers and trees but suspects that Rose doesn't, her curious glances at each very telling. They stroll through purple leaved vines, move around iridescent orange petals, and step carefully through a ground cover that is filled with small green blooms, a contrast to their pale blue leaves. Woven through all of these flowers are rose bushes of all shapes and sizes, from small pale pink tea blooms to ancient blood red clusters so thickly petaled that they look like giant cotton balls.

Zuleika strokes one of the red roses and begins to speak. "You know, the rose is a sacred flower to us," she says, pulling the human Rose away from her in depth study of the purple vine. She smiles at the other girl, and continues her tale. "Before time, when the Goddess of Silence, Angerona, was an old woman, she laid down in the briar to die. The briar swallowed her up, and soon she emerged from the rose as the young maiden again, bringing the Sacred Words and the Secret Names to the world. That's why your name has given a few of the older sisters a bit of a pause since you're here. The rose is so sacred and holy, no follower of the Hallowed Words would even think to give it to a child."

Rose shrugged, coming over to sniff at the red roses. "When I was just about to be born, my mum said, my dad was drivin' them to hospital and they got a puncture. While my dad was off trying to find a phone to call an ambulance, there was this gorgeous rose bush there, just poking its way through some manky old fence. Not something you saw often in London, where I was born. But she kept starin' at it, kept her mind off the pain, and when I was born she said I was just as pretty as one of those flowers. So they called me Rose."

"That's a lovely story."

"What about your name? It's really nice; is there a story behind it?"

"No, not really. It's what I was named at birth, I believe after my great grandmother."

Rose's face grew distant, as if she was suddenly far away. "The Doctor's never told me his real name. Mentioned something about it being too many syllables long and sounding far too silly in any case."

Zuleika crossed her arms over her chest, the education of her years of training coming to the surface. "But he chose to call himself the Doctor, is that correct?" Rose nods, not offering any more information. "Well that's far better then. The names we're given are nowhere near as powerful or as meaningful as the names we choose for ourselves. The chosen name comes from the soul, shows who we really are. Once I am initiated as a full Sister, I will choose my own name to be called, something that truly describes me. Your Doctor may have been given one name at birth, but his soul demanded to be called something else. And so he took that name for himself." Rose still doesn't speak, but she smiles, and for a small moment her face shines like the sun.

On the tenth day Rose is visibly rattled by the Anchoress, Zuleika sees. The Anchoress is an old woman voluntarily walled up in a cell in the chapel in the courtyard, with only a few small windows revealing the outside world to her. Mostly she is silent and observes the people going by her, but sometimes the seer in her comes out, and whoever she singles out to receive her words is compelled to listen. As Rose walks by her, still wearing the novitiate's dress, the Anchoress calls to her. Zuleika follows, knowing that the old woman could scare someone who doesn't know any better.

Without any preamble the woman begins to speak in her rusted and creaking voice, the years reflected in every sound. "The Valiant Child will die in battle so very soon, yes, but the woman survives and will emerge from the death even stronger than before. The woman has the key inside of her, hidden to the eyes, sub rosa, beneath and within, and that is the way to get home. Bring the jewel. Dum vita est spes est." The Anchoress nods and withdraws into the shadows, leaving a pale and shaking Rose behind. Before Zuleika can say anything Rose runs, dashing around people and pets until she reaches her room.

Zuleika begins to follow her, trying to see what is wrong, find out why the Anchoress's words were so unnerving to her, but the pink curtain is dropped down, demanding privacy from everyone. She'd like to comfort the girl she's start to look at as a friend, but other duties are calling, and the Mother Superior will not look kindly on her if she does not complete them. With a sigh she walks off, leaving Rose to puzzle through the Anchoress's statement on her own.

By the morning of the twelfth day Rose seems a little more positive, although no one in the wake of the battle has been truly happy for a while. Even Mother Superior is in a more benevolent mood this morning, and she gives Zuleika the day off. No doubt, she is expecting the novitiate to use her time to sleep (none of the sisters or novitiates have had all that much sleep in the past few days-there are too many jobs to be done and too many people to be comforted). However, Zuleika decides to use the day to indulge the youth inside her, something far neglected of late, and spends the day with Rose, giggling over everything and nothing like two girls who have nothing to worry about in any world.

They bond over the strange coincidence that both their mothers are hairdressers, and in a fit of whimsy they decide to do each other's hair in the fashion of their local cultures. The dark hair on Zuleika's scalp is twisted back into rows like fat caterpillars, with the ends secured into one big mass and spiked wildly. It's foreign and strange and she rather likes it.

Rose's hair becomes a more sedate affair, a typical style for the women in her hometown. The dyed locks are pulled back tightly, sleeked down close to the head with the loose parts then braided and coiled until there is one big elaborate knot low on the back of her neck. "I don't look like me," Rose muses as she examines herself in a small hand mirror, the tips of her fingers gliding over the smooth strands. "It's really lovely. Thank you."

"You are welcome," Zuleika comments from her perch in the blue chair. On the floor below her, Rose sighs deeply.

"I wanted to say I was sorry for running away from ya the other day," she says. "Didn't mean to shut you out or anything like it, s'just that lady said something that really got to me." She knots her hand in the pink curtain, once more removed from the doorway.

"It's not a problem. The Anchoress has that effect on people sometimes."

"Some…thing said similar to me recently, that I was the Valiant Child who would die in battle soon. Guess I really don't want to even consider that possibility," Rose says, pulling her knees up to her chin and clutching the curtain to herself as if it were a shield to protect her.

Zuleika wrinkles her nose. "But that's not all she said. She said the woman would survive and find her way home. That can never be a bad thing. I'm not sure what that last phrase she said was though. I haven't learned that language yet."

"I understood it. Guess that means the TARDIS is still out there and as strong as ever. That's a very good thing. Anyway, I'm not sure if this is the exact translation, but to me it sounded like 'Where there's life, there's hope'." She smiles suddenly again, her grip on the curtain loosening. "You're right, that's not a bad thing."

"The Anchoress is known for being cryptic. Usually her statements don't make sense until after the events she's talking about have passed. Actually, that makes her a bit useless as a seer, doesn't it?" The two girls try to look serious and thoughtful, however within seconds they both collapse into helpless giggles.

The suns have long set on the twelfth day when a stranger is brought into their midst, a man battered and unconscious but ultimately a survivor of the battles. His clothes are torn with bloodstains spattered on them, and he's covered by a long brown coat that has seen better days. Zuleika runs up with her tablet to record his name, but she can see that he's out cold. Another Sister and a medic run to join them, gasping for breath.

"Where are we going to put him?" Sister Rasima says between breaths.

The medic shakes his head. "Infirmary's packed beyond triple capacity as it is, there's no way we'll be able to get him in there."

"I can search the list of who's in which chambers, maybe we can find an empty one? The healers can travel across the abbey if necessary," Zuleika interjects. Sister Rasima opens her mouth to say something, however the words never manage to come out — they are suddenly interrupted by a loud voice.

"Oh my God!" Zuleika looks up to see Rose running full tilt at them. She doesn't stop until she falls to her knees next to the stranger lying on the ground, her hand going out to stroke his face carefully, not worrying about the streaks of blood on him. She pushes aside the worn jacket and the shirt that is now only destined for the bin aside and presses her head first to one side of his chest then the other. "Both working," she murmurs. "That's good, very good." Her eyes are red and teary, however, and it seems that there is an effort not to break into full blown sobs.

Finally it hits Zuleika, and she kneels down next to Rose. "Is this your friend? The Doctor, right?" she whispers, trying not to startle the girl.

"Yeah," Rose nods, not removing her eyes or her hands from him. Finally she looks up at the three gathered around, two sisters and the medic. "Can you put him in my room? If we can get another mattress in there he should be fine, yeah? I'll stay awake to watch him too."

Sister Rasima looks like she wants to argue, wants to place him nearer to the infirmary instead of right off the main courtyard, but the look in Rose's eyes is stubborn and strong. "All right," she concedes. "You two, go find a pallet, the thickest one we've got available. Rose, can you help me carry him into your chamber?"

"Yeah," Rose replies, then lets loose a watery chuckle. "Surprisingly enough, not the first time I've had to do that with him."

As Zuleika runs off to hunt down a spare pallet, she sees the two women lift the Doctor up gently. But it's the look in Rose's eyes that truly moves her, something indescribable but so impossibly deep. She cannot get distracted though, and follows the medic on his search.

Throughout the thirteenth day Zuleika keeps visiting them. She brings Rose breakfast during the first visit, just as the sun rises. The medic is there as well, tending a particularly nasty gash on the Doctor's calf.

"Ta," Rose says, accepting the bowl of cold cereal as Zuleika sits down next to her.

"How is he doing?" she asks, looking down at the pale face. A slight sheen of sweat adorns his brow, and his chest moves up and down slowly with each breath. A light linen blanket covers him, keeping him safe from the breeze that blows from the courtyard and out through the window in the far wall.

"All right," Rose says with a bone deep sigh. "He's had a bit of a fever, but it's just about breaking. And I don't even want to know what happened to his leg, looks almost like claws." A shudder goes through her back, and Zuleika places a careful hand on her shoulder. "Problem is, he still hasn't woken up. Couldn't even begin to tell ya how long he's been out of it."

"He's strong though. Both of you are, especially if you made it through Mount Neriton. Give him a little time, and he'll be all right."

"Time." Rose just exhales a little at that. Maybe it was a laugh, maybe a more sardonic expression, Zuleika isn't sure. Rose puts her bowl down and weaves a hand through the Doctor's dark hair, pushing it back from his brow and sending it into even further disarray.

Zuleika stays there for a few more minutes, watching the medic work, and then follows him out once he's finished. She vows to herself to come back during the day though. As much as Rose probably wants to be alone, there's no way she'll let the other girl go through this by herself.

She returns at midday, with the sun high in the sky, burning down on them. However, she pauses in the doorway, taking in the scene before her. The Doctor is still on his pallet, sleeping or unconscious. Rose is draped over him, head pillowed on his chest, shoulders hunched and left bare by the novitiate's dress, tense even in sleep. Her hair is still twisted back in the thick knot they had done the day before, Zuleika marvels, one hand going to stroke the still twisted locks on her own head.

Words from one of the Holy Books comes to mind then, the repository of the words until the time comes for them to be Spoken. The rose symbolizes silence and secrecy, sorrow and death and pain, Zuleika recalls. The thorns wrap around the mouth of the dying Goddess of Silence, binding her upraised finger to her lips, choking her words before they can be uttered. She begins to pray silently that that is not the end result for these two, the girl she now considers a friend and the man who she obviously loves more than anyone else.

It's not until she leaves again to return to her other duties that Zuleika remembers the other half of the rose symbolism that they so hail in their beliefs. Symbols always have more than one meaning, and the Maiden's rose is no difference. She pokes her head out the main gates and stares down at the lush garden, a miraculously bright spot on a suddenly barren landscape. The rose also symbolizes life and creation, represents the mystery and the heart of life. It was the site of the Maiden's rebirth, from where she first brought the Hallowed Words to all the peoples. And above all else, it symbolizes love.

Zuleika smiles and shuts the main gates, resting her forehead against them for a moment. For some reason, it's now much easier to believe that all things are going to get better.

Her belief is proven right, at least in one small corner of the universe, when she returns to Rose's chamber in the evening, just as the setting sun is turning the sky a shining blanket of deep reds and velvety purples. A man's voice is filtering out into the courtyard through the open doorway (the curtain is tied back now, she notes). It's a flexible voice, with a multitude of tones and inflections, and is currently protesting that he feels just fine.

"Really, I'm perfectly all right. Look, I can wiggle all ten toes, working brilliantly. The sooner we get back to our ship the sooner you'll have this room free for someone who really needs it anyway." Zuleika pokes her head in to see the Doctor sitting upright this time, or at least held upright by a few pillows and the base of the old blue chair. His hair is in a disastrous state, but his eyes are bright and clear of fever. Rose sits next to him, her mouth covered by a hand. She catches Zuleika's glance and her eyes twinkle, glittering with the laugh that is nearly escaping from her lips.

The medic touches two small spots on the Doctor's ankle, making his face go pale again and his lips tighten. No, he'd never admit that he was in pain, but that look was far too telling. "You may not have a fever or an infection anymore, but that dermal regenerator is only operating at half speed right now. You're going to spend at least another two days off of that leg. If it means I have to tie you down to that mattress myself in order to make sure that happens, then I will do so."

The Doctor is about to protest again, but Rose places a hand on his shoulder, stilling his words and bringing his eyes over to her. "Please?" she asks. "You've been missing for nearly two weeks. Maybe just give it another day. They've taken great care of me here. And you have to see the garden before you go."

For a brief moment the air is still, heavy with expectation. Finally the Doctor nods, a small, economical movement, and reaches up to entwine the fingers of Rose's hand with his. "All right," he concedes.

"Thank you," Rose smiles back, squeezing his fingers between hers. Her eyes move over to Zuleika, a question in them. 'Dinner, please?' she mouths, asking the favour.

Zuleika nods and smiles, feeling content. She'd have to talk to the Doctor more before he leaves; he seems like quite the interesting character. Maybe that was why Rose likes him so much.

The thirteenth day is about to end, and Zuleika decides to visit Rose and the Doctor one last time before she goes to sleep, just to make sure they are doing well. The pink curtain flutters in the breeze, revealing the inside of the chamber as she gets closer. Once more she pauses at the door, the sight she comes upon freezing her there. She knows that this is something intensely private, that she shouldn't be watching, but there is something electric about the moonlit scene that keeps her inexperienced eyes glued.

The Doctor is sitting up again, his back leaning against the old blue chair and his legs stretching out in front of him. Rose is straddling his lap, her back towards the door, and it is clear that neither one of them is wearing clothes. Their faces are so close together that all she can see is Rose's hair, floating in a silvery cloud around them. His hand is buried deep in her hair, anchoring her head to his. The Doctor's other hand strokes up and down her bare back, shattering the moonlight that plays along her skin with shadows like ink, fading and darkening with each pass. A deep shadow has taken up residence at the base of her spine, and when the Doctor's hand presses it a moan echoes through the chamber.

Rose's hands curl under the Doctor's arms, moving up his back to grip tightly at his shoulders. Her hips fall and rise rhythmically, met each time by the thrust of his hips. One leg of his bends for better leverage, making Rose moan again, although his injured leg stays carefully straight and still against the mattress. Rose's head arches back, revealing a face with eyes scrunched shut and wet mouth open, gasping desperately for air. The Doctor buries his face in her neck, whispering words in an ancient and unknowable language against her skin.

Zuleika backs away until all she can see is the pink curtain rippling in the breeze, feeling a bit guilty for observing something so private and, dare she say it, holy. At the same time, she feels blessed by the maiden for being allowed to witness something so powerful. The moon shines down on Zuleika, standing there in the courtyard smiling into the sky, and for the first time since the battle began she feels that all is right with the world.