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Go Forward In All Your Beliefs

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"One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no tears, no regrets, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine."
-the First Doctor, The Dalek Invasion of Earth

This is day one.

Except it isn't, of course – Rose can remember days before this one. Long days, bleak days, wet and miserably sunny days, days upon days that ultimately blur into one another, and although she does remember days before even those, days that were brightly-coloured and possibly involved running for her life, there was no need to consciously memorise those; they and their colours linger as everything afterwards fades to grey.

So this can be a day to remember, day one after the day when she decided to count days again, and she'll make notches in the door of her room in the TARDIS and maybe it will all mean something.

She explains it to Jack, and he seems ready to laugh, but he makes no sound and then she thinks he might cry. Finally he rejects either option; he touches her lightly on the shoulder and smiles sadly before he walks away.

*

This is day three.

The Doctor is still out there. Rose leans against the police box door and looks out across the barren, destroyed landscape. There were buildings here once, she knows; their shattered shells are sinking into the sand, lapped by the waters of the river. It's rising, slowly, imperceptibly, but she can imagine how it will look, the water spilling out over an entirely flat landscape like a spilled glass on a table-top.

There is no movement, no sound. Rose waits, but there is no sign of the Doctor.

"He'll be back when he gets hungry," Jack says, with a hand on her arm.

She turns and tries to meet his smile. "Yeah, of course he will."

*

This is day thirteen.

Rose wakes up because she hears music. Jack again, she thinks; Jack and his growing obsession with twentieth-century music, but she doesn't roll over and go back to sleep. She sits up and the music is louder, but more tinny, as though coming from a badly-tuned radio, and underneath the chords she thinks she hears someone crying.

She gets up and the lights don't come on, but she carries on anyway. She'll find Jack, she'll tell him to turn it down 'cause people are trying to sleep, but she can't hear where it's coming from, it seems to coming from everywhere at once.

Someone jumps out. She screams, and closes her eyes; she would run or fight or something, but she doesn't remember those things any more.

"It's only me!" A voice from the darkness, clear and Northern, and his arms are around her, gently steering her back to bed. "It's only me. You were sleepwalking."

"I heard someone crying," she says thickly, eyes closed as he guides her. "I did, I heard..."

"Hush." He's taking her back to her room, and she's glad of his comforting weight behind her because the world seems to be spinning beneath her feet. Step by step, round the corners, along the corridors and through her door with the notches on it. Somehow he's got her onto the bed and tucked her up, she's asleep before her eyes are quite closed, and maybe he was right and she was sleepwalking all along.

In the morning she thinks it was a dream, because there is no sign the Doctor was ever there.

*

This is day seventeen.

A city once stood on the barren flatlands by the river, and in her darker moments Rose tries to imagine what happened to it. It was torn to pieces by some great power, some invisible menace that emerged from the sky and laid waste to all it surveyed. There are scars as though from high energy beams on the remains of the walls – in passing, Rose wonders when she learnt to recognise such things – and shards of fallen glass underfoot that suggest past explosions. Rose tried exploring the remains of the streets on those first few days, but the bleakness and strangeness got to her in the end. It took Jack longer, but now he stays behind, too.

When night falls the Doctor comes back. He is silent, as he always is now, and takes a bunch of bananas and a water bottle with him before he goes out again.

*

This is day twenty.

Jack is playing Glenn Miller again. Roused from fitful dozing, Rose gets up, walking across her room and out, the floor cool against her bare feet. The console room is quiet, so she pads along the TARDIS corridors until she finds him, and she stands in the doorway watching as he dances happily to the music. He sees her but doesn't stop, catching her eye and winking as he extravagantly dips an invisible partner, twirling and stepping until he's close enough for her to touch. She takes his hand and they dance together, awkwardly, as though missing an integral part of the rhythm.

She's moving with him, but she's tired, almost half-asleep; the music is lovely and reminds her all the more viscerally of wartime London, and then she's crying harder than she's cried in her life, only silently, so the tears drip to the floor in time with the dance.

*

This is day twenty-one.

"We could go," Rose says suddenly. They are watching the Doctor recede over the sand flats, his stride becoming less decisive the farther he walks.

Jack turns round to look at the console, and Rose follows his gaze. They've seen him do it a dozen times, both of them; the levers he pulls and buttons he presses and the way the central column ought to rise and fall. They could do it.

Jack is still looking at it. "Without him?"

It's not as though they haven't tried talking to him, waylaying him, threatening him, crying over him; it's not as if they haven't tried. But he evades them effortlessly, letting the ship hide him as she wants, and it was days before they even realised he was coming back at night. Now the most they see of him is a passing glance, as he comes and goes on the strange quest only he understands.

Jack suddenly grins broadly. "You're kidding."

"Yeah," she says, quickly. "Yeah, course I am."

*

This is day twenty-four.

"Christ!" Jack kicks the console, his eyes darkened. "Jesus fucking Christ! What does he want? Who's he looking for?"

Rose stares at him. "I don't know. I don't know!"

"I'm going after him." Jack is moving as he says it; it is the work of a moment for him to push the door open and run out across the sand.

"Don't leave me," says Rose, too softly to be heard, and then resigns herself to it. Rolling up her jeans, she starts out in pursuit.

After a moment she begins to realise how much of a French farce it has become; they are the only three living beings aside from the birds for miles, and the Doctor can hardly fail to hear the two sets of flapping footsteps following his. But he doesn't turn, and strangely, neither does Jack. Rose follows. It's what she does.

She knows she is going to be left behind; perhaps in response to his tails, the Doctor has set a particularly fast pace and even Jack is struggling to keep up. Undaunted for the moment, Rose goes on, reasoning that she can't lose them as long they leave their heavy footprints in the sand. She walks comfortably, letting them get closer and closer to the horizon. Seagulls wheel and call, sometimes diving close enough for her to see their small, cruel eyes.

When the Doctor's footprints begin to cross Jack's, Rose runs. She runs for longer than she thought she could, even with all her practice running from the enemy, and when she comes to a stop, her breathing is ragged and uneven. Her companions are about ten metres away, the towers of the ruined city rising behind them.

Neither Jack or the Doctor seems to realise she is there at all. The Doctor has stopped walking, facing away from her, and Jack is advancing on him, his face oddly calm. "Doctor," he says.

The Doctor turns, and Jack hits him. It's clear he wasn't expecting it; he lurches to one side and falls to his knees.

Jack moves forwards. "No!" shouts Rose, but her voice seems to drift away on the breeze from the water and Jack has forced the Doctor down, flat on his back on the sand. Jack is sitting on him, staring down at him, and it would be funny if it wasn't all so horrible.

"Doctor," says Jack again, clearly so Rose can hear. "I don't know who she was. I don't even pretend to know. Your wife, your daughter, your lover, someone you fucked once and left hanging, I don't know. But one thing I do know: she's not here. She's not here. No-one's here. This is nowhere, do you understand? You – we – can't stay here forever looking for something that isn't here any more."

The Doctor has not tried to throw Jack off. He is lying back, his fingers curled into loose claws, and his eyes have closed.

"You're right," he says in shaking, low tones, and Rose wants to cry again. "This isn't the place."
He opens his eyes then, and Rose forgets about ever thinking he could pass for human. The Time Lord known as the Doctor looks straight up at the sky, and everything changes.

*

This is day one.

The TARDIS materialises in a flurry of displaced sand on the embankment, and the breeze picks up as they open the outside door. The Doctor is impatient but cheerful, tapping his feet as Rose darts back to get a scarf, and then she's back, Jack closes and locks the door and they set out, away from the river.

They are in the city of New London, the Doctor tells them as they walk, in the mid-twenty-second century. To Rose's eyes, it seems too small compared with the city she was born in, with a lower skyline and too few people. But the streets are broad and tree-lined, everywhere she looks there is greenery, even children playing, and the air is clean. She could live here, she decides. More than that, she likes the idea of her family and her friends growing old among this beauty.

They pass a building with strange scarring on the walls, as though the bricks themselves were once melted and fused, and the Doctor stops and runs his finger across it. "Daleks," he says, and Rose nods; Jack glances from one to the other and decides not to say anything. Whenever they came, it was a long time ago.

They walk onwards, towards the city's centre down the long straight road, but before they can quite reach the end, the Doctor takes them off on a side-road, a hidden turning that leads somewhere more residential. Rose frowns to herself. It seems this is not just a simple excursion; the Doctor is heading somewhere in particular. He mutters to himself, something about galactic coordinates and the infallibility of the TARDIS, and she looks up to exchange smiles with Jack. They both know the Doctor will tell them when he's good and ready and not before.

Finally, he stops in the middle of the road, looks around him, walks in a circle twice, and then settles on a direction, motioning for them to follow. "Come on, you two." And he's led them to an ordinary house in an ordinary street, and while Rose knows they are in the twenty-second century, in her future, it seems strangely irrelevant.
The Doctor rings the doorbell. While they are waiting for it to be answered, Jack joins Rose in looking around them at the quiet garden with its gently swaying flowers. "Old girlfriend, Doctor?" he asks.

"Not quite." The Doctor grins at him, and the door opens.

A woman stands there, about Rose's height, with large, dark eyes and wearing an apron. Something about the way she stands reminds Rose of someone. When she speaks, her voice is melodic with a clear British accent. "Can I help you?"

"Susan," says the Doctor softly. "Susan Campbell. It is Campbell, isn't it?"

"Yes..." She takes a step back. "Do I know you?"

"Yes, my dear, you do." The Doctor is not smiling; Rose would say he looked scared, if he ever looked scared.

She stops, and then reaches out, her hand moving swiftly to cup the Doctor's cheek. He submits to the touch, and Rose thinks perhaps Jack's guess wasn't that far off, after all.

The moment stretches out. "I said I'd come back," says the Doctor, suddenly.

"Yes," she agrees. "You did. And it is really you, isn't it?"

Rose sees the tenderness of the touch, as the woman – Susan – takes the Doctor's hand, but she can't understand it, won't understand it, until she hears Susan say, naturally, "Grandfather?"

Rose laughs, suddenly. "You have a family," she accuses the Doctor, giggling. "Your secret – your big secret! – is that you have a family!"

She is still smiling as she notices children's toys strewn around the garden, the small footprints in the flowerbeds. She wonders what will happen when Jack tries to flirt with this particular alien woman, if the Doctor will try to kill him. She almost hopes to find out.

"Come in," says Susan at last. She moves, and Rose realises it's the Doctor whom Susan reminds her of; something about that stance, that air of being able to cope with absolutely everything the universe throws at her. "Come and meet my family."

Jack and Rose go in; the Doctor lingers a moment to stay as close to Susan as he can. Before he steps inside, he looks up at the sky, clear and blue and new.

In the darkness, the black edges at the fringes of reality, the Reapers are ready and waiting.