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Interlude

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An attic is a fixed space, with boxes and creaking floorboards, sloping ceilings and large skylight windows close to the sky, where sunlight swirls through dust, and through memory. The Doctor had been travelling through time and space for five hundred years before he found the TARDIS attic.

"Why?" Rose asks, her face strangely illuminated by the flickering gas ring.

"It's in my blood," he says, smiling to himself.

"I didn't mean why were you travelling, I meant why you didn't find the attic."

"So did I," he says, and takes a sip of cocoa. It's the middle of the night, or, at least, the artificial ship's night that keeps humans on an even keel when drifting through the vortex. It's touching, he thinks privately, that such a small thing, an electric cycle of lights growing brighter and darker can keep their little human minds held together. Almost like sleeping with a stuffed animal, it calms them. It calms him too, although he doesn't like to think about that. In truth, the TARDIS is a place without time or shape on the face of the void.

Rose finishes stirring her own mug, and moves to turn off the gas, but he reaches out one hand to stay hers. He likes the gleams and reflections it casts, blue flames that render the room alive with low-level light, flickering below perception. She doesn't understand, but she doesn't switch it off. "Doctor," she says, a little peevishly, "how can an attic be in your blood?"

Quite easily, he thinks. It's no less likely than an attic in a dimensionally transcendent ship with no levels or storeys to speak of. "It's hard to explain," he says slowly.

"So, if I wanted a muffin tin," Rose begins, and grins. She does want a muffin tin, ever since the Doctor mentioned, in passing, the joys of muffins with hot cocoa in the middle of the artificial night when neither of them can sleep. The blue-flame light is visible through closed lids, and he thinks about the symbolism inherent in that; he doesn't need sleep and he doesn't need night, all things are alike to him.

"The TARDIS does probably have one, yes," the Doctor agrees. "Although I'm not entirely sure how you use them. I've never had English muffins outside of America. Why's that, I wonder?"

"Doctor," Rose persists. "If the TARDIS attic is in your blood, then how do we get a muffin tin out of it?"

"With great difficulty," he says, and wonders why the banter is coming slowly to him. There's a joke here about giant syringes and mad scientists, but he can't reach for it. The room is unsettling and too dark, but he thinks he prefers the darkness in front of his eyes to that behind. There are places all around the universe he's been, and places all round inside his head he hasn't. He doesn't open his mouth to say this to Rose.

He looks up, and the dim, white-tiled kitchen has disappeared. He's standing in what looks like Kew Gardens mixed with the forests of Arcadia mixed with the willowherb fields of southern Gallifrey. He realises too late that it's not willowherb, that he can't remember the Gallifreyan word; his mind has replaced it with a flower that won't evolve for a million years, a million light years from here.

"Grandfather," says a voice. "Grandfather." After a moment, with a certain peevishness, "Doctor."

He looks up finally, gaze shifting from the clumps of pink and green to meet a girl sitting on a broken stone wall. She's seventeen. Somewhere out there she regenerates thirteen times, destroyed by ripping timelines after her grandfather saves the universe, but here, now, she's how she always was, a remembered sylph, the first girl whose life he ruined.

"This isn't the TARDIS attic," she states. "It's not dusty enough. Too much grass."

"It'll do," he replies mildly.

She glances at him with sun reflected in her eyes. "You've forgotten, haven't you," she says, and it isn't a question.

"What?" he asks. He can feel her brushing against his mind, a strange, familiar, comforting touch. "Where is this place?"

"Where I grew up." She smiles. "Where you grew up. You've forgotten."

He wants to tell her that he hasn't forgotten, that she and they and this, this garden beneath a bright sky with the flowers such vivid splashes of colour across his vision, they are all a part of him, the buzz you don't notice until the lights are turned off, the sound of spray you don't hear miles inland. But he can't tell her that because she's right there, so close, right inside his head where he never wanted her to be. She was going to grow up away from him, he remembers angrily, hearing the old man's crackle and vinegar inside himself. She was going to rebuild Earth and live happily ever after, she wasn't supposed to become like him.

She stares mildly at him, then turns so she's facing out of the garden at the rolling landscape. He feels pain when she moves. He was born a Time Lord, and he died with them, their minds rolling to nothingness. He was dead when the silence entered his head, became flint chips behind his reflection's eyes, and now he feels one touch, one mind, and the loss hurts too much to breathe.

"I need to tell you something," she says suddenly.

"What is it, Susan?" – and there's a comfort in her name, the name he gave her, a Terran name that sits alongside her Gallifreyan finery. He wants to smile for a minute, at his girl with her pretty face and bright eyes, so quick, so clever. So sharp she'd cut herself, he used to say, but her mind drew his blood, too.

She ponders, swinging her legs. "You were young once."

The Doctor laughs, looking up at the sky and around at the greenery. He notes a hill in the distance, remembering K'anpo Rinpoche, he looks at the house, the high attic window, the casement opening out to the dawn. "Yes," he says. "Yes, I was. A long, long time ago."

"So was I." Leaping lightly down from the wall, she walks across and presses something in his hand. "Do you remember this?"

He looks at a piece of cheap, faux silver jewellery, a heart pendant on a chain. "No."

"I didn't think you would. I want you to have it."

"Why?"

"I don't need it any more." She grins impishly, swinging her legs again. "I'd be long married, with children and a life of my own. I was happy. I don't exist, so I never died. You did the right thing."

In the sunlight, the Doctor wants to destroy it all, the universe of people and sentience that makes this the right thing to do. He wants to shout and scream and pick her up, force her into reality though the tears in his own heart and soul, have her live though nothing else will.

He says: "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She stands up. "Time for you to go, Doctor. Your cocoa's getting cold. Don't come back again for a while, will you?"

"I won't," he says. "I have, I have a friend. On the outside. Not a Time Lord."

"A human." She smiles. "I'm inside your head and this is all a dream, if you like. Go back."

"I will." Awkwardly, he puts an arm around her shoulder and kisses her forehead. She doesn't pull away.

"Goodbye, Doctor," she says, quietly, and then she's gone without fanfare. The garden is empty except for the flowers.

He knows it's not a dream, so he goes to sleep in it. He lies down on the grass and basks in the sunshine, pulling off his Chucks and sitting them like incongruous white sentinels at the base of the garden wall. The intensity of the light makes livid red streaks behind his closed eyelids. After a while the warmth carries him off, takes him away from the house he was born in, takes him home.

"Doctor?" Rose is staring at him in mild surprise. "You fell asleep on the kitchen table!"

"Why didn't you wake me up?" he asks sleepily. He realises his voice doesn't have the Estuary accent, and wonders why.

"You looked comfortable." She grins and passes him a mug. "Drink up, it'll do you good."

He doesn't argue and takes the mug from her. Something clinks against the ceramic, and he stares at his right hand. A thin chain is threaded firmly between his fingers, and as he turns his hand over, the silver heart drops into his palm.

"What's that?" Rose asks curiously.

"Found it in the attic," he says slowly. "I was given it. So was she."

"Who? What?" Rose is beginning to sound exasperated, putting her head on one side so she can stare at him harder.

He laughs, wryly. "Her name was Susan. She travelled with me a long, long time ago."

"Oh," Rose says, very simply. She has turned off the gas and turned on the ordinary electric lights, shining soft yellow on her face and eyes.

The Doctor doesn't say anything. He stands up and paces up and down, noting without surprise that he's barefoot. After a moment he opens one of the kitchen cupboards and pulls down a large, heavy metal object with two rows of circular indentations.

"Why don't you mix up some batter?" he says, without looking at Rose. She ignores him, her eyes fixed on the object in his palm.

"Is it silver?" she asks, reaching for it. The Doctor doesn't let it go.

"No," he says, peering down. "Probably got for sixpence off a market stall. It should have tarnished into nothing centuries ago."

"Why didn't it?"

"The gift of a Time Lord." He peers down at it, trying, trying so hard to remember. "A little cheap thing made to float on the seas of time, because she had it, because she loved it. She wore it against her heart and now it's going to last forever."

He's pacing properly now, his feet making no sound on the tiled floor. "Doctor," Rose says nervously. "She was a Time Lord? But that means there might be… I mean, you might not be the last…"

He shakes his head. "No, Rose," – and it's said so gently that it doesn't come out as flat contradiction. Only in his head does he feel the weight of it, the finality. "She's a memory now. Do we need eggs, or something? I don't remember ever doing this before."

"Neither have I," says Rose doubtfully; there's a wariness in her eyes that isn't quite dispelled by a quick rummage in the fridge. "We have eggs, if we need them."

The Doctor sits and watches as she cracks them into a bowl. "That's the funny thing about memories," he murmurs, and throws the little cheap trinket onto the table. He brings her forth in his mind; a girl younger than Rose is now, a girl who wanted to belong, who would have cheerfully thrown eggs around the kitchen without a scrap of notice from him.

"Here," he says. "Let me help you."

"Do you know how to do it?" Rose demands, staring up at him through a haze of flour.

"No." He laughs, suddenly. "I'll help and we'll learn together."

Not the way you had to learn – and the chain is cool against his fingers, slipping through away from him into space – for a brief moment, suspended – and then into a jacket pocket, next to his heart where she used to be.