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New Beginnings

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Rose and the Doctor had actually managed to go a whole three weeks without any prison cells or running for their lives. Rose was pretty sure that was a new record. After their ordeal with the Master, and then the Titanic straight after, the Doctor had been taking extra care in where he landed the TARDIS, if he landed the TARDIS at all, that is. It hadn’t been an often occurrence of late. The Doctor had preferred to keep them drifting in the vortex.

Rose hadn’t minded the alone time… at first. It had been nice to be in a place where she felt totally safe. Having her mind controlled by the Master for over a year had left her drained and more than a little jumpy. Plus, her and the Doctor had just started their relationship and it was good to be able to get used to that without the interference of others.

Not that there had been much difference to get used to in the first place. Their relationship had stayed pretty much the same as it always had been, just with a few extra stolen kisses and a slightly more awkward Doctor. Rose supposed this was a little bit out his comfort zone.

But as much as the downtime had been refreshing and very much needed, Rose had started to get a little bored. She had first started travelling with the Doctor for the adventure, and she missed it. Three weeks with barely any landfall was a bit much.

So she had asked the Doctor if they could start to get back to their normal life, proper travel, adventure, saving the world, et cetera. At first he had been against it, unsure if they were ready, but eventually she wore him down enough to agree to a small adventure.

A small adventure suited Rose just fine. She wanted to get back into the swing of things but she didn’t want to dive headfirst into it. She had only just stopped having nightmares of everything she had done as the Master’s wife, and she didn’t really want them to return.

And that’s the story of how Rose Tyler had found herself spending the whole day stuck in a cupboard, staring at a computer system that she had no hope of understanding.

The “small adventure” that the Doctor had found for them had been a simple investigation job. Adipose Industries was a new company that made diet pills that had a success rating too high to be believable. But that wasn’t what had attracted the Doctor to the case. The thing that caught the Doctor’s attention was the odd signals that the TARDIS was picking up. All of which seemed to converge at Adipose Industries Head Office in London.

So, with a little help from the psychic paper, they had gotten into the building, done a bit of snooping around, and had found the computer that Rose was now staring at.

Truth be told, the Doctor had done much of the investigating by himself. When they had first gotten into the building they had seen someone point to Rose and whisper to her friend ‘Is that Rose Saxon?’ and after that, Rose had decided it was best if she lay low to maintain their cover… and maybe a bit because hearing that name again had spooked her a little. But she was trying not to focus on that. She wanted to move on.

‘In here,’ she heard the Doctor say from just outside the door. Who was he talking to? And what had taken him so long anyway? He had only gone for a quick recon mission to see if he could find something else out about what Miss Foster, the woman behind Adipose Industries, was hiding.

‘In a cupboard?’ replied a familiar voice. Rose couldn’t quite pick it but she was sure she had heard it before. Whoever it was sounded like she was a mixture of surprised, angry, slightly out of breath… and loving every minute of it.

The cupboard door opened and the Doctor squished himself inside, closely followed by a red-haired woman.

‘Donna?’ asked Rose, surprised. ‘What are you doing here?’

Donna Noble smiled back at her. ‘Looking for you,’ she said and she shoved past the Doctor to give Rose a hug. Then she quickly pulled away and gave Rose’s arm a light whack. ‘Oi! What’s up with you marrying a crazy politician?’

The smile that had appeared on Rose’s face at Donna’s hug vanished. ‘It’s… uh… complicated.’

Thankfully Donna seemed to sense Rose’s distress and changed the subject. ‘So, great big hidden computer thing,’ she said, gesturing towards the computer system behind Rose, ‘what’s that all about?’

‘I've been hacking into it all day,’ said the Doctor, putting on his glasses, ‘because the matron's got a computer core running through the centre of the building. Triple deadlocked. But now I've got this,’ he held up a small pen-like device, ‘I can get into it.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Rose, pointing to the device.

‘Sonic pen.’

She probably should have guessed that.

‘Nicked it off Miss Foster,’ explained the Doctor before focusing his attention on the computer in front of them. ‘She's wired up the whole building. We need a bit of privacy.’ He grabbed two wires and held them together. Bolts of electricity sparked from the ends of each wire and met between them. Rose figured he must be giving them some sort of force field or shielding. ‘Just enough to stop them. Why's she wired up the tower block? What's it all for?’

‘Did you find anything else out?’ asked Rose while the Doctor fiddled with the computer.

‘The diet pills are turning people’s fat into aliens,’ said Donna. She sounded like she wasn’t sure if she believed it or not.

Rose nodded. She probably should have guessed that one as well.

‘You two seem different,’ said Donna, looking at Rose in concern. 'Doesn't seem like you to be hiding in a cupboard.'

‘A lot’s changed,’ said Rose, toying with the hem of her shirt nervously. Since when did Donna become so observant?

‘I wish I could say the same.’

‘I thought you were going to travel the world?’ said the Doctor, still playing with the wires and the sonic pen.

‘Easier said than done,’ said Donna. ‘It's like I had that one day with you, and I was going to change. I was going to do so much. Then I woke up the next morning, same old life. It's like you were never there. And I tried. I did try. I went to Egypt. I was going to go barefoot and everything. And then it's all bus trips and guidebooks and don't drink the water, and two weeks later you're back home. It's nothing like being with you. I must have been mad turning down that offer.’

‘What offer?’

‘To come with you.’

‘Come with us?’ asked the Doctor. His tone was confused, as if asking for clarification, but Donna didn’t seem to notice.

‘Oh yes, please,’ she said with a smile. Rose couldn’t help but smile a bit too.

‘Inducer activated,’ said the electronic voice of the computer, distracting them.

‘What's it doing now?’ asked Donna.

‘She's started the program,’ said the Doctor with a new sense of panic. He quickly returned to fiddling with the computer. ‘So far they're just losing weight, but the Matron's gone up to emergency pathogenesis.’

‘What’s emergency pathogenesis?’ asked Rose.

‘Is that when they convert?’ Donna asked and the Doctor nodded.

‘Skeletons, organs, everything. A million people are going to die. Got to cancel the signal.’ He pulled out a small necklace with a pendant on it. ‘This contains a primary signal,’ he explained as he pulled the pendant apart. ‘If I can switch it off, the fat goes back to being just fat.’

He attached part of the pendant to the computer (or inducer or whatever the hell it was) and for a moment, it looked like it had worked. But the moment was short-lived.

Inducer increasing.

‘No, no, no, no, no,’ cried the Doctor, stepping back. ‘She's doubled it. I need… Haven't got time. It's too far. I can't override it. They're all going to die!’

‘Is there anything we can do?’ asked Donna.

‘Sorry, Donna, this is way beyond you. Got to double the base pulse, I can't.’

‘There must be something!’ cried Rose as the Doctor started to flick random switches.

‘I need a second capsule to boost the override, but I've only got the one. I can't save them!’

Out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw Donna pull something out of her pocket. It was a pendent just like the one the Doctor had pulled apart moments earlier. It only took a couple of seconds for the Doctor to notice it too and his face broke into a wide grin as Donna held it up in front of him, a well deserved smug look in her eyes.

The Doctor quickly took the second pendant apart and attached it to the inducer and it immediately powered down.

‘Well done, you,’ said Rose, giving Donna a quick half-hug.

The Doctor’s smile disappeared, replaced by a look of mock offense. ‘What about me?’ he said.

Rose laughed and wound her arms around his neck. ‘You were pretty good too,’ she said before she gave him a hug as well.

She was just about to pull away from him when a loud noise from above made her jump. The Doctor held her a little tighter as they both looked up towards the ceiling.

‘What the hell was that?’ asked Donna, also looking upwards. She looked back down to face the Doctor. ‘When you say nursery you don't mean a crèche in Notting Hill.’

‘Nursery ship,’ said the Doctor.

‘Nursery?’ asked Rose, confused, but she didn’t get an answer. The computer beside them had powered up again. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be resuming its previous task.

Incoming signal.

‘Instructions from the Adiposian First Family,’ said the Doctor, letting Rose go and staring at the inducer. There was a pause as he concentrated on the machine. ‘She's wired up the tower block to convert it into a levitation post.’ He made an intrigued sort of noise and Rose and Donna glanced at each other quizzically. ‘Oh. We're not the ones in trouble now. She is!’

He rushed out of the cupboard and Rose and Donna had no choice but to follow him.

‘Doctor, what’s happened? Where are we going?’ asked Rose as she caught up to him.

‘The roof,’ he said. ‘Miss Foster’s in for a bit of a surprise.’

----

By the time they reached the roof, Rose was a bit out of breath. She hadn’t realised how unfit she had become without having to run for her life every other day. The Doctor didn’t seem to have this problem. He took off his glasses and looked out at the sight before them. Thousands of small white creatures where floating up into a massive spaceship in the sky. Blue lights surrounded them. Rose assumed that they must have been some kind of levitation beams. The Doctor had mentioned the tower being a levitation post.

She looked back up at the ship. Rose had seen a lot of spaceships in her time, but never had she seen one quite like this. It was sort of like a great big flashy spinning top dangling in the sky. It was like something straight put of a cheesy sci-fi flick.

‘What you going to do then? Blow them up?’ asked Donna.

‘They're just children,’ said the Doctor. ‘They can't help where they come from.’

‘Oh, that makes a change from last time.’ She turned to Rose. ‘You must be doing him some good.’

The Doctor smiled at Rose. ‘Definitely,’ he agreed.

Rose couldn’t help but blush from the honesty in his gaze. She smiled back at him for a moment before turning to look back at the creatures floating past. One of them looked down at them and waved. Rose waved back at it and was relieved to see that the Doctor and Donna were doing the same.

‘I'm waving at fat,’ said Donna in a not-quite-believing tone.

‘Actually, as a diet plan, it sort of works,’ said the Doctor.

The last of the creatures were pulled into the ship and Miss Foster appeared beside the rooftop. She was being suspended in the air by the same levitation beam from the Adipose ship.

‘There she is!’ said the Doctor, rushing to the edge of the roof. 'Matron Cofelia, listen to me.’

‘Oh, I don't think so, Doctor,’ said Miss Foster. She was no longer being pulled upwards, instead just floating in the sky in front of them. ‘And if I never see you again, it'll be too soon.’

‘Oh, why does no one ever listen,’ said the Doctor in frustration. ‘I'm trying to help. Just get across to the roof. Can you shift the levitation beam?’

‘What, so that you can arrest me?’

‘Just listen to him,’ pleaded Rose. ‘He’s trying to save you!’

Miss Foster scoffed.

‘I saw the Adiposian instructions,’ explained the Doctor, holding out his hand to her, hoping she would take it. ‘They know it's a crime, breeding on Earth. So what's the one thing they want to get rid of? Their accomplice.’

Miss Foster was either too proud or too stupid to take him seriously. ‘I'm far more than that. I'm nanny,’ she held her arms out wide, ‘to all these children.’

‘Exactly! Mum and Dad have got the kids now. They don't need the nanny anymore.’

Miss Foster didn’t have time to take in the Doctor’s words. The blue light surrounding her disappeared and, for a moment, she just hung there, suspended in the sky, a look of terror on her face. Then, with a piercing scream, she fell towards the pavement below.

Donna hid her face in the Doctor’s shoulder and Rose closed her eyes in defeat. Miss Foster deserved to be punished for the crimes she had committed, but not like that.

Why didn’t she listen?

----

The walk out of the building was a quiet one. No one seemed to know what to say.

The spaceship had gone, taking all the creatures with it, and the people of Earth had been saved yet again… but Rose didn’t feel victorious. Seeing Miss Foster fall to her death had given her a shock that she wasn’t quite prepared for.

When they made it outside, they saw that the police had arrived and had started to cordon off the area. Rose was worried they might want to ask them questions that they would never believe the answer to but, thankfully, no one seemed to paying them any attention.

Almost no one.

‘Oi, you two!’ came a voice from behind them and they turned to see a woman running towards them. Well, running as best as she could considering she was tied to a chair. She was glaring daggers at the Doctor and Donna, who didn’t seem at all surprised by the turn of events. Just what did Rose miss when she was hidden away in that cupboard?

‘You're just mad,’ continued the woman. ‘Do you hear me? Mad! And I'm going to report you for madness.’

She trotted off, leaving Rose with a million questions that she would no doubt have to ask the Doctor about later.

‘You see, some people just can't take it,’ said Donna, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

‘No,’ agreed the Doctor.

‘And some people can.’ Donna grinned widely. ‘So, then, TARDIS! Come on!’ She grabbed the Doctor’s arm and yanked him away from the building. Rose couldn’t help but chuckle as she followed.

‘Which way?’ asked Donna, releasing the Doctor. He flexed his fingers as if to relieve the pain that Rose was sure didn’t exist.

‘Don’t be so dramatic,’ she teased, taking the hand in hers. ‘This way,’ she said to Donna and she led the way down the street.

Suddenly the Doctor stopped and Rose was pulled to a halt. ‘I almost forgot,’ he said, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. He pulled out Miss Foster’s sonic pen and handed it out to Rose. ‘You’ve been saying for ages that you wanted one.’

Rose didn’t take the offered pen. ‘I said I wanted a screwdriver.’

‘Close enough.’

‘No, it’s not.’

The Doctor looked a little hurt and Rose realised that she may have snapped a little, unintentionally releasing some of her pent up anger about not being able to save Miss Foster.

She knew she shouldn’t feel guilty about what happened on the roof, Miss Foster wasn’t exactly one of the “good guys”, but it just reminded her of all the other people she had watched die recently, while she stood on high, looking down at them.

So yes, she was a bit angry, but at herself, not the Doctor. He didn’t deserve to be snapped at when he was trying to give her an admittedly not well thought out gift.

‘I appreciate the offer, Doctor,’ she said, more gently this time, ‘but I want a sonic screwdriver of my own, not a pen stolen from a bitchy nanny who tried to kill you.’

‘I’ll take it,’ said Donna. Moving too quickly for the Doctor to react, she snatched the pen out of his hand. She threw it in the air a couple of times before holding it up to her face and peering at it intently.

‘Yeah, you’re right,’ she said. ‘It’s rubbish, innit?’ She winked at Rose and then chucked the sonic pen over her shoulder.

Rose let out a chuckle. She knew it was still a bit soon after everything for them to take on another companion, but she was starting to think that she would enjoy having Donna around.

She looked up at the Doctor, checking to see if he had forgiven her for snapping at him. Judging by the small reassuring squeeze of her hand, he had.

‘Come on, let’s go home.’

----

It wasn't long before they had reached the alley that housed the TARDIS. But the time-ship was not the only thing parked there.

‘That's my car!’ said Donna, excitedly pointing to the blue hatchback. ‘Oh, that is like destiny.’ She ran to the back of the car and unlocked it. The boot was full of boxes and suitcases. ‘And I’ve been ready for this. I packed ages ago, just in case. Because I thought, hot weather, cold weather, no weather. They go anywhere. I've gotta be prepared.’

Donna began to pile her luggage into the Doctor’s arms.

‘And you certainly are,’ said Rose.

The Doctor glanced at her, worriedly. He wasn’t sure if this would be the best idea. The whole reason he had chosen this adventure as their first step back into their normal life was because it was supposed to be relatively easy on Rose. After everything she had been through, she needed to be careful she didn’t over-do it. And having another person on board certainly seemed like a step in the wrong direction.

Looking back on the past 48 hours, he supposed it hadn’t been too bad. Rose had not been in any immediate danger and there had been no real running for their lives (well, not for Rose at least), but that didn’t stop the Doctor from worrying that it had still been too much. Rose had still been jumpy, and she had still had to witness death, which was something the Doctor was avidly trying to avoid. Plus she had been reminded of her un-consented marriage to the Master. Twice.

And yet, she was smiling.

The Doctor once again marveled at how easily Rose Tyler could adjust to this lifestyle. Sure, she still had a long way to go before she would fully recover from what had happened with the Master, but maybe getting back into their usual life wouldn’t be too bad for her after all.

But he still wasn’t sure if she was ready to have Donna join them, as much as he knew she liked the fiery redhead.

The woman in question placed a box on top of the other luggage that was already piled high in the Doctor’s arms. ‘You've got a hatbox,’ he said.

‘Planet of the Hats, I'm ready,’ said Donna excitedly. ‘I don't need injections, do I? You know, like when you go to Cambodia. Is there any of that? Because my friend Veena went to Bahrain, and she... You're not saying much.’

It seemed that the Doctor hadn’t been masking his anxieties as well as he had thought he had been. He put the boxes down so he could talk to Donna properly. She deserved the truth.

‘No, it's just. It's a funny old life, in the TARDIS,’ he began.

‘You don't want me,’ said Donna. She sounded crushed.

‘I'm not saying that,’ said the Doctor, ‘It’s just that, me and Rose, we’ve been through a lot recently. A lot has changed.’

‘I won’t be the third wheel.’

‘It’s not that… hold on, how did you know we were like that?’

Donna rolled her eyes. ‘It’s obvious. And probably long overdue, judging by the way you two were acting the last time I saw you.’

‘Anyway,’ said the Doctor, not wanting to go into the topic, ‘as I said, it’s not that…’

The Doctor trailed off, not knowing how to begin. Rose saved him the trouble. ‘You mentioned me being married to Harold Saxon,’ she said. ‘Well, that wasn’t exactly by choice.’ Donna looked confused but didn’t interrupt. ‘And during that time, I saw… horrible things – we both did - and it was only a few weeks ago for us.’

The Doctor moved over to her and took her hand in his, although whether it was to comfort her or himself, he wasn't quite sure.

Donna nodded understandingly. ‘You need time.’

‘No,’ said Rose, causing both Donna and the Doctor to stare at her in confusion. ‘Quite the opposite really,’ she continued and the Doctor sensed that, even though she was looking at Donna, she was talking more to him. ‘I want to move on. I don’t just want to sit around and wallow in self-pity. I have to do something.’

‘Rose, are you sure?’ asked the Doctor.

Finally, she turned to face him and he could see it in her eyes. She was sure.

But then the look faded and was replaced by uncertainty. ‘Are you?’ she asked him in return.

The Doctor looked between the two women, each of them looking at him with hope in their eyes. How could he say no? Besides, he liked Donna. Maybe having her around would help both of them.

He smiled. ‘Yeah,’ he said and Donna’s hopeful look transformed into a happy grin. ‘I’d love it.’

‘So I can come?’ asked Donna.

‘Yeah,’ laughed Rose and she stepped forward to hug their new friend. A hug that was enthusiastically accepted.

Donna was about to give the Doctor a hug as well when she suddenly stopped. ‘Car keys.’

‘What?’ he asked, a little disappointed that he wasn’t getting the same attention as Rose had.

‘I've still got my mum's car keys,’ said Donna, pulling out the afformentioned keys from her pocket. ‘I won't be a minute.’

Donna ran back down the alley with the keys. What she was going to do with them, the Doctor had no idea but he supposed she would think of something. He waited for her to be out of sight before he turned to face Rose. ‘Really, though? You don’t think it will be too much?’ he asked.

Rose shook her head. ‘I meant what I said about moving on. I just want to put that whole year behind us. A fresh start.’

‘A fresh start,’ agreed the Doctor, moving his arms around Rose’s waist. She instantly put her hands on his shoulders and leant up to place her lips on his in a chaste kiss.

He still wasn’t used to this – this being in relationship thing - but looking down at Rose now, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Rose smiled back at him for a minute before looking down at the luggage at their feet. ‘I guess we should start lugging all this into the TARDIS.’

----

A crowd had gathered on the road in front of Adipose Industries. Some people were looking to the sky where, not long ago, an alien spaceship had been. Others were staring at the spot on the ground where a woman had fallen to her death - although, the police had done a decent job of blocking that view from prying eyes. But there was one man who wasn’t looking at either. He was looking at the other people in the crowd, searching for two in particular.

There had just been a great big alien-related spectacle that originated at this building, and usually that meant that somewhere nearby there would be a blue wooden box.

However, it seemed that the man was too late. The Doctor and Rose Tyler weren’t amongst the crowd and probably had already retreated to said blue box and had set off to some other time – some other place. Probably somewhere just as dangerous.

The man took one last glance at the scene in front of him, sighing in defeat. He turned back around just as a red-head woman - who looked far too happy considering there was a dead woman not ten feet away from them – ran up to him.

‘Listen,’ she said to him, ‘there is this woman that's going to come along. A tall blonde woman called Sylvia. Tell her that bin there, all right?’ She pointed to a bin behind her. ‘It'll all make sense. That bin there.’

And with that, the woman ran off.

He considered going and looking in the bin to find out what was so special about it, but he knew he didn’t have time. The Sylvia lady that the woman had mentioned would just have to figure it out without him. After one last glance at Adipose Industries, Mickey Smith walked away and faded out of his home universe and back into the one that had once been dubbed “Pete’s World”. Maybe next time he would get the timing right. Maybe next time he could warn the Doctor and Rose about the stars going out.

Chapter Text

After a slight detour to see Donna’s grandfather (well, not see as much, more wave blindly out the TARDIS door from the sky above him), the Doctor had proclaimed that he knew just the place to take Donna for her first trip. But it was a surprise apparently, so Rose had shown Donna to her new room and had helped with her luggage.

‘You really didn’t need to bring so much, you know,’ said Rose as her and Donna carried the last two bags into the room. ‘The TARDIS does have her own wardrobe.’

‘Now you tell me,’ said Donna with a teasing twinkle in her eye. ‘I think I’d prefer my own clothes anyway. Thanks for helping.’

‘No problem. Do you want a tour of the TARDIS? Well, as much of a tour as possible. She does like to move the rooms about every now and then.’

‘A time-ship that moves its rooms around,’ squealed Donna excitedly. ‘Oh, this is mad!’

Rose laughed. ‘Only gets madder. How about we skip the tour for now. Get changed, freshen up, and then we can see where the Doctor intends to take us… and then we can find out where he actually takes us.’

----

‘Ancient Rome,’ shouted the Doctor as he threw back the curtain that he had landed the TARDIS behind. Rose and Donna followed him out onto the street and took in their surroundings. It certainly did look like Ancient Rome, thought Rose, or at least Rome-ish, judging by the designs of the buildings and the clothes of the people in the market place that they had landed in.

‘Well, not for them, obviously,’ continued the Doctor. ‘To all intents and purposes, right now, this is brand new Rome.’

‘Oh, my God. it's… it's so Roman,’ gasped Donna, now even more bright-eyed after her shower and change of clothes. ‘This is fantastic.’ She launched herself at the Doctor and wrapped her arms around him. He happily returned the hug. ‘I'm here, in Rome. Donna Noble in Rome. This is just weird. I mean, everyone here's dead.’

‘Well, don't tell them that,’ said the Doctor.

Suddenly Donna stopped and her smile fell into a scowl. ‘Hold on a minute. That sign over there's in English. Are you having me on? Are we in Epcot?’

‘No, no, no, no. That's the TARDIS translation circuits,’ explained the Doctor. ‘Just makes it look like English. Speech as well. You're talking Latin right now.’

Donna looked between the Doctor and Rose. ‘Seriously?’

‘Yep,’ said Rose and Donna’s smile returned.

‘I just said seriously in Latin,’ she laughed.

‘Oh, yeah,’ said the Doctor. At the sight of his smile, Rose knew that bringing Donna along had been the right idea. It had been too long since they had gone out and had proper fun.

‘What if I said something in actual Latin?’ asked Donna. ‘Like veni, vidi, vici? My dad said that when he came back from football. If I said veni, vidi, vici to that lot, what would it sound like?’

Rose was caught off guard with that question. She had honestly never thought of that. Though, to be fair, she didn’t really know any languages other than English.

It seemed the Doctor had never really thought about it either. ‘I'm not sure,’ he said. ‘You have to think of difficult questions, don't you?’

‘I'm going to try it,’ said Donna and she trotted over to a man selling fruit nearby. Rose and the Doctor watched in interest and amusement as Donna tried out her Latin on the salesman. It didn’t seem to go down too well judging by the confused look on the man’s face.

‘Sorry? Me no speak Celtic,’ he said. ‘No can do, missy.’

Donna walked back to them looking slightly put out. ‘How's he mean, Celtic?’ she asked.

‘Welsh,’ answered the Doctor. ‘You sound Welsh. There we are. Learnt something.’ He smiled that brilliant smile of his, the one that showed all the teeth, and took Rose’s hand to lead them down the street. They didn’t notice the woman in the red robe following them.

‘Don't our clothes look a bit odd?’ asked Donna.

‘I’ve learnt just to not worry about it too much,’ said Rose. ‘Unless you’re wearing a short skirt in nineteenth century Scotland.’

The Doctor smirked at the memory but it was gone from his face in an instant. But an instant was long enough for Rose to see it. She nudged his side with her elbow playfully.

Donna looked like she was about to ask for the story behind Rose’s comment but the Doctor cut her off. ‘Besides,’ he said. ‘Ancient Rome, anything goes. It's like Soho, but bigger.’

‘You've been here before then?’ she asked.

The Doctor made an affirmative noise. ‘Ages ago. Before you ask, that fire had nothing to do with me. Well, a little bit.’ Rose rolled her eyes. Of course he was there when Rome burnt. He was probably there for the Great Fire of London as well.

‘But I haven't got the chance to look around properly,’ continued the Doctor. ‘Coliseum, Pantheon, Circus Maximus. You'd expect them to be looming by now. Where is everything? Try this way.’

Now that Rose thought about it, it did look a bit different to their last trip to the city. Then she spotted something in the distance - something that really shouldn’t have been anywhere near Rome.

‘Not an expert,’ said Donna, looking in the same direction as Rose, ‘but there's seven hills of Rome, aren't there? How come they've only got one?’

Suddenly the ground shook beneath them and objects started to fall from nearby shop shelves. ‘It’s a volcano,’ said Rose, squeezing the Doctor’s hand a bit tighter.

‘A volcano?’ repeated Donna. ‘But that would make this…’

‘Pompeii,’ finished the Doctor, fear evident in his voice. ‘We're in Pompeii. And it's volcano day.’

Rose fleetingly thought of Jack and his con-artist days, he had once mentioned Pompeii being good for it, but those thoughts flew from her mind as she properly assessed the situation. They were in Pompeii and Vesuvius was going to erupt any day now. Possibly any second. They had to leave.

The Doctor had the same idea it seemed, and it wasn’t long before they were legging it back to the TARDIS.

But the TARDIS wasn’t where they left her.

‘You're kidding,’ said Donna, staring at the blank space behind the curtain. ‘You're not telling me the TARDIS has gone.’

‘Okay,’ said the Doctor and Rose raised an eyebrow.

‘Where is it then?’ asked Donna.

‘You told me not to tell you.’

The look Donna gave him would have given Jackie Tyler a run for her money. ‘Oi. Don't get clever in Latin.’

The Doctor ignored her comment and ran over to the man minding the stall at which they had parked the TARDIS. ‘Excuse me. Excuse me. There was a box. Big blue box. Big blue wooden box, just over there. Where's it gone?’

‘Sold it, didn't I?’ said the man in a way that reminded Rose of Del-boy from Only Fools and Horses. He either didn’t notice or (more likely) didn’t care about the panic in the Doctor’s voice.

‘But it wasn't yours to sell,’ said the Doctor.

‘It was on my patch, weren't it? I got fifteen sesterces for it. Lovely jubbly.’

Yep, he definitely reminded Rose of Del.

‘Who'd you sell it to?’ asked the Doctor, his voice getting even higher.

‘Old Caecilius. Look, if you want to argue, why don't you take it out with him? He's on Foss Street. Big villa. Can't miss it.’

‘Thanks,’ said the Doctor and they began to leave but he stopped and ran back to the stallholder. ‘What'd he buy a big blue wooden box for?’

----

They had decided to split up to look for Caecilius’s villa. Rose had had no luck so she returned to the street in which they had decided to meet up. When she got there, the Doctor and Donna were already there. They seemed to be arguing.

As Rose got nearer it became clear what the problem was, Donna wanted to save the town. Rose knew how she felt, she didn’t want all these people to die, but she had been a time traveller for long enough now to know that some things couldn’t be changed no matter how much you wanted them to.

‘What, and you're in charge?’ Donna asked the Doctor as Rose approached them.

‘TARDIS, Time Lord, yeah,’ said the Doctor, his annoyed tone matching Donna’s.

‘Donna, human, no. I don't need your permission. I'll tell them myself.’

‘You stand in the market place announcing the end of the world; they'll just think you're a mad old soothsayer. Now, come on. TARDIS. We are getting out of here.’

‘Well, I might just have something to say about that, Spaceman,’ shouted Donna, ‘and I bet Rose does too. Don’t you Rose?’

Rose looked at Donna regretfully. ‘Sorry Donna, but he’s right. I’ve seen what happens when you mess with time.’

‘So, you just want to let all these people die!’ said Donna. She looked like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

‘Of course we don’t want to! But we don’t have a choice.’

‘There’s always a choice,’ countered Donna but the Doctor seemed to have had enough of the argument.

‘We can talk about this later,’ he said, tugging on Donna’s arm. ‘After we’ve gotten the TARDIS back.’

Donna reluctantly allowed herself to be dragged down the street. ‘You found the villa, then?’ asked Rose, following them.

‘This way,’ the Doctor called over his shoulder.

----

Just as the three of them reached the rather impressive looking villa, the ground began to shake with another earthquake. The Doctor had explained on the way that these would happen quite frequently until Vesuvius erupted. Which would be tomorrow.

They half ran, half stumbled into the home and the Doctor lunged forward to catch a marble bust that was falling off its stand. ‘Whoa! There you go,’ he said, putting it back in place and turning to the man who was only a few seconds behind him in catching the bust. Now that the ground had stopped shaking, Rose noticed that there were also two other people in the room, all dressed in rather nice robes. Definitely not the servants, then.

The woman seemed to have been stopping various things from falling from their positions and the young man was sipping from his goblet with a bored expression on his face. They must have been used to the quakes.

‘Thank you, kind sir,’ said the man, who was most likely Caecilius, ‘but I'm afraid business is closed for the day. I'm expecting a visitor.’

‘But that's me,’ said the Doctor, cheerily shaking the man’s hand. ‘I'm a visitor. Hello.’

‘Who are you?’ asked Caecilius with suspicion. He stepped in front of them to stop them from getting further into his home.

The Doctor faltered for a moment before giving one of the funniest aliases Rose had ever heard him give (and there had been some competition). ‘I am Spartacus.’

‘And so am I,’ said Donna.

‘Me too,’ said Rose, suppressing a giggle.

‘All of you?’ asked Caecilius, looking between them. His eyes rested on The Doctor and Rose’s intertwined hands. ‘Oh, of course, husband and wife and,’ he pointed to Donna, ‘sister? Yes, of course. You look very much alike.’

The Doctor and Donna looked at each other, each assessing the other. ‘Really?’ they both asked together.

‘I'm sorry, but I'm not open for trade,’ repeated Caecilius.

‘What trade would that be?’ asked Rose.

‘Marble. Lopus Caecilius. Mining, polishing and design thereof. If you want marble, I'm your man.’

‘That's good,’ said the Doctor. ‘That's very good, because I'm the marble inspector.’ He pulled out the psychic paper from his pocket and showed it to Caecilius as he walked past him.

‘By the gods of commerce, an inspection,’ said the woman. ‘I'm sorry, sir. I do apologise for my son.’ The woman, who must have been Caecilius’s wife, grabbed the goblet from her son (who looked to be in his teens) and poured it out into the pond behind them, earning a shout of an annoyance from the young man. Rose suspected that the goblet had been full of wine.

‘And this is my good wife, Metella,’ said Caecilius, indicating the middle-aged woman. ‘I must confess, we're not prepared for a-’

‘Nothing to worry about,’ the Doctor cut him off. ‘I'm sure you've nothing to hide. Although, frankly, that object looks rather like wood to me.’

He pointed across the room and Rose let out a sigh of relief at the sight of the TARDIS.

‘I told you to get rid of it,’ hissed Metella to her husband.

‘I only bought it today,’ said Caecilius, running over to join the Doctor in front of the TARDIS.

‘Ah, well. Caveat emptor,’ said the Doctor.

Rose had no idea what the Doctor had just said… and neither did Caecilius. ‘You’re Celtic,’ he said. ‘There's lovely.’

‘I’m sure it's fine,’ continued the Doctor, ignoring Caecilius’s comment, ‘but I might have to take it off your hands for a proper inspection.’

‘Although while we're here, wouldn't you recommend a holiday, Spartacus?’ said Donna with an innocent tone that was fooling nobody.

‘Don't know what you mean, Spartacus,’ said the Doctor, knowing exactly what she meant.

‘Oh, this lovely family. Mother and father and son.’ Donna indicated to the three people in the room and Rose felt her stomach turn as she thought of what would happen to them tomorrow. ‘Don't you think they should get out of town?’

‘Why should we do that?’ asked Caecilius, confused.

‘Well, the volcano, for starters.’

Caecilius looked even more confused. ‘What?’

‘Donna…’ warned Rose but Donna ignored her.

‘The volcano,’ she repeated.

‘What-ano?’ asked Caecilus.

‘That great big volcano right on your doorstep.’

At this point, the Doctor stepped in. ‘Oh, Spartacus, for shame,’ he said, putting his hands on Donna’s shoulders and leading her across the room. ‘We haven't even greeted the household gods yet.’

He led them to stone alter with regal-looking figures carved into it. Rose guessed that they were supposed to be the household gods.

‘They don't know what it is,’ whispered the Doctor angrily to Donna. ‘Vesuvius is just a mountain to them. The top hasn't blown off yet. The Romans haven't even got a word for volcano. Not until tomorrow.’

‘Oh, great, they can learn a new word as they die,’ snarked Donna.

‘Donna, please,’ begged Rose. She already felt guilty enough about the situation.

Donna turned to her, anger evident on her face. ‘That boy, how old is he, sixteen?’ she asked, nodding to Caecilius’s son. ‘And tomorrow he burns to death.’

‘That’s not our fault,’ said the Doctor, defensively.

‘Right now, yes, it is.’

Rose was just about to try again to calm Donna down but a servant entered the room, interrupting her.

‘Announcing Lucius Petrus Dextrus, Chief Augur of the City Government,’ said the servant and another middle aged man walked in. Lucius, no doubt.

Lucius had the air of someone who was important and knew it, with his regal cloak hung over one side of his body, and a stuck up look on his face.

‘Lucius. My pleasure, as always,’ said Caecilius, walking over to him.

‘Quintus, stand up,’ said Metella and her son grudgingly did so. It was obvious that the man’s approval meant a lot to the family.

Well, maybe not to Quintus.

‘A rare and great honour, sir, for you to come to my house,’ said Caecilius, holding out his hand. Lucius did not take it.

‘The birds are flying north, and the wind is in the west,’ he said and Rose raised an eyebrow. Who the hell did this guy think he was?

Lucius’s words didn’t seem to make sense to Caecilius either, but he was too eager to please to mention it. ‘Quite,’ he said. ‘Absolutely. That's good, is it?’

‘Only the grain of wheat knows where it will grow.’

It looked like a conversation with Lucius was going to be worse than a cryptic crossword…. And Rose hated cryptic crosswords.

‘There now, Metella. Have you ever heard such wisdom?’ said Caecilius.

‘Never,’ agreed Metella, although Rose was fairly certain that she too had no idea what Lucius was trying to say. ‘It's an honour.’

Caecilius smiled at his wife and then looked at the Doctor, Rose and Donna as if just remembering they were they. ‘Pardon me, sir. I have guests,’ he said to Lucius. ‘This is Spartacus and Spartacus and, er… Spartacus.’

Lucius turned his pompous gaze onto the three travellers. ‘A name is but a cloud upon a summer wind.’

‘But the wind is felt most keenly in the dark,’ said the Doctor. At least someone knew what was going on.

‘Ah. But what is the dark, other than an omen of the sun?’ countered Lucius.

‘I concede that every sun must set.’

‘Ha,’ said Lucius in triumph. But it was premature.

‘And yet the son of the father must also rise,’ said the Doctor and, although she still didn’t know what they were talking about, Rose sensed that the Doctor had won.

‘Damn,’ said Lucius, confirming Rose’s verdict. ‘Very clever, sir. Evidently, a man of learning.’

‘Oh, yes. But don't mind me,’ said the Doctor in a tone that only he could manage. The one that made his immodesty seem charming. ‘Don't want to disturb the status quo.’

‘He's Celtic,’ said Caecilius as if that would explain the Doctor’s behavior.

‘We'll be off in a minute,’ said the Doctor.

‘I'm not going,’ said Donna, stubbornly.

Rose let the Doctor argue the point with Donna, she had become distracted by Caecilius’s servants bringing out something covered in cloth. She allowed herself to be led to the TARDIS as she watched Caecilius talk to Lucius about the hidden object.

At Caecilius’s instruction, the servants took off the cloth and revealed the marble sculpture beneath it. It looked a bit like a circuit… but that didn’t make sense. They were way too early in Earth’s history for electronic circuit boards.

‘Oh, now that's different,’ said the Doctor, his argument with Donna put on the backbench as he no doubt was trying to figure out this new mystery. ‘Who designed that, then?’

‘My Lord Lucius was very specific,’ said Caecilius. He looked very proud of his work.

‘Where'd you get the pattern?’ the Doctor asked Luciius.

‘On the rain and mist and wind.’

And they were back to the cryptic.

‘But that looks like a circuit,’ said Donna.

‘Made of stone,’ said the Doctor.

‘Do you mean you just dreamt that thing up?’ Donna asked Lucius.

‘That is my job, as City Augur,’ said Lucius.

‘What’s a City Augur?’ asked Rose.

She must have asked the wrong thing because the Doctor was quickly trying to explain her lack of knowledge. ‘You must excuse my wife,’ he said and Rose’s heart rate sped up a bit until she remembered that that was the cover that Caecilius had unknowingly given them, ‘she's from Barcelona.’ He leant towards Rose and Donna and more quietly explained that the City Augur was like the town fortuneteller.

Well, that explained the cryptic messages.

‘They're laughing at us,’ came a female voice from across the room and all heads turned to face the young woman who was standing in the doorway that led further into the house. The girl had long mousy hair and wore the same sort of robes as Metella. She would have been beautiful if it had not been for the big dark rings under her bloodshot eyes. Rose had seen that look on many people on the Estate over the years. It was one of the telltale signs of a drug addict.

‘Those three,’ continued the girl, ‘they use words like tricksters. They're mocking us.’

‘No, no, I'm not,’ insisted the Doctor. ‘I meant no offence.’

‘I'm sorry. My daughter's been consuming the vapours,’ said Metella as if this was a normal thing to do.

Quintus seemed to have a different opinion on the matter. ‘Oh for gods, Mother,’ he said. ‘What have you been doing to her?’

‘Not now, Quintus,’ said Caecilius, sternly. His big moment was slipping through his fingers.

‘Yeah, but she's sick. Just look at her.’

Rose had to agree with Quintus there. The girl looked like she could use some medical attention. Not for the first time in the last few weeks, Rose missed Martha.

‘I gather I have a rival in this household,’ said Lucius. ‘Another with the gift.’

‘So she can see the future too?’ asked Rose, careful with her words. She didn’t want to offend the family again.

‘Oh, she's been promised to the Sibylline Sisterhood,’ said Metella, proudly. ‘They say she has remarkable visions.’

‘The prophecies of women are limited and dull. Only the menfolk have the capacity for true perception.’

All four women turned to Lucius, each with different levels of annoyance in their eyes. ‘I'll tell you where the wind's blowing right now, mate,’ said Donna.

The ground shook again, only slightly this time. ‘The Mountain God marks your words,’ said Lucius. ‘I'd be careful, if I were you.’

‘Consuming the vapours, you say?’ said the Doctor, looking at Caecilius’s daughter.

‘They give me strength,’ said the young woman.

‘It doesn't look like it to me.’

‘Is that your opinion as a doctor?’

Rose almost gasped. She hadn’t actually believed that anyone in this room had the ability to tell the future - time travellers excluded - but the look in the woman eyes showed hidden knowledge.

‘I beg your pardon?’ said the Doctor, just as much surprised as Rose.

‘Doctor. That's your name,’ said the young woman.

‘How did you know that?’

The young woman ignored him and instead turned to Donna. ‘And you. You call yourself Noble.’

‘What’s your name?’ asked Rose, trying to bring some normality into the conversation.

She didn’t get an answer from the young woman who had now focused her attention on her. She eyed Rose up, as if trying to solve some great puzzle.

‘He name is Evelina,’ said Metella. ‘And I apologise. She is not normally so rude.’

Rose was about to tell Metella not to worry about it, after all, she lived the Doctor, she knew all about people who were rude and not ginger, but Evelina seemed to have solved her puzzle. ‘Your name is as pretty as a flower,’ she said, ‘and yet as wild as the Wolf. You all come from so far away.’

‘The female soothsayer is inclined to invent all sorts of vagaries,’ said Lucious with disdain.

‘Oh, not this time, Lucius,’ said the Doctor. ‘No, I reckon you've been out-soothsayed.’

‘Is that so, man from Gallifrey?’

The Doctor and Rose were facing Lucius in an instant. If Rose had not been convinced that these people had had some sort of gift before, she definitely was now.

The ground began to tremble again, making the atmosphere in the room even more thick with tension.

‘What?’ asked the Doctor.

‘The strangest of images. Your home is lost in fire, is it not?’

Rose gripped the Doctor’s hand in a move that was supposed to be reassuring but probably came off more as scared.

‘Doctor, what are they doing?’ asked Donna.

‘And you, daughter of London,’ said Lucius, turning to face her, 'soon you will have to go back.'

‘How do they know all this?’ asked Rose.

‘This is the gift of Pompeii,’ answered Lucius. ‘Every single oracle tells the truth.’

‘That's impossible,’ said Donna.

Lucius eyed her with disdain for a moment before turning back to Rose. ‘And you, Wolf,’ he said. ‘He is returning.’

‘Who is?’ asked Rose but she too was ignored.

‘Even the word Doctor is false,’ said Evelina, jumping in to the strange game that they had found themselves in. ‘Your real name is hidden. It burns in the stars, in the Cascade of Medusa herself. You are a Lord, sir. A Lord of Time.’

And then she fainted.

----

Once Lucius had left with his marble circuit, Metella and Caecilius had taken Evelina to her room. Donna had gone with them to check on the poor girl and Quintus had gone and poured himself another goblet of wine, leaving the Doctor and Rose alone for a bit.

‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ muttered the Doctor. ‘These psychic abilities are way beyond that of a normal human. What’s causing it?’

But Rose wasn't too focussed on the whys, she was more concerned with the why nots. ‘If their abilities are so strong, why are they still here?’ she asked. ‘If they can see the future, surely they know that Pompeii isn’t safe.’

‘Good question,’ said the Doctor, thoughtfully. ‘And what did Metella mean about absorbing the vapours?’

Rose thought for a moment, but she just couldn’t focus on the mystery. All she could think about was the tired look on Evelina’s face. Were the psychic abilities really worth it? Evelina was so young, she should have been out enjoying herself with her friends, but instead she was spending the last days of her life torturing herself. Rose was once again gripped by guilt. It didn’t seem fair that these people had to die tomorrow.

‘Are you sure there’s nothing we can do?’ she asked the Doctor, softly.

‘Oh, not you too,’ he said, but his tone was far from annoyed, it was desperate. Rose could see it in his eyes that he felt just as guilty about leaving the town to burn. She supposed it must be even worse for him. He had already had to watch his own planet die in fire.

‘Pompeii is a fixed point,’ the Doctor continued. ‘You know what happens when we change things we shouldn’t. What happens tomorrow has to happen.’

Rose winced at the reminder of the day her father died. ‘I know. It just doesn’t seem right,' she said. 'I mean, look at this family, they don’t deserve to die.’

The Doctor moved forward to hug Rose but Caecilius walked into the room, causing Rose to jump at his sudden appearance. She hoped that he hadn’t overheard anything he shouldn’t have.

‘How is Evelina?’ she asked.

‘She sleeps peacefully,’ said Caecilus. ‘She will be fine. This is not the first time she has had such a strong reaction to the vapours.’ The regretful look in his eyes told Rose that he might be more against Evelina’s situation than she had first thought.

‘The vapours?’ asked the Doctor. ‘Where do they come from.’

Caecilius led them to a grill that looked like it was used for heating. Steam rose from the vent, tinted red from the firey glow from beneath the grill. A horrible noise was coming from somewhere down below, but Rose couldn’t think of any logical reason for it.

‘Different sort of hypocaust?’ said the Doctor as he removed the grill.

‘Oh, yes. We're very advanced in Pompeii,’ said Caecilius. ‘In Rome, they're still using the old wood-burning furnaces, but we've got hot springs, leading from Vesuvius itself.’

‘Who thought of that?’

‘The soothsayers, after the great earthquake, seventeen years ago. An awful lot of damage. But we rebuilt.’

‘Why didn’t you all just move?’ asked Rose.

‘San Francisco,’ reminded the Doctor and Rose shrugged. It seemed the human race would never learn.

‘That's a new restaurant in Naples, isn't it?’ asked Caecilius, confused.

The Doctor leaned his head down to get closer to the vent. ‘What's that noise?’ he asked.

‘Don't know. Happens all the time. They say the gods of the Underworld are stirring.’

Rose got a little closer to the vent to listen. She could see why they associated the sound with the gods, it certainly didn’t sound like anything Earthly.

‘But after the earthquake,’ said the Doctor, ‘let me guess. Is that when the soothsayers started making sense?’

Caecilius nodded. ‘Oh, yes, very much so. I mean, they'd always been, shall we say, imprecise? But then the soothsayers, the augurs, the haruspex, all of them, they saw the truth again and again. It's quite amazing. They can predict crops and rainfall with absolute precision.’

‘Have they said anything about tomorrow?’ asked Rose before she could stop herself.

Caecilius looked at her, a suspicious glint in his eye, worrying Rose further about how much he had overheard earlier. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Why, should they?’

Rose shrugged. ‘Just wondering,’ she said, evasively. Judging by the look that Caecilius was still giving her, she hadn’t fooled him one bit.

Thankfully the Doctor jumped in, changing the topic of conversation back to safer territory. ‘But the soothsayers,’ he said, ‘they all consume the vapours, yeah?’

‘That's how they see,’ answered Caecilius, turning back to face the Doctor.

‘Ipso facto.’

And we were back to Latin/Celtic. Though, Rose had heard that phrase before. Caecilius seemed to be struggling with it though.

The Doctor reached into the vent and when he withdrew his hand, he was pinching a small chunk of dirt in his fingers. ‘They're all consuming this,’ he said.

He slowly let the dirt fall from his fingers and Rose realised that it wasn’t dirt at all; it was dust. ‘You said this leads straight into the mountain, yeah?’ she asked Caecilius who nodded. She turned back to the Doctor. ‘So this dust is from there?’ she asked. ‘They’re breathing in the vol-’ she stopped herself just in time. Caecilius was already suspicious; she didn’t want to add to that by talking about volcanoes. ‘Vesuvius,’ she said instead. ‘The dust is from Vesuvius.’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Particles of rock,’ he said, taking a taste of the dust for good measure. ‘They’re breathing in Vesuvius.’

----

A little while later, Caecilius had gone to talk to his wife and the Doctor and Rose were alone once more. ‘So, what do you think about all this?’ Rose asked him. ‘Fortunetellers that can predict rainfall but can’t see their own destruction?’

‘And electronic circuits carved into stone,’ the Doctor added. He had that look in his eye, the one he got when there was a mystery to solve, and Rose knew that he wasn’t going to rest until he did.

‘I need to get a closer look at that circuit,’ he said suddenly.

Rose nodded. It did seem like the logical thing to do. ‘Right, we’ll just have to find out where old Lucius lives, then.’

‘Not we, me,’ said the Doctor. Rose went to protest but he cut her off. ‘I need you to look after Donna. Make sure she doesn’t do anything she shouldn’t.’

Rose reluctantly nodded. He was right, after all. Donna didn’t properly understand time travel yet and Rose knew all too well about the temptations it caused. ‘How are you gonna find Lucius?’ she asked.

The Doctor winked at her and bounded to the next room where Quintus was lounging on a couch, drinking. ‘Quintus, me old son,’ said the Doctor and the young man looked up from his drink, a bored look on his face. ‘This Lucius Petrus Dextrus. Where does he live?’

‘It's nothing to do with me,’ drawled Quintus.

‘Let me try again,’ said the Doctor and he walked up to Quintus. ‘This Lucius Petrus Dextrus.’ He reached behind Quintus’s ear and pulled out a gold coin. Quintus’s eyes lit up, he certainly wasn’t bored anymore. ‘Where does he live?’

----

Rose stood out the front of Caecilius’s villa, looking out to the street. After the Doctor had left with Quintus, she had gone to check on Donna and Evelina. They seemed to be fine. Donna had changed into some purple robes and Evillina was giggling like Rose would expect someone her age to do. It was nice to see the young girl with a smile on her face so she left Donna to it, she didn’t want to disturb whatever kind of friendship they were building.

That’s when the guilt hit her again. This would be Evelina’s last night.

So, she had decided that solitude and fresh air would be the best way to wait for the Doctor to return. There wasn’t much she could do here anyway, apart from keep an eye on things.

Her solitude didn’t last long however when Caecilius came outside to join her. ‘Have you seen my son?’ he asked.

‘Him and the Doctor went for a walk,’ said Rose. She wasn’t lying, not really, but omitting the truth made her feel just as bad. But she knew Caecilius would be upset if he knew the truth.

‘Where?’

Yep, he sounded upset. Not angry per say, more worried than anything.

Rose shrugged in a way that she hoped looked casual, even if she couldn’t look him in the eye. ‘Just around.’

Not surprisingly, he didn’t believe her. ‘He’s my son,’ he said simply.

Rose sighed. ‘You’re right. Sorry. The Doctor asked him to show him where Lucius lives, he wants to have a look at those marble sculpture things. He just wants a look,’ she added quickly.

Caecilius definitely looked worried now. Whether it was for his son’s safety or his own business reputation, Rose wasn’t sure. Probably both.

‘He won’t get your son into any trouble,’ she said, trying to sound reassuring even though she knew that, as per usual with the Doctor, trouble would present itself soon enough.

‘You’re not a very good liar.’

Rose sighed again, the guilt once again making itself known. ‘He will keep your son safe tonight,’ she said. ‘Am I lying?’

Caecilius regarded her for a moment. ‘No.’

There was a pause and Rose thought that maybe she had calmed his worry.

‘But what about tomorrow?’

Rose paled; she hadn’t been prepared for that. Caecilius must have heard more of her and the Doctor’s earlier conversation than she had first feared. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to come up with the right words. None came.

Taking her stunned silence as a good an answer as any, Caecilius walked back into his home to see his family, leaving Rose alone with her guilt.

Chapter Text

The Doctor and Quintus ran down the street, away from Lucius’s house. The man himself had gotten a bit angry when the Doctor had broken his arm off (it was made of stone) and knocked over his collection of marble circuit boards, so the Doctor and Quintus had fled.

Finally slowing to catch their breath, the Doctor looked back down the street from whence they came. ‘No sign of them,’ he said, patting Quintus on the back. ‘Nice little bit of allons-y. I think we're all right.’

‘But his arm, Doctor,’ said Quintus, still panting. ‘Is that what's happening to Evelina?’

Not if I can help it, thought the Doctor before he suddenly remembered that it didn’t really matter if Evelina’s arm turned to stone or not. Either way, come tomorrow, it would be covered in ash. The Doctor pushed his guilt deep down, something he had had to learn to do long ago. Vesuvius was a fixed point - and fixed points could not be changed.

Suddenly the ground began to shake, causing a dog to bark. But this didn’t feel like the earthquakes they had experienced earlier. It had only lasted a few seconds. ‘What was that?' asked the Doctor.

The ground shook again.

‘The mountain?’ asked Quintus.

There was another rumble and the Doctor realised that they were getting more intense. ‘No, it's closer.’ The ground shook again, this time strong enough for items to fall off nearby shelves and windowsills. ‘Footsteps,’ realised the Doctor.

‘It can't be,’ said Quintus, looking around for something big enough to cause such destruction with a single step.

‘Footsteps underground.’

And they were now far too close for comfort.

‘What is it? What is it?’ asked Quintus as the Doctor turned him around, urging him to run again.

The footsteps weren’t far behind them now and nearby hypocaust vents blew open as they passed. As the approached Caecilius’s villa, the Doctor saw Rose at the doorway. She was worriedly looking inside the home and then back to the street, trying to keep an eye on two places at once.

‘What’s happening?’ she shouted once she had spotted them.

‘We’re being followed,' said the Doctor as they all ran into the house. Everyone was in the main room. ‘All of you need to get out.’ Suddenly the grill of the hypocaust flew off, making them jump. ‘Just get out!’

But everyone seemed too afraid to move. The shaking of the ground was getting more violent and cracks had started to appear in the floor around the hypocaust. With a great roar, a creature that looked like it was made of volcanic rock burst out of the vent, sending the stonework flying in all directions. The creature – that was definitely not from Earth - stood up fully, it’s head almost touching the ceiling, and started to walk towards them.

‘The gods are with us,’ said Evelina, staring up at the fiery creature.

Fire!

‘Water,’ said the Doctor quickly. ‘We need water. Quintus. All of you, get water. Rose! Donna!’

One of the servants began to approach the creature, babbling something about being blessed, but Rose grabbed his shoulders and pulled him back just as his so-called god breathed a column of fire right where he had been standing. The man looked down at the scorch mark that could have been him and ran from the room.

At the back of his mind, the Doctor realised that most of the others had left the room to get water, but he was more focused on what was in front of him. ‘Talk to me,’ he said to the creature. ‘That's all I want. Talk to me. Just tell me you are. Don't hurt these people.’ He took Rose’s hand and slowly brought her closer to him, ready to protect her if necessary. ‘Talk to me. I'm the Doctor. Just tell me who you are.’

Quintus and the other servant ran back into the room, carrying buckets. They quickly ran to the pond, filled the buckets with water, and threw them at the creature. The creature roared in pain or anger as its fire went out. The rock started to crack and fall off until it fell apart completely, landing in a pile on the floor.

‘What was it?’ asked Caecilius, still holding his wife close. Was it the Doctor’s imagination, or did he detect a hint of blame in the man’s voice?

‘Carapace of stone, held together by internal magma,’ he explained. ‘Not too difficult to stop, but I reckon that's just the foot soldier.’

‘Doctor, or whatever your name is, you bring bad luck on this house,’ said Metella. Yep, they definitely blamed him. He wasn’t surprised really but right now was not the time.

‘I thought your son was brilliant. Aren't you going to thank him?’ he said, trying to distract them.

It worked. Both parents rushed over and embraced Quintus.

‘Still, if there are aliens at work in Pompeii, it's a good thing we stayed,’ he whispered to Rose, looking down at the rubble on the floor.

Rose nodded before looking around the room, seemingly searching for something.

‘Where’s Donna?’

----

‘You have got to be kidding me,’ said Donna, banging her head against the altar that she was currently tied to. Some crazy lady in a red robe and hand tattoos was standing over her with a knife. This was the second time since meeting the Doctor that she had been tied to something, waiting to be sacrificed, Was his life always like this?

‘The false prophet will surrender both her blood and her breath,’ said the crazy lady.

‘I'll surrender you in a minute,’ snapped Donna. ‘Don't you dare.’

‘You will be silent.’

‘Listen, sister, you might have eyes on the back of your hands, but you'll have eyes in the back of your head by the time I've finished with you. Let me go!’

She struggled against her bonds but to no avail. She was starting to worry a bit now.

‘This prattling voice will cease forever,’ shouted the lady as she raised the knife, preparing to strike.

‘Oh, that'll be the day,’ said a familiar voice and Donna could have cried with relief.

It was the Doctor.

----

Rose sat by the pond, biting her thumbnail nervously. The Doctor had insisted she stay at the villa while he went to get Donna from the Sibylline Sisterhood (Evelina had told them that she had seen the sisters take her), just in case another rock creature turned up. Rose knew he had a point, but she also knew him. He just wanted her near the TARDIS if he didn’t make it back before Vesuvius erupted.

Her suspicions were confirmed when he had told her how to activate Emergency Program One. She wished he would tell her how to fly the TARDIS properly, that way she could go and find him, because there was no way in hell she was leaving Pompeii without him or Donna.

As dawn began to break and sunlight flittered in through the windows, Caecilius blew out the candles and approached Metella. ‘Sunrise, my love,’ he said. ‘A new day. Even the longest night must end.’ Rose could tell that he was trying to be strong for his family, but she could see the worry in his eyes.

‘The mountain's worse than ever,’ said Quintus.

‘We killed a messenger of the gods in our own house,’ said Metella before turning to Evelina. ‘Sweetheart, can you see? Tell us. What's going to happen?’

‘Just leave her alone,’ snapped Quintus but no one paid him any mind.

Evelina closed here eyes. ‘I can see,’ she said in a way that made even Rose lean in further in anticipation.

‘What is it?’ asked Metella.

‘A choice. Someone must make a choice.’ She opened her eyes and Rose could see the tears that there were forming in them. ‘The most terrible choice.’

Rose turned away from the family, hiding the fear in her eyes. She didn’t need to be a soothsayer to know who would have to make that terrible choice.

----

‘Could we be any more trapped?’ said Donna irritably, though the Doctor detected a fair amount of fear in her voice as well.

A roar came from outside as one of the rock creatures (or Pyroviles as they now knew them as) blew fire on the escape pod that they were currently trapped inside.

‘Little bit hot,’ said Donna but the Doctor was too busy examining the controls of the pod. The stone circuit carvings were sitting in position against the wall.

‘See?’ he said. ‘The energy converter takes the lava, uses the power to create a fusion matrix, which welds Pyrovile to human. Now it's complete, they can convert millions.’

Because that’s what these creatures wanted, of course: to take over the world. Their home planet had been lost and now they had their sights set on Earth, just like so many before them.

‘But can't you change it with these controls?’ asked Donna.

‘Of course I can, but don't you see? That's why the soothsayers can't see the volcano. There is no volcano. Vesuvius is never going to erupt. The Pyrovile are stealing all its power. They're going to use it to take over the world.’

The realization of what that meant hit him hard. Vesuvius wasn’t going to explode on its own but it had to. Which meant that someone had to help it.

‘But you can change it back?’ asked Donna.

‘I can invert the system, set off the volcano, and blow them up, yes. But, that's the choice, Donna. It's Pompeii or the world.’

‘Oh, my God.’

‘If Pompeii is destroyed then it's not just history, it's me,’ he said. ‘I make it happen.’

The Doctor looked down at the stone lever that would erupt Vesuvius. He had made this sort of choice before; he had killed his own people to save the universe, why did he have to make it again? Why did it always have to be him? It wasn’t fair.

But it had to be done.

The Doctor used his sonic screwdriver to reset the pod’s systems. ‘Doctor, the Pyrovile are made of rocks. Maybe they can't be blown up,’ said Donna. She was still trying to save the town, bless her. Underneath all the sarcasm, she had more heart than most people he had known over the many years of his life.

‘Vesuvius explodes with the force of twenty four nuclear bombs,’ he explained. ‘Nothing can survive it.’ He finished with the controls and looked up at Donna. ‘Certainly not us.’

‘Never mind us.’

The Doctor felt a mixture of pride and guilt. He had brought Donna here – to her death – and she was still being so brave. This is why he liked to travel with humans.

He thought of Rose, and hoped that she would head his warning and go back to the TARDIS. He hoped she knew how hard it was for him to make this decision - that he didn’t want to murder all these people.

He hoped she knew how much she meant to him. They had only been properly together a month, he hadn’t had enough time to show her. But then again, would he ever? There wasn't enough time in the universe, but he would have at least liked to have properly tried.

The Doctor rested his hands on the lever. ‘Push this lever and it's over. Twenty thousand people.’

He continued to stare down at the lever, his hands unmoving. He couldn’t do it. He already had so much blood on his hands.

Another pair of hands covered his and the Doctor looked up to see a look of understanding and sorrow on Donna’s face. She could see his struggle, but it was more than that, she was offering to share the burden with him, to share the guilt. He couldn’t thank her enough for that.

Together, they pushed down the lever and Vesuvius erupted.

----

Evelina threw her head back and gasped as the ground began to shake again, more violent than ever. Metella ran to catch her before she fell. ‘A new prophecy,’ she cried. ‘The future is changing.’

Caecilius moved to across the room to get a better view of the sky outside. ‘The sky is falling,’ he said, staring at the ash and rock that Rose knew was coming from the volcano.

‘Death. Only death,’ sobbed Evelina.

Caecilius rushed to Rose and grabbed her by the shoulders. ‘This is it, isn’t it?’ he said, no longer hiding the fear from his voice.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Rose, her voice cracking as she tried to hold the tears back.

Ceacilius looked back to the sky and then to his family who were now cowering in the corner. ‘It’s too late,’ he whispered to himself.

He looked back at her once more and Rose expected to see anger and blame in his eyes, but she only saw sadness and regret. He let go of her and moved over to usher his family out of the way of the now falling debris. They made it to the doorway but found it blocked – they were trapped. Caecilius led them to the most sheltered wall of the room and embraced his family, kissing his crying daughter on her forehead.

Rose turned away, the tears falling in earnest now. She knew she should go back to the TARDIS, but she couldn’t leave. Not just because she was waiting for the Doctor and Donna, but also because it wasn’t right for her to flee to safety while she left the other people in the room to die.

Making her mind up, she turned and faced the family who were still huddled together on the floor. ‘It’s not too late,’ she said. ‘I can get you out.’

‘How?’ asked Caecilius.

‘Come with me,’ she said, holding out her hand. He considered her for a minute before he reached out and allowed Rose to help him up.

She led them to the TARDIS and used her key to unlock the door. ‘Everyone in. Now,’ she said urgently as the sky began to darken even more. It wouldn’t be long until the town would be smothered. Where were the Doctor and Donna?

‘Into the box?’ asked Qunitus, skeptically.

‘Just trust me.’

Not having much of a choice, the family entered the TARDIS, each gasping in shock at the interior. Rose made to follow but then remembered that Caecilius had another servant, the one that had helped Quintus with the water earlier. ‘I’ll be right back,’ she called through the TARDIS door and she ran through the house, hoping the man hadn’t fled.

She was in luck. She found the man cowering under the kitchen table. Wasting no time, she hauled him out from his hiding place and took him to the TARDIS.

----

The Doctor and Donna ran through the streets of Pompeii. The escape pod had amazingly survived the blast and had shot them far enough away from the lava to be able to outrun it.

They rushed into Caecilius’s house only to find it empty. ‘ROSE!’ shouted the Doctor, panicking. Hoping beyond all else that she had listened to him for once, he ran to the TARDIS.

Donna had stopped and was shouting at him, telling him that they had to find Evelina and her family. She had been trying to save people all the way through the town, but none had listened.

The Doctor had desperately wanted to help her but he knew it was pointless. Vesuvius had erupted and Pompeii and its people would be buried. History was safe and everybody would die. All thanks to him. And now all he could do was run. Run from the pain and guilt like always had done.

Except now he wasn’t running alone, a fact that made itself increasingly obvious as soon as he entered the TARDIS.

The only thing he saw was a flash of blonde hair as Rose launched herself at him. ‘Took your bloody time,’ she sobbed against his shoulder. He held her tight as he let the relief wash over him. She was safe.

Then he noticed that they weren’t alone in the TARDIS, there were five other people staring at the central column, wide-eyed.

He pulled away from Rose and looked down at her. ‘Rose…’

‘I couldn’t just leave them there,’ she pleaded.

He knew he should be comforting her, she had obviously been crying, but right now, he just felt anger. She knew the rules of time travel. They couldn’t save Pompeii and now he had to condemn another family to death. He had to be a murderer all over again.

Donna ran into the TARDIS and her eyes brightened at the sight of Caecilius and his family.

‘We can’t take them with us,’ said the Doctor angrily.

‘But we can't just leave them!’ cried Donna, her own anger returning.

‘Don't you think I've done enough?’ he said. ‘History's back in place and everyone dies.’

‘But why can’t we just leave now?’ asked Rose. ‘Just materialize the TARDIS now and take us away from here. All of us.’

‘We can’t…’ he faltered, shaking in ager and guilt. ‘The city and everyone in it burn today, I can’t change it.’

‘But it's not fair,’ sobbed Donna.

The Doctor risked a glance at Caecilius and his family who were now all crowded together, watching him decide their fate. ‘No, it's not,’ he agreed.

‘But your own planet, it burned.’

The Doctor turned back to Donna, his anger flaring again. ‘That's just it. Don't you see, Donna? If I could go back and save them, then I would. But I can't… I can never go back. I can't. I just can't, I can't.’

He looked down and leaned against the console, trying to control himself. He felt Rose’s hand on his shoulder and he almost gave in at her touch.

‘I know we can’t save everyone,’ she said gently. ‘And I know you would if you could. No one here is blaming you. But we can’t just throw these people back out there and leave them to die. That’s not the sort of man you are.’

The Doctor looked up at her then, needing to see her eyes. He saw just how much she meant it. She always thought the best of him.

‘Just someone,’ begged Donna. ‘Please. Not the whole town. Just save someone.’

He looked back to Caecilius and his resolve wavered. Surely saving save one family couldn’t break the timelines. There was nothing in history that said that this particular family had to die, was there?

He looked to Rose once more and she smiled up at him, she had seen that he had made his decision even before he had. How did she do that?

Maybe it was because she knew she was right, this was not the sort of man he was – he couldn’t leave this family to die. Looking down at the console, he set the coordinates and pulled down the lever, sending the TARDIS away from the fire and ash of Pompeii.

----

The Doctor looked over the city as the ash and rock covered it. It was only right that he witness the destruction of Pompeii, no matter how much he yearned to look away. He had caused this. He deserved the pain.

But Caecilius and his family didn’t. but they too seemed to not be able to tear their eyes off of the devastation below.

‘It's never forgotten, Caecilius,’ said the Doctor, trying to offer what little comfort he could. ‘Oh, time will pass, men will move on, and stories will fade. But one day, Pompeii will be found again. In thousands of years. And everyone will remember you.’

‘What about you, Evelina?’ asked Donna. ‘Can you see anything?’

‘The visions have gone,’ she said, not taking her eyes off the blackened town.

‘The explosion was so powerful it cracked open a rift in time,’ explained the Doctor, ‘just for a second. That's what gave you the gift of prophecy. It echoed back into the Pyrovillian alternative. But not any more. You're free.’

‘But tell me,’ said Metella. ‘Who are you, Doctor? With your words, and your temple containing such size within?’

‘Oh, I was never here. Don't tell anyone.’

‘The great god Vulcan must be enraged,’ said Caecilius, looking out at what used to be his home. ‘It's so volcanic. It's like some sort of volcano. All those people.’

The Doctor felt Rose squeeze his hand and they quietly slipped back into the TARDIS. Caecilius and his family could find their own way now.

‘Thank you,’ he said to Donna and Rose, once they were all in and the doors were closed. ‘For stopping me from going too far.’

Donna gave him a small smile, letting him know that he was forgiven and Rose wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her head in his shoulder. He instinctively returned the embrace. She didn’t need to say anything; her just being there was comfort enough.

Reluctantly, he let Rose go and sent the TARDIS into the vortex and as far away from Pompeii as he possibly could.

Chapter Text

The Doctor sat on the couch in the library, staring at the open book in front of him. He had only meant to check the history books to make sure that saving Caecilius and his family hadn’t done any damage to the timelines but he soon found himself focussing on the number of the dead, which quickly led to him wallowing in self pity, which then turned to guilt.

Donna was right. It wasn’t fair.

Deep down, he knew that he had made the right choice, albeit a horrible one. It had been either Pompeii or the whole world, but it didn’t make it any easier to live with.

Suddenly, the book was snatched out of his hands. ‘No, don’t do that,’ said Rose, putting it on a nearby shelf. The Doctor hadn’t even heard her come in.

‘Do what?’ he asked although he knew very well what she was talking about.

‘Don’t torture yourself.’

The Doctor sighed and moved over so Rose could sit down next to him. ‘What else am I supposed to do?’ he asked. ‘I killed all those people.’

Rose sat down and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘That wasn’t your fault. You didn’t have a choice.’

‘Yes I did. I could have found some other way to stop the Pyroviles.’

‘Then what would have happened to history?’

The Doctor took off his glasses and ran his hands down his face. ‘I know you’re right but I just… It’s like the Time War all over again. It doesn’t matter that it was the lesser of two evils; I still pressed that button. I still killed thousands of people.’

‘But you saved so many more,’ said Rose. The kindness in her voice almost broke him. ‘And you saved that family.’

The Doctor shook his head. ‘That was you. If it weren’t for you and Donna, I would have left them behind.’

‘I don’t think that’s true.’

‘You have far too much faith in me.’

‘I don’t think that’s true either.’

She gave him a small smile and, for the first time since he had seen that volcano, he smiled too. Not a fake one to gain someone’s trust or to reassure someone, but a proper, sincere smile. It may have been little more than a upward twitch of the lips, but it still counted.

They sat there, staring at each other for a few moments before the Doctor broke the silence. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘You already-’

‘I know but I just wanted to say it again. Thank you for reminding me of the man I am – the man I want to be. I forget sometimes.’

Rose slipped her hand into his and intertwined their fingers. ‘I won’t ever let you forget. You’re the Doctor and you save people.’

Looking at Rose now, seeing the earnest in her eyes, the Doctor wondered what had he ever done to deserve her. How could someone so full of compassion and forgiveness possibly fall in love with someone like him?

Before he had even realised what he was doing, he was kissing her.

The kiss started out slow and tentative but it wasn’t long before the Doctor wanted more. He brought his free hand up to the back of Rose's head, pulling her closer as he deepened the kiss, urging her to open her mouth. A request she readily complied with.

Up until now, the Doctor had been somewhat hesitant with Rose. They had agreed to take things slow and he hadn’t wanted to disrespect that. After everything that they had been through over the past year, they both had needed time to adjust.

But tonight he wasn’t holding back. He wanted her to know exactly how much he wanted her – needed her. How much he lo-

No, he couldn’t say it yet, not even to himself. It was silly, but thinking those words made everything all so real. Admitting those words would mean that he wouldn’t be able to cope if he lost her (even though he knew that that ship had long since sailed) and he wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t fair on Rose – he knew that – but just because he couldn’t say it, didn’t mean he couldn’t show her.

Slowly, he let the hand that was in Rose’s hair trail down her side until he rested it on her hip and pulled her even closer. He felt her flinch and he immediately loosened his grip and pulled away.

‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have,’ he said. ‘Not so soon after the Master…’ He trailed off, trying not to focus on the very dark thoughts that were swarming his mind.

He looked away but Rose put a hand on his cheek and guided his head back so that he was facing her. ‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘I just had a little bit of flashback, that’s all.’

The Doctor nodded, Rose’s hand still on his cheek. ‘It’s still too soon. I didn’t mean to push. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I never…’

Shit, he was really making a mess of this, wasn’t he?

Then she did what she never ceased doing: she surprised him. Moving her hand to his hair, she pulled him back to her with such force that he almost lost his balance. He grabbed the back of the couch to stop himself from toppling into her.

After ten glorious seconds of the best kiss of his life, he reluctantly pulled away. He had to be sure.

‘Rose, are you sure this is what you want?’ he asked. ‘We don’t have to.’

She looked up at him, those gorgeous hazel eyes shining with honesty and something that he hoped was desire.

‘I trust you.’

And with those three words, his resolve broke. He leant back down to kiss her with even more passion than before. She moaned softly into his mouth and pulled at his hair and the Doctor decided that it was his new favourite sound in the universe. He wondered how many times he could make her repeat it.

He pulled her closer again; taking care not to grip her like had before. Instead, he rested his hand on the small of her back and slowly lowered her down onto the couch.

Rose pulled away and for a second he worried that he had hurt her or scared her again, but the heated look in her eyes reassured him that this was not the case.

‘Not here,’ she said. ‘Not in the library. I’m pretty sure Donna wouldn’t appreciate walking in on… anything.’

The Doctor chuckled. ‘Yeah, you’re probably right. We'd never hear the end of it.’ He stood up and held his hand out for Rose. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. ‘Come on. I have somewhere much more comfortable in mind.’

Without letting go of her hand or breaking eye contact, he led her to his bedroom.

Chapter Text

‘Flick that switch,’ said the Doctor, pointing to a row of switches in front of Rose.

‘Which one?’ she asked. She wasn’t sure which switch he was pointing to and she didn’t want to kill them all just because she couldn’t press the right button.

‘The second one,’ said the Doctor and Rose did as she was told.

It had taken almost a week, but Rose had finally mustered up the courage to ask the Doctor to teach her how to fly the TARDIS. She was a little surprised at how easily he had agreed.

The Doctor moved over to her and placed his hands on her hips. Rose raised her eyebrows at him, wondering what the hell he was doing, until she felt him guide her a little to the left so that she was directly in front of a lever. The lever that she knew would send them out of the time vortex. ‘Now slowly pull down the lever,’ he said, letting go of her but not moving too far away.

‘You never pull it down slowly.'.

‘Yeah, but I’m a professional.’ He gave her a cheeky smile and a wink.

Right, that’s it! He asked for it.

She winked back at him, her own cheeky smile on her face, and pulled down the lever as fast as she could.

The TARDIS began to shake, not hard enough make them to fall to the ground, but enough to make them hold onto the console to steady themselves. Rose glanced at Donna out of the corner of her eye; she was sitting on the jump seat, gripping the seat edge. She looked a little scared but was still smiling.

Suddenly the TARDIS came to a stop with a jolt. Rose wasn’t prepared for the landing and she lost her grip on the console and fell to the floor. The Doctor annoyingly remained on his feet.

Bursting out laughing, she stayed on the floor for a moment before getting up to look at the console. Everything seemed okay – no fires or anything. She’d done it. She’d flown the TARDIS!

‘I did it!’ she cried happily and turned to face the Doctor who was smiling at her proudly.

‘Yes, you did.’

She flung her arms around his neck and he spun her around, his laughter sounding louder than usual so close to her ear.

‘Maybe hold off the celebrating until we actually open the doors,’ said Donna. ‘We could be in the middle of the ocean.’

Rose walked over to the doors and opened them just enough so that she could stick her head through the gap. The Doctor had suggested going for a random landing for her first go instead of setting coordinates, so she was eager to see where they hand ended up. ‘Nope, not in the ocean,’ she said, pulling her head back inside the TARDIS and closing the door. ‘Just gonna go get a change of clothes, though. Back in a mo.’

She left the console room and headed for the wardrobe. She heard Donna talking excitedly to the Doctor before she turned a corner and was out of earshot. Hopefully she had landed somewhere nice for her. After Pompeii, they hadn’t landed anywhere else, just stayed in the vortex or drifted through space - although space did have some beautiful views that they had enjoyed showing their new companion. Plus Rose had given Donna that tour of the TARDIDS that she had promised.

Once in the wardrobe room, Rose changed into a long sleeve top and grabbed the warmest jumper she could find. It was a tight-fitting one that was made of some sort of special fabric for keeping the heat in. She had picked it up on the planet Kilmeir ages ago. The whole planet was made of ice so the locals had the best winter clothing.

She grabbed another coat - a big fur one from the same planet- and headed back to the console room. Walking down the hall, she spotted Donna coming the other way, shivering. She chuckled to herself before handing her the coat.

‘Thanks,’ said Donna, taking the offered item of clothing and putting it on. ‘Bit chilly out there. Dunno how he doesn’t feel it.’

‘I know, it drives me mad sometimes,’ said Rose, still chuckling. ‘You good?’

Donna put the hood of her coat up and nodded, a big smile on her face. ‘Let’s go!’

----

‘Sorry, you were saying?’ asked Donna as her and Rose walked out of the TARDIS and out onto the snowy landscape.

‘Better?’ asked the Doctor.

Donna nodded. This coat was amazing! She couldn’t feel the bite of the cold at all. ‘Lovely, thanks.’

‘Comfy?’

‘Yep.’

‘Can you hear anything inside that?’ asked the Doctor, nodding at the hood of her lovely warm coat. It really was amazing.

‘Pardon?’ asked Donna and she laughed along with the Doctor and Rose

‘Right, I was saying, citizen of the Earth…’

The Doctor was interrupted by the sound of a rocket flying over them, so close that Donna felt like, if she jumped, she could touch it. It wasn’t that close, of course, it was just huge. Now this was what she had wanted to travel for. Great big rockets and alien landscapes. She couldn’t imagine a better adventure.

‘Blimey, a real proper rocket,’ she said in awe. ‘Now that's what I call a spaceship.’ She turned to the Doctor. ‘You've got a box; he's got a Ferrari. Come on, lets go see where he's going.’

She started walking away but not before she caught a glimpse of the Doctor looking somewhat offended while Rose laughed at him. The teasing was good-natured though, and by the time they caught up to Donna, Rose had her arm linked through the Doctor’s and he was smiling again.

----

Rose was admiring the view over a huge canyon when she started to hear it - music. It was soft and sounded so sad that Rose almost teared up. ‘What is that?’ she asked.

‘It sounds like a song,’ said the Doctor, turning on the spot, searching for the source of the music.

Donna put her hood down and listened for a moment. ‘I can’t hear anything,’ she said.

That was weird, thought Rose. Maybe this was another perk of her DNA being changed – she could now hear sounds that humans normally couldn’t.

‘Over there,’ said the Doctor, nodding to the right and running towards something in the snow. As Rose got closer, she realised that it was an Ood. If it weren’t for the song that it was somehow singing, Rose would have thought it was dead.

‘What is it?’ asked Donna.

‘An Ood. He's called an Ood,’ said the Doctor, kneeling down in the snow beside the dying creature and getting out his stethoscope. Rose soon joined him on the ground, expecting to feel the chill of snow beneath her knees, but was surprised to find that it didn’t affect her too much. It felt cold, that’s for sure, and she could feel her jeans dampening, but she was sure that it should feel worse.

‘But its face,’ continued Donna, staring at the Ood.

Rose understood the shock of seeing different species for the first time, but this was not a good moment.

Apparently the Doctor agreed. ‘Donna, don't,’ he said, not unkindly. ‘Not now. It's a he, not an it. Give me a hand.’

‘Sorry,’ said Donna as she too knelt in the snow.

‘I don't know where the heart is, said the Doctor placing the stethoscope in different places on the Ood’s chest. ‘I don't know if he's got a heart. Talk to him, keep him going.’

Rose took hold of the Ood’s hand as Donna tried to reassure him. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

‘Designated Ood Delta 50,’ replied the Ood, his communication ball lighting up.

Not fully understanding its purpose, Donna took the device out of the Ood’s hand and spoke into it. ‘My name's Donna.’

‘You don’t have to do that,’ explained Rose. ‘He can hear you, it’s just a translation device.’

Donna put the ball down, looking a little sheepish, and returned to trying to comfort “Designated Ood Delta 50”. Rose didn’t like the sound of that. She knew the Ood were slaves but she had hoped that they would have had enough freedom to choose their own names.

‘This is the Doctor,’ Donna told Delta 50. ‘Just what you need, a doctor. Couldn't be better, hey?’

‘You've been shot,’ said the Doctor. By the sadness in his voice, Rose knew that Delta 50 wasn’t going to make it.

‘The circle,’ started Delta 50 but Donna stopped him, putting hand on his shoulder.

‘No, don't try to talk,’ she urged in a soothing voice.

‘The circle must be broken.’

‘Circle?’ asked the Doctor. ‘What do you mean? Delta 50, what circle?’ No response. ‘Delta 50? What circle?’

Suddenly, with an angry roar, Delta 50’s eyes glowed red and he lunged up out of the snow. Rose jumped back and scrambled away from the still snarling Ood.

As quickly as the spasm had come, it disappeared. Delta 50 let out one last breath before falling back into the snow.

‘He's gone,’ said Donna, sadly, and she approached the now still Ood.

‘Careful,’ warned the Doctor but Donna ignored him and bent back down next to Delta 50 and started stroking his head.

‘There you are, sweetheart. We were too late.’ She turned to the Doctor and Rose. ‘What do we do, do we bury him?’

The Doctor shook his head ‘The snow will take care of that.’

‘Who was he? What's an Ood?’

‘They're servants of humans in the forty-second century. Mildly telepathic. That was the song. It was his mind calling out.’

‘I couldn't hear anything. He sang as he was dying.’

‘Doctor, why did his eyes turn red?’ asked Rose. ‘Was something possessing him. Was it…?’

The Doctor took her hand rubbed his thumb against hers. ‘It wasn’t him. The Beast is gone.’ Rose let out the breath she had been holding. ‘I think this is something else.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Donna, getting up and looking confusedly between the two of them.

‘The Ood are harmless,’ explained the Doctor as they began to walk away from Delta 50's body. ‘They're completely benign. Except, the last time we met them, there was this force, like a stronger mind, powerful enough to take them over.’

Rose bowed her head at the memory. That particular adventure had been hell. Literally. Complete with Satan himself. And they hadn't been able to save the Ood.

‘What sort of force?’ asked Donna.

‘The Devil,’ answered Rose.

‘If you're going to take the mickey, I'll just put my hood back up,’ said Donna, irritably. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t believe them. Rose still wasn’t sure if she believed it herself, and she saw it.

‘Not this time, though,’ said the Doctor, ignoring Donna's comment. 'Something closer to home.’ They crawled up a small hill of snow. ‘Ah ha! Civilisation.’

Rose peered over the ledge and saw what he was talking about – it was a massive complex. It looked a bit like a factory.

‘Got your psychic paper?’ Rose asked the Doctor.

He smiled. ‘Always.’

----

They got past the guards no problem and approached a group of people near an entrance to one of the buildings. As they got closer, it became apparent that these were visitors to the factory, not workers. Their clothes were nicer and they were being issued with maps and information packs. The woman handing out the items (or rather, getting an Ood to do it for her) introduced herself as Solana, Head of Marketing and Rose figured that that made the visitors either customers or investors.

‘Now, if you'd like to follow me,’ said Solana and she ushered the visitors to follow her into the building.

The Doctor, Rose and Donna ran up to her. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ said the Doctor. ‘Late. Don't mind us. Hello. The guards let us through.’

‘And you would be?’ asked Solana.

‘The Doctor, Rose, and Donna Noble,’ he said, flashing her the psychic paper like he had done with the guards.

‘Representing the Noble Corporation PLC Limited, Intergalactic,’ said Donna.

‘Must have fallen off my list. My apologies,’ said Solana. ‘Won't happen again. Now then, Doctor Noble…’ she looked between Rose and Donna. ‘Mrs. Noble?’ she asked, not sure which woman she was addressing. Donna very indiscreetly shoved Rose closer to the Doctor with a look that said that’s you. Solana looked at them suspiciously for a moment before she gave them their information packs and began to lead the group into the building. But before she could, an alarm started to sound.

‘Oh, what's that?’ asked the Doctor. ‘That sounds like an alarm.’

‘Oh, it's just a siren for the end of the work shift,’ said Solana but the worry in her eyes told a different story. ‘Now then, this way, quick as you can.’

She led them into a large room that looked like the showroom of a car dealership or maybe an art gallery. Except, instead of selling cars or paintings, this company was selling Ood. Rose felt a little sick.

‘As you can see, the Ood are happy to serve,’ said Solana from a podium, indicating to the Ood that were walking around with trays and serving people food and drinks. ‘And we keep them in facilities of the highest standard. Here at the Double O, that's Ood Operations, we like to think of the Ood as our trusted friends.’

Rose suppressed a snort. Funny way to treat your friends, she thought, looking at the Ood that were standing motionless on platforms. They were obviously there for display.

‘We keep the Ood healthy,’ continued Solana, toeing the company line, ‘safe, and educated. We don't just breed the Ood. We make them better. Because at heart, what is an Ood, but a reflection of us? If your Ood is happy, then you'll be happy, too.’

Rose glanced at the Doctor as the other visitors clapped politely. She could tell that he wasn’t convinced either.

Solana got down from her podium and started to walk through the crowd towards the Ood that were on display. ‘I'd now like to point out a new innovation from Ood Operations,’ she said. ‘We've introduced a variety package with the Ood translator ball. You can now have the standard setting.’ She turned to face the first Ood. ‘How are you today, Ood?’

‘I'm perfectly well, thank you,’ answered the Ood in the familiar voice that had been present with every Ood Rose had ever spoken to.

Solana moved to the next one. ‘Or perhaps after a stressful day, a little something for the gentlemen. And how are you, Ood?’

‘All the better for seeing you,’ said the Ood in a husky female voice and a few people in the crowd chuckled.

That was slightly disturbing.

‘And the comedy classic option,’ said Solana, moving to the last Ood. ‘Ood, you dropped something.’

‘D'oh,’ said the Ood in a remarkable Homer Simpson impression. Rose felt even more sick as the crowd laughed. These creatures were being humiliated.

‘All that for only five additional credits,’ said Solana. ‘The details are in your brochures. Now, there's plenty more food and drink, so don't hold back.’

As soon as she had left the room and the other people were distracted by the food and drink, the Doctor walked up to the computer stand that Solana had been using and pressed a few buttons. The big screen on the wall lit up and showed an image of the planet they were on. ‘Ah, got it,’ he said, popping on his glasses. ‘The Ood Sphere, I've been to this solar system before. Years ago. Ages. Close to the planet Sense Sphere. Let's widen out.’ The image on the screen changed so that it now showed the whole star system with multiple galaxies. ‘The year 4126. That is the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire.’

‘4126?’ asked Donna. ‘It's 4126. I'm in 4126.’

Rose smiled. ‘Yep.’

‘What's the Earth like now?’

‘Bit full,’ answered the Doctor. ‘But you see, the Empire stretches out across three galaxies.’

‘It's weird,’ said Donna. ‘I mean, it's brilliant, but, back home, the papers and the telly, they keep saying we haven't got long to live. Global warming, flooding, all the bees disappearing.’

‘Yeah. That thing about the bees is odd,’ interrupted the Doctor.

‘But look at us. We're everywhere. Is that good or bad, though? I mean, are we like explorers? Or more like a virus?’

‘Sometimes I wonder,’ muttered the Doctor and, looking at what the human race had done to the Ood, Rose understood his uncertainty.

‘What are the red dots?’ asked Donna, pointing at the map on the screen.

‘Ood distribution centres.’

‘Across three galaxies? Don't the Ood get a say in this?’

Without waiting for an answer, Donna walked over to one of the Ood serving drinks and tapped it on the shoulder. ‘Um, sorry, but… Hello. Tell me, are you all like this?’

‘I do not understand, Miss,’ said the Ood, thankfully with a regular non-humiliating, if not boring, voice

‘Why do you say Miss? Do I look single?’ asked Donna, suddenly getting off-topic.

‘Back to the point,’ said the Doctor.

Donna shook herself out of it. ‘Yeah. What I mean is, are there any free Ood? Are there Ood running wild somewhere, like wildebeest.’

‘All Ood are born to serve. Otherwise, we would die.’

‘But you can't have started like that. Before the humans, what were you like?’

Suddenly the Ood twitched. ‘The circle,’ it said cryptically.

‘The circle?’ asked Rose. Delta 50 had mentioned a circle as well. ‘What’s that?’

‘The circle,’ repeated the Ood. ‘The circle… is-’

Solana chose that moment to come back into the room, effectively cutting off the conversation. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. All Ood to hospitality stations, please.’

‘We’re never gonna find out anything with her around,’ muttered Rose, irritably. Last time she had met the Ood, they hadn’t been able to save any of them. She still felt guilty about that. She wasn’t going to let it happen again.

The Doctor nodded. ‘Agreed. I've had enough of the schmoozing. Do you fancy going off the beaten track?’ He held up a map to the complex and grinned.

Donna and Rose smiled too. ‘Rough guide to the Ood Sphere?’ asked Donna. ‘Works for me.’

Rose nodded. ‘Me too.’

----

Rose looked behind them to make sure no one was watching as the Doctor opened a locked gate with his sonic screwdriver. The outside area they were breaking into was all fenced up in a way that just screamed Out of Bounds. Seemed like the best place to start.

‘Ood shift eight now commencing,’ said a voice over the tannoy system. ‘Repeat. Ood shift eight now commencing.’

Rose and Donna followed the Doctor up a few snow-covered steps until they reached a platform that overlooked the yard outside the nearby factories. Two lines of Ood marched through the area. The Ood at the back of the line stumbled and fell and they heard the guard shout at it. When words didn’t seem to enough to get the Ood moving, he cracked a whip.

Rose winced. She wished she could say she was surprised by this treatment.

‘Servants?’ said Donna in disgust. ‘They're slaves.’

Finally, the fallen Ood got to its feet and joined the others back in the line.

‘Last time…’ said Rose, faltering as a wave of guilt overcame her. ‘Last time, we didn’t even ask. I mean, I said they were slaves but they said that the Ood offered themselves and then we lost the TARDIS and the pit opened and I just sort of forgot about it.’ She sighed and turned to the Doctor. ‘We should have asked.’

The Doctor nodded and Rose could tell that he was feeling the same guilt as she. ‘We were busy,’ he said, almost in a whisper. ‘So busy I couldn't save them. I had to let the Ood die.’ He turned to face Rose. ‘I reckon we owe them one.'

‘That looks like the boss,’ said Donna, pointing to a man who was now walking across the yard. Donna was right; he did look very boss-like. He wore a business suit and had well kept hair. Well, what was left of his hair was well kept. It was thinning a bit at the top.

Following the boss was a man in a white coat, two guards, and an Ood. Probably the boss’s own personal slave, thought Rose bitterly.

‘Let's keep out of his way,’ whispered the Doctor. ‘Come on.’

----

As they walked through the complex, Rose kept a look out for guards. She doubted that their disappearance would have gone unnoticed for long. Plus, it wouldn’t be long until they found out that they were not on the guest list.

A whistle from behind her made her jump and she turned around to see Donna at a door to one of the warehouses.

‘Where'd you learn to whistle?’ asked the Doctor as he and Rose joined Donna at the door.

‘West Ham, every Saturday.’

The Doctor used the sonic to unlock the door and they tentatively walked inside. The whole room was full of shipping containers. ‘Ood export,’ said the Doctor as they walked further into the warehouse. He pointed to the ceiling and Rose saw a claw device – like the ones in those arcade games where you have to try and grab the toy. Except this one was bigger. Much bigger. ‘You see? Lifts up the containers, takes them to the rocket sheds, ready to be flown out all over the three galaxies.’

‘What, you mean, these containers are full of…’ Donna trailed off, looking at the containers around them.

‘Ood,’ Rose finished for her.

They walked over to the nearest container and opened it. Rows and rows of Ood were inside. They weren’t moving about or huddling together or anything – there wasn’t the room. They were just standing there silently.

‘Oh, it stinks,’ said Donna. ‘How many of them do you think there are in each one?’

‘Hundred?’ said the Doctor. ‘More?’

‘A great big empire built on slavery.’

‘It's not so different from your time.’

‘Oi. I haven't got slaves,’ said Donna, defensively.

‘Who do you think made your clothes?’

Donna glared at him. ‘Is that why you travel round with a human at your side?’ she asked. ‘It's not so you can show them the wonders of the universe, it's so you can take cheap shots?’

The Doctor winced at the accusation. ‘Sorry,’ he said.

‘Don't…’ Donna’s glare faded. ‘Spaceman.’ And with the use of the Doctor’s nickname, Rose knew that Donna had already forgiven him.

Donna turned to face the Ood. ‘I don't understand,’ she said to them. ‘The door is open, why don't you just run away?’

‘For what reason?’ asked one of the Ood in the front row, its translation ball lighting up as it spoke.

‘You could be free.’

‘I do not understand the concept.’

‘What is it with that Persil ball?’ asked Donna, nodding at the translation device. ‘I mean, they're not born with it, are they? Why do they have to be all plugged in?’

Good question, thought Rose. They would have to remember to find out about it later. Right now, though, she had a different question on her mind. ‘Do you know anything about the circle?’ she asked the Ood who had spoken to Donna.

Suddenly, all the Ood translation devices lit up. ‘The circle must be broken,’ they said together. Rose shivered. It reminded her of Krop Tor when the Beast had possessed the Ood there. They had spoken in unison too.

‘Oh, that is creepy,’ said Donna.

‘But what is it? What is the circle?’ the Doctor asked the Ood.

‘The circle must be broken.’

‘Why?’

‘So that we can sing.’

‘Sing?’ asked Rose but any answer she hoped to receive was cut off by the sound of an alarm.

‘Oh, that's us,’ said the Doctor. ‘Come on.’

They ran.

The alarm stopped and Rose breathed a sigh of relief. Now she could concentrate on where she was going. She stopped for a second and realised that Donna was no longer with them. ‘Where’s she gone?’ she asked.

The sound of incoming guards caught her attention and her and the Doctor set off again. Rose had made it around at least three corners before she realised that the Doctor had gone the other way.

A mechanical groaning sounded from up above and Rose looked up to see that the huge claw was moving. ‘Oh, you have got to be kidding,’ she muttered to herself.

The claw moved closer to the other side of the warehouse and dropped down. The sound of metal on metal echoed around the room.

It was chasing the Doctor.

Rose looked around the platforms overlooking the shipping containers. Someone had to be controlling that thing. It didn’t take long to found out whom. The man who had been cracking the whip at the Ood was sitting at a set of controls. He was quite a bit away but Rose could tell that he was finding a sick sense of enjoyment out of chasing the Doctor with the claw.

Wasting no time, Rose ran to the nearest wall. If she could get out of this maze of containers, then maybe she could find a way up to the guard.

She turned a corner and saw that she had made it to the perimeter but her victory was short lived as two guards grabbed her arms and hauled her away from the containers and away from her chances of helping the Doctor.

Chapter Text

The Doctor dodged to the side as the huge claw missed him by inches. Who the hell tried to catch their prisoners with a mechanical claw?

He jumped over some barrels but he was a bit too slow and the claw nudged him on the way over. He cried out in shock rather than pain as he tumbled on the ground, rolling until he was lying on his back, facing the ceiling. Well, he would have been facing the ceiling if the claw weren’t blocking his view as it descended towards him.

With a loud mechanical groaning, the claw came to a stop, just a metre above the floor.

That was too close.

The Doctor took a moment to get his breath back but regretted it as soon as the guards appeared at his sides. They hauled him to his feet and marched him out of the maze of containers. As they approached the perimeter, the Doctor heard the unmistakable sound of Donna shouting. They had her trapped in one of the containers.

‘If you don't do what she says, you're really in trouble,’ he told the head guard as he approached, closely followed by Solana. ‘Not from me, from her.’

‘Unlock the container,’ said the head guard and two of the others did as he instructed.

Donna ran out and the guards released the Doctor, allowing him to embrace her. ‘There we go, safe and sound,’ he said.

‘Never mind about me,’ said Donna, pulling out of the hug. ‘What about them?’ She pointed to the container just as the Ood started to walk out. Each one of them had red eyes. The first Ood turned to one of the guards and put its translation ball to his head. Bolts of electricity shot from the orb and the guard screamed as he was electrocuted.

‘Red alert. Fire!’ shouted the head guard and suddenly the room was full of the sound of gunfire.

More red-eyed Ood were walking out of containers now, coming at the guards from both sides. The Doctor grabbed Donna’s hand and pulled her out of the way, Solana right behind them.

They made it outside and stopped to catch their breath. That’s when the Doctor suddenly became aware that Rose wasn’t with them.

‘Rose!’ he shouted, twirling on the spot, trying to see if she had made it outside before them and was hiding somewhere. When no answer came, the Doctor’s stomach turned as he realised that she must still be inside with the guards… and the Ood.

He made to run back into the warehouse but Donna grabbed his arm to stop him. ‘You can’t go back in there. It’s suicide.’

‘Rose is in there,’ he half-shouted, pulling his arm out of Donna’s grasp.

‘Your wife was captured by our guards before you were,’ said Solana, causing the Doctor to once again pause his rescue mission. ‘Or partner or friend or whoever she really is. They were already moving her out of the warehouse before the containers opened.’

The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief. Rose still needed his help, but at least she was still alive. He just had to find a way to get to her.

‘If people back on Earth knew what was going on here,’ Donna said to Solana.

‘Oh, don't be so stupid,’ she snapped back. ‘Of course they know.’

‘They know how you treat the Ood?’

‘They don't ask. Same thing.’

The Doctor scrubbed his hands down his face and brought his attention back to the Ood. He had to get to the bottom of this. Maybe Solana could help. ‘Solana, the Ood aren't born like this,’ he said at a bit of a growl. ‘They can't be. A species born to serve could never evolve in the first place. What does the company do to make them obey?’

‘That's nothing to do with me.’

Oh, if he had a nickel for every time he had heard that one.

‘Oh, what, because you don't ask?’ he snapped before controlling himself again.

‘That's Doctor Ryder's territory,’ said Solana.

‘Where's he? What part of the complex?’ He unfolded the map and held it out to Solana. She hesitated and the Doctor could see that she was debating with herself whether to help them or not. ‘I could help with the red-eye,’ he urged. ‘Now show me.’

Solana pointed to a building on the other side of the complex. ‘There,’ she said. ‘Beyond the red section.’

Making a snap decision, the Doctor tried to appeal to Solana’s sense of decency. ‘Come with me,’ he said. ‘You've seen the warehouse. You can't agree with all this. You know this place better than me. You could help.’

Solana was once again debating within herself and the Doctor thought that maybe – just maybe – he had gotten through to her.

‘They're over here!’ she shouted. ‘Guards! They're over here.’

Or not.

The Doctor let out a growl of annoyance before he and Donna once again started to run.

----

Rose struggled against her captors but it was no use. The guards were holding her too tightly.

They had tried questioning her earlier but Rose had refused to tell them anything, instead asking questions of her own – questions about how they were treating the Ood. Questions that also went unanswered. The head guard (a man called Kess) had not been impressed with her defiance, or maybe he was just angry at the situation as a whole, and had tried shouting at Rose and even threatened her with the whip.

But Rose had refused to budge. It’s not like they would have believed that she had driven a time machine and had landed here completely by chance anyway.

The Ood in the cage next to her continued to snarl and claw at the mesh as Kess explained the situation to someone at the other end of his communication device. Presumably the big boss.

‘How many Ood in total?’ asked the boss.

‘I'd say about two thousand, sir.’

‘We can write them off. That's what insurance is for. We have plenty more farms. We can start again. Fetch the canisters. No survivors.’

Rose felt sick.

‘What about the girl?’ asked Kess, glancing at Rose.

‘Is she saying anything?’

‘No.’

‘Then write her off too. Last thing I need is her getting out there, telling stories, ruining business. No survivors and no witnesses.’

Kess grinned. ‘Yes, sir.’ He turned off the communication device and pointed to two of the guards. ‘You two, canisters,’ he ordered before turning to the men who were holding Rose. ‘Chuck her in the cage. No point wasting bullets.’

Rose doubled her efforts to break free from the guards as they dragged her to the nearest cage. Kess opened the door and the guards threw her inside.

The Ood lunged at her and she quickly ducked out of the way and backed up to the far wall of the cage. The Ood didn’t follow; they were too busy clawing at the door that Rose had just been shoved through. The door that was now securely shut.

She wasn’t sure why the Ood weren’t attacking her, maybe they recognised that she was also a prisoner, or maybe they were just too focussed on getting out. Either way, Rose didn’t dare draw attention to herself, lest they changed their minds. Instead, she quietly looked around the small cage, hoping to find some sort of weakness to exploit before the guards returned with the canisters.

She didn’t find any.

----

‘This way,’ shouted the Doctor as he and Donna turned another corner and approached a door to another building. The Doctor immediately got out his sonic screwdriver and began to work at the lock. He was positive this was the right place. He could here the Ood singing. ‘Oh, can you hear it?’ he asked Donna. ‘I didn't need the map. I should have listened.’

He pushed the door open and, once inside, shut it again and pointed the sonic screwdriver at the panel beside it. The locking mechanism sparked and fizzled.

‘Hold on. Does that mean we're locked in?’ asked Donna, a hint of worry in her voice, but the Doctor was more focused on the song that was drifting through the room. He had never heard anything so sorrowful.

‘Listen. Listen, listen, listen, listen,’ he said, shining a torch through the dark room.

They made their way down a set of stairs to a room lined with cages and the singing grew in intensity. ‘Oh, my head,’ groaned the Doctor.

‘What is it?’ asked Donna.

‘Can't you hear it? The singing?’

Donna shook her head.

The Doctor shined the torch into the cages and saw that small groups of Ood were huddled together in each one. Donna turned on a light and they looked up at the sudden change in brightness. The Ood turned away and shuffled to the back of the cage as they saw Doctor and Donna approach. They looked so small and vulnerable.

They looked terrified.

‘They look different to the others,’ said Donna quietly.

‘That's because they're natural born Ood,’ said the Doctor as they knelt beside the cage, ‘unprocessed, before they're adapted to slavery. Unspoilt. That's their song.’

‘I can't hear it.’

The Doctor turned to her. ‘Do you want to?’

‘Yeah,’ said Donna after a slight pause.

‘It's the song of captivity,’ warned the Doctor.

‘Let me hear it.’ This time there was no hesitation.

‘Face me,’ he said and Donna did as she was told. He placed his fingers on her temples and gently touched her mind with his, giving her the ability to hear the Ood’s song. ‘Open your mind. That's it. Hear it, Donna. Hear the music.’ It wasn’t long before tears were streaming down Donna’s face and she was asking for the Doctor to take it away. He did so.

‘I'm sorry,’ said Donna, wiping away her tears.

‘It's okay.’

‘But you can still hear it.’

The Doctor nodded. ‘All the time.’

After a moment, the Doctor stood up and unlocked the cage so he could get closer to the Ood. Banging could be heard coming from upstairs. ‘They're breaking in,’ said Donna.

‘Ah, let them,’ said the Doctor, not caring one ounce if the guards got in or not. He approached the Ood cowering in the corner of the cage, Donna following close behind him.

‘What are you holding?’ he asked the Ood. ‘Show me. Friend. Doctor, Donna. Friend. Let me see. Look at me. Let me see.’ Slowly, the Ood approached them.’ That's it. That's it, go on. Go on.’ The Ood held out its hands and revealed what it had been holding: a brain. It was attached on cerebral cord, much like the translator balls were attached to the processed Ood. The Doctor’s anger flared again. He had seen proof of the horrible treatment of the Ood but this? This was something else.

‘Is that..?’ asked Donna.

‘It's a brain. A hind brain. The Ood are born with a secondary brain. Like the amygdala in humans, it processes memory and emotions. You get rid of that; you wouldn't be Donna any more. You'd be like an Ood. A processed Ood.’ That’s why the Ood were so willing to serve. But there must be something else, thought the Doctor. Something he was missing.

‘So the company cuts off their brains?’ Donna was clearly just as disgusted at the treatment of these poor creatures.

‘And they stitch on the translator.’

‘Like a lobotomy,' said Donna. 'I spent all that time looking for you, Doctor, because I thought it was so wonderful out here… I want to go home.’

The Doctor didn’t have a chance to properly digest those words before a loud crash echoed through the room. The guards had gotten into the building. He shut the cage door as they approached, looking himself and Donna in with the Ood. ‘What you going to do, then?’ he shouted, his anger no longer hidden. ‘Arrest me? Lock me up? Throw me in a cage? Well, you're too late. Ha!’

----

Rose bit her lip in worry as the guards attached the canisters onto the outside of the cage. She had tried every inch of the cage available to her and she couldn’t find a way out.

‘Canisters primed, sir,’ said Kess into his communicator. ‘As soon as the core heats up, the gas is released. Give it two hundred marks,’ he pressed a button on the canister and it beeped, ‘and counting.’

He laughed as he put on his gas mask.

Rose closed her eyes, trying to block out the beeping that was counting down the remaining seconds of her life. She shed a tear as she thought of the Doctor. She had promised him forever and now she was going to die here, so soon after he had finally let her in. It hadn’t been enough. She wasn’t ready.

At least he had Donna. That thought gave Rose comfort. At least the Doctor wouldn’t be alone. And Donna would stop him from blaming himself.

Rose had no idea how long she had left; she had stopped counting the beeps. The Ood had begun to sing again, distracting her. She hesitantly opened her eyes and saw that they had formed a circle, their hands pressed together, completing the circuit. It looked like they were praying.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded, but the Ood continued to sing.

‘What's going on out there?’ asked Kess, taking off his mask.

The door opened and Rose heard the sound of screaming and gunfire from outside. What was happening?

More Ood came through the open door, their eyes a threatening red. They unlocked the cage, setting their fellow Ood - and Rose - free. Kess tried to stop them but they easily overpowered him and locked him in one of the cages that they had just vacated, his gas mask lay on the floor on the other side. And the canister was getting close to the end of its countdown.

The Ood walked past Rose, not paying her any mind, and left Kess to his fate.

But Rose couldn’t.

No matter how cruel the man had been, she couldn’t just leave him to die. She ran up to the cage and tried to unlock it. Kess stared at her in shock, obviously wondering why she was helping him when he had tried to kill her not moments ago.

But that only lasted for a second. His shock quickly turned to desperation. ‘Get me out!’ he shouted.

‘I’m trying,’ said Rose as she uselessly pulled at the door. She glanced at the canister; time was almost up. She wasn’t going to make it. Judging by the look in his eyes, Kess realised it too.

In what was probably the only selfless moment of his life, he put a stop to Rose’s futile efforts. ‘Leave me,’ he said, defeated.

Rose hesitated, looking at the canister once more. There was no opening the cage and if she stayed any longer, it wouldn’t matter which side of the bars she was on. She had to leave.

She turned back to Kess. Despite all that he’d done, she still felt guilty. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

‘Don’t be.’

Without looking back, Rose ran out of the room and shut the door behind her just as the canisters activated.

----

Rose ran through the complex, keeping to the sidelines, avoiding the revolution that had started to take place. Guards were everywhere, battling the Ood, every one of which now seemed to have red eyes. She had to find the Doctor. No doubt he had had something to do with this. But where to start looking?

Rose thought for a moment. The Doctor had wanted answers, and who better to ask than the big boss?

She quickly made her way to the reception area where Solana had first shown them the Ood, it was deserted bar from a few dead bodies. Rose bent down and picked up one of the maps that one of the investors had dropped in their haste to get out. It didn’t take long to figure out where the main office was. And it wasn’t far at all.

----

Rose heard muffled voices and rushed through the door to an office. She almost cried with relief when she found the Doctor and Donna on the other side. The Ood were releasing them from handcuffs. It looked like they had been chained to the wall.

‘Rose!’ shouted the Doctor and he tried to run to her but he wasn’t quite free from his cuffs yet. He let out a growl of pain or frustration as he was yanked back towards the wall by his still chained arm.

‘Rose is a friend too,’ said Donna quickly to the Ood. She was obviously worried that they might start attacking.

‘It’s okay, they know,’ said Rose as she moved over to them. The Doctor had gotten out of his cuffs now and he wasted no time in pulling Rose toward him into a tight hug.

‘She was imprisoned with us,’ said one of the Ood. ‘She is our comrade.’

“What?’ asked the Doctor, pulling back. His eyes were dark with anger.

‘But I’m out now,’ said Rose, placing a reassuring hand on his arm. ‘I’m fine. What happened with the Ood?’

‘They’re regaining their freedom,’ said the Doctor, ‘but we have to find Halpen. He’s up to something. We have to stop him.’

----

Rose and Donna followed the Doctor outside. ‘I don't know where it is,’ he shouted over the gunfire. ‘I don't know where they've gone.’

‘What are we looking for?’ asked Donna.

‘It might be underground, like some sort of cave, or a cavern, or-’ He trailed off and started running in another direction. Rose and Donna had no choice but to follow.

Suddenly, something behind them exploded, the force of it knocking them all to the ground.

‘All right?’ asked the Doctor, getting up and waving the smoke away from his face.

‘Yeah,’ said Rose, brushing the snow off her jacket. When she looked up, she saw a solitary Ood behind the Doctor. The only Ood in the complex that didn’t have red eyes.

----

The Doctor held Rose's hand extra tightly as they followed the Ood to Warehouse 15, where no doubt, they would find Halpen. He was still furious that the guards had tried to kill her and now he was a little scared to let her go.

He used the sonic to open the door and they quietly entered the warehouse. They descended the stairs until they reached a huge room. Well, it needed to be huge didn’t it? Otherwise the huge brain that sat below them wouldn’t fit.

‘The Ood Brain,’ said the Doctor. ‘Now it all makes sense, That's the missing link. The third element, binding them together. Forebrain, hind brain, and this, the telepathic centre. It's a shared mind, connecting all the Ood in song.’

The brain was surrounded by a circle of electricity. A circle! That’s what the Ood were trying to tell them. The circle must be broken. The electronic pulses were cutting off the Ood’s connection to the brain.

The sound of a gun being cocked caused the Doctor to straighten up and turn around, knowing exactly who he would see. Sure enough, Halpen was standing in the shadows, gun in his hand and a mad glint in his eye. ‘Cargo. I can always go into cargo,’ he said, stepping into the open. ‘I've got the rockets; I've got the sheds. Smaller business. Much more manageable, without livestock.’

‘He's mined the area,’ said Ryder, one of Halpen’s scientists. The Doctor glanced around. He was right, mines were scattered everywhere. Oh, Halpen was going to pay for this.

‘You're going to kill it?’ asked Donna.

‘They found that thing centuries ago beneath the Northern Glacier,’ said Halpen as if he hadn’t heard her.

‘Those pylons,’ said the Doctor, looking down at the brain.

‘In a circle,’ said Donna as she made the connection.

‘The circle must be broken,’ said Rose, reciting what the Ood had told them earlier.

‘Damping the telepathic field,’ continued the Doctor. ‘Stopping the Ood from connecting for two hundred years.’

‘And you, Ood Sigma, you brought them here,’ said Halpen, glaring at the Ood behind them. ‘I expected better.’

‘My place is at your side, sir,’ said Ood Sigma, moving to stand next to Halpen.

Halpen chuckled. ‘Still subservient. Good Ood.’ He seemed to struggle with that last bit.

That was interesting.

‘If that barrier thing's in place, how come the Ood started breaking out?’ asked Donna.

The Ductor shrugged. ‘Maybe it's taken centuries to adapt. The subconscious reaching out?’

‘Or sabotage,’ said Rose. The Doctor didn’t miss the quick glance she shot at Ryder. Come to think of it, the man didn’t look too upset at the Ood’s revolution. He almost seemed proud.

‘The process was too slow,’ said Ryder, stepping up. ‘It had to be accelerated. You should never give me access to the controls, Mister Halpen. I lowered the barrier to its minimum. Friends Of The Ood, sir. It's taken me ten years to infiltrate the company, and I succeeded.’

‘Yes. Yes, you did,’ said Halpen, surprisingly calm. Too calm.

Ryder didn’t have time to react as Halpen reached out and threw him over the railing and into the brain below. The Doctor leaned over the edge, holding his hand out in a futile attempt to catch Ryder, but it was too late. He watched on in horror as the giant brain absorbed the man who had been trying to help it.

‘That was murder,’ Rose spat at Halpen.

‘Very observant,’ said Halpen without a hint of remorse. He redirected the gun so it was pointing at them once more. ‘Now, then. Can't say I've ever shot anyone before. Can't say I'm going to like it. But, er, it's not exactly a normal day, is it? Still.’

He held the gun steady, preparing to fire and the Doctor stepped forward to shield Rose and Donna.

‘Would you like a drink, sir?’ asked Ood Sigma, offering Haplen a glass of clear liquid.

Halpen chuckled and waved the Ood away. ‘I think hair loss is the least of my problems right now, thanks.'

But Ood Sigma wasn’t giving up. He stood in front of the Doctor, getting between him and the gun. ‘Please have a drink, sir.’

‘If, if you're going to stand in their way, I'll shoot you too,’ stammered Halpen.

The Doctor put a hand on Sigma’s shoulder, trying to guide him out of the path of an expected bullet, but the Ood didn’t budge.

‘Please have a drink, sir.’

Halpen stared down at the drink, a look of shock and fear passing over his features. ‘Have… have you poisoned me?’ he asked, now shaking slightly.

‘Natural Ood must never kill, sir.’

‘Poisoned?’ asked Rose as Halpen put a hand to his head. ‘What’s in the glass?’

‘Ood graft suspended in a biological compound, miss,’ said Ood Sigma.

‘What the hell does that mean?’ asked Halpen.

‘Oh, dear,’ said the Doctor. Halpen was about to get a well deserved serving of poetic justice.

‘Tell me!’

‘Funny thing, the subconscious,’ said the Doctor. ‘Takes all sorts of shapes. Came out in the red eye as revenge, came out in the rabid Ood as anger, and then there was patience. All that intelligence and mercy, focused on Ood Sigma. How's the hair loss, Mister Halpen?’

Halpen reached up to tug at his hair and when he pulled his hand away, a big lump of hair came with it. ‘What have you done?’ he asked, staring at the hair in shock.

‘Oh, they've been preparing you for a very long time. And now you're standing next to the Ood Brain, Mister Halpen, can you hear it? Listen.’

‘Preparing him for what?’ asked Rose.

Halpen stuttered and shook for a moment before his expression went blank and he dropped the gun. He once again reached to his head, but this time, instead of just pulling out a few strands of hair, he pulled at his entire scalp. The skin came away quite easily. He bent over and gagged a couple of times as tentacles came out of his mouth.

‘Oh my God,’ gasped Rose. ‘He’s turning into an Ood.’

Halpen straightened up, the conversion now finished. He was an Ood.

‘He's an Ood,’ said Donna, staring at Halpen.

‘Yep,’ said the Doctor.

Halpen sneezed, causing Rose to jump a little, and a small brain flew into his hands.

‘He has become Oodkind’ said Ood Sigma, ‘and we will take care of him.’

The Doctor was sure that he meant it. The Ood would look after this man who had enslaved and threatened them all. It was a lot more mercy than the Doctor had intended to give him.

‘It's weird, being with you. I can't tell what's right and what's wrong any more,’ said Donna.

‘I think some things are bit of both,’ said Rose, watching Halpen with a look that was mostly shock with a hint of intrigue.

The Doctor nodded. ‘Besides, people who know for certain tend to be like Mister Halpen.’

A shrill beeping sounded. Shit, the explosives! He had totally forgotten.

Rushing over, he reached over the ledge and deactivated the mines. ‘That's better.’ He ran over to the panel that controlled the pylons surrounding the Ood brain. ‘And now, Sigma, would you allow me the honour?’

‘It is yours, Doctor,’ replied the Ood with a small bow.

The Doctor grinned widely and started pressing buttons. ‘Oh, yes!’ he cried. ‘Stifled for two hundred years, but not any more. The circle is broken. The Ood can sing.’ With one last flick of a switch, the circle of electricity around the brain disappeared and a wonderful song filled the air. The Song of Freedom.

‘I can hear it!’ said Donna, smiling.

‘It’s beautiful,’ said Rose. She looked up and smiled at the Doctor with pride in her eyes. ‘You did it. You set them free.’

----

‘The message has gone out,’ the Doctor told Ood Sigma. They were now back in the snow just outside the TARDIS. ‘That song resonated across the galaxies. Everyone heard it. Everyone knows. The rockets are bringing them back. The Ood are coming home.’

‘We thank you, Doctor Donna, and Rose, friends of Oodkind,’ said Sigma. ‘And what of you now? Will you stay? There is room in the song for you.’

The Doctor glanced at Rose and then back to the TARDIS. ‘Oh, I've, I've sort of got a song of my own, thanks,’ he told Sigma.

‘I think your song must end soon.’

The Doctor’s smile vanished. ‘Meaning?’

‘Every song must end.’

Rose stepped forward and took the Doctor’s hand, letting him know that she was there for him. He squeezed her fingers lightly in gratitude. They could deal with whatever Ood Sigma had meant later.

He turned to Donna. ‘What about you?’ he asked. ‘You still want to go home?’

‘You wanted to go home?’ asked Rose, looking a little worried. She clearly wasn’t ready to say goodbye to their newest friend either.

Donna smiled and shook her head. ‘No. Definitely not.’

Rose and the Doctor both smiled back at her, relieved. ‘Then we'll be off,’ said the Doctor, turning back to the Ood.

‘Take this song with you,’ said Sigma and his fellow Ood began to sing.

‘We will,’ said Donna.

‘Always,’ agreed the Doctor.

‘And know this, you will never be forgotten. Our children will sing of the Doctor Donna, and their friend, Rose. And our children's children, and the wind and the ice and the snow will carry your names forever.’

The Doctor smiled at the Ood before leading Rose and Donna into the TARDIS. Once inside, he sent them drifting into the vortex.

Donna excused herself and the Doctor was left alone with Rose. ‘We did good today,’ she said, smiling at him from the other side of the console.

‘Yeah,’ he agreed though he didn’t smile back. He was too busy thinking about what had happened to her while they had been separated. They hadn’t had a chance to talk about it yet and he had to know.

‘Earlier, you said that you were in the cage with the Ood,’ he said. ‘The Ood that were going to be gassed. What happened?’

‘Oh, same old,’ said Rose with forced cheerfulness. ‘Got out just in the nick of time.’

‘How?’

Rose’s smile faded. ‘The Ood. They started to sing and then some others came in and got us out. They…’ She trailed off, looking down at her feet. ‘They locked the guard in the cage instead. I couldn’t get him out. I had to leave him.’ The Doctor walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her in an effort to comfort her. ‘I tried,’ she said, her voice slightly muffled by his coat. ‘I really did.’

‘I know you did,’ he whispered, not letting her go. He had no doubt that Rose would have done everything she could have to save that man… even if he didn’t deserved her help. But that was Rose. That was so Rose. Showing compassion to a man who had just tried to kill her.

The Doctor pulled back slightly and gave her a small smile. He reluctantly let her go and moved over to a drawer under the console. The drawer where he had stored the gift that he had made for her a few days ago.

He walked back over to Rose and held it out to her. Her eyes lit up as she took it. ‘Is that…?’

‘Your very own sonic,’ said the Doctor as Rose slowly rolled the screwdriver with her fingers, inspecting it from each angle. After a few more seconds of her just staring at in silence, the Doctor’s nerves got the better of him. ‘It’s pretty much the same as mine,’ he said quickly, shoving his hands in his pockets. ‘I thought that would be easier seeing as you already know how to use all the settings. Well, most of the settings… A few of the settings. Anyway, do you like it?’

Rose looked up at him, grinning widely. ‘I love it!’ she said and the Doctor let go of the breath that he had been holding. She pressed a button and the tip of the screwdriver lit up. ‘Oh, and it’s pink!’ she cried happily.

The Doctor beamed back at her for a moment before he remembered the events of the day and his smile slowly faded. ‘If I’d given it to you earlier you could have gotten out of that cage,’ he said softly.

Rose turned the sonic off and looked up at him once more, her face now serious. ‘Don’t go blaming yourself for that,’ she said. ‘The guards would have just taken it off me anyway.’

That was probably true, the Doctor admitted to himself. Maybe it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference after all. ‘Suppose you’re right,’ he sighed and he tried to give a small smile.

Rose reached up and wound her arms around his neck so that she could give him a quick kiss. ‘Thank you, Doctor,’ she said and all the worry and anger from the day faded away. It was really amazing how she could do that to him with just one movement.

Smiling properly now, he let her go and moved over to the console. ‘So, where to now?’ he asked as he happily started flicking switches. ‘We could take Donna to Barcelona? Or we could go have tea with Winston Churchill? Or we could take a cruise down the rivers of Pandrico? The water there is crystal clear and you can see all the way down to the bottom.’

‘Sounds brilliant,’ said Rose, chuckling at his enthusiasm.

‘Pandrico it is then!’

‘I’ll go get Donna,’ said Rose as the Doctor set the coordinates. He watched her as she left the console room, still twirling her new sonic screwdriver in her hand.

Once she had gone, he returned to his button pressing, though with a little less gusto than before. He didn’t want to worry Rose, but he was a little scared at what Ood Sigma had said about his song ending soon. He wasn’t sure what the Ood had meant but it certainly didn’t bode well. The Doctor’s life was finally good again. He was happy. He wasn’t ready for it to end just yet.

Chapter Text

If Rose was honest with herself, she was a tinsy bit jealous of Donna at the moment. Okay, so she was a lot jealous. It had taken her three years of travelling with the Doctor for her to fly the TARDIS and now Donna was getting a lesson only three weeks in. She wasn’t mad at the Doctor for teaching Donna, not at all (after all, it was the Doctor teaching Rose that made Donna want to have a go in the first place), she was just jealous of Donna’s courage to ask so soon.

‘I can't believe I'm doing this!’ said Donna as she tentatively operated the controls.

‘No, neither can I,’ said the Doctor. He looked quite scared really. He was standing right next to Donna, rubber mallet in hand, as if ready to take over at a moment’s notice.

Soon enough, a moment presented itself. ‘Oh, careful.' He hit the console with the mallet and pulled a random lever. Once satisfied that all was well, he let Donna take over again.

Rose smiled at the gleeful look on Donna’s face. She was clearly enjoying herself.

‘Left hand down. Left hand down!’ said the Doctor suddenly, reading the scanner. Donna did as she was told and the TARDIS jolted slightly. Not enough to send them flying to the floor but enough to make Rose grab the console for support. ‘Getting a bit too close to the 1980s.’

Donna rolled her eyes. ‘What am I going to do, put a dent in them?’

‘Well, someone did.’

Rose bit her lip to stop herself from giggling. It had been like this from the moment that the Doctor had agreed to let Donna “take the wheel” for a quick trip through the vortex; the two of them going back and forth non-stop with their friendly banter.

The moment was broken by the sound Rose’s phone ringing. It took her a moment to recognise it. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had phoned her. ‘Sorry, that’s me,’ she said to the Doctor and Donna as she fished the phone out of her pocket and looked at the caller ID. It was an unknown number. Rose cast a nervous glance at the Doctor, who was watching with interest, and answered the phone. ‘Hello?’

‘Rose, it’s Martha,’ came the familiar voice of their former companion. ‘I'm bringing you back to Earth.’

----

The Doctor took the reins and locked the TARDIS on to Martha’s location and within moments they were landing in London. Rose all but ran out of the doors as soon as the central column had stilled. But her excitement turned to nervousness the moment she stepped out the door. What if Martha didn’t want to see them? She had sounded happy enough on the phone but the conversation had seemed very business-like. What if she blamed them for what had happened with the Master? Rose wouldn’t hold it against her if she did. Her and her family had been put through hell.

Rose turned around to see Martha smiling at her and her anxiety lessened a little. She slowly walked up to her friend and held out her arms in invitation. Martha didn’t hesitate as she stepped forward and hugged Rose.

‘It’s good to see you,’ she said.

‘And you.’

The Doctor walked out of the TARDIS, showing signs of the same worry that Rose had had. Martha let go of Rose and immediately gave him the same warm welcome.

Then Donna walked out and her smile faded. ‘Right. Should have known. Didn't take you long to replace me, then,’ she said, sounding a little hurt but trying to brush it off.

‘No, no,’ said the Doctor quickly. ‘She’s not replacement, she’s another friend.’

‘Donna Noble, meet Martha Jones,’ said Rose.

Martha and Donna shook hands. ‘I've heard all about you,’ said Donna. ‘These two are always talking about you.’

‘I dread to think,’ said Martha, glancing at the Doctor and Rose.

‘No, no, no. No, they say nice things,’ said Donna quickly as the Doctor nodded. ‘Good things. Nice things. Really good things.’

Rose chose this moment to spare Donna. ‘How are you, anyway?’ she asked Martha.

‘I’m good,’ she said and Rose could see that she meant it. There was a happiness in her eyes that wasn’t there the last time they had seen each other.

‘And the family?’ asked the Doctor. Rose could hear the guilt in his voice.

‘Oh, you know, they’re getting there,’ said Martha. ‘Recovering.’ She looked down at her hands and started fiddling with the ring on her finger.

Hold on… a ring?

‘So, who’s the lucky man?’ asked Rose, nodding at the ring.

‘What man? Lucky what?’ asked the Doctor.

‘She's engaged, you prawn,’ said Donna, rolling her eyes. Martha held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers.

‘Really?’ asked the Doctor. ‘Who to?’

‘Tom,’ answered Martha. ‘That Tom Milligan. He's in pediatrics. Working out in Africa right now. And yes, I know, I've got a doctor who disappears off to distant places. Tell me about it.’ Rose chuckled at the knowing look that Martha had sent her.

‘Congratulations,’ she said. She was glad that Martha had found someone. God knows it had been rough on her putting up with her and the Doctor for so long.

A thought occurred to Rose as Donna started asking Martha about her new man; just how long had it been for Martha? It can’t have been that long, could it? But Martha was already engaged to someone whom she had never met before that dreadful year of walking the Earth. Someone she had met during that year and who had no memory of that time.

‘How long has it been?’ asked Rose, interrupting what had become a round of jibing the Doctor.

Martha’s smile faded a little. ‘Almost a year,’ she admitted.

‘A whole year?’ asked Rose, trying to hide the hurt from her voice. Martha hadn’t tried to contact them for a whole year? That stung a little. ‘It’s only been a few weeks for us,’ she said softly.

Martha gave Rose an apologetic look. ‘I just needed time,’ she said.

Rose nodded. She understood. Martha had obviously been hurting and Rose couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for it. She had been married to the man who had turned Martha's life - and everybody else's - into hell.

‘Doctor Jones, report to base, please. Over,’ said a voice from the radio that and Rose had only just noticed was attached to Martha’s belt. Come to think of it, Martha’s whole outfit was unusual. Almost military.

Martha picked up her radio and raised it to her mouth. ‘This is Doctor Jones. Operation Blue Sky is go, go, go. I repeat, this is a go.’

They followed Martha out from behind the small building they were next to and suddenly the area was alive with activity. Rose watched as a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles rushed past. They were definitely military.

Martha led them across the yard towards a factory labeled, ATMOS, every now and then issuing instructions into her radio. Rose didn’t know if she should be worried or proud. Martha had obviously changed a lot in the past year. She was still the Martha that Rose had come to know and love, that was for sure… but she seemed harder now. More like a soldier than a doctor.

‘What’s all this?’ asked Rose as they passed a group of soldiers searching whatever factory they were in.

‘UNIT,’ said Martha. ‘They hired me not long after the business with Harold Saxon.’

‘What are you searching for?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Illegal aliens.’

‘This is a UNIT operation,’ said a soldier into a megaphone, his voice booming across the factory. ‘All workers lay down your tools and surrender immediately.’

The Doctor, Rose and Donna lagged a little behind as Martha issued more orders over her radio.

‘Is that what you did to her?’ asked Donna after Martha had run off to join some UNIT troops. ‘Turned her into a soldier?’

----

Martha wasn’t gone long and before Rose knew it, they were headed to a truck that UNIT was using as their site headquarters.

‘And you're qualified now,’ said the Doctor, nodding at the badge that Martha was wearing. ‘You're a proper doctor.’

‘UNIT rushed it through,’ said Martha, ‘given my experience in the field. Here we go. We're establishing a field base on site. They're dying to meet you.’

‘Wish I could say the same,’ muttered the Doctor. He was obviously a little unnerved by Martha’s change of lifestyle as well.

Martha led them into the back of the truck. It was huge! It almost looked bigger on the inside. There were desks everywhere and big computer screens on one of the walls. Martha walked towards a man who was obviously an officer of some kind. ‘Operation Blue Sky complete, sir. Thanks for letting me take the lead. And, this is the Doctor. Doctor, Colonel Mace.’

‘Sir,’ said Mace, straightening up and saluting the Doctor.

‘Oh, don't salute,’ said the Doctor in annoyance.

‘But it's an honour, sir. I've read all the files on you. Technically speaking, you're still on staff. You never resigned.’

‘What, you used to work for them?’ asked Donna and the Doctor nodded.

‘Yeah, long time ago. Back in the 70's. Or was it the 80's? But it was all a bit more homespun back then.’

‘Times have changed, sir,’ said Mace.

‘Yeah, that's enough of the sir.’

‘Come on, though, Doctor. You've seen it,’ said Martha, leading them into the next section of the truck. In this room there was one huge screen taking up most of the wall. It was currently showing a map of the world. ‘You've been on board the Valiant. We've got massive funding from the United Nations, all in the name of Home World Security.’

‘A modern UNIT for the modern world,’ said Mace proudly.

‘What, and that means arresting ordinary factory workers, in the streets, in broad daylight?’ asked Donna angrily. ‘It's more like Guantanamo Bay out there. Donna, by the way. Donna Noble, since you didn't ask. I'll have a salute.’

Rose bit her thumbnail to hide her smile as Mace looked uncertainly at the Doctor and then gave Donna her salute.

‘So what’s so special about this factory?’ asked Rose once she was sure she could speak without giggling. ‘Oh, and I’m Rose by the way.’ No one had asked for her name either.

‘Yesterday, fifty-two people died in identical circumstances,’ said Mace, nodding at the map on the screen. ‘Right across the world, in eleven different time zones. Five a.m. in the UK, six a.m. in France, eight a.m. in Moscow, one p.m. in China.’ The times appeared on the map next to the appropriate locations as he spoke.

‘You mean they died simultaneously,’ summarised the Doctor.

‘Exactly. Fifty-two deaths at the exact same moment, worldwide.’

‘How did they die?’

‘They were all inside their cars.’

‘They were poisoned,’ said Martha. ‘I checked the biopsies. No toxins. Whatever it is left the system immediately.’

‘So what’s the connection to the factory?’ asked Rose.

'All the cars completely different makes,' said Martha, 'but they do have one thing in common; they're all fitted with ATMOS, and that,’ she nodded at the wall, indicating what was outside it, ‘is the ATMOS factory.’

‘What's ATMOS?’ asked the Doctor and Rose together.

‘Oh, come on. Even I know that,’ said Donna. ‘Everyone's got ATMOS.’

----

Mace and Martha led them through the factory as Martha told them about ATMOS. ‘Stands for Atmospheric Omission System,’ she explained. ‘Fit ATMOS in your car, it reduces CO2 emissions to zero.’

‘Zero?’ asked the Doctor, surprised. ‘No carbon, none at all?’

‘And you get sat-nav and twenty quid in shopping vouchers if you introduce a friend,’ said Donna. ‘Bargain.’

‘And this is where they make it, Doctor,’ said Mace and they stopped to look out at the workroom below. Rose couldn’t help but focus on the workers that the soldiers were pushing around. ‘Shipping worldwide. Seventeen factories across the globe, but this is the central depot, sending ATMOS to every country on Earth.’

‘And you think ATMOS is alien,’ said the Doctor.

‘It's our job to investigate that possibility.’

‘Zero carbon. It certainly sounds alien,’ said Rose. ‘But that still doesn’t excuse how you’re treating these people.’

She glared at Mace and he cleared his throat awkwardly before leading them through a plastic curtain and into another room. There was a table in the centre with some sort of an ATMOS device laid out on it.

‘And here it is, laid bare,’ said Mace. ‘ATMOS can be threaded through any and every make of car.’

‘You must've checked it,’ said the Doctor, ‘before it went on sale.’

‘We did,’ said Martha. ‘We found nothing. That's why I thought we needed an expert.’

The Doctor put on his glasses and peered around the room. Rose had to admit that they did make him look rather sexy. He had shed his coat back in the truck, leaving him in a suit that showed off his thin frame. Maybe the blue wasn’t too bad after all. ‘Really. who'd you get?’ he asked and everyone in the room gave him the same look. The look that said, seriously?

It only took a second for him to catch on. ‘Oh, right. Me, yes. Good.’

Martha and Mace left the room, leaving the Doctor, Rose and Donna alone with the ATMOS device. ‘Okay. So why would aliens be so keen on cleaning up our atmosphere?’ asked Donna.

‘A very good question,’ said the Doctor.

‘Maybe they want to help. Get rid of pollution and stuff.’

‘That would make a nice change,' muttered Rose. Somehow she doubted that that was the reason though.

‘Do you know how many cars there are on planet Earth?’ asked the Doctor. ‘Eight hundred million. Imagine that. If you could control them, you'd have eight hundred million weapons.’

That sounded like a more likely reason.

The Doctor went back to examining the ATMOS device and Rose and Donna watched him silently for a few minutes.

Soldiers marched more factory workers past the doorway (they could hear them more than see them) and Donna’s head snapped up. ‘Hey, Rose come and give me a hand,’ she said, nodding towards the doorway. ‘I want to check something.’

‘Back in a minute,’ she told the Doctor as she followed Donna out of the room. He made a noise to signal that he heard her but didn’t look up; he was too engrossed in discovering how the machine worked. Rose smiled at him from the doorway. He always got like this when there was a mystery to be solved. It could get annoying at times when he tuned everything else out, but he did look adorable when he was concentrating like this. And, given long enough, he always found whatever answers he was looking for.

Rose left the Doctor to it and followed Donna down the corridor. ‘Where we going?’ she asked.

‘Office,’ said Donna. ‘While this lot are checking out the parts and machinery, I want to have a look at the people. The office will have their records stored somewhere.’ She paused and thought for a moment. ‘Might have to break into a filing cabinet or two.’

Rose smiled and pulled out her new sonic screwdriver from her pocket. ‘It’ll give me a chance to use this, then, won’t it?’

----

The Doctor looked up when he heard the curtain at the doorway rustle and was slightly disappointed to see that it was Colonel Mace who was coming through, followed my Martha. Not that the Doctor would ever be disappointed to see Martha, but he was kind of hoping that Rose and Donna would have been back by now. Rose always gave him the most adorable smiles when he was babbling about things that he knew she didn’t fully understand. He would often throw a few extra bits of random nonsense in just to see more those smiles. Sometimes he wondered if she just liked to hear him talk to her as he worked.

‘Ionising nano-membrane carbon dioxide converter,’ he said to Martha and Mace, holding up the part in his hands. ‘Which means that ATMOS works. Filters the CO2 at a molecular level.’

‘We know all that,’ said Mace, following the Doctor to the next piece of equipment, ‘but what's its origin? Is it alien?’

‘No. Decades ahead of its time.’ Mace leant in to see what he was looking at. He was far too close for the Doctor’s liking. ‘Look, do you mind? Could you stand back a bit?’

‘Sorry, have I done something wrong?’ asked Mace, standing up straight again.

‘You're carrying a gun. I don't like people with guns hanging around me, all right?’

Mace looked a little taken aback and maybe even a little hurt but he did as the Doctor asked. In fact, he went a bit further and left the room entirely. The Doctor scrubbed his hands over his face in frustration. He knew he was being a bit unfair to Mace but the man was bugging him. Well, maybe not the man, exactly, more like what he represented.

UNIT had changed and the Doctor didn’t like it. They had always had guns and a military mind but it had never been like this. They had always worked pretty much in the shadows and they had always shown a little respect for civilians. They didn’t manhandle factory workers that might not even know what they were working on. Plus, there was Martha. He had never wanted her to be a soldier but here she was giving orders. And frowning at him.

‘Tetchy,’ she said.

‘I know, I know,’ muttered the Doctor, taking off his glasses and scrubbing his eyes. ‘It’s just this military mind-set. Shoot first ask questions later.’ He glanced at Martha. ‘You seem quite at home.’

‘If anyone got me used to fighting, it's you,’ said Martha defensively.

‘Oh right, so it's my fault.’

‘Well, you got me the job. Besides, look at me.’ He reluctantly did so. ‘Am I carrying a gun?’

‘Suppose not,’ he admitted.

‘It's all right for you,’ continued Martha. ‘You can just come and go, but some of us have got to stay behind. So I've got to work from the inside. And by staying inside, maybe I stand a chance of making them better.’

The Doctor smiled proudly. ‘That's more like Martha Jones.’

Martha smiled too and he relaxed a bit, knowing that he hadn’t just screwed up their friendship with a few careless words. ‘I learned from the best,’ she said.

‘Well,’ said the Doctor, trying to be modest. Truthfully, he wasn’t too good at that this regeneration. Oh, who was he kidding? He had never been good at being modest.

The plastic curtain rustled again and Rose and Donna walked back into the room, each with a file in hand. ‘Oi, you lot,’ said Donna. ‘All your storm troopers and your sonics. You're rubbish. Should've come with me and Rose.’

‘Well we did use my sonic a little bit,’ Rose muttered but Donna waved her off.

‘Why, where have you been?’ asked the Doctor.

Mace, having come back into the room at the sound of Donna’s bragging, walked up and stood beside Martha. Both of them looked curiously at Donna, waiting for an answer.

‘Personnel,’ said Donna. ‘That's where the weird stuff's happening, in the paperwork. Because I spent years working as a temp, I can find my way round an office blindfold, and the first thing I noticed is an empty file.’

‘Why, what's inside it? Or what's not inside it?’

‘Sick days,’ said Donna with a proud look on her face. She opened the file to show that it was indeed empty. ‘There aren't any. Hundreds of people working here and no one's sick. Not one hangover, man flu, sneaky little shopping trip, nothing. Not ever. They don't get ill.’

‘That can't be right,’ said Mace, taking the empty file.

‘You've been checking out the building. Should've been checking out the workforce.’

‘I can see why they like you,’ said Martha, obviously impressed. Donna’s look of pride turned into smugness. ‘You are good.’

‘Super temp.’

The Doctor smiled proudly at his friend and saw that Rose matched his expression.

‘What’s in your file?’ Mace asked Rose and she handed it over.

‘Annual leave.’ The file was also empty. ‘In this whole factory, no one is sick and no one’s got any holidays planned.’

‘Doctor Jones, set up a medical post,’ said Mace. ‘Start examining the workers. I'll get them sent through. Maybe ask them a few questions while you’re at it.’

Martha nodded. ‘Come on, Donna. Give me a hand.’

The Doctor smiled as he watched them leave. It was good that they were getting along – far less awkward. It made his life just that little bit easier and considering how difficult his life could be, he would take what small mercies he could get.

‘She’s rather impressive when she wants to be isn’t she?’ said Rose, walking over to lean on the desk next to him.

The Doctor smiled and nodded. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘Brilliant.’

----

Mace had told them that ATMOS had been created by Luke Rattigan and when the Doctor and Rose had shown no signs of recognising the name, he had led them back to the truck that had become UNIT’s mobile HQ.

‘Child genius,’ said Mace as he brought Rattigan’s file up on the big screen. ‘Invented the Fountain Six search engine when he was twelve years old. Millionaire overnight. Now runs the Rattigan Academy. A private school, educating students handpicked from all over the world.’

‘A hothouse for geniuses,’ said the Doctor. ‘Wouldn't mind going there. I get lonely.’

‘Oi!’ said Rose, lightly smacking his arm. He winked at her and she laughed. ‘You’re such a git.’

‘Yeah, but you love it,’ said the Doctor, smiling cheekily before he realised what he had just said. Both of their smiles faded and one of them coughed awkwardly (probably him). They still hadn’t said “the L word” to each other yet. Well, not properly anyway. The Doctor still wasn’t sure he was ready for it.

‘Anyway,’ he said, trying to bring the focus back to the matter at hand. ‘Let’s go see what this Rattigan is like. Just Rose and I,’ he added quickly. There was no need to bring any guns with them. ‘Don’t need a military presence. Tends to put people off telling me things.’ He had tried to word it as nicely as he could. Martha said that Mace was a good man and she was usually right about these things.

‘It's ten miles outside London,’ said Mace as he led them out of HQ and back towards the factory. ‘How are you going to get there?’

‘Can’t you get us a jeep or something?’

‘According to the records you travel by TARDIS,’ said Mace, obviously not happy with the idea of giving the Doctor a jeep while he stayed put.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. He was trying to be nice but Mace was being rather difficult. ‘Yeah, but if there is a danger of hostile aliens, I think it's best to keep a super-duper time machine away from the front lines,’ he said. From the look that Rose was giving him he may have been a bit more condescending than he had meant to be.

‘I see,’ said Mace. ‘Then you do have weapons, but you choose to keep them hidden. Jenkins?’ The Doctor sighed in frustration. It seemed that he and Mace were not destined to get along.

The young soldier that Mace had called for ran up to them. ‘Sir.’

‘You will accompany the Doctor and take orders from him,’ said Mace and Jenkins nodded.

‘Yeah, I don't do orders,’ said the Doctor.

Mace ignored him. ‘Any sign of trouble, get Jenkins to declare a Code Red. And good luck, sir.’ He saluted.

‘I said no salutes.’

‘Now you're giving orders,’ said Mace before leaving. The Doctor felt he may have just lost that round.

‘Oh, you're getting a bit cheeky, you are,’ he said to Mace’s retreating form.

Jenkins led them to the jeep but the sound of the his name being called out caused the Doctor to stop and turn. Donna was walking towards him.

‘Oh, just in time,’ he said, running over to her. He grabbed her hand and ushered her towards the jeep where Rose and Jenkins were waiting. ‘Come on, come on, we're going to the country. Fresh air and geniuses, what more could you ask?’

Donna pulled at his arm, trying to stop him but it wasn’t until she said her next sentence that the Doctor really stopped and paid attention.

‘I’m not coming with you,' she said. 'I've been thinking. I'm sorry. I'm going home.’

Chapter Text

‘I’m not coming with you. I've been thinking. I'm sorry. I'm going home.’

The Doctor didn’t know what to say. He had really been enjoying Donna’s company and now she was already leaving. It was too soon. ‘Really?’ was the only thing he managed to come up with.

Donna nodded. ‘I've got to.’

‘Oh, if that's what you want,’ he said softly. If this life wasn’t what she thought it would be, he couldn’t make her to stay. ‘I mean, it's a bit soon. I had so many places I had wanted to take you. The Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade, the Lightning Skies of Cotter Palluni's World, Diamond Coral Reefs of Kataa Flo Ko.’ Okay, so his gob had decided that it wanted to try anyway. He sighed and strengthened his resolve to respect her wishes. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Thank you, Donna Noble, it's been brilliant. You've been so good for Rose and I. You're… you're just popping home for a visit, that's what you mean.’

God, he was so thick sometimes.

‘You dumbo,’ said Donna in agreement with his unspoken thought.

‘And then you're coming back.’

‘You know what you are? A great big outer space dunce.’ 


The Doctor awkwardly scratched the side of his face, trying to hide his embarrassment. ‘Yeah.’

‘Ready when you are, sir,’ said Jenkins, coming to see what the hold up was.

‘What's more, you can give me a lift,’ said Donna, pointing at the jeep. ‘Come on.’

They made their way to the jeep and immediately discovered a problem. There were only three seats. ‘Guess we’re sharing, then,’ Rose told the Doctor as she got out of her seat in the middle and beckoned Donna to take her place.

‘Guess so,’ said the Doctor as he got into the jeep and lifted Rose up onto his lap. He couldn’t help but smile at the contented hum that Rose made when he wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

‘Broken moon of what?’ asked Donna, distracting him. Oh right, the places he had told her about.

His previous embarrassment returned with a vengeance. ‘I know, I know,’ he said as Jenkins started up the jeep.

Donna laughed and started explaining their conversation to Rose who giggled and ruffled his hair playfully. ‘For such a genius you really can be an idiot sometimes.'

----

They had dropped Donna off at her street (Rose was a little reluctant to let her leave as then there would be a free seat and therefore no excuse to cuddle up to the Doctor) and some time later they were approaching the Rattigan Academy. ‘UNIT's been watching Rattigan Academy for ages,’ said Jenkins (or Ross as Rose now called him). Rose had managed to get to know him a little bit on the way over and she had already decided that she liked the young soldier. ‘It's all a bit Hitler Youth. Exercise at dawn and classes and special diets.’

Turn left,’ said the voice of the sat-nav. Rose looked down at it and saw the familiar logo.

‘Uh, Ross, one question… If UNIT think that this ATMOS thing is dangerous…’

‘How come we've got it in the jeeps?’ Ross laughed without humour. ‘Yeah, tell me about it. They're fitted as standard on all government vehicles. We can't get rid of them till we can prove there's something wrong.’

Turn right.

‘Drives me around the bend.’

Rose half laughed, half groaned at the terrible pun. 


‘Oh, nice one,’ said the Doctor as they drove around the upcoming bend in the road.

‘Timed that perfectly,’ said Ross.

‘Yeah. Yeah, you did.’

This is you final destination.

They got out of the jeep and Rose took in her surroundings. The Academy building was huge and just what you would expect a school for the gifted to look like. It was very X-Men. A dozen or so students in red tracksuits were jogging around the building as one man, who didn’t look any older than they were, watched them. Luke Rattigan, Rose presumed.

‘Is it PE?’ asked the Doctor as they approached the so-called child genius. ‘I wouldn't mind a kick around, I've got me daps on.’

‘I suppose you're the Doctor?’ said Rattigan, not at all surprised at their arrival.

The Doctor waved cheerily. ‘Hello.’

‘Your commanding officer phoned ahead.’

‘Ah, but I haven't got a commanding officer. Have you?’ He didn’t give Rattigan time to react to his question before he was introducing Rose and Ross (“Rose and Ross, how’s that for a nice bit of alliteration?”) and was running up the steps to investigate the Academy.

Of course, he headed straight to the laboratory.

‘Oh, now, that's clever,’ he said as he walked around the room, eyeing the equipment that more students were working on. Rose had to admit that it looked impressive. ‘Look. Single molecule fabric, how thin is that?! You could pack a tent in a thimble. Ooo! Gravity simulators. Terraforming, biospheres, nano-tech steel construction. This is brilliant. Do you know, with equipment like this you could, oooh, I don't know, move to another planet or something?’

‘If only that was possible,’ said Rattigan but something in his eyes told Rose that he knew that it was indeed possible.

‘If only that were possible,’ said the Doctor. ‘Conditional clause.’

Rattigan looked up at the Doctor and Rose almost laughed at the anger on his face. He obviously wasn’t used to being corrected. ‘I think you'd better come with me,’ he said.

Rattigan led them away from the lab and the students and into to a room that looked like it might be some sort of recreational area judging by the swimming pool. ‘You're smarter than the usual UNIT grunts, I'll give you that,’ he told the Doctor.

‘He called you a grunt,’ said the Doctor to Ross.

‘Hey, don't call Ross a grunt,’ said Rose.

The Doctor nodded in agreement. ‘He's nice. We like Ross. Look at this place.’ He looked around the room and let out an impressed whistle.

‘What exactly do you want?’ asked Rattigan, obviously tired of the Doctor’s antics.

The Doctor sobered up. ‘I was just thinking. What a responsible eighteen year old. Inventing zero carbon cars? Saving the world.’

‘Takes a man with vision,’ said Rattigan.

‘Blinkered vision,’ countered the Doctor and Rattigan had that look on his face again. The look of a spoilt child that had just been told no. ‘Because ATMOS means more people driving. More cars, more petrol. End result, the oil's going to run out faster than ever. The ATMOS system could make things worse.’

‘Yeah. Well, you see, that's a tautology. You can't say ATMOS system because it stands for Atmospheric Emissions System. So you're just saying Atmospheric Emissions System system. Do you see, Mister Conditional Clause?’ Rattigan said the whole thing at a speed that would even rival the Doctor’s gob.

‘All right, keep your hair on,’ said Rose.

‘It's been a long time since anyone said no to you, isn't it?’ said the Doctor and Rattigan’s look of triumph faded into something that may have been close to shame.

‘I'm still right, though,’ he said.

‘Not easy, is it, being clever,’ said the Doctor. Rose stepped back a bit to allow him to walk over to Rattigan. If anyone could get through to this boy and possibly even relate to him, it was the Doctor. ‘You look at the world and you connect things, random things, and think, why can't anyone else see it? The rest of the world is so slow.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And you're all on your own.’

Rattigan faltered a bit. The Doctor seemed to have touched a nerve. ‘I know,’ he almost whispered.

‘But not with this,’ said the Doctor, stepping back and pulling out part of an ATMOS device from his pocket. ‘Because there's no way you invented this thing single-handed. I mean, it might be Earth technology, but that's like finding a mobile phone in the Middle Ages.’ He threw the part to Ross who jumped a bit at the unexpected object flying towards him but still caught it. ‘No, no, I'll tell you what it's like. It's like finding this in the middle of someone's front room. Albeit it's a very big front room.’ He walked over and stood in front of a great big circular sculpture. It seemed to have a control panel inside.

‘Why, what is it?’ asked Ross.


‘Yeah, just looks like a thing, doesn't it?’ said the Doctor. ‘People don't question things. They just say, oh, it's a thing.’

‘Leave it alone,’ said Rattigan a little fearfully as the Doctor stepped inside the thing. So it was an important thing, then.

‘Me, I make these connections,’ said the Doctor, throwing all modesty out the window. ‘And this, to me, looks like a teleport pod.’ He pushed a button and vanished into thin air.

Rose stared at the spot where the Doctor had ben for a moment before turning to Rattigan. ‘Where’s he gone?’ she asked, angrily. Rattigan backed up a bit at the look in her eyes but he didn’t have a chance to answer her before the Doctor was back.

Rose sighed in relief but it didn’t last long. The Doctor was already running. ‘Ross, Rose, get out!’ he shouted. ‘Luke, you've got to come with me.’

He turned and pointed his sonic at the teleport but before he could do anything, a small alien in heavy armor appeared. The Doctor activated the sonic anyway and the controls sparked. ‘Sontaran!’ he shouted as the alien held up a weapon. The Sontaran paused at the mention of its species and lowered his weapon. ‘That's your name, isn't it?’ continued the Doctor. ‘You're a Sontaran. How did I know that, hey? Fascinating isn't it? Isn't that worth keeping me alive?’

‘I order you to surrender in the name of the Unified Intelligence Taskforce,’ said Ross, pointing his own weapon at the Sontaran. He had brandished it as soon as the short alien had appeared.

‘Well that's not going to work,’ said the Doctor before turning to the Sontaran. ‘Cordolaine signal, am I right? Copper excitation stopping the bullets.’

‘How do you know so much?’ asked the Sontaran before turning to Rattigan. ‘Who is he?’

‘He didn't give his name,’ answered Rattigan.

‘But this isn't typical Sontaran behaviour, is it?’ asked the Doctor, ignoring the tension in the room. ‘Hiding? Using teenagers, stopping bullets? A Sontaran should face bullets with dignity. Shame on you.’

‘Doctor…’ warned Rose. She had no idea how temperamental these Sontarans were and she didn’t really fancy finding out how effective that weapon in its hand was. The Doctor obviously knew the race but his gob did have a tendency to get away from him. It tended to get him into as much trouble as it got him out of. And right now his words could only be described as taunting.

‘You dishonour me, sir,’ said the Sontaran, clearly offended.

‘Yeah? Then show yourself.’

‘I will look into my enemy's eyes!’

The Sontaran lifted his helmet to reveal the face behind it. He kind of looked a bit like a baked potato but Rose knew better than to say that out loud.

‘Oh, my God,’ she heard Ross whisper behind her.


‘And your name?’ asked the Doctor.

‘General Staal, of the Tenth Sontaran Fleet. Staal the Undefeated.’

‘Oh, that's not a very good nickname. What if you do get defeated? Staal the Not Quite So Undefeated Anymore But Never Mind?’

Rose suppressed a chuckle. She was still a bit wary of offending Staal. She may have had a good foot of height against him but he was still holding that weapon.

Ross didn’t seem to share her worry. ‘He's like a potato,’ he said. ‘A baked potato. A talking baked potato.’

‘Now, Ross, don't be rude. You look like a pink weasel to him,’ said the Doctor as he seemingly randomly picked up a ball and squash racket. But Rose knew better than to think it was random. ‘The Sontarans are the finest soldiers in the galaxy,’ he explained as he bounced the ball on the floor, ‘dedicated to a life of warfare. A clone race, grown in batches of millions with only one weakness.’

‘Sontarans have no weakness,’ said Staal defiantly. Point of pride was definitely a big thing with this race.

‘No, it's a good weakness,’ said Doctor as if that would heal Staal’s hurt ego.

‘A good weakness?’ asked Rose.

‘Aren't you meant to be clever?’ said Rattigan in disbelief. ‘Only an idiot would provoke him.’

‘No, but the Sontarans are fed by a probic vent in the back of their neck,’ continued the Doctor. ‘That's their weak spot.’ Suddenly Rose understood what the squash racket was for. ‘Which means, they always have to face their enemies in battle. Isn't that brilliant? They can never turn their backs.’


‘We stare into the face of death,’ said Staal proudly.

‘Yeah? Well, stare at this.’ The Doctor lifted the racket and used it to whack the ball into the teleport chamber. It bounced off the back wall and hit Staal in the back of the neck. Right on target.

Staal shouted out in pain as he started to fall backwards. ‘What have you done?’ shouted Rattigan as ran to help the Sontaran.

‘Nice shot,’ said Rose as they ran out of the room and towards the jeep outside.

----

‘Greyhound Forty to Trap One. Repeat, can you hear me? Over,’ said the Doctor into the radio in the jeep. He had been trying to contact UNIT since they had driven away from the Rattigan Academy but had received no answer.

‘Why's it not working?’ asked Ross.

‘Well, if those Sontaran things can control ATMOS, they can control the cars then, can’t they?’ said Rose. ‘And everything in them.’ She thought for a moment. ‘Or maybe they’ve just blocked the radio waves.’

'Turn left,’ said the sat-nav and all three of them looked at it suspiciously.

‘Try going right,’ said the Doctor.

Ross tried but the steering wheel didn’t budge. ‘I've got no control,’ he said. ‘It's driving itself. It won't stop.’

The Doctor reached over Rose and tried his sonic on the ATMOS device but to no avail.

‘The doors are locked,’ said Ross as he tried to pull the handle.

‘Ah, it's deadlocked,’ said the Doctor in frustration. ‘I can't stop it.’

Ross leaned over to have a go the manual way. By whacking it with something.

‘Isn’t it wired through the whole car, though?’ asked Rose. ‘I don’t think hitting it is gonna do any good.’

Ross gave up and leant back in his seat. ‘We're headed for the river,’ he said, looking through the windscreen. Rose followed his gaze and was met with the view of shrubbery as the jeep barreled towards the riverbank.

‘Can we smash the window?’ she asked, looking around for something to throw through the glass. Ross had grabbed the steering wheel and was once again trying to turn the car around.

‘ATMOS, are you programmed to contradict my orders?’ asked the Doctor. 


Confirmed.

‘Anything I say, you'll ignore it?’

Confirmed.

‘Then drive into the river. I order you to drive into the river. Do it. Drive into the river.’

For a minute, Rose thought that the Doctor’s plan wasn’t going to work and she held onto his arm as she waited to be thrown into the water, but, right at the last second, the jeep skidded to a halt just centimetres from the river’s edge.

Suddenly the sat-nav started to have a fit, giving random contradictory directions.

‘Yeah that doesn’t sound good,’ said Rose as she all but pushed the Doctor out of the door that was now thankfully unlocked. He didn’t need much encouragement to flee the jeep.

They ran as far as they could before the sat-nav’s voice got to that pitch where you just knew it was going to explode. ‘Get down!’ shouted the Doctor and they all dived towards the ground.

There was a pitiful little bang and Rose looked over to see that the car was still intact. A few sparks and a little bit of smoke coming from the sat-nav were the only indicators that anything had happened at all.

‘Oh, was that it?’ said the Doctor, a bit disappointed.

----

Donna sat down at her kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea. She was glad to be back home for a little bit, she hadn’t realised how much she had missed her Granddad until she had seen him from across the street.

Her Granddad had taken the news of her travels really well. He had been proud of her and it was good to know that she could call him from the TARDIS if she needed to (the Doctor had given her phone an awesome upgrade last week). Donna hadn’t been able to tell her Mum, though. She wouldn’t understand. She had always gone on and on about her temping, she would probably throw a fit if she knew that Donna now had no job and was freelancing it across the universe.

But Donna didn’t care if her Mum thought she was doing nothing with her life, she knew that she was doing good out there. And she was going to travel with Rose and the Doctor for as long as they would let her. Hopefully forever.

The sound of the doorbell disrupted Donna’s thoughts and she opened the door to see a ruffled looking Doctor. Think of the devil.

‘You would not believe the day I'm having.’

Chapter Text

Donna wasn’t sure she liked the Doctor bringing trouble to her family home. Okay, admittedly, the ATMOS he was inspecting was already at her family home… but he had brought a soldier with him. And he had just been attacked by something called a Sontoran.

Regardless of whether he had brought the danger with him, having the Doctor at her home just made it all feel that little less safe. Martha’s words from earlier echoed through Donna’s head.

He’s like fire. Stand too close - people get burnt.

The soldier, Jenkins, ran off to find them a vehicle without ATMOS (good luck) so that they could get back to the factory, leaving Donna, the Doctor and Rose alone.

But not for long.

‘Is it him? Is it him?’ asked her Granddad excitedly, running up to them. ‘Is it the Doctor?’ He suddenly stopped and stared at the Doctor, eyes wide. ‘Ah, it's you!’

What?

‘Who?’ asked the Doctor. He looked up from under the bonnet of Donna's Mum’s car and faced her Granddad. ‘Oh, it's you.’

WHAT?

‘What, have you met before?’ asked Donna, looking between the two. She looked to Rose, hoping for some answers but she seemed just as surprised.

‘Yeah, Christmas Eve, said Donna’s Granddad. ‘He disappeared right in front of me.’

‘And you never said?’

All that time searching for the Doctor and her Gramps had already seen him. And he never mentioned it!

‘Well, you never said.’

Yeah, all right. Fair enough.

Her Gramps turned back to the Doctor and introduced himself. ‘Wilf, sir. Wilfred Mott. You must be one of them aliens.’

‘Yeah, but don't shout it out,’ said the Doctor with a chuckle. ‘Nice to meet you properly, Wilf.’ He held out his hand and her Gramps stared at it.

‘Oh, an alien hand,’ he said but he shook it anyway.

‘Oh and this is Rose,’ said the Doctor, taking his hand out of Wilf's grip and using it to beckon Rose over. ‘My girlfriend.’

Rose paused for a second and smiled at the Doctor, her eyes full of happiness, and Donna realised that this was the first time that he had introduced her that way. Sure, people had assumed they were married and they had gone along with it for the sake of maintaining their cover, but this was the first time that the Doctor had actually acknowledged their relationship out loud to a stranger.

Rose pulled herself out of the moment, though she still had that same happy look in her eyes, and walked over to Donna’s Grandfather. ‘Nice to meet you, Wilf,’ she said, shaking his hand.

‘So if you’re his girlfriend, I guess that would make you an alien too,’ he said.

‘Nope. London born and raised.’

Gramps looked like he was having a bit of trouble dealing with that so Donna spared him by bringing the conversation back on track. ‘Any luck with Martha?’ she asked Rose.

‘Not yet,’ she said, looking down at the phone in her hand. She dialed the number and tried again.

‘So what’s a Sontoran?’ Donna asked the Doctor, still trying to wrap her head around the story that he had told her.

‘Sontaran,’ he corrected. ‘They’re a clone race bred for war but there's got to be more to it. They can't be just remote controlling cars. That's not enough.’ He turned to Rose. ‘Is anyone answering?’

Rose shook her head and was about to hang up but then her head perked up at the sound of someone answering the call. ‘Martha, it’s Rose,’ she said. ‘The Doctor’s here, he just wants to tell you something.'

She held the phone up against the Doctor’s ear as he once again buried his hands in the inner workings of the car in front of him. ‘Martha, tell Colonel Mace it's the Sontarans. They're in the file. Code Red, Sontarans. But if they're inside the factory tell them not to start shooting. UNIT will get massacred. I'll get back as soon as I can. You got that?’

Martha said something that Donna wasn’t close enough to hear and the Doctor nodded at Rose to hang up the phone.

He got out his sonic and it too disappeared under the bonnet of the car ‘But you tried sonicking it before,’ said Donna. ‘You didn't find anything.’

‘Yeah, but now I know it's Sontaran, I know what I'm looking for.’

‘The thing is, Doctor, that Donna is my only grandchild,’ said Donna’s Granddad and she rolled her eyes, trying to hide the embarrassment and the little bit of happiness she felt over her Gramps still being so protective of her. ‘You got to promise me you're going to take care of her.’

‘Oh, don’t worry, I think she takes care of us,’ said Rose with a wink at Donna.

Her Gramps smiled at that. ‘Oh yeah, that's my Donna. Yeah, she was always bossing us round when she was tiny. The Little General we used to call her.’

Okay, now Donna was just embarrassed.

‘Yeah, don't start,’ she said but her Gramps carried on anyway.

‘And some of the boys she used to turn up with. Different one every week. Here, who was that one with the nail varnish?’

‘Matthew Richards,’ admitted Donna as Rose smirked. ‘He lives in Kilburn now. With a man.’

Suddenly spikes shot up from the device that the Doctor was inspecting, a welcome distraction from the conversation.

‘Whoa,’ said the Doctor, leaning back away from the spikes. ‘It's a temporal pocket. I knew there was something else in there. It's hidden just a second out of sync with real time.’

‘But what's it hiding?’ asked Donna just as her Mum came out to see what they were all up to.

‘I don't know, men and their cars. Sometimes I think if I was a car.’ She paused as she saw the Doctor. This time, Donna wasn’t surprised by the look of angry recognition on her face. ‘Oh, it's you. Doctor what was it?’

‘Yeah, that's me,’ said the Doctor distractedly, he was still inspecting the newly appeared spikes in the ATMOS.

Donna’s Mum turned towards Rose. ‘And you, you were with him.’ She paused trying to remember Rose’s name.

‘What, have you met him as well?’ asked Wilf. ‘Both of them?’

‘Dad, it's the pair from the wedding. When you were laid up with Spanish flu. I'm warning you, last time those two turned up it was a disaster.’

As if on cue, the spikes on the ATMOS started letting off some sort of gas. Donna was willing to bet all the money in her bank account that it was poisonous. ‘Get back!’ shouted the Doctor as he backed away from the car.

Once everyone was at a safe distance from the car, the Doctor pointed his screwdriver at it and the ATMOS device made a small bang as it sparked.

‘I told you,’ said Donna’s Mum as they all slowly walked back over to the car. ‘He's blown up the car! Who is he, anyway? What sort of doctor blows up cars?’

‘Oh, not now, Mum,’ said Donna. So much for keeping her out of it.

‘Oh, should I make an appointment?’ she said, giving the Doctor a quick glare before stomping off back towards the house.

Well, that went well.

‘Don’t worry, she’ll come around,’ said Rose, putting a hand on Donna’s shoulder. ‘The Doctor just has the effect on people.’

‘Yeah but you don’t know my Mum,’ said Donna. Still, no use worrying about that now. ‘What was that gas?’ she asked the Doctor.

‘Well, definitely not just exhaust fumes for starters. Some sort of artificial gas.’

‘And it's aliens, is it? Aliens?’ asked Donna’s Granddad.

‘Is it poisonous?’ asked Rose. ‘Oh, who am I kidding? Of course, it’s poisonous.’

Suddenly the severity of the situation struck Donna. ‘But…that means they've got poisonous gas in every car on Earth.’

Everyone looked worriedly at each other for a moment. Surprisingly, it was Wilf who was the first to take action. ‘It's not safe,’ he said, getting into the driver’s seat of the car. ‘I'm going to get it off the street.’

As soon as he had sat down, the car door slammed shut behind him and locked itself. The engine roared to life and the gas from earlier returned, this time coming from the exhaust pipe. It was so much thicker than before.

She had to get her Gramps out of there.

Donna ran to the window. ‘Turn it off,’ she told him. ‘Granddad, get out of there!’

‘I can't!’ he shouted, holding up the keys. ‘It's not locked! It's them aliens again!’

All the shouting had caught Donna’s Mum’s attention. ‘What's he doing?’ she shouted at them from over the hedge. ‘What's he done?’

‘It wasn’t him,’ growled Rose, pulling at the passenger side door of the car. It wouldn’t budge.

Gas started to seep into the car, making it hard to see the man inside. ‘There's gas inside the car!’ shouted Donna, panicking now. If her Granddad died now, she would never forgive herself. ‘He's going to choke! Doctor!’

The Doctor hurried over and tried sonicking the lock but even that didn’t work. The sound of car alarms going off in the street caused him to turn around and his eyes widened in panic. Donna followed his gaze and saw that it just wasn’t their car that was omitting the poisonous gas – it was every car on the street. Maybe even the whole world.

Her Granddad’s muffled cry for help brought her back to the more important issue of getting him out of the car.

The Doctor ran back to the front of the car and dived back under the bonnet. Rose had gotten out her own sonic screwdriver and was trying every possible entrance to the car, including the boot, but no luck. ‘Have we got anything to smash the windows?’ she asked, now looking for something on the ground heavy enough to break the glass.

Donna looked worriedly from her choking Grandfather to the Doctor who was pulling apart whatever he could from the engine. He ran back to try the door, having pulled apart everything he could... but the gas was still coming, filling up the car. He ran out onto the street and Donna took his place at the door. Her Granddad coughed harder and Donna doubled her efforts but it was no use. She couldn’t get to him. Her Gramps was going to choke to death.

Chapter Text

At the sound of Donna screaming his name, the Doctor turned away from the gas-filled street and ran back to the car. Wilf was really struggling to breathe now. He didn’t have long. Without wasting any more time, the Doctor dove underneath the car and began to try and dismantle the ATMOS system (screw you Mister “that’s a tautology”).

Suddenly the sound of the car bonnet slamming shut came from above, shortly followed by the shattering of glass. He got up, expecting to see that Rose had found a rock or brick or something to smash the windscreen with, but instead he saw Donna’s mother standing there… with an axe. The Doctor wasn’t ashamed to admit that he found the sight a bit terrifying.

‘Well, don't just stand there. Get him out,’ said Sylvia after a moment of everyone just staring at her, gobsmacked.

Oh, right. Wilf!

Together, the Doctor and Donna got Wilf out of the car and took him towards the house. He looked a little queasy but he would be alright.

‘I can't believe you've got an axe,’ said Donna to her mother.

‘Burglars,’ replied Sylvia as if it was the obvious reason. With the absence of a wood fire, the Doctor supposed it was.

‘Get inside the house,’ he told them as he let Sylvia take his place at Wilf's side. ‘Just try and close off the doors and windows.

Ross called his name and he turned to see that the young soldier had found them a car. A black cab to be precise. ‘This is all I could find that hasn't got ATMOS,’ he explained but the Doctor didn’t care about what type of car it was, as long as it got them to the ATMOS factory.

‘Donna, you coming?’ he called over his shoulder as he and Rose ran towards the cab.

‘Yeah,’ Donna called back and began to run over to them but faltered at her mother’s protest. Sylvia didn’t want Donna to go. Actually, it sounded like she didn’t want Donna to have anything to do with the Doctor at all. No change there, then. One day he would meet someone whose mother approved of him without him having to save the world twenty times over.

Thankfully, Wilf had no such qualms and, as what the Doctor assumed was the usual, Donna listened to her Grandfather. ‘That’s my girl!’ yelled Wilf as Donna sprinted to the cab.

‘Let’s go,’ she said as she settled herself into the backseat next to Rose and they started to make their way through the clouded streets of London.

‘She’s just worried,’ said Rose to Donna. The Doctor glanced over and saw the forlorn expression on Donna’s face.

‘Yeah, I know,’ she said with a forced smile.

‘My Mum was the same,’ said Rose. ‘She begged me not to go but eventually she came to terms with it. I’m sure your Mum will too after a few visits.’

‘Visits?’ asked the Doctor, a bit worried. It had taken him long enough to be able to endure (and, if he was honest with himself, sort of enjoy) spending time with Jackie. He got the impression that Sylvia would be even more difficult to get along with. Rose shot him a look and he realised that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. He sighed in defeat and Rose’s lips twitched upwards into a small smile. She was right, after all. They couldn’t take Donna away from her family permanently. At least Wilf seemed like good company.

Donna nodded her thanks to Rose and then turned to stare out at the smog that filled the streets. ‘What are we going to do?’

----

They made it back to the ATMOS factory without incident and, after telling Ross to stay inside the building, the Doctor, Rose, and Donna got out of the cab, the Doctor thinking of his next move.

‘The air is disgusting,’ said Donna, coughing.

She was right. If it didn’t stop soon, half the population would choke to death. But to stop it, he needed someone on the inside. Someone on the Sontaran ship. ‘It's not so bad for me,’ said the Doctor. ‘Rose, why don’t you and Donna get inside the TARDIS.’ He could explain his plan to them later.

Rose shook her head. ‘I’m fine,’ she said. ‘Must be that superior biology you’re always going on about.’ She tried to give him her trademark cheeky smile but the gas from the cars was stifling it somewhat. ‘I’m staying.’

The Doctor rolled his eyes at her stubbornness. Fine. Donna would have to do it alone, then. ‘Okay fine, but Donna you go before you start choking.'

Donna nodded and made to leave before the Doctor realised she couldn’t get into the TARDIS on her own. ‘Oh, hang on,’ he called out and she stopped. ‘I've never given you a key.’ He fished one out of his pocket and handed it to Donna. ‘Keep that. Go on, that's yours. Quite a big moment really.’

‘Yeah, maybe we can get sentimental after the world's finished choking to death,’ said Donna after another couple of coughs.

‘Good idea.’

Grabbing Rose’s hand, the Doctor ran off towards the ATMOS factory. ‘Where are you going?’ Donna called out.

‘To stop a war.’

----

‘Right then, here I am,’ shouted the Doctor as he shoved open the door to UNIT’s mobile headquarters. ‘Good. Whatever you do, Colonel Mace, do not engage the Sontarans in battle. There is nothing they like better than a war. Just leave this to me.’ He tried to ignore the horrible smell that was drifting through the room – the unmistakable stench of clone flesh. The Sontarans must have copied a member of UNIT. But why?

Whatever the reason, it meant he had to be extra careful.

‘And what are you going to do?’ asked Mace, a little annoyed.

‘I've got the TARDIS. I'm going to get on board their ship.’

The Doctor walked over to Martha and had to stop himself from coming up short. The smell was coming from her. The Sontarans had cloned Martha! The Doctor stopped himself from visibly bristling with anger. He was fairly certain that the Sontarans would be keeping Martha alive somewhere (God help them if they weren’t) but he didn’t want them deciding that killing her would be a more suitable option. He had to play along.

The Doctor continued on his way to where “Martha” was sitting. ‘Come on,’ he whispered in her ear.

He patted Mace on the back as he led “Martha” and Rose back outside. With any luck, the Sontarans would already know of his plan to use the TARDIS and would have transported it onto their ship and out of his reach. Which is exactly where he wanted it to be.

They rounded the corner and the Doctor bit back a smile when he saw that the TARDIS was gone.

‘Where’s she gone?’ asked Rose, panic in her voice. ‘Oh my God, Doctor, Don-’ The Doctor silenced Rose’s sentence with a finger on her lips. “Martha” couldn’t know where Donna was.

He gave Rose a pointed look and when she nodded her understanding of the need for silence, he lowered his finger and wrapped his arms around her. ‘We’ll get it back it back,’ he said loud enough for “Martha” to hear before lowering his voice to a whisper. ‘I’ll explain later.’ He felt Rose nod against his shoulder but he could tell by the way her own shoulders tensed that she wasn’t happy about it. He pulled away to look her in the eyes. Yep, she was definitely not happy about being left out of the plan.

‘But where’s it gone?’ asked “Martha” and the Doctor walked over to where the TARDIS had been parked. ‘Taste that, in the air. That sort of metal tang. Teleport exchange. It's the Sontarans. They've taken it. I'm stuck on Earth like, like an ordinary person. Like a human. How rubbish is that? Sorry, no offence, but come on.’

“Martha” seemed to have bought into his act. ‘So what do we do?’ she asked.

‘But how did they know it was here?’ asked Rose. ‘The shields were up, weren’t they?’ The Doctor glanced at “Martha”.

‘What?’ she asked.

‘I'm just wondering, have you phoned your family and Tom?’

‘No. What for?’

The Doctor saw Rose shoot him a skeptical look. She was beginning to see the change in their friend too.

‘The gas,’ said the Doctor. ‘Tell them to stay inside.’

‘Course I will, yeah,’ said “Martha” but it was too little too late, ‘but, what about Donna? I mean, where's she?’

‘Oh, she's gone home. She's not like you. She's not a soldier. Right. So. Avanti.’

This time when he glanced at Rose he knew that she understood. Maybe not the specifics, but she had worked out enough to know that this woman was not Martha Jones.

----

‘Change of plan,’ shouted the Doctor as he once again barged into UNIT HQ.

‘Good to have you fighting alongside us, Doctor,’ said Mace.

‘I'm not fighting,’ said the Doctor before reconsidering his words. ‘I'm not-fighting, as in not hyphen fighting, got it? Now, does anyone know what this gas is yet?’

‘We're working on it,’ said “Martha” as she took a seat at one of the desks.

‘It's harmful, but not lethal until it reaches eighty percent density,’ said a woman. ‘We're having the first reports of deaths from the centre of Tokyo City.’

‘And who are you?’

‘Captain Marion Price, sir.’ She stood up and gave a salute.

‘Oh, put your hand down. Don't salute.’

‘Jodrell Bank's traced a signal, Doctor,’ said Mace, ‘coming from five thousand miles above the Earth. We're guessing that's what triggered the cars.’

‘Must be the Sontarans,’ said Rose as a view of the Earth in space came up on the screen. A red pulse was coming from where the Sontaran ship must have been.

‘NATO has gone to Defcon One. We're preparing a strike.’

Oh, typical military attitude. Shoot first, ask later.

‘You can't do that,’ said the Doctor, not even bothering to try and hide his annoyance. ‘Nuclear missiles won't even scratch the surface. Let me talk to the Sontarans.’

‘You're not authorised to speak on behalf of the Earth,’ said Mace but he didn’t stop the Doctor from pressing all the buttons he liked on the desk in front of him.

‘Oi,’ snapped Rose. ‘He’s saved this planet enough times in the past, so let him do it again.’

The Doctor smiled at her in gratitude and turned to face Mace. ‘Well?’ Mace just stared at him for a second before giving a curt nod. The Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at the control panel. ‘Calling the Sontaran Command Ship under Jurisdiction Two of the Intergalactic Rules of Engagement. This is the Doctor.’

The screen flickered and an image of the Sontaran command deck appeared. ‘Doctor, breathing your last?’ said Staal. At least, the Doctor was fairly certain it was Staal. That was the problem with clone races, very difficult to tell them apart.

‘My God, they're like trolls,’ said Mace.

‘Yeah, best not to antagonise the ones who are currently smothering the Earth with gas,’ said Rose.

‘So, tell me, General Staal,’ said the Doctor, taking a seat in front of the screen, ‘since when did you lot become cowards?’

‘How dare you!’

‘Doctor, that thing I said about antagonising…’ started Rose but the Doctor waved her off. He didn’t miss the apologetic look she shot Mace.

‘Doctor, you impugn my honour,’ said Staal.

‘Yeah, I'm really glad you didn't say belittle, because then I'd have a field day. But poison gas? That's the weapon of a coward and you know it. Staal, you could blast this planet out of the sky and yet you're sitting up above watching it die. Where's the fight in that? Where's the honour? Or are you lot planning something else, because this isn't normal Sontaran warfare. What are you lot up to?’

‘A general would be unwise to reveal his strategy to the opposing forces.’

‘Ah, the war's not going so well, then. Losing, are we?’ He should have really known from the instant he saw the Sontarans that this was about that God forsaken war.

‘Such a suggestion is impossible,’ said Staal.

‘What war?’ asked Mace and Rose together.

‘The war between the Sontarans and the Rutans,' explained the Doctor. 'It's been raging, far out in the stars, for fifty thousand years. Fifty thousand years of bloodshed, and for what?’

‘For victory,’ cried Staal and all the Sontarans on the deck started chanting.

‘Sontar-ha. Sontar-ha. Sontar-ha. Sontar-ha. Sontar-ha. Sontar-ha.’

Yeah that was getting annoying. With a roll of his eyes, the Doctor pointed his screwdriver at the monitor and changed the channel. A delightful little cartoon started playing.

‘Doctor, I would seriously recommend that this dialogue is handled by official Earth representation,’ said Mace, clearly worried.

Fine, no more cartoons then.

The Doctor switched the channel back to the Sontarans. ‘Finished?’ he asked Staal.

‘You will not be so quick to ridicule when you see our prize,’ said Staal and he moved over to reveal the TARDIS. ‘Behold. We are the first Sontarans in history to capture a TARDIS.’

‘Well, as prizes go, that's noble.’ He heard Rose’s sharp intake of breath at his words. Now she knew the plan. The question was, did Donna? He had set up the link so that it would play on the TARDIS scanner and hopefully she could hear every word.

‘As they say in Latin, Donna nobis pacem,’ continued the Doctor. Surely that would have been enough to get her attention. ‘Did you never wonder about its design? It's a phone box. It contains a phone. A telephonic device for communication. Sort of symbolic. Like, if only we could communicate, you and I.’

‘All you have communicated is your distress, Doctor,’ said Staal, thinking that the Doctor was talking to him.

‘Big mistake though, showing it to me. Because I've got remote control.’ He held up the sonic screwdriver for Staal to see.

‘Cease transmission!’ yelled Staal and the screen went blank just as Rose’s phone started ringing.

‘Donna,’ said Rose, answering it. ‘You okay?’ The Doctor nodded towards the other room and Rose went to talk to Donna in private.

‘That achieved nothing,’ said Mace, irritably.

‘Oh, you'd be surprised,’ said the Doctor, watching Rose leave the room. Hopefully the Sontarans would move the TARDIS to where he wanted it in the ship.

----

‘How is she?’ asked the Doctor when Rose had come back into the room.

‘She’s okay,’ said Rose, glancing worriedly at “Martha”. ‘She’s talking to her family. What are you two doing?’

The Doctor held up a clipboard that held the reports on the gas that was coming from the ATMOS. ‘There's carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, but ten percent unidentified. Some sort of artificial heavy element we can't trace,’ said “Martha”. ‘You ever seen anything like it?’

The Doctor shook his head. ‘It must be something the Sontarans invented. This isn't just poison. They need this gas for something else. What could that be?’

‘Launch grid online and active,’ said Captain Price from across the room, catching the Doctor’s attention. Surely they weren’t actually going to go ahead with the strike?

‘Positions, ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mace. ‘Defcon One initiatives in progress.’

But they were.

‘I told you not to launch,’ said the Doctor, abandoning the clipboard and striding over to Mace.

‘The gas is at sixty percent density. Eighty percent and people start dying, Doctor. We've got no choice.’

Price started counting down to launch.

‘You're making a mistake, Colonel,' said the Doctor. 'For once, I hope the Sontarans are ahead of you.’

‘North America, online. United Kingdom, online. France, online. India, online. Pakistan, online. China, online. North Korea, online.’ Red dots appeared on the map on the screen as Price called out the name of each country. ‘All systems locked and coordinated. Launching in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five.’

‘God save us,’ whispered Mace.

‘Four, three.’

Rose walked up to the Doctor and took his hand. He gave it a tight squeeze.

‘Two, one. Zero.’

Nothing happened. Nothing except for the screen going blank. The Doctor let out a breath of relief. He had been right about the Sontarans.

‘What is it?’ asked Mace as Price tried to get the screen working again. ‘What happened? Did we launch? Well, did we?’

‘Negative, sir. The launch codes have been wiped, sir. It must be the Sontarans.’

‘Can we override it?’

‘Trying it now, sir.’

‘But you said the missiles wouldn’t even scratch the ship,’ whispered Rose and the Doctor smiled proudly at her. ‘Why’d they stop it?’

‘Good question,’ said the Doctor loud enough for everyone to hear. ‘Why are the Sontarans so keen to stop you launching a missile that would hurt you more than it would hurt them? Any ideas?’ He looked pointedly at “Martha”.

‘How should I know?’ she asked.

Suddenly a voice came through on the channel that the UNIT soldiers were using. It was Ross. ‘Greyhound forty declaring absolute emergency,’ he said. ‘Sontarans within factory grounds. East corridor, grid six.’

Shit.

‘Absolute emergency. Declaring Code Red. All troops, Code Red,’ ordered Mace.

‘Get them out of there,’ said the Doctor. If the troops stayed there they would be massacred.

But Mace ignored his warning. ‘All troops, open fire.’

Where there should have been the sound of gunfire, there was only silence. ‘Guns aren't working,’ said Ross. ‘Inform all troops, standard weapons do not work.’ And then there was the sound of Sontaran weapons and cries of men dying. ‘Tell the Doctor it's that cordolaine signal,’ sad Ross. ‘He's the only one who can stop them.’

There was another shot from the Sontarans and then just static. The Doctor bowed his head. Ross was gone.

‘Greyhound Forty, report. Over,’ said Mace. No answer. ‘Greyhound Forty, report. Greyhound Forty, report.’

‘His name was Ross!’ shouted Rose. She had unshed tears in her eyes. ‘And he might still be alive if you had just listened to the Doctor.’

The Doctor wrapped an arm around her and she leaned into his embrace but still did not let the tears fall. The Doctor glared at Mace. ‘Get them out of there,’ he said, his voice dangerously low.

Mace regarded him for a moment. ‘Trap One to all stations,’ he said, finally seeing sense. ‘Retreat. Order imperative. Immediate retreat.’

Chapter Text

Rose was not having the best day. When Martha had called that morning, she had expected some running for their lives with a touch of world saving, but what she hadn’t banked on was that one of her friends would be taken – God knows where – and copied, while the other was trapped on an alien spaceship. Alone.

It had taken Rose a little while, but she worked out that the Doctor had intentionally sent Donna to the TARDIS knowing that it would be taken. She would even go as far to say that he had wanted it to be taken. She understood the advantage of having someone on the inside, but she didn’t understand why he hadn’t let her or Donna in on the plan.

And that made her angry. After everything Donna had done for them, she deserved better than this. Rose hadn’t even gotten to give her an explanation on the phone because she herself didn’t know what the plan was. She and the Doctor were definitely having words about this.

But that would have to wait until later. Right now, they had more important things to deal with. Like being under attack.

‘They've taken the factory,’ said Mace.

‘Why?’ asked the Doctor. ‘They don't need it. Why attack now? What are they up to? Times like this, I could do with the Brigadier.’ He turned to Mace. ‘No offence.’

‘None taken. Sir Alistair's a fine man, if not the best. Unfortunately, he's stranded in Peru.’

Rose nodded. She had only met Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart once and even that was only briefly, but she could tell by the way the Doctor talked about him that he had great respect for the man. And any man who had the Doctor’s respect had to be good.

But the Brigadier wasn’t here right now. They were. And it was up to them to come up with the answers.

‘They must need something inside the factory,’ said Rose. 'Something they don't want us to get our hands on.' It was the only explanation she could think of. The Doctor gave her that smile again - the one of absolute pride when she said or did something clever - and she took that as a sign that she was on the right track.

‘Launch grid back online,’ said Price and Rose turned to see the map back on the screen. But once again, the missile launch was averted and the screen returned to black. Price furrowed her brow in annoyance and confusion. ‘They're inside the system, sir. It's coming from within UNIT itself.’

‘Trace it,’ said Mace. ‘Find out where it's coming from, and quickly. Gas levels?’

‘Sixty six percent in major population areas, and rising.’

The Doctor, Rose and Mace made their way to Mace’s office. ‘You’re gonna have to tell me your plan at some point,’ Rose hissed in the Doctor’s ear once she was sure that “Martha” couldn’t hear her.

The Doctor nodded. ‘I will,’ he promised.

They entered the office and Mace sat down at his chair. There wasn’t much room left for the Doctor and Rose to stand.

‘Bit cramped,’ said Rose.

‘Yes, well, we are in the back of truck,’ said Mace.

Right, yeah. She had forgotten about that. The main room made it seem more like a building, albeit a small one.

Rose turned to face the Doctor. ‘So what do you think they want in the factory?’

‘I don’t know,’ he admitted.

‘And why are they only defending it now?’ asked Mace. ‘Only after we were inside?’

‘Because they wanted UNIT here. You gave them something they needed. Something now hidden inside the factory. Something precious.’

Rose racked her brains. What did they bring with them that was precious other than the TARDIS? The Sontarans already had that and it hadn't been inside the factory anyway, it had been parked outside.

And what would a Sontaran consider precious anyway?

‘A weapon of some kind?’ asked Rose.

‘Maybe.’

‘We've got to recover it,’ said Mace. ‘This cordolaine signal thing, how does it work?’

‘It's the bullets,’ explained the Doctor. ‘It causes expansion of the copper shell.’

‘Excellent. I'm on it.’

He made to leave but the Doctor called out after him. ‘For the billionth time, you can't fight Sontarans!’

For the billionth time, Mace ignored him.

Once Mace had gone, the Doctor quickly turned to Rose. ‘Give me your phone,’ he said in quiet voice, holding his hand out. ‘I need to call Donna.'

‘Finally,’ muttered Rose as she handed it over. The Doctor’s fingers froze on the keypad for a second before dialing Donna’s number. It didn’t take long for her to answer.

‘Still on Earth,’ said the Doctor to Donna, no doubt answering the question of where he was. ‘But don't worry, I've got my secret weapon… You.’

Rose listened as the Doctor explained that he wanted the Sontarans to move the TARDIS and then told Donna to go outside. ‘I can talk you through it,’ he said. There was a pause as Donna spoke and the Doctor rubbed his eyes with his free hand, guilt written over his face. Well, that was something, thought Rose. At least he knew what sort of situation he was putting Donna in.

‘I know, I know, and I wouldn't ask,’ he said, ‘but there's nothing else I can do. The whole planet is choking, Donna.’

There was another pause while, judging by the proud look in the Doctor’s eyes, Donna had agreed to help.

‘The Sontarans are inside the factory which means they've got a teleport link with the ship, but they'll have deadlocked it,’ he explained. ‘I need you to reopen the link.’

Pause.

‘Donna, stop talking about yourself like that. You can do this. I promise.’

The Doctor talked Donna through getting rid of the Sontaran that was guarding the TARDIS and his eyes lit up with pride again. Donna had obviously succeeded. Rose let out a breath of relief. It was maddening only being able to hear half of the conversation.

‘Now then, you got to find the external junction feed to the teleport,’ said the Doctor. ‘A circular panel on the wall. Big symbol on the front, like a, like a letter T with a horizontal line through it. Or, or, two Fs back to back.’

Rose started playing with the sleeve of her jacket nervously. She knew Donna could do it if she put her mind to it but that didn’t stop her from worrying.

‘Oh, you are brilliant, you are,’ said the Doctor into the phone and Rose smiled despite herself. But her smile vanished as she saw Mace walk back into HQ looking ready to fight a war.

Rose tapped the Doctor on the arm to get his attention and he turned around to see Mace giving orders to prepare for an attack on the factory. ‘Got to go,’ he told Donna. ‘Keep the line open.’ He passed Rose her phone back. ‘Don’t hang up,’ he whispered. She nodded and put the phone into her jacket pocket.

‘I said, you don't stand a chance,’ the Doctor shouted at Mace, walking back into the main room of the truck.

‘Positions,’ said Mace, once again ignoring him. ‘That means everyone.’ He threw a gasmask each to the Doctor and Rose.

‘Guess we’re going back outside, then,’ said Rose.

‘You're not going without me,’ said “Martha”, displaying the determination of the woman she was pretending to be.

‘Wouldn't dream of it,’ said the Doctor as “Martha” grabbed a mask and they all made their way out into the gas outside.

They followed Mace over to where the soldiers were gathered to prepare their weapons. ‘Latest firing stock,’ said Mace, showing the Doctor a gun. Well, that wasn’t a very good idea, was it? ‘What do you think, Doctor?’

‘Are you my mummy?’ asked the Doctor through his gasmask and Rose giggled.

‘If you two could concentrate,’ said Mace, his annoyance apparent even through the gasmask. He handed the gun to a soldier and then went back to the case it had come out of. ‘Bullets with a rad-steel coating,’ he said, showing them the item. ‘No copper surface. Should overcome the cordolaine signal.’

‘It’s hardly gonna matter, though, is it?’ said Rose. Couldn’t he see he would still be sending his men to fight a pointless battle? ‘The Sontarans still have better weapons and you lot can hardly see through this gas. And they aren’t exactly big targets.’

‘She’s right,’ said the Doctor.

‘Thank you both for your lack of faith,’ said Mace. ‘But this time, I'm not listening.’

What did he mean, this time? When had he ever listened?

Mace took off his mask and put his cap back on. ‘Attention, all troops,’ he yelled. ‘The Sontarans might think of us as primitive, as does every passing species with an axe to grind. They make a mockery of our weapons, our soldiers, our ideals. But no more. From this point on, it stops. From this point on, the people of Earth fight back, and we show them. We show the warriors of Sontar what the human race can do. Trap One to Hawk Major. Go, go, go.’

Okay, now Rose could see why Mace was in charge. The way he commanded the attention of his men with a single look and the passion in his voice spoke volumes about the man. He was a leader.

The sound of an aircraft came from above and Rose looked up to the sky. The engines of the craft blew the gas surrounding them away and now Rose could see clearly.

But she almost wished she couldn’t. She took off her gasmask and let out a small whimper at the sight of the ship above her. The Valiant.

She felt the Doctor wrap an arm around her and pull her closer to him. She snuggled into his side but did not look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off of the ship that had been her home for twelve excruciating months. ‘Don’t make me go back up there,’ she whispered.

‘I won’t,’ said the Doctor, holding her tighter, and she finally took her eyes away from the Valiant to look at him. He had taken off his mask too and she could see that familiar dark look in his eyes. The one that he got every time he thought about that year with the Master.

‘UNIT Carrier Ship Valiant reporting for duty, Doctor,’ said Mace, oblivious to the their inner turmoil. ‘With engines strong enough to clear away the fog.’ He lifted his radio to his mouth. ‘Valiant, fire at will.’

Rose jumped as a green laser beam shot out from the ship and hit the ATMOS factory. It was good, she supposed, that UNIT had made use of the ship… but it didn’t stop her from trying to press herself even closer to the Doctor. That green laser beam was the same one she had seen the Master use so many times before. He had destroyed entire cities with that laser.

But there wasn't time to dwell on that. Now that the factory was accessible and the soldiers could see clearly, UNIT fought their way into the building.

----

‘Don’t worry, Donna, we haven’t forgotten about you,’ said Rose as she ran through a corridor of the ATMOS factory. UNIT had secured part of the building and she had purposely put herself a few paces behind the Doctor and “Martha” so that she could talk to Donna without being noticed.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Donna.

‘UNIT is taking back the factory. Don’t worry, the Doctor’s got a plan to deal with the Sontarans.’

‘What plan?’

‘Yeah, I’m still working on that part.’

Mace ran off down one corridor and the Doctor and “Martha” stopped. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and started to scan the corridor with it. ‘Sorry, I gotta go,’ said Rose into the phone. ‘Stay safe.’ Donna’s reply was probably full of snark and sarcasm but Rose didn’t hear it. She had already put the phone back in her pocket.

As soon as Rose had caught up to the Doctor and “Martha”, they were off again, but in the opposite direction from were Mace had gone. ‘Shouldn't we follow the Colonel?’ asked “Martha”.

‘Nah, you, me, and Rose,’ said the Doctor. ‘Just like old times. Alien technology, this-a way.’

----

‘No Sontarans down here,’ said the Doctor as he led them down a flight of stairs and into a corridor. The sonic was letting out a constant beeping noise to let them know they were headed in the right direction. ‘They can't resist a battle. Here we go.’

Eventually they found the right door and the Doctor stopped using the sonic to scan for alien technology and used it to open the door. It opened and they walked into the room and saw…

‘Oh my God, Martha,’ cried Rose as she rushed to where her friend lay strapped into a machine, unconscious.

The Doctor wasn’t far behind her. He knelt over and checked Martha’s pulse. ‘Still alive,’ he said and Rose breathed a sigh of relief.

The click of a gun being cocked drew their attention away from Martha and they turned to face her clone. ‘Are we supposed to be impressed?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Wish you carried a gun now?’ gloated “Martha”.

‘Not at all.’

‘I've been stopping the nuclear launch all this time.’

‘Doing exactly what I wanted,’ said the Doctor, straightening up and walking closer to her. ‘I needed to stop the missiles just as much as the Sontarans. I'm not having Earth start an interstellar war. You're a triple agent.’

“Martha” frowned. ‘When did you know?’

‘About you? Oh, right from the start. Reduced iris contraction, slight thinning of the hair follicles on the left temple. And, frankly, you smell. You might as well have worn a T-shirt saying clone. Although, maybe not in front of Captain Jack.’ He paused, fixing “Martha” with a pointed stare. ‘You remember him, don't you? Because you've got all her memories. That's why the Sontarans had to protect her, to keep you inside UNIT. Martha Jones is keeping you alive.’

At the Doctor’s nod, Rose took the off the device that was atop of Martha’s head and her clone gasped and dropped her gun. She put a hand to her chest in pain and collapsed to the ground. The Doctor kicked the gun away as Rose helped the now awake Martha sit up.

‘Careful. I got you.’

‘There was this thing,’ said Martha between haggard breaths, ‘this alien, with this head.’

Rose handed the Doctor her mobile phone. ‘Talk to Donna,’ she said. ‘Make sure she’s alright.’

The Doctor gave Martha a comforting squeeze on the shoulder before taking the phone.

‘You okay now?’ Rose asked Martha and she nodded. She looked around the room, taking in her surroundings until her eyes rested on the clone that was slumped up against the far wall, still gasping in pain. Rose felt a bit sorry for it now.

‘Oh my God,’ said Martha. ‘That’s me.’

The Doctor had finished on the phone with Donna and had come back to join them. Together, he and Rose helped Martha to her feet and the Doctor gave her a quick hug. ‘You alright?’ he asked.

‘Sort of,’ answered Martha, still looking at her clone. She looked up at the Doctor and gave him a small smile. ‘I’ll be fine.’

The Doctor didn’t look convinced and Martha’s sudden shudder didn’t help. He took off his coat and handed it to Martha who took it gratefully. He helped her shrug the coat on and patted her shoulder before he moved over to the Sontaran teleport that was at the back of the room.

Martha wrapped the Doctor’s coat tighter around her and walked towards her clone. Rose sensed that this was probably something she should do alone so she moved over to where the Doctor was now laying on the floor sonicking the wires of the teleport above him. ‘How’s Donna?’ she asked.

‘She’s brilliant,’ said the Doctor. ‘She got the teleport working no problem.’

‘Yeah, that’s not what I meant.’

The Doctor glanced up at her, a guilty look on his face. ‘She’s strong. And she’ll be fine as soon as I get this working properly, which should be any minute now.’

Rose nodded. She knew Donna was strong but that didn’t mean that it was okay to put her in this situation without warning. But she didn’t want to get into an argument right now. The Doctor needed to concentrate if they were going to get Donna back.

He finished with the teleport and moved over to the machine that Martha had been laying in. ‘The gas,’ he said to Martha’s clone. ‘Tell us about the gas.’

‘He's the enemy,’ said “Martha”, still struggling with the pain.

‘Then tell me,’ begged Martha. ‘It's not just poison, what's it for? Martha, please.’

“Martha” looked between them for a moment before giving in. ‘Caesofine concentrate. It's one part of Bosteen, two parts Probic five.’

‘Clonefeed. It's clonefeed!’ said the Doctor, whacking himself on the head. Judging by the look on his face, clonefeed was bad.

‘What's clonefeed?’ asked Martha.

‘Like amniotic fluid for Sontarans. That's why they're not invading. They're converting the atmosphere, changing the planet into a clone world. Earth becomes a great big hatchery. Because the Sontarans are clones, that's how they reproduce. Give them a planet this big; they'll create billions of new soldiers. The gas isn't poison, it's food.’

‘Their building their numbers,’ summarised Rose.

The clone Martha was getting weaker now and Rose and the Doctor stepped back a little to give the two Marthas some space.

The Doctor went back to the teleport and got out Rose’s phone again to speak to Donna. ‘Donna, how you going?’ he asked. At Donna’s reply, he got out of the teleport and turned to face it, sonic screwdriver the ready. ‘Now!’ he cried and he pressed a button on the screwdriver.

The teleport came to life and with a bright white light, Donna appeared in the centre of it. ‘Have I ever told you how much I hate you?’ she cried before running up and giving the Doctor a hug.

He returned her embrace for a second before pushing her away. ‘Hold on, hold on. Get off me, get off me. Got to bring the TARDIS down.’ He ran over to the teleport and Rose took his place in front of Donna, giving her a tight hug.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t fair.’

Donna gave her a small smile to let her know that she didn’t blame Rose.

‘Right, now. Martha, you coming?’ asked the Doctor. He had obviously gotten the TARDIS off the Sontaran ship successfully. Rose looked over to where Martha was just now standing up. Her clone was now dead.

‘What about this nuclear launch thing?’ asked Martha.

‘Just keep pressing N. We want to keep those missiles on the ground.’

‘There's two of them,’ said Donna, looking at Martha’s clone.

‘Long story,’ said Rose. ‘We’ll tell you later.’

‘Here we go,’ said the Doctor as Rose, Donna, and Martha joined him in the teleport. ‘The old team, back together. Well, the new team.’

‘We're not going back on that ship!’ said Donna, worriedly and Rose rubbed her shoulder in reassurance while she shot the Doctor a warning glance. She was not going to let him put Donna through that again.

‘No, no, no,’ said the Doctor. ‘I needed to get the teleport working so that we could get to…’ He pressed a button on the teleport and Rose saw a bright white light as they vanished from the ATMOS factory.

‘Here,’ said the Doctor, finishing his sentence after they had just reappeared in the recreation room of Rattigan Academy. ‘The Rattigan Academy, owned by…’

They walked out of the teleport and came face to face with Luke Rattigan himself. He looked terrified... and he was pointing a gun right at them.

Chapter Text

The Doctor decided that when this was all over, he was going to take Rose, Donna and Martha (if she wanted) to the Eye of Orion. Somewhere peaceful. Somewhere where there was no guns and no one to threaten to shoot them.

‘Don't tell anyone what I did,’ said Luke. His hands that were holding the gun were shaking and he looked like he had been crying. The Sontarans must have betrayed him. Shocker. ‘It wasn't my fault, the Sontarans lied to me, they-‘

The Doctor didn’t let him finish his sentence. He grabbed the gun out of Luke’s hands and threw it away. ‘If I see one more gun,’ he growled.

Luke didn’t resist; he was too terrified.

The Doctor didn’t waste any time in making his way to the lab of the Academy. ‘What are we doing here?’ asked Rose. ‘Are you gonna make something to combat the gas? Like a cure or something?’

‘No cure,’ said the Doctor, searching through the equipment in the lab. ‘But there is a way to get rid of it before it reaches eighty percent density.’

‘How?’

‘Fire. That's why the Sontarans had to stop the missiles. Because caesofine gas is volatile. Ground to air engagement could spark off the whole thing.’

‘You’re going to set fire to the atmosphere?’ asked Martha.

‘Yep. They need all the gas intact to breed their clone army. And all the time we had Luke here in his dream factory. Planning a little trip, were we?’

‘They promised me a new world,’ said Luke.

Of course they did.

‘And you believed them?’ asked Rose incredulously.

‘You were building equipment, ready to terraform El Mondo Luko so that humans could live there and breathe the air with this,’ said the Doctor, indicating the piece of equipment that he had just put together. ‘An atmospheric converter.’ He picked up the converter and ran outside, the others not far behind him.

‘That's London,’ said Donna looking out to the smog that was covering the city. ‘You can't even see it. My family's in there.’

The Doctor left the reassuring to Rose (he didn’t have to be able to see her to know that she was giving Donna a hug) and focused on getting the converter to work. ‘If I can get this on the right setting,’ he muttered to himself.

‘Doctor, hold on. You said the atmosphere would ignite,’ said Martha worriedly.

The Doctor left the converter on the ground and stood up with the remote in his hand. ‘Yeah, I did, didn't I?’

He pressed the button.

Crossing his fingers that this didn’t go spectacularly wrong and explode the planet, he watched the bolt of energy shoot up from the converter and disappear into the murky clouds. The gas in the sky ignited and became a blanket of fire. In what felt like hours but was only a few seconds, the fire dispersed and the Doctor let out a breath of relief at the sight of the blue sky that it left behind.

‘He's a genius,’ said Luke, staring at the sky in awe.

‘Just brilliant,’ said Martha.

‘That he is,’ agreed Rose and she lifted up her arms to give him a hug. Even though he knew time was of the essence, the Doctor couldn’t help but give in to her request.

But all too soon he was pulling himself away from her and gathering the converter into his arms instead. ‘Right now we’re in trouble,’ he said as he ran back into the Academy. ‘The Sontarans are probably already making plans to blow up the planet.’

‘So what do we do?’ asked Rose as they ran into the recreation room where the teleport was.

‘We send this up to the ship and blow them up instead. I’ve recalibrated it for Sontaran air.’

He stopped in front of the teleport, staring at it for a moment. He had to go up there too. He couldn’t just kill en entire ship full of creatures without giving them another option, even if they were Sontarans. The Doctor made his decision. Guess he wouldn’t be going to the Eye of Orion after all.

He stepped into the teleport and turned around and faced the others, purposely avoiding looking Rose in the eye. He hoped she wouldn’t hate him for this. He hoped she knew that he didn’t want to leave her. ‘Right. So, Donna, thank you for everything,’ he said. ‘Martha, you too. Luke, do something clever with your life.’

He couldn’t avoid it any longer; he shifted his head to face Rose and his eyes met hers. ‘I have to,’ he told her solemnly.

‘Just send that thing up on it's own,’ said Martha. ‘I don't know… Put it on a delay.’

The Doctor’s eyes didn’t leave Rose’s. ‘I've got to give them a choice,’ he said.

To his surprise, Rose nodded. But, unsurprisingly, she wasn’t going to let him go without having a say in the matter. ‘Then you’re not doing it alone,’ she said and she walked determinedly over to the teleport and stood in front of him.

‘I can’t let you come with me,’ said the Doctor, almost pleadingly. How could he be so selfish to let her die with him? He didn’t want to do this alone but he sure as hell wasn’t going to take anybody with him, especially not Rose.

‘Well, you’re gonna have to because I’m not leaving you.’

The Doctor smiled down at her, she was always so stubbornly brave and loyal. He shifted the converter he was holding so it rested in one hand and used the other to pull Rose towards him, his head leaning down to crash his lips to hers. He tried to pour everything he could into the kiss. How much she meant to him. How much he needed her. All the words he could never say.

And how sorry he was for what he was about to do.

Moving his hand to Rose’s stomach, he pushed her away from him and sent her tumbling into Martha and Donna. Forcing himself not to look back, he activated the teleport.

----

Luke Rattigan had always prided himself of being the smartest person in the room, being able to see what nobody else could. But when the Sontarans had betrayed him in a way that was so obvious, he couldn’t believe how he hadn’t seen it. How did he not see that the Sontarans didn’t care about him or his students? They treated every other human as target practice, why should they be any different? In short, Luke felt like an idiot, which was not something he had ever felt before. No longer was he the boy genius that everybody went on about; now he was a failure.

And then the Doctor had come along with a way to kill the Sontarans and Luke saw what it was really like to be the smartest person in the room. And he remembered when that was him. He remembered what he could be. He may not be able to match the Doctor but he was still Luke Rattigan, boy genius, and he was damn well going to act like it.

So when the Doctor had told him to do something clever with his life, Luke knew exactly what he had to do. While Rose, Martha, and Donna were untangling themselves from each other on the floor, Luke had gone straight to the teleport system. He knew without a doubt that the Sontarans would never take the Doctor’s chance. The Doctor had gone to his death based on a sense of pointless morality. More than that, he had gone into battle unwilling to fight. The Doctor was not one for weapons and he would hesitate in blowing up that ship, Luke knew it and so would the Sontarans. The Doctor didn’t want to kill.

But Luke had no such qualms.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Rose.

Luke finished his adjustments on the teleport and turned to face the three women who had only just picked themselves up off the floor.

‘Something clever.’

Before anyone could stop him, Luke Rattigan pressed a button on the teleport and took the Doctor’s place on the Sontaran ship.

----

Rose didn’t know what to feel at the sight of the Doctor appearing in the teleport. Martha and Donna had both rushed to his side as soon as he had collapsed to the floor, but Rose couldn’t seem to move. She hadn’t been quick enough to stop Luke from activating the teleport and she was sure that he would have blown the Sontaran ship (and himself) up by now. But - and she felt terribly guilty this - she couldn’t help but be relieved that he did. Luke had saved the Doctor’s life.

But on top of all that, she felt angry. Not because the Doctor had left, she understood the need to give the Sontarans a chance and she respected that. It was because he had done it without her. He had pushed her way – quite literally – and gone to do it alone.

Slowly, the Doctor raised his head to face her. She could see the guilt in his eyes but it didn’t quell her anger. He stood up and took the two steps needed to walk over to her. ‘Rose I-’

-slap-

‘You’re upset.’

‘You think?’ said Rose a little louder than she had intended to and the Doctor flinched, still rubbing his cheek. ‘I thought we were over this self sacrifice thing.’

‘I had to give them a chance,’ he said.

‘But you didn’t have to do it alone.’

‘Did you really think I could just take you with me to your death?’

They glared at each other for a moment before Rose looked down in defeat. He was right. Rose may have been willing to make that sacrifice for him, but that didn’t mean the Doctor was willing to let her. He was too good to do something like that.

Sensing that he had won, the Doctor wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered against her hair.

‘Me too.’

----

Donna had gone to check on her family and Martha (having already called her family) was outside talking to Colonel Mace, leaving the Doctor and Rose alone in the TARDIS console room. ‘You’re not still angry about me not letting you come with me, are you?’ asked the Doctor, breaking the awkward silence.

‘No,’ said Rose instantly before pausing to think. ‘Well, yeah a bit, but it’s not that.’

‘Then what is it?’

‘You sent Donna to the TARDIS knowing she would end up on that ship. You planned it that way.’

‘And the plan worked. She was brilliant,’ said the Doctor with a smile; obviously trying to deflect the scolding that he knew was coming.

‘Yeah, she was,’ said Rose. ‘It was a good plan, I’m not complaining about that… But you could have let us in on it.’

The Doctor’s smiled faded. ‘There wasn’t enough time,’ he said softly.

‘Yes there was. Just a quick, “Rose, the Sontarans are gonna take the TARDIS and I need someone on that ship”, it would have only taken a matter of seconds.’

‘And you would have gone?’ asked the Doctor, a little bit disbelievingly. ‘Just like that?’

‘Of course I would have.’

There was a pause while the Doctor just stared at her, taking in her words. ‘We are not your soldiers, Doctor,’ continued Rose. ‘You don’t get to make decisions for us without even letting us know that they have been made.’

‘I know you’re not,’ he said, moving closer and resting his hands on her hips. ‘I should have told you and Donna. I’m sorry, I just… didn’t have time to answer all the questions that I thought you might have.’

‘I’m smart enough to know when I will have to wait for answers. Waited for these answers, didn’t I?’

The Doctor’s lips twitched up into a small smile. ‘You’re right.’

Rose gave a nod to let him know he was forgiven and his hands trailed up from her hips and slid across her back. She let him pull her to him in a gentle embrace and he began to rub a hand up and down her spine. ‘I never want you to think yourself a soldier,’ he whispered. ‘Martha may have taken that road but that was her choice. I don’t want… I don’t want to turn you into something you’re not.’

Rose pulled back slightly so that she could look him in the eyes. ‘You won’t.’

He smiled gratefully at her and was just lowering his head down to kiss her when the TARDIS door opened. ‘Oh, sorry,’ said Martha and Rose quickly pulled herself away from the Doctor properly. ‘Should I come back later?’

‘No, no,’ said the Doctor. ‘We were just… uh...’

‘I think she knows what we were doing,’ said Rose, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. She looked guiltily at Martha. She hadn’t had the chance to tell her friend about her and the Doctor’s relationship (although she was pretty sure Martha had figured it out from the kiss that the Doctor had given Rose earlier) and she was worried that it might be a bit of a touchy subject. ‘Sorry.’

Martha shrugged. ‘What for?’ At Rose’s stunned look, Martha let out a laugh. ‘Oh, come on, as if I didn’t know you two would end up together eventually. Besides, I’m engaged now.’ She waved her left hand in front of her to emphasise the point.

Rose let out a small chuckle. ‘Right, yeah, of course. I was just worried you…’

‘Well, don’t be,’ said Martha before she could finish. ‘I’m happy for you two.’

Rose walked over and gave her friend a hug. ‘Thank you,’ she said.

‘So when did you two decide to stop being idiots?’ Rose and the Doctor glanced at each other awkwardly. Something that didn’t go unnoticed by Martha. She nodded in understanding. ‘It was right after I left wasn’t it?’

‘Sorry,’ repeated Rose, once again feeling guilty.

Martha’s reply was cut off by the TARDIS door opening once more. This time it was Donna.

‘How are they?’ asked Martha, referring to Donna’s family.

‘Oh, same old stuff,’ said Donna, wiping away a dried tear. ‘They're fine.’

There was an awkward pause while no one knew quite what to say. Once again, it was the Doctor who broke the silence. ‘I’m sorry about before,’ he said to Donna. ‘I should have told you what the plan was instead of just throwing you in the deep end like that.’

Donna gave him a small smile. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘Just give us a little warning next time you expect me to do all the hard work.’

Rose let out a small chuckle at that. That was the Donna Noble attitude that she had grown to love. She definitely was “companion material” as the Doctor had once put it.

Speaking of…

Rose turned back to Martha. ‘So what are you going to do next?’ she asked. ‘Are you going straight home or do you want a quick trip first?’

‘Oh, I have missed all this,’ said Martha. ‘But I'm good here, back at home. And I'm better for having been away. Besides, someone needs me.’ She flashed her engagement ring again. ‘Never mind the universe, I've got a great big world of my own now.’

‘Bring him with us,’ said the Doctor. ‘Tom, wasn’t it? Just one trip. I was going to take these two to the Eye of Orion.’

‘The Eye of Orion?’ asked Rose, bounding up the ramp to stand beside the Doctor at the console. ‘What’s that like?’

‘Most peaceful place in the universe.’ He turned to face Martha. ‘Promise.’

Martha seemed to consider it for a moment but in the end the decision was made for her. The TARDIS doors slammed shut on their own accord and the TARDIS shook violently, causing everyone to quickly find something to grab hold of.

‘What? What?’ asked the Doctor, clinging to the console. The central column was moving but the Doctor hadn’t even set the coordinates.

‘Doctor, don't you dare!’ shouted Martha.

‘No, no, no. I didn't touch anything,’ insisted the Doctor. ‘We’re in flight! It’s not me.’

‘What’s going on?’ asked Rose, holding into the console for dear life. ‘Where’s she taking us?’

‘I don't know. She’s out of control!

‘Doctor, just listen to me,’ said Martha. Her voice was steady but her eyes showed her anger and panic. ‘You take me home. Take me home right now!’

Chapter Text

‘What the hell's it doing?’ cried Donna as the TARDIS continued to try and knock it’s passengers to the floor. Rose wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep her grip on the console.

‘The control's not working,’ the Doctor cried back.

A particularly nasty jolt caught Rose off guard and she tumbled to the floor. The Doctor called out to her, asking if she was all right, but she was more concerned with what was in front of her. The shaking didn’t seem so bad from down here and she could now concentrate on what else was happening. The jar containing the Doctor’s hand – the one he had lost in a sword fight just after he had regenerated – was sitting on the console room floor but something was wrong with it. The usually calm liquid in the jar was now alive with movement, bubbling so much that the fingers on the hand moved with it.

And Rose had thought it was creepy before.

‘Doctor, your spare hand’ she shouted up at him.

‘Yes, I know, I had to move it when I was working under the console the other day and I forgot to put it away,’ said the Doctor a bit irritably, obviously thinking he was getting a scolding for leaving the jar on the floor again. ‘I’m sorry but this is really not the time to get grouchy over it.’

Rose chose to ignore that comment. ‘Its going crazy,’ she said.

That got his attention. The Doctor furrowed his brow and awkwardly leant down next to Rose to inspect his spare hand. ‘So it is. I wonder what’s got him all excited?’

‘I thought that was just some freaky alien thing,’ said Donna. ‘You telling me its yours?’

The Doctor straightened up and helped Rose back on her feet. ‘Well,’ he said, drawing out the word like he usually did when he didn’t want to use the word “yes”.

‘It got cut off. He grew a new one,’ explained Martha.

Donna stared open-mouthed at the Doctor for a moment. ‘You are completely impossible,’ she said once she had found her voice.

‘Not impossible,’ said the Doctor. ‘Just a bit unlikely.’

Something on the console sparked with a loud bang and then, finally, the TARDIS stilled. They had landed. And the Doctor wasted no time in running out of the doors to find out where. Rose, Martha, and Donna were right behind him and they exited the TARDIS to find themselves in a tunnel filled with random bits of junk.

‘Why would the TARDIS bring us here, then?’ asked the Doctor, voicing the question that they were all thinking.

‘Oh, I love this bit,’ whispered Martha and Rose smiled at the look of anticipation on her face. Martha Jones hadn’t changed that much.

‘I thought you wanted to go home,’ said Donna, a bit teasingly.

‘I know, but all the same, it's that feeling you get.’

‘Like you swallowed a hamster?’

Rose laughed. ‘Best feeling in the world,’ she said.

Suddenly, three men with guns appeared. Rose's laughter turned into a growl of frustration. As if they hadn’t had enough of this sort of thing for one day.

‘Don't move!’ shouted one of the men. ‘Stay where you are! Drop your weapons.’

All four of them raised their hands in the air to show that they had no weapons. ‘We're unarmed,’ said the Doctor. ‘Look, no weapons. Never any weapons. We're safe.’

‘Look at their hands,’ said one of the soldiers, staring at them in disbelief. ‘They're clean.’

Rose lowered her hands a little to look at them. She had already gotten a few specks of dirt on them from the tunnel so they weren’t that clean.

‘All right, process them,’ said the man who Rose assumed was the leader of the little group. He nodded at the Doctor. ‘Him first.’

The two other men grabbed the Doctor by the shoulders and walked him forwards. ‘What are you doing with him?’ asked Rose and she began to step forward but was stopped by the leader shoving a gun in her face. She got the message and fell silent.

The Doctor however, couldn’t be silent if his life depended on it. ‘What's wrong with clean hands?’ he asked as the soldiers marched him over to a machine. The soldier on his left grabbed the Doctor’s arm and shoved it into the machine.

‘Leave him alone,’ shouted Donna but she too knew better than to actively argue with a man with gun.

The machine powered up. ‘Something tells me this isn't about to check my blood pressure,’ said the Doctor. And then he cried out in pain as the machine began to do whatever the hell it was doing.

‘Stop it!’ yelled Rose, pushing past the man with the gun. Thankfully, he didn’t shoot her. Instead, in one swift movement, he passed his gun to his comrade and grabbed Rose around her waist, effectively holding her back. Rose struggled against his grip but it was no use.

‘Everyone gets processed,’ he said.

The Doctor had turned as much as he could and was calling out to her to stop struggling. ‘Rose, it’s all right; it's just taken a tissue sample. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. And extrapolated it. Some kind of accelerator?’ Instead of calming her like the Doctor had intended, Rose’s struggling had increased with every cry of pain that had come from his lips.

Finally, the machine had finished taking a tissue sample or extrapolating it or whatever it had been doing and the Doctor yanked his arm back from it. The man holding Rose let her go and she rushed forward to make sure that the Doctor was all right. He met her half way, still clutching his hand and Rose gasped as she saw the nasty looking graze on the back of his hand. ‘It’ll heal soon enough,’ said the Doctor reassuringly.

‘What was all that about?’ asked Donna as her and Martha joined them.

No one answered her; they all became too distracted when the doors of the machine that had taken the Doctor’s tissue sample slid open and young woman walked out. One of the soldiers handed her a weapon and she took it without question. The woman was thin with blonde hair and, judging by the way she was handling the gun that had just been given to her, she was definitely a soldier.

‘Where did she come from?’ asked Martha.

‘From me,’ said the Doctor and Rose’s head snapped away from the blonde woman and looked towards the Doctor instead.

‘From you?’ asked Donna, helpfully constructing the sentence that Rose couldn’t seem to manage at the moment. ‘How? Who is she?’

‘Well,’ said the Doctor, tilting his head to the side as he drew out the word. ‘She's, well, she's my daughter.’ He was staring at the woman with a mixture of disbelief, intrigue and terror. Much the same way that Rose was now staring at him.

She continued to stare in shock at the Doctor for a moment before looking back at the woman he had just called his daughter. The young soldier smiled at them and Rose couldn’t deny the similarities that the smile showed. Even if the woman was holding a massive rifle in her hands.

‘Hello, Dad.’

The Doctor, Rose, Martha, and Donna just continued to stare in bewilderment but the soldiers around them were obviously more used to this sort of thing. ‘You primed to take orders?’ asked the leader as the soldiers moved over to a barricade near the end of the tunnel. ‘Ready to fight?’

‘Instant mental download of all strategic and military protocols, sir,’ replied the Doctor’s “daughter”. ‘Generation five thousand soldier primed and in peak physical health. Oh, I'm ready.’

‘Did you say daughter?’ asked Donna.

‘Technically,’ said the Doctor.

‘Technically how?’ asked Martha.

‘Progenation. Reproduction from a single organism. Means one parent is biological mother and father. You take a sample of diploid cells, split them into haploids, then recombine them in a different arrangement and grow. Very quickly, apparently.’

The Doctor and Donna moved forward to get a better look at what the soldiers were doing. Rose was about to follow them when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Martha looking at in concern. ‘You okay?’ she asked.

Rose didn’t know if she could answer that even if she could have found her voice. So many questions were running through her mind. Who was this younger soldier who had only been “born” a matter of minutes ago? How would she fit into the Doctor’s life? Did she even want to? Did the Doctor want her to? And what would this mean for Rose and the Doctor’s relationship? Rose had never wanted children, had never wanted to be a mother. Would the Doctor expect her to be one now?

‘Something's coming,’ shouted the Doctor’s daughter (Rose wasn’t sure if she would ever get used to that word – she wasn’t sure if she even wanted to get used to it) and Rose and Martha looked up to see the shadows of lots of somethings coming towards them. Judging by their shadows, the attackers appeared to be humanoid but their heads weren’t the same. Maybe they were just wearing some sort of protective headgear?

‘It's the Hath!’ shouted one of the human soldiers and suddenly the whole tunnel was alight with gunfire. Someone shouted at them to get down but they didn’t really need the instruction. Rose and Martha had already dived to the ground at the sound of the first shot.

Rose crawled over to the Doctor and Donna and got a glimpse through the barricade. The Hath certainly were wearing strange headgear, but they definitely weren’t human. They looked more fish-like and the headgear that they wore held a water tank over their mouth.

‘We have to blow the tunnel,’ said the leader of the humans as the Hath continued to get closer. ‘Get the detonator.’

‘I'm not detonating anything,’ growled the Doctor and he instead made his way over to a soldier who had been injured in the fight.

The Hath had made it through the barricade now and the humans were engaging them in hand-to-hand combat. Rose noticed a Hath heading towards where the Doctor was tending to the wounded soldier and she ran towards it, barreling into the creature with as much force as she could muster. She knocked the creature off his feet and the two of them went flying towards the ground.

Rose groaned in pain as she rubbed where she had hit her head on something, unintentionally rubbing dirt into her hair. Her hands were definitely not clean now.

Her ears were still ringing a bit, she must have hit her head on something quite hard, but she still could vaguely register the sound of shouting coming from the soldiers. A loud klaxon sounded and Rose felt a pair of arms haul her off the ground and to her feet. Still holding her head, she let the Doctor half carry her away from the battleground. Not that the battle was going on anymore. At the sound of the klaxon, everybody had made a run for it, including the Hath.

An explosion shook the tunnel and the section that they had just been in collapsed in on itself. If the Doctor hadn’t been holding Rose up, she probably would have fallen right back down at the tremors that the rock fall had caused.

‘You've sealed off the tunnel,’ said the Doctor angrily once the dust and smoke had cleared. ‘Why did you do that?’

‘They were trying to kill us,’ said his daughter defensively.

‘But they've got my friend!’

Rose’s ear’s pricked up at that and her concentration seemed to snap back into its rightful place. She looked around at what was left of the tunnel and she saw that Donna was on the other side of the Doctor. But where was Martha?

‘Collateral damage,’ said the Doctor’s daughter and Rose stared at her incredulously. How could this woman have come from the Doctor with so little consideration of life? ‘At least you've still got these two.’ She nodded to the one remaining human soldier (the one who Rose had assumed was the leader). ‘He lost both his men. I'd say you came out ahead.’

‘Her name is Martha,’ said Donna angrily. ‘And she's not collateral damage not for anyone. Have you got that, GI Jane?’

Rose pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed Martha’s number, her worry growing more and more with each unanswered ring.

Finally, Martha answered. ‘Rose,’ she cried, obviously as relieved as Rose was. ‘You all okay?’

‘We’re fine,’ said Rose even as she winced at the pain that shot through her head as she spoke. She tried not to focus on the Doctor’s eyes on her and instead concentrated on making sure her friend was okay. ‘What about you?’ she asked.

‘A bit bruised but I’ll manage…’ she trailed off and Rose heard the sound of her moving around the rocks. ‘The thing that grabbed me, he’s hurt,’ she said. ‘I’ve got to help him.’

Rose couldn’t help but smile a little at how quickly Martha could go into doctor mode whenever she saw someone – anyone - in need of medical attention.

‘Okay, we’re gonna try and get to you, all right?’

‘Okay. See soon hopefully,’ said Martha and she hung up the phone.

Rose turned to face the Doctor and Donna who were both looking at her, anxiously waiting for answers. ‘Martha’s fine, she not hurt,’ she assured them and Donna visibly let out a breath of relief.

The Doctor’s worry did not ease though. His eyes flickered to Rose’s head and for the first time, she realised that her hair felt warm and sticky. She was bleeding. She must have hit it harder than she thought.

The Doctor lifted up a hand to inspect the wound properly but Rose waved him off. ‘We’ve got to find Martha,’ she insisted, looking back towards the wall of rock that separated them from their friend.

‘You're going nowhere,’ said the young male soldier who no longer looked like a leader. Now he looked more frightened and angry. ‘You don't make sense, you three. No guns, no marks, no fight in you. I'm taking you to General Cobb. Now, move.’

Judging by the way that he was pointing his gun at them, Rose figured that they didn’t have much choice in the matter.

----

They walked deeper underground, the young soldier (who had reluctantly introduced himself as Cline) taking the lead. The Doctor and Rose were at the back of the group, slowed down a little by the Doctor trying to examine Rose’s head wound as they moved.

‘It will be fine,’ he eventually concluded. ‘It’s already healing.’

Rose nodded to let him know she had heard him but her eyes remained focused on the young woman in front of her. She wasn’t sure if she should hate her for trapping Martha, or be trying to get to know her because of her relationship to the Doctor.

Thankfully, Donna seemed to know which option to take. ‘I'm Donna,’ she said to the young soldier. ‘What's you name?’

‘Don't know. It's not been assigned.’

Okay, now Rose felt a little sorry for her.

‘Well, if you don't know that, what do you know?’ asked Donna, not unkindly.

‘How to fight.’

Rose felt the Doctor tense up a bit at those words and she took his hand in hers. She may have been a little confused as to how to feel about the situation, but that would be nothing compared to what the Doctor must be feeling.

‘Nothing else?’ asked Donna.

‘The machine must embed military history and tactics,’ explained the Doctor, ‘but no name. She's a generated anomaly.’

‘Generated anomaly,’ mused Donna. ‘Generated. Well, what about that? Jenny.’

The young soldier smiled. ‘Jenny. Yeah, I like that. Jenny.’

Donna smiled too and turned to the Doctor. ‘What do you think, Dad?’ she asked teasingly.

‘Good as anything, I suppose,’ said the Doctor and Rose could see what he was doing. He was trying to detach himself from the situation.

‘Not what you'd call a natural parent, are you?’ said Donna.

‘They stole a tissue sample at gunpoint and processed it. It's not what I call natural parenting.’

‘Rubbish. My friend Nerys fathered twins with a turkey baster. Don't bother her.’

‘You can't extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident.’

‘Uh, Child Support Agency can.’

‘Look, just because I share certain physiological traits with simian primates doesn't make me a monkey's uncle, does it?’ snapped the Doctor.

Jenny had seemed to have had enough. ‘I'm not a monkey,’ she said. ‘Or a child.’

She let them pass her and Rose fought the temptation to look back and apologise for the Doctor’s words. What could she possibly say to make it any better anyway? The Doctor was right. Relationships weren’t formed by a machine. Jenny may share the Doctor’s DNA but that did not make her his daughter.

Suddenly Rose realised something that she should have done sooner - something that made this whole mess very simple. Jenny shared the Doctor’s DNA. That made her a Time Lord. The Doctor was no longer the last of his species. And in that moment Rose knew that, however the Doctor felt now, he would form a bond with Jenny eventually.

Making her decision, she let go of the Doctor’s hand so she could fall behind and fall into pace beside Jenny. This girl was going to be part of their lives whether Rose liked it or not so she had at least better try and make an effort.

‘I’m Rose,’ she said, not really knowing how to start this conversation.

Jenny gave her a curt nod that didn’t quite say “nice to meet you” but didn’t show any ill will so Rose pressed on. ‘This must all be a bit strange for you,’ she said. ‘Having to adjust to life with an entire upbringing just downloaded into your head.’

Jenny shrugged. ‘It’s how it is. Just because I was created an hour ago, doesn’t make me a child.’

‘No, it doesn’t,’ said Rose sadly. This poor girl had already missed out on what were supposed to be the best years of her life.

They both fell into silence, nether knowing how to continue (or perhaps they didn’t want to) until they reached a military campsite.

‘So, where are we? What planet's this?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Messaline,’ said Cline as a message came over the tannoy system. A very long message that seemed to solely consist of a list of the dead. ‘Well, what's left of it.’

They entered a room and Rose took in her surroundings. Donna called it a theatre and she wasn’t wrong, but Rose was too busy looking at the people. They seemed to be all soldiers, with a few more coming out of a machine like the one that Jenny had been created in. Come to think of it, they hadn’t seen any civilians whatsoever in the small underground town. Not even children.

Rose was distracted from her contemplations by Cline leading an official looking man walking towards them. The man had a white beard that matched his hair and they way he walked just screamed “in charge”. This must have been the General that Cline was taking them to see.

‘General Cobb, I presume,’ said the Doctor as the man reached them.

Cobb didn’t confirm or deny the Doctor’s assumption; he just went straight to business. ‘Found in the western tunnels, I'm told, with no marks,’ he said, looking the three of them over. ‘There was an outbreak of pacifism in the eastern zone three generations back, before we lost contact. Is that where you came from?’

The Doctor nodded eagerly. ‘Eastern zone, that's us, yeah. Yeah. I'm The Doctor, this is Rose, and this is Donna.’

‘And I'm Jenny,’ added the young soldier, obviously not happy with being left out.

Cobb didn’t acknowledge the introductions; he didn’t seem to care. ‘Don't think you can infect us with your peacemaking. We're committed to the fight, to the very end,’ he said, very formally.

‘Well, that's all right. I can't stay, anyway,’ said the Doctor. ‘I've got to go and find my friend.’

‘That's not possible. All movement is regulated. We're at war.’

‘Yes, I noticed. With the Hath. But tell me, because we got a bit out of circulation, eastern zone and all that. So who exactly are the Hath?’

Cobb regarded them for a moment before he dove into the tale of how his ancestors had built the underground city with the hopes of working together with the Hath in peace and how the Hath had betrayed them.

‘Why are you all underground?’ asked Rose. ‘What’s on the surface?’

‘It’s too dangerous up there,’ said Cline.

‘Then why build windows?’ asked Donna pointing to a wall. Rose followed her gaze and her brow furrowed in confusion. Donna was right, they had built an underground city with windows. But what for? The view was shielded by the plastic that was covering the window and even if it wasn’t, it would have only been of the dirt surrounding them.

Donna walked up to the window and pointed to the plaque below it. The plaque showed a string of numbers. ‘And what does this mean?’

‘The rites and symbols of our ancestors,’ explained Cobb. ‘The meaning's lost in time.’

‘How long's this war gone on for?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Longer than anyone can remember. Countless generations marked only by the dead.’

Rose thought back to the announcement she had heard. This war was obviously brutal to have a death toll so high, especially seeing as the human colony didn’t seem all that huge. No wonder they relied on advanced technology to produce fully-grown soldiers. It could also explain why there weren’t any kids. Maybe they had been taken somewhere safe, along with any other civilians.

‘What, fighting all this time?’ asked Donna.

It was Jenny who answered. ‘Because we must,’ she said. ‘Every child of the machine is born with this knowledge. It's our inheritance. It's all we know. How to fight, and how to die.’

Despite her unsure feeling towards Jenny, Rose’s heart broke for the girl. ‘Is that it?’ she asked. It didn’t seem like much of a life.

Jenny shrugged. ‘That’s war.’

Cobb led them over to a holographic map of tunnels and chambers and the Doctor began pleading a case to give him somebody to help find Martha.

Shit. Martha!

Rose quickly pulled out her mobile and dialled her friend's number. While it was ringing, she glanced over at the others. Donna had seemed to have said something that did not please Jenny and the Doctor was standing back awkwardly. It seemed that he did not know how to feel about his daughter either.

Martha’s phone went to voicemail and Rose let out a growl of frustration and left a quick message telling her that they had got a bit delayed but they were still trying to get to her. Hopefully Martha was still okay and would call back.

She walked back over to where the others were examining the map and talking about something called “the source”.

‘In the beginning, the great one breathed life into the universe,’ said Cline. ‘And then she looked at what she'd done, and she sighed.’

‘She,’ said Jenny. ‘I like that.’

‘Right. So it's a creation myth,’ said the Doctor.

‘It's not myth. It's real,’ insisted Cobb. ‘That sigh. From the beginning of time it was caught and kept as the Source. It was lost when the war started. But it's here, somewhere. Whoever holds the Source controls the destiny of the planet.’

‘Ah!’ cried the Doctor, making everyone jump. ‘I thought so.’ He pressed a couple of buttons that controlled the map and it made a sort of buzzing sound. This seemed to mean something to the Doctor judging by the triumphant look in his eyes. Rose was just about to ask him what he had done when her phone began ringing. She looked at the screen and quickly moved away from the others to answer the call.

‘Martha,’ she said, letting the relief wash over her. ‘You all right?’

‘I’m fine,’ said Martha. ‘I’m with the Hath but they don’t seem too bad. Friendly enough.’

Rose sent a curious glance at Cobb. Judging by the way the man had described them, the Hath were supposed to be monsters.

‘A bit hard to communicate with them,’ continued Martha. ‘It’s all just sort of gurgles and hand gestures.’

‘But they’re treating you okay?’ asked Rose.

‘Yeah. I’m in their control room, checking out their map of the tunnels… Hold on. The map just changed.’

Rose looked over to their own map and sure enough, it had changed as well. The Doctor was putting his sonic screwdriver back in his pocket. He must have done something to it to reveal more tunnels and caves.

Cobb looked like all his birthdays had come at once. He started giving soldiers orders and Rose got the feeling that something big was about to go down so she said goodbye to Martha with a promise to find her and ran over to join the others who were now walking across the room.

‘What’s going on?’ she asked.

‘I think I just found them their creation myth,’ said the Doctor, eyeing Cobb with distrust.

‘Once we reach the Temple, peace will be restored at long last,’ said Cobb.

‘Uh, call me old-fashioned, but if you really wanted peace, couldn't you just stop fighting?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Only when we have the Source. It'll give us the power to erase every stinking Hath from the face of this planet.’

‘Hang on, hang on. A second ago it was peace in our time. Now you're talking about genocide.’

‘For us, that means the same thing.’

The look that the Doctor was giving Cobb now was of far more than distrust. It was full on anger. ‘Then you need to get yourself a better dictionary,' he said. 'When you do, look up genocide. You'll see a little picture of me there, and the caption will read, over my dead body.’

‘And you're the one who showed us the path to victory,’ said Cobb with a small laugh. ‘But you can consider the irony from your prison cell. Cline, at arms.’

Cline raised his rifle and pointed it at the three time travellers. ‘Oi, oi, oi. All right. Cool the beans, Rambo,’ said Donna.

‘Take them,’ ordered Cobb. ‘I won't have them spreading treason. And if you try anything, Doctor, I'll see that your woman dies first.’ He eyed both Rose and Donna before adding, ‘Both of them.’

‘I am not his woman,’ said Donna.

‘I'm going to stop you, Cobb,’ said the Doctor. ‘You need to know that.’

‘I have an army and the Breath of God on my side, Doctor,’ said Cobb with all the self-righteousness of man who believed he was doing the work of a higher power. ‘What'll you have?’

The Doctor tapped the side of his forehead to indicate his brain. 'This.'

Cobb looked unfazed by the Doctor’s warning. ‘Lock them up and guard them.’

‘What about the new soldier?’ asked Cline, eyeing Jenny with uncertainty.

‘Can't trust her. She's from pacifist stock. Take them all.’ And much to Jenny displeasure, she was shoved towards the Doctor and marched towards the prison cells with them.

Welcome to the family, thought Rose dryly.

Chapter Text

The cell wasn’t too bad, Rose supposed. At least it had enough room for all four of them.

‘More numbers,’ said Donna pointing to anther plaque on the wall. ‘They've got to mean something.’

‘Makes as much sense as the Breath of Life story,’ said the Doctor, sitting down on the bed. Rose could tell he was frustrated and she couldn’t really blame him. He had just inadvertently given Cobb the means to commit genocide. And to make matters even worse, the soldiers were not going to just leave them be in their cell and had put Cline on guard duty outside, which meant that even if they used the sonic screwdriver to get out of the cell, they still had to deal with him. And as much as Rose believed Cline didn’t want to shoot them, she had no doubt that he would.

‘You mean that's not true?’ asked Jenny and Rose had to think for a second to remember what they were talking about. Oh right, the creation myth.

‘No, it's a myth. Isn't it, Doctor?’ said Donna.

‘Yeah, but all legends come from somewhere,’ said Rose and the Doctor nodded.

‘There could still be something real in that temple,' he said. 'Something that's become a myth. A piece of technology, a weapon.’

‘So the Source could be a weapon and we've just given directions to Captain Nutjob?’ summarised Donna with a sigh and the Doctor nodded again.

‘Oh, yes.’

‘Not good, is it?’

‘That's why we need to get out of here, find Martha and stop Cobb from slaughtering the Hath. What, what are you, what are you, what are you staring at?’ The last bit the Doctor had directed at Jenny.

‘You keep insisting you're not a soldier,’ she said, ‘but look at you, drawing up strategies like a proper general.’

‘No, no. I'm trying to stop the fighting,’ said the Doctor with a glare.

‘Isn't every soldier?’

That caught the Doctor off guard. ‘Well, I suppose, but that's, that's… Technically, I haven't got time for this. Rose, call Martha.’

Rose nodded and once again dialed Martha’s number. It was only a couple of rings before she answered.

‘Rose, everything all right?’ asked Martha. ‘Where are you?’

‘You’re never gonna believe this but we're in prison,’ said Rose in mock disbelief. She could practically hear Martha rolling her eyes.

‘How did that happen then?’

‘Oh, you know. The usual.’

‘The Doctor pissed off the wrong people?’

Rose chuckled and glanced at the Doctor who was looking at her rather impatiently. ‘Actually, this time he pissed off the right people,’ she said, not breaking eye contact with the Doctor and grinning cheekily. ‘What’s going on at your end?’

‘Something on that map must have been important. The Hath are all gearing up ready to march off somewhere.’

‘Yeah, so are the humans. Apparently there is something called “the Source” and everybody is looking for it. We think it might be a weapon.’

She pulled the phone away from her mouth for a second so she could tell the Doctor that the Hath were moving.

‘If both armies are heading that way, there's going to be a bloodbath,’ said the Doctor, loud enough for Martha to hear.

‘What do you want me to do?’ she asked Rose.

‘Are you safe where you are?’

‘I think so.’

‘Then stay there.'

‘But I can help.'

Rose was sure that Martha could help, but she didn’t want to send her friend out into a warzone. Unfortunately she didn’t get the chance to tell Martha that before the line went dead. She looked at her phone but it was still working fine. The problem must have been on Martha’s end. ‘Lost her,’ she said, putting her phone back in her pocket.

‘Is she going to stay there?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Hope so.’ But Rose knew that it wasn’t likely. She turned to face the cell door at the sound of the soldiers shouting something that sounded worryingly like a war cry.

‘They're getting ready to move out,’ said the Doctor. ‘We have to get past that guard.’

‘Cline,’ corrected Rose.

‘Yes, him.’

‘I can deal with him,’ said Jenny, striding towards the door of the cell but the Doctor put his hand on her arm to stop her.

‘No, no, no, no. You're not going anywhere,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘You belong here with them.’

‘She belongs with us,’ said Donna. ‘With you. She's your daughter.’

‘She's a soldier. She came out of that machine,’ snapped the Doctor.

‘She’s still a person,’ said Rose, not liking the Doctor’s tone. ‘And I know for a fact that some of your best friends are soldiers.’ She had purposely avoided the part about Jenny being his daughter but Donna wasn’t as willing to let that bit go.

‘Have you got that stethoscope?’ she asked the Doctor. ‘Give it to me. Come on.’ He reluctantly did so.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Jenny as Donna held the stethoscope to her chest.

‘It's all right. Just hold still.’

There was a moment of silence where Donna listened to what Rose knew would be a double heartbeat. She pulled the stethoscope out of her ears and handed it to the Doctor. ‘Come here. Listen, and then tell me where she belongs.’

Tentatively, almost as if he was afraid of the truth, the Doctor did as Donna had asked. ‘Two hearts,’ he said, backing away slowly.

‘Exactly.’

But Jenny didn’t understand the significance. ‘What's going on?’ she asked.

‘You have two hearts,’ explained Rose. ‘That makes you a Time Lord.’

‘What's a Time Lord?’

‘It's who I am,’ said the Doctor from the corner he had backed himself into. ‘It's where I'm from.’

He looked so unsure of himself that Rose just wanted to go up and hug him but she wasn’t sure if that would make the situation worse.

‘And I'm from you,’ said Jenny.

The Doctor’s uncertainty quickly turned into anger. ‘You're an echo, that's all,’ he said. ‘A Time Lord is so much more. A sum of knowledge, a code, a shared history, a shared suffering.’ He sobered up a little bit and looked away. ‘Only it's gone now, all of it. Gone forever.’

Now Rose did walk up to comfort him. She leaned against the wall beside him and took his hand in hers.

‘What happened?’ asked Jenny.

‘There was a war.’

‘Like this one?’

The Doctor let out a humourless laugh. ‘Bigger. Much bigger.’

‘And you fought, and killed?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Yes,’ he whispered and Rose could hear all the guilt and regret that came with that one syllable.

‘Then how are we different?’ asked Jenny. She wasn’t angry or unkind. She just wanted to understand.

‘You’re not,’ said Rose, looking up at the Doctor. He still looked so unsure of himself – unsure of Jenny – but she could see the beginnings of acceptance in his eyes. She tried not to think of what that would mean for their future.

----

The Hath camp was now pretty much empty. The fish-like aliens had all marched off in search of this “source”, whatever it may be, and only Martha and one Hath remained. It was the one whom Martha had first met in the tunnels. The one she had helped with a dislocated shoulder.

‘I need to charge it up,’ said Martha to the Hath, holding out her dead mobile phone. ‘I need power. Do you understand?’

The Hath let out a gurgle of bubbles and then did something to the map in front of them. He (or she) hadn’t been able to tell Martha if she could charge her phone but they had been able to change the map so it now showed even more than it had before.

‘There's even more?’ said Martha, pocketing her phone. ‘In 3D. Oh, you're a clever Hath.’ She swatted the Hath’s shoulder in celebration and then turned her attention back to the map. She pointed at one of the caverns. ‘So this is where everybody's headed?’ The Hath made an affirmative gurgle. ‘But look, those tunnels sort of zig-zag. If I went up and over the surface in a straight line, I'd get there first.’

Another bunch of gurgles came from her Hath friend but this time they were definitely not an affirmative sort of gesture. They sounded more worried than anything. It was probably a “no, don’t do that,” sort of gurgle then.

‘Why not?’ she asked and the Hath brought up a graph up on the screen.

‘Are these readings for the surface? Well, it doesn't look too bad,’ she said although she knew she was lying to herself. ‘Nitrogen and oxygen about eighty twenty. That's fine. Ozone levels are high, and some big radiation spikes. But as long as I'm not out there too long.’

There was another ominous gurgle from the Hath.

‘I have to find my friends,’ said Martha, hoping that her new friend would understand. She made her way to the doorway but another gurgle from the Hath made her turn around. ‘Come on, then.’

----

Eventually the tension in the prison cell dissipated and all four prisoners agreed that they needed a plan to get out. They had a battle to stop and they weren’t going to get anything done from behind bars. It was Donna who had suggested flirting with Cline to distract him. Rose agreed with this plan, remembering how she had noticed the young soldier glancing at Jenny from time to time during their walk through the tunnels.

But Jenny wasn’t so sure.

‘Flirting wasn’t part of the download,’ she whispered, nervously glancing towards where Cline was stationed outside the bars on the far side of the cell.

‘Oh, don’t worry it’s easy,’ said Donna, also trying to keep her voice low.

‘Just remember, it’s all in the eyes and the smile,’ said Rose. ‘He already likes you so just a quick bat of the eye lids and a few teasing words and he'll melt in your hands.’

Jenny blinked a few times, trying to create the fluttering effect, but was still unsure.

‘Don’t doubt yourself,’ said Rose, noticing the frustrated look on Jenny’s face. ‘Just be confident and the rest will come naturally. It’s just like any other mission strategy, yeah?’

‘Well, if we are talking mission strategy than I think you should do it,’ said Jenny. ‘You know what you’re doing.’

Rose faltered, here eyes flickering from Cline to the unusually silent Doctor. Somehow, with everything else that had happened that day, she doubted he would appreciate watching his girlfriend make doe-eyes at another man.

‘He’s a bit young for me,’ she finally said.

The Doctor seemed to like this answer. ‘Yes. Definitely,’ he agreed, taking the few steps needed to reach Rose and wrap a possessive arm around her waist. He didn’t put enough pressure in his grip to pull her in but she shuffled closer to him anyway.

‘Worried I might run off with a younger model?’ she asked, cheekily looking up at him.

The Doctor chuckled. ‘Always.’

‘So, are you two together, then?’ asked Jenny who had been watching the pair with interest.

The Doctor leaned down and placed a kiss to Rose’s temple. ‘Yep.’

‘So does that make Rose my mother?’

The Doctor and Rose's smiles vanished in an instant.

‘Well… no… technically…’ Rose stammered.

‘Oi!’ hissed Donna, keeping her voice low but still managing to give off the same effect that she did when she was shouting. ‘Are we gonna stand here chatting or are we getting out?’

Rose sent Donna a grateful smile for the distraction before turning back to Jenny. ‘You can do this,’ she said. ‘Confidence.’

Jenny took a big breath and rolled her shoulders. ‘Confidence,’ she repeated and then strode over to lean against the bars next to Cline and beckoned him over with a flirtatious smile.

So far, so good, thought Rose.

It turned out that Jenny was very good at flirting. And she wasn’t afraid to go all out either. After just a few short words, she had grabbed Cline’s shoulder through the bars of the cell and had pulled him towards her for a kiss. A distraction that worked all too well and before Cline knew what had happened, Jenny had his gun in her hand and was pointing it at him. ‘Keep quiet and open the door,’ she said in the same sweet voice she had used for her flirting.

‘Oh she’s a fast learner,’ said Rose. ‘I don’t think I could do that.’

The Doctor murmured something that sounded suspiciously like ‘I would hope not’ but Rose didn’t have time to process it before he had let go of her waist and had walked out of the door that Cline had just opened.

With a quick apology, they shut Cline in the cell and headed down the stairs at the end of the corridor. They stopped as they saw another guard at the bottom.

‘That's the way out,’ said the Doctor in frustration at yet another hurdle to overcome.

Jenny raised the gun she had stolen from Cline, ready to shoot the guard ahead of them, but the Doctor stopped her before she could even aim the weapon. ‘Don't you dare,’ he hissed.

‘Let me distract this one,’ whispered Donna, flipping her hair behind her shoulders and straightening her shirt. ‘I have picked up a few womanly wiles over the years.’

But the Doctor stopped her too. ‘Let's save your wiles for later,’ he said. ‘In case of emergency.’

Rose couldn’t help but smile at the look Donna was giving him but the Doctor didn’t notice. He was too busy rummaging through his pockets. It was only a few moments before he found what he was looking for: a clockwork mouse.

‘And that is better than my womanly wiles?’ asked Donna. The Doctor had the good sense not to answer that question and instead wound up the mouse and sent it scuttling towards the guard.

The distraction worked like a charm. The guard walked over to the mouse and bent down to pick it up and they had their chance to sneak past him. But Jenny had misjudged the Doctor’s intentions. Instead of sneaking past the guard, she sneaked up behind him and knocked him unconscious with a karate chop to the head.

The Doctor was less than pleased. ‘I was going to distract him, not clobber him,’ he said angrily.

‘Well, it worked, didn't it?’ said Jenny.

The Doctor let out another growl of annoyance as he picked up the mouse. ‘They must all have a copy of that new map,’ he said. ‘Just stay there. Don't hurt anyone.’ The small squeak that came from the mouse did hinder the effect of his scolding somewhat but the Doctor ignored it and went to find a copy of the new map, leaving Jenny looking confused.

‘He doesn’t like violence,’ said Rose. ‘It’s not how he fights.’

She had said it intending to help Jenny to understand but now the young soldier looked more confused than ever. Rose didn’t know what else she could say so they just stood there in silence while they waited for the Doctor to return.

----

Martha pushed open the trap door that lead to the surface and climbed up to stand on the slimy soil. She did up her jacket properly and wrapped her arms around herself in attempt to combat the cold wind. No wonder everyone lived underground, she thought. Even without the radiation, this planet would still be inhabitable. Although, the view of the three moons was kind of nice.

She heard a gurgle come from beside her and she smiled at her Hath friend who had decided to join her. ‘I knew you couldn't resist it,’ she said. The Hath made another gurgling sound. Martha didn’t need a translator for that one. ‘Language,’ she chastened. ‘Come on.’

Together, they started on their way across the surface of the planet towards where she hoped she would find the Doctor and Rose.

----

The Doctor had found a map and after a little inspection, had discovered that there was a hidden tunnel that would hopefully mean that they could get to the Source first.

‘You got a pen? Bit of paper?’ asked Donna as the Doctor searched a wall for a control panel that would open the hidden tunnel.

‘What for?’ asked Rose distractedly. She was focusing more on what the Doctor was doing. He was scanning the wall with his screwdriver but Rose had no idea what setting he was using and somehow this didn’t seem like the best time to ask for a lesson in operating a sonic screwdriver. She made a mental note to ask him about it later so that next time something like this happened, she could help.

‘The numbers,’ said Donna and Rose turned to see her pointing at yet another plaque with numbers on it. ‘Because, do you see, they’re counting down. This one ends in one four. The prison cell said one six.’

The Doctor found a pen and paper in his pocket and handed them to Donna and she hurriedly started writing. Rose looked over Donna's shoulder and saw that she was writing down all the numbers they had seen so far. ‘Huh. You’re right,’ she said, quite impressed that Donna had been remembering each number. ‘But counting down to what?’

‘Always thinking, all of you,’ said Jenny. ‘Who are you people?’

‘I told you. I'm the Doctor,’ said the Doctor, moving over to another part of the wall.

‘The Doctor? That's it?’

‘That's all he ever says,’ said Donna.

Jenny looked to Rose as if she might be able to shed some light on the subject but Rose just shrugged. She didn’t think she would ever learn the Doctor’s true name. Even if she did, she doubted it would make a difference. He would always be “the Doctor” to her.

Jenny turned to the Doctor. ‘So, you don't have a name either? Are you an anomaly, too?’

‘No,’ answered the Doctor at once.

‘Oh, come off it,’ scoffed Donna. ‘You're the most anomalous bloke I've ever met.’

The Doctor didn’t reply. He had pulled a plank of wood off the wall and had found the control panel underneath it. ‘Here it is,’ he said in triumph.

‘And Time Lords. What are they for, exactly?’ asked Jenny.

‘For?’ asked the Doctor, sonicking the control panel. ‘They're not, they're not for anything.’

‘So what do you do?’

‘I travel through time and space.’

‘He saves planets, rescues civilisations, defeats terrible creatures,’ added Donna. ‘And runs a lot. Seriously, there's an outrageous amount of running involved.’

Bothe Rose and Jenny smiled at that.

The door to the tunnel opened and the Doctor got up and pocketed his screwdriver. Shouting from down the hall caused them all to pause and look towards the noise. It was Cobb ordering some men about. And it sounded like they were headed straight for them. ‘Now, what were you saying about running?’ asked the Doctor with a gleeful smile. He grabbed Rose’s hand and together they led the way down the newly revealed tunnel.

But they didn’t get very far. It was only a couple of turns before they found out that the passage had more security than just a hidden door. The Doctor and Rose skidded to a halt just inches away from where an array of laser beams were jotting out of the walls at different angles, making it impossible to walk through without touching them. It looked like something out of Mission Impossible.

‘That's not mood lighting, is it?’ said Donna. The Doctor chucked the clockwork mouse (the one he had used to distract the guard) into the lasers and it instantly turned to dust. ‘No, I didn't think so.’

‘Arming device,’ said the Doctor before moving over to where there was a blue box that looked like some sort of control mechanism attached to the wall and started sonicking it.

Donna had found another plaque of numbers and was writing them down so Rose was left with nothing really to do. She cast an anxious glance back to where they come from. No doubt Cobb and his men weren’t far behind.

Sure enough, the sound of the General’s voice carried down the passage and Rose, Donna and Jenny looked at each other worryingly.

‘You'd better be quick,’ said Donna to the Doctor.

Jenny nodded her agreement and then started striding down the passage towards Cobb.

Rose ran after her and grabbed her arm. ‘What you doing?’

‘I can hold them up,’ she said.

‘You don’t have to,’ insisted Rose. ‘The Doctor will get the lasers sorted and we can get through before them.’

‘And we don't need any more dead,’ added the Doctor.

‘But it's them or us,’ said Jenny.

‘It doesn't mean you have to kill them.’

‘I'm trying to save your life.’

‘Listen to me,’ said the Doctor, walking over and taking Jenny gently by the shoulders. ‘The killing. After a while, it infects you. And once it does, you're never rid of it.’

‘We don't have a choice,’ said Jenny.

‘We always have a choice.’

There was pregnant pause and Rose thought that maybe Jenny was going to listen to the Doctor.

But she was wrong.

‘I'm sorry,’ said Jenny and she ran down the corridor towards the oncoming men. The Doctor called after her but it was no use, she had already disappeared around the corner. It wasn’t too long before the sound of gunfire could be heard.

‘I told you. Nothing but a soldier,’ said the Doctor and he went back to trying to get rid of the lasers. But Rose could see how disappointed he was.

‘She’s still learning,’ she said.

‘She's trying to help,’ agreed Donna.

Less than a minute later the Doctor had done something clever and the lasers disappeared. ‘Jenny, come on,’ he shouted.

‘I'm coming,’ came Jenny’s reply but it didn’t sound like she was on her way back.

‘Jenny, leave it! Let's go.’

Rose was just about to go down the corridor and go and get her but the Doctor grabbed her hand. ‘We don’t have time,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to go now.’

‘Jenny, hurry up!’ yelled Rose before letting the Doctor pull her down the passageway.

They reached the end and turned to see that Jenny was finally coming back. But not quickly enough. The laser beams reappeared just before she had a chance to follow them down the passageway.

‘No, no, no, no, no, no,’ growled the Doctor. ‘The circuit's looped back.’

‘Zap it back again,’ said Donna.

‘The controls are back there.’

‘They're coming,’ said Jenny, glancing behind her. She was trapped.

‘We have to do something,’ said Rose, studying the lasers. Maybe there was some way she could fit through. Maybe she could crawl across the floor underneath or something.

The Doctor was frantically running his hands through his hair as he tried to think of some way to help, but, like Rose, he seemed to have come up empty. He let out another growl of frustration and turned to yell down the corridor. ‘Jenny, I can't.’

Jenny threw her gun away and muttered something that Rose couldn’t hear and then did something incredible. Something that definitely looked liked part of a Mission Impossible movie. She flipped through the lasers!

Rose’s jaw dropped as she watched Jenny land perfectly on her feet beside them. Not so much as a scorch mark on her.

‘She got that from me,’ joked Rose without thinking but thankfully the Doctor hadn’t heard her. He was too busy giving his daughter a celebratory hug. One which she had definitely earned.

‘I didn't kill him,’ said Jenny excitedly. ‘General Cobb, I could have kill him but I didn't. You were right. I had a choice.’

Rose smiled proudly at her, she was starting to learn what it meant to be the Doctor’s daughter. And Rose could tell that the Doctor knew it too. Her smile faltered a little as she thought of what that meant.

It wasn’t that Rose didn’t like Jenny. The young soldier was actually rapidly growing on her and Rose honestly believed she would make good company in the TARDIS. And the Doctor deserved a chance to have some sort of family. But this was a family that Rose wouldn’t be a part of and she wasn’t sure if she could take spending the rest of her life being left out like that. She spared a thought to Mickey and felt a stab of guilt. This was probably what he had felt like.

Rose shook herself out of it. Jenny deserved to be part of the Doctor’s life and Rose wasn’t going to be selfish. Feeling like the odd one out was a small price to pay for the Doctor’s happiness. So she put her smile back on and gave Jenny a celebratory hug as well.

Cobb and his mean (including Cline) appeared at the other end of the tunnel, their features looking slightly reddish from the light of the lasers in front of them. Rose, Donna, and Jenny didn’t waste any time in running out of the path of any bullets that might start flying at them but the Doctor wasn’t in such a hurry. Rose turned back to see him glaring at Cobb. ‘I warned you, Cobb,’ he said. ‘If the Source is a weapon, I'm going to make sure you never use it.’ He started running towards Rose and the others just before the shooting started. The bullets that made it past the lasers flew through the empty space that he had just vacated.

Rose held out her hand for him as he approached and he smiled gratefully as he took it. ‘Allons-y,’ he said and they both ran a bit faster to catch up with Donna and Jenny.

Chapter Text

‘It can't be much further,’ said Martha for the fifth time since her and her Hath friend had set out on their journey across the planet’s surface. It had taken them a bit longer than anticipated due to the fact that the ground was purely made up of gunge and rock. She was definitely going to have to throw away these shoes after this.

The landscape had not exactly been flat either. There had been many a hill to climb and scramble over, making Martha’s legs strain. Even with her UNIT training (and not to mention all the running she had had to do travelling with the Doctor and Rose), she still found it hard going.

They had just climbed yet another hill and were walking along a ledge when suddenly Martha lost her footing and slid down the slope on the other side, landing in a bog at the bottom. Now she was going to have bin her trousers when she got home too.

She started to pull herself towards the edge of the bog but panic began to settle in when she realised that she couldn’t. She was stuck. Worse than that, the more she struggled, the more the bog pulled her further in. Like quicksand. Slimy, disgusting quicksand.

‘Help me!’ she yelled, holding out her arm towards the edge of the bog where her Hath friend was now kneeling, reaching for her outstretched hand. But they were too far away.

‘I'm sinking. I'm sinking.’ She was really starting to panic now. Was this it? All the danger she had faced and she was going to die in a sludge pit on a planet she didn’t even know the name of?

A splash from beside her brought her out of her downwards spiral and she saw that her friend had jumped into the bog next to her. Before she could protest, he was pushing her up onto the ledge.

As soon as she was free, Martha turned to reach for the Hath to pull him out as well. But it was too late. The Hath had already sunk too far into the bog.

‘No!’ she cried as she watched the top of her friend’s head disappear into the black sludge.

----

Underground, the Doctor, Rose, Donna and Jenny were finding that the rest of their journey through the secret passageways was infinitely less dangerous. And Rose was extremely thankful for that. She didn’t fancy trying to pull a stunt like Jenny had with the laser beams. She may have won a medal in gymnastics but she had no doubt that if she had tried to do what Jenny had done, she would have burnt to a crisp on the first bound.

‘So how did you know you could do that?’ Rose asked Jenny. ‘Flip through the lasers, I mean.’

Jenny shrugged. ‘Don’t know. Just did.’

Rose nodded her understanding. ‘Well, it was impressive anyway.’

Jenny seemed pleased with this. ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘So what's it like, the travelling?’

Rose smiled. ‘Amazing. Travelling with the Doctor… I’ve seen things I never even dreamed of. Done things I never thought I could do. There’s nothing quite like that first step out onto a new world.’

‘Oh, I'd love to see new worlds.’

‘You will,’ said Donna who had been listening in on the conversation. ‘Won't she, Doctor?’

The Doctor hadn’t been paying attention, however. He had been lost in his own world. ‘Hmm?’ he asked, turning around to face them.

‘Do you think Jenny will see any new worlds?’ repeated Donna.

‘I suppose so.'

‘You mean… You mean you'll take me with you?’ asked Jenny, barely containing her excitement.

‘Well, we can't leave you here, can we?’

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Jenny lunged at the Doctor and wrapped her arms around his neck. Rose saw the Doctor’s lips twitch into a smile as he hugged her back.

Jenny pulled away quickly, still grinning for ear to ear. ‘Come on, let's get a move on,’ she said and with that, she was off.

‘Careful, there might be traps,’ the Doctor shouted out after her.

‘I’ll go after her,’ chuckled Rose and she jogged down the passageway to catch up with Jenny. ‘Hey, wait up!’

Jenny must have heard her because as soon as Rose rounded the corner, she just about ran into her, almost tripping over her own feet in an effort to stop. Jenny grabbed her arm to keep her steady.

‘Thanks,’ said Rose, now standing firmly on two feet. ‘Okay, now we can run ahead a little.’ Jenny grinned again and the two women started to run.

They rounded another bend but skidded to a halt at the sound of gunfire. The human soldiers must have found their own way through the tunnels and had almost caught up to them.

‘I think we had better go warn the others,’ said Rose.

Jenny nodded in agreement and they both headed back the way they came.

When they got back, it looked like the Doctor and Donna were in the middle of an important conversation but unfortunately there was no time for that. ‘We’ve got company,’ said Rose. ‘The soldiers.’

‘They've blasted through the beams,’ said Jenny before turning to the Doctor with a smile. ‘Time to run again. Love the running. Yeah?’

The Doctor smiled back at her. ‘Love the running,’ he agreed.

And run they did… right into a dead end.

‘We're trapped,’ said Donna, looking around the cul-de-sac that they had ended up in.

‘Can't be,’ said the Doctor. ‘This must be the Temple.’ He turned to face one of the walls. ‘This is a door.’

Donna pointed to yet another plaque on the wall. ‘And again,’ she said, writing the new numbers down. ‘We're down to one two now.’

The Doctor pulled back a panel on the wall to reveal some sort of control mechanism. ‘I've got it!’ he yelled.

‘That’s good ‘cos I think they’re getting closer,’ said Rose, watching the end of the corridor where she expected to see the soldiers appear any minute.

‘Nearly done,’ insisted the Doctor.

‘This can't be a cataloguing system,’ said Donna, looking at the numbers she had written down.

‘They're definitely getting closer,’ said Jenny, who was standing guard with Rose.

‘Then get back here, both of you,’ shouted the Doctor.

‘Not yet.’

‘Now!’ yelled the Doctor as he managed to get the door open. Rose and Jenny spared one last look at the corridor where the soldiers were just appearing before turning and running through the open door.

‘They're coming. Close the door,’ said Jenny but the Doctor had already started doing as much. ‘Oh, that was close.’

‘No fun otherwise,’ said the Doctor and Rose’s lips twitched up into a smile despite herself. She knew she shouldn’t enjoy the danger as much as she did but she couldn’t help it sometimes.

They ran further along the corridor. ‘It's not what I'd call a temple,’ said Donna and Rose had to agree with her there. It looked more like…

‘Fusion drive transport,’ said the Doctor. ‘It's a spaceship.’

‘What, the original one?’ asked Donna. ‘The one the first colonists arrived in?’

‘Well, it could be,' speculated the Doctor, 'but the power cells would have run down after all that time. This one's still powered-up and functioning. Come on.' He grabbed Rose’s hand and led them up a set of stairs.

They got to the next level and stopped at the sizzling sound of something burning through metal. They turned in unison to see that one of doors on the far wall had a great big burn mark down it. Someone was trying to get through.

‘It's the Hath,’ said Jenny. ‘That door's not going to last much longer. And if General Cobb gets through down there, war's going to break out.’

But the Doctor had been distracted by a computer screen at the other end of the room. ‘Ship's log,’ he said and he put on his glasses to read it. ‘First wave of Human/Hath co-colonisation of planet Messaline,’ he read out loud.

‘So it is the original ship,’ said Jenny.

‘But how is it still running after all this time?’ asked Rose. ‘Is someone maintaining it?’

‘Don’t think so,’ said the Doctor, looking around the room.

‘So, what happened?’ asked Donna and the Doctor turned back to the screen.

‘Phase one, construction,’ he read. ‘They used robot drones to build the city.’

‘Does it say anything about the war?’ asked Rose and the Doctor scrolled down the information until he found what he was looking for.

‘Final entry. Mission commander dead. Still no agreement on who should assume leadership. Hath and humans have divided into factions.’

‘So, the crew turned on each other?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Start using the progenation machines, suddenly you've got two armies fighting a never-ending war.’

‘Two armies who are now both outside,’ said Jenny, reminding them of their current situation.

‘Look at that,’ said Donna. She had moved away from the computer and was now looking at a screen on the wall. A screen which showed an image of the planet… with a row of eight numbers above it.

‘More numbers,’ said Rose.

‘Like the ones in the tunnels,’ added the Doctor.

‘No, no, no, no. But listen,’ said Donna, looking down at the notepad she had used to jot down all the numbers they had passed. ‘I spent six months working as a temp in Hounslow Library, and I mastered the Dewey Decimal System in two days flat. I'm good with numbers. It's staring us in the face.’

‘What is?’ asked Jenny.

‘It's the date.'

Rose looked back up at the numbers, trying to see it for herself.

'Assuming the first two numbers are some big old space date,' continued Donna, 'then you've got year, month, day. It's the other way round, like it is in America.’

‘Oh! It's the New Byzantine Calendar,’ said the Doctor, smacking himself on the head.

‘The codes are completion dates for each section. They finish it, they stamp the date on. So the numbers aren't counting down, they're going out from here, day by day, as the city got built.’

‘Yes. Oh, good work, Donna.’

‘Yeah. But you're still not getting it. The first number I saw back there, was sixty twelve oh seven seventeen. Well, look at the date today.’

Rose read the numbers on the screen. 'Oh seven twenty-four. But that’s just…’

‘Seven days,’ whispered the Doctor, finishing Rose’s sentence.

Donna nodded. ‘That's it. Seven days.’

‘What do you mean, seven days?’ asked Jenny.

‘Seven days since war broke out,’ said the Doctor.

‘The fighting has only been going on for one week,’ added Rose.

‘They said years.’

‘No, they said generations,’ said Donna. ‘And if they're all like you, and they're products of those machines…’

Rose thought back to the announcement she had heard when they had first entered the soldier’s camp and how long the list of the dead was. ‘They lose so many people in a day and just grow new ones,’ she said. ‘The turn over is so high that now there’s no one left to remember the truth.’

‘Each generation gets killed in the war, passes on the legend,’ finished the Doctor before turning to Donna. ‘Oh, Donna, you're a genius.’

‘But all the buildings, the encampments,’ said Jenny, still trying to wrap her head around the truth. ‘They're in ruins.’

The Doctor turned to face her. ‘No, they're not ruined. They're just empty. Waiting to be populated. Oh, they've mythologised their entire history. The Source must be part of that too. Come on.’

They ran further into the spaceship but were once again interrupted in their progress. This time it was by the sound of hurried footsteps heading towards them. They braced themselves, expecting to see the Hath or human soldiers but their worry had been unnecessary.

‘Doctor! Rose!’ cried Martha as she came into view and Rose ran forwards and embraced her friend.

‘Oh, I should have known you wouldn't stay away from the excitement,’ said the Doctor, jogging over to join them.

Martha smiled at him before giving Donna a hug as well.

‘How did you get here?’ asked Rose, looking Martha over. She was covered in muck. ‘And what happened to your clothes?’

‘I, uh, took the surface route.’

Rose was just about to press for more details when the sound of Cobb’s shouting from below caused them all to look to the ground. A few floors down, the soldiers had made it into the spaceship and were gaining on them.

‘That's the General,’ said the Doctor. ‘We haven't got much time.’

Rose nodded. ‘We have to find this Source before he does.’

‘But we don't even know what we're looking for,’ said Donna.

‘Is it me, or can you smell flowers?’ asked Martha and Rose paused for a second to sniff the air. She could smell flowers.

‘Yes. Bougainvillea,’ said the Doctor. ‘I say we follow our nose.’

They ran towards the source of the smell and away from General Cobb’s shouts. They climbed even more stairs and it wasn’t long until they found a room that was filled with an array of different types of plants and trees. Like a hidden forest complete with an artificial ball of light near the ceiling, acting as a sun.

And the air smelt wonderful! After the musty smell of the tunnels, Rose welcomed the change of atmosphere. It felt so much fresher.

‘Oh, yes. Yes. Isn't this brilliant?’ said the Doctor, looking around the room with that smile on his face. The one he reserved for things that he found absolutely beautiful, which to be fair was almost everything.

In the centre of the room stood a pedestal with a sort of glowing orb on top. It would have reminded Rose of a fortune teller’s crystal ball if it weren’t for the wires that were attached to it.

‘Is that the Source?’ asked Donna as they approached the orb.

‘It's beautiful,’ said Jenny and Rose nodded her agreement.

‘What is it?’ asked Martha.

‘It's a third generation terraforming device,’ answered the Doctor.

Now that they were right next to it, Rose could see the golden sparks within it, making a beautiful contrast to the green tint of the room.

‘So, they want to make the whole planet like this?’ she asked, indicating the plants around them.

The Doctor nodded and leaned down to peer at the terraforming device. ‘It's in a transit state. Producing all this must help keep it stable before they finally-’

His explanation was interrupted by not only the human soldiers running into the room, but also the Hath. Each army stood on either side of them and aimed their guns at the other.

‘Stop! Hold your fire!’ shouted the Doctor, holding out his arms as if he could hold the armies back with sheer force of will. Which wasn't too far off what happened.

Both armies paused, guns at the ready, but not beginning the onslaught that Rose had expected to come. ‘What is this, some kind of trap?’ asked Cobb.

‘You said you wanted this war over,’ said the Doctor.

‘I want this war won!’

‘You can't win,' said the Doctor. 'No one can. You don't even know why you're here. Your whole history, it's just Chinese whispers, getting more distorted the more it's passed on.’ He turned and pointed at the terraforming device. ‘This is the Source. This is what you're fighting over. A device to rejuvenate a planet's ecosystem. It's nothing mystical. It's from a laboratory, not some creator. It's a bubble of gases. A cocktail of stuff for accelerated evolution. Methane, hydrogen, ammonia, amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids. It's used to make barren planets habitable. Look around you. It's not for killing, it's bringing life.’

The soldiers looked around at the plants surrounding them with an expression of awe and Rose realised that they had probably never seen so much as a vegetable let alone a whole forest.

‘If you allow it, it can lift you out of these dark tunnels and into the bright, bright sunlight,’ continued the Doctor. ‘No more fighting, no more killing.’ He lifted the device off of its pedestal and held it up. ‘I'm the Doctor, and I declare this war is over.’

He threw the globe to the ground and the glass smashed. A spiral of gold and green gasses wafted up into the air.

The soldiers, both human and Hath, lowered their weapons as they watched the gas rise towards the ceiling. The war was over.

‘What's happening?’ asked Jenny, moving over to stand next to the Doctor.

‘The gases will escape and trigger the terraforming process,’ he explained.

‘What does that mean?’

The Doctor looked down at his daughter and smiled. ‘It means a new world.’

Rose smiled at the pair from where she stood next to Martha and Donna. As much as she wanted to celebrate the Doctor’s victory with him, there was no way she was going to interrupt this moment. The way he and Jenny both looked at each other with matching smiles made her heart warm. After everything the Doctor had done and been through, thought Rose, he deserved this happiness.

But that's not how the universe worked.

It all happened so fast. One second, Jenny was smiling up at the Doctor, the next she was standing between him and Cobb, clutching her chest, the sound of the gunshot still echoing in the air.

‘Jenny?’ asked the Doctor in a small voice, taking her in his arms and lowering her down so he was sitting on the floor with her laying across his lap. The human soldiers had taken the gun from Cobb and had him restrained on his knees in front of them.

Rose, Donna and Martha ran to the Doctor and Jenny, Martha immediately leaning down to check on the injured girl.

‘Is she going to be all right?’ asked Donna.

Martha shook her head sadly and Donna stepped back to give the Doctor and Jenny some room. Rose gave the Doctor’s shoulder a squeeze before she and Martha followed her lead.

‘A new world,’ whispered Jenny, looking up at the green and golden energy above them. ‘It's beautiful.’

‘Jenny, be strong now. You need to hold on, do you hear me?’ pleaded the Doctor and Rose couldn’t stop the silent tears that were rolling down her face at the desperation in his voice.

It wasn’t fair.

‘We've got things to do, you and me,’ continued the Doctor, stroking Jenny’s cheek. ‘Hey? We can go anywhere. Everywhere. You choose.’

‘That sounds good,’ whispered Jenny through her own tears.

‘You're my daughter, and we've only just got started. You're going to be great. You're going to be more than great. You're going to be amazing. You hear me? Jenny?’ But Jenny’s eyes had fluttered closed and her chest had stilled. She couldn’t hear him anymore.

Slowly, Rose moved forward and knelt down next to the Doctor. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispered.

Suddenly, the Doctor whipped his head round to look at her, his eyes wide with a new kind of desperation. Desperate hope.

‘Two hearts,’ he said. ‘Two hearts. She's like me. If we wait. If we just wait.’ He looked down at the girl in his arms, waiting for the regeneration energy.

But none came.

'Maybe... maybe she just wasn't enough like you,' said Rose sadly.

The Doctor turned to face her once more but this time Rose could see that he knew the truth. He knew it was over. ‘No,’ he said softly. ‘Too much. That's the truth of it. She was too much like me.’ He lifted Jenny off of his lap and laid her down onto the floor. He leant down to kiss her forehead and when he straightened, a whole new emotion had taken hold of him. Anger.

He stood up and walked over to where the human soldiers were still holding Cobb on his knees. He picked up the gun that had been used to kill Jenny, the one that had meant to kill him, and pointed it at Cobb’s head.

The whole room went quiet, nervously waiting for the Doctor’s next move. Donna and Martha looked at Rose as if expecting her to go over and stop him but Rose knew she didn’t need to. She knew that the Doctor wouldn’t go through with it. No matter how angry he was, he couldn’t kill an unarmed man who was already restrained. He was better than that.

He was better than her.

After a few more tense moments, the Doctor lowered the gun and leant down so that he was eye to eye with Cobb. ‘I never would,’ he said with angry conviction. ‘Have you got that? I. Never. Would.’

He stood up to address the whole room. ‘When you start this new world,’ he shouted, ‘this world of Human and Hath. Remember that. Make the foundation of this society a man who never would.’

It was only until the Doctor had thrown away the gun that Rose approached him, taking his hand in hers. He didn’t say anything but the tight squeeze of his fingers around hers told Rose that he was grateful for the comforting gesture. More than that. He needed it.

----

After making sure the terraforming device had worked, the Doctor, Rose, Donna and Martha had left Messaline. Cline had asked if he and the other humans could give Jenny a proper burial and the Doctor had silently agreed.

The Doctor's hand hadn't left Rose’s until they had said their goodbyes to Martha (who promised to get in touch more often), and had retreated back into the TARDIS. Donna had gone off to bed after giving the Doctor a few words of consolation and sympathy, leaving the Doctor and Rose alone in the console room.

And the Doctor hadn't said a word since.

Rose wasn’t sure what to do. She hadn’t had to comfort anybody like this since Mickey had lost his Gran. She looked up at the time rotor, admiring the green-blue glow that she had always found so beautiful. ‘Jenny would have loved this,’ she whispered, not even fully aware that she was voicing her thoughts.

‘Yeah,’ agreed the Doctor, his voice heavy with emotion.

Rose walked around the console and placed her hand on his elbow. ‘What do we do now?’ she asked.

The Doctor looked down at her and she could see how unsure he was. ‘Keep moving,’ he finally said.

Rose nodded. ‘Yeah. I don’t think Jenny would want us to stop. She really loved the running.’

‘Yeah,’ repeated the Doctor but this time, the word was accompanied by a small smile.

Rose hesitated, not sure if she should voice what she was thinking. The Doctor had seemed so happy with Jenny and Rose knew that he had had a family once. Until now, she hadn’t really considered that he may want one again someday. They hadn’t really discussed having children beyond taking a trip to the 51st century to get some pills to prevent such an occurrence (they were a bit like the morning after pill from Rose’s time except that they protected you for a week either side of taking the pill so really you just had to take two a month and you would be covered).

But now it was different. Now the Doctor had been reminded of what it felt like.

Would he want it again?

‘Doctor…’ Rose began but trailed off, still not quite sure how to approach the subject. He looked down at her, waiting for her to continue and she looked down at her shoes, unable to look him in the eye. She nervously played with the hem of her t-shirt as she continued. ‘I was just wondering if you… it’s just you were so happy with Jenny at the end there and I know you had a family before and I guess I just... I don’t know… was just wondering if you wanted… in the future…’

She risked a glance back up at him and saw that his eyes were now wide with fright. She would have laughed if it wasn’t for the anxious knot in her stomach.

‘I just wanted to know if that’s what you expected from me?’ she rushed out before she lost her nerve. And then cringed as she realised what she had said. She had meant to say wanted, not expected. And it had supposed to be with her.

The Doctor's expression hadn't changed and Rose realised that she had been wrong in thinking that he had wanted this conversation. The embarrassment hit her like a tidal wave.

‘Or we could just forget I ever said anything,’ she said quickly as she rushed past him, eager to get away before she made even more of a fool out of herself.

Her beeline for the door was stopped however by the Doctor grabbing her wrist and pulling her to him in a bone crushing hug. She yelped a little at the surprise but quickly melted into his embrace.

‘I don’t expect anything from you,’ he whispered and Rose couldn’t help her sigh of relief at hearing those words. She really wasn’t ready for children. She hadn’t even been ready for this conversation.

‘I know what you’re trying to do,’ he continued, ‘and thank you but I don’t think either of us are ready for…’

He swallowed nervously at the thought of finishing his sentence so Rose spared him the trouble. ‘Too soon?’ she asked and he nodded against her head. ‘I’m sorry.’

He let out a nervous laugh at that. ‘Don’t be,’ he said, leaning back so he could place a kiss to her forehead.

‘I just wasn’t sure what to do,’ she admitted. ‘You’re grieving and I want to help.’ He smiled down at her, his eyes shining with unshed tears and something that Rose hoped was love. ‘Whatever you need, Doctor. I’m here.’

She said it as a promise. Just like the one she had made at Canary Wharf.

I made my choice a long time ago and I’m never gonna leave you.

‘What can I do to help?’

He paused, thinking. ‘Stay with me tonight. In my bed. Not to do anything,’ he added quickly, obviously thinking back to the awkward discussion they had just had. ‘Just… stay with me.’

Rose lifted her hand to the side of his face, lightly brushing his cheek with her thumb. ‘Always.’

The Doctor reached up and took her hand in his, moving it away from his cheek. He gave her knuckles a quick kiss before lowering them and letting them go. He stepped back briefly so he could send the TARDIS into the vortex and then the two of them walked hand in hand towards the Doctor’s bedroom, unaware that many miles from Earth and many years into the future, a newly revived Jenny had stolen a spaceship and was running away.

Just like her father.

Chapter Text

Donna was exhausted. In the weeks since losing Jenny, the Doctor had not stopped running, taking them on adventure after adventure with only just enough time in between for Donna to get the sleep she needed to keep on running with him.

Not that he had intentionally sent them into danger. Most of their trips had been purely recreational in nature; they just never seemed to stay that way. Just last week they had gone to the 1920’s and had met Agatha Christie... only to get themselves caught up in the mystery of her temporary disappearance. As it turned out, a giant (or flippin’ enormous!) wasp was to blame.

Their latest adventure had started out as a fun trip as well. A game of laser tag in the biggest arena in the universe (it covered almost the entire planet!), which in itself would have been more than tiring enough for Donna, but of course they had had to land on the one day in the planet’s whole history that one of the gamers was using real lasers to eliminate the competition.

So now all Donna wanted to do was curl up in the TARDIS library with a magazine and rest her feet.

And it looked like she wasn’t alone. When Donna entered the library, she saw that Rose was already lounging on one of the chairs, nose deep in a book. Rose looked up at the sound of the door opening and smiled in welcome before returning to her book.

Donna grabbed her magazine that she had left on the table a few weeks prior and sat down in the chair opposite Rose. ‘It’s nice to finally get some time to relax,’ she said as she leaned back into the chair, enjoying how soft it felt against her tired muscles. She really did need this. She would have asked the Doctor to take her home for a visit and a rest days ago if it hadn’t been for the fact that she was so worried that he might leave her there. She still wasn’t completely sure if he had forgiven her for killing the giant wasp (the alien had a proper name but Donna was just too tired at the moment to remember it).

Donna sighed and was just about to open her magazine to distract herself from the memory when she caught sight of what Rose was reading. It was an Agatha Christie novel. Bloody typical!

It shouldn’t be too surprising, she supposed. They had just met the famous author and Donna had seen how Rose had felt a little left out at not understanding all the references the Doctor had been making. It made sense that she would want to brush up on the subject.

But why did she have to start with the one that had that dreaded wasp on the cover?

Donna shifted uncomfortably in her seat and opened her magazine but Rose had obviously noticed the awkward movement because she lowered her book and gave Donna a worried look. ‘You all right?’ she asked.

Donna forced a smile. ‘Yeah, just tired, that’s all.’

Rose regarded her for a moment and Donna got the impression that she could see through her lie. A suspicion that proved to be 100% correct.

‘It’s more than that, though, isn’t it?’ asked Rose, not unkindly. Donna hesitated in answering and Rose quickly added, ‘you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to but, just so you know, if you did want to talk, I’m here.’

Donna gave her a genuine smile this time. ‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘It’s nothing really, it’s just… this life is so mad. And I absolutely love it.’ Rose let out a chuckle at that, obviously understanding the feeling. ‘But I’m just worried I’m gonna balls it up somehow.’

‘You won’t,’ said Rose. ‘I don’t think you could get rid of us if you tried. The Doctor is always going on about how brilliant you are. Which he is right about, by the way.’

Donna scoffed. ‘Come off it. I’m nothing special.’

‘Hey, now, don’t talk like that. Of course you are.’

Donna gave her a small smile. She was grateful for the words of reassurance but still didn’t quite believe them. How could two people who saved galaxies for a living think a temp from Chiswick was important? Donna was constantly amazed that they had even come to regard her as their friend in the first place.

‘So, what’s he been saying about me lately?’ she asked Rose, both needing and dreading the answer.

‘Same as always, why?' When Donna didn't answer, Rose nodded in understanding. 'You’re worried about what happened with the Vespiform, aren’t you?’

‘That obvious?’ she asked.

‘Only ‘cos I know the feeling. Like you’re worried you’ve gone too far and he’s just going to leave you behind somewhere and you’ll never see him again. But don’t worry, he won’t.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because he never did it to me.’

Donna scoffed again. ‘Like he would ever leave you behind.’ Rose fiddled nervously with the book in her hands for a moment and Donna was worried that she had just hit a sore spot. ‘I mean, you’ve never done anything to warrant it have you?,' she added.

‘I have,’ admitted Rose quietly.

‘What happened?’ asked Donna. She didn’t want to intrude but she was curious. Rose always seemed so level headed. What could she have possibly done to make her worry that the Doctor would kick her out?

Rose paused for a second, as if debating to tell her story but eventually started to speak.

‘I asked him to take me to see my Dad on the day he died,' she explained. 'I just wanted to be there for him but… I saved him instead. But he hadn’t meant to be saved. It created a sort of wound in time and these things started appearing – Reapers – and they just started consuming everyone. I almost destroyed everything… but the Doctor forgave me. And if he can forgive me for something like that, then he sure as hell isn’t going to get rid of you for what you did. What you did was in self-defence and regardless of what he says; there wasn’t much of a choice. It was nothing compared to what I did.’

‘Yeah, but you’re his girlfriend. Of course he’s going to forgive you.’

‘I wasn’t back then.’

‘I bet he still loved you though.’

Rose went quiet again and Donna realised that she had hit another sore area. ‘Come to think of it, he never tells you,’ she pondered out loud. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say it. I mean, I don’t know how long you two have been together, you know,’ she made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, ‘officially, but I know it’s been ages since I met you the first time and it was obvious even back then. So why doesn’t he say it?’

Rose shrugged. ‘I’ve never said it to him either. Not directly anyway. And he’s not human, I’m not even sure if he can love like we do.’

‘Rubbish,’ said Donna. ‘If a giant wasp can fall in love like a human then surely a Time Lord can too. I think maybe he’s just an idiot.’

Rose laughed at that and Donna was glad to see her smile. ‘Yeah, maybe,’ she said before nodding to the magazine that was in Donna’s hands. ‘So, what you reading?’

‘Top 10 Bachelors of the 32nd Century,’ said Donna, holding up the magazine to show Rose the two-page spread. ‘They’re all well fit. My last boyfriend turned out to be shacking up with a giant spider so I reckon I could do with a little fun with a nice bloke for a change. You think I can convince the Doctor to take us to meet them?’

‘I don’t know,’ chuckled Rose. ‘But it’s gonna be fun to try.’

----

‘Sweetheart,’ said the Doctor, drawing out the word. ‘Sweet. Heart. No, it doesn’t fit the teeth.’

Rose giggled against his chest. For the past five minutes they had been discussing pet names for one another while curled up underneath the sheets of the Doctor’s bed. So far, the Doctor had dismissed every single one he had thought of and it was all so domestic that Rose couldn't help but find it terribly amusing.

He paused for a moment, thinking of another one and Rose's attention drifted towards the way he was trailing circles on her bare shoulder with his forefinger - an action that had quickly become a post-coital habit of his. She was sure that he was tracing Gallifreyan words on her skin but she still hadn't asked him what those words were. She doubted he would be able to tell her anyway.

‘Honey,’ he tried, bringing her focus back to his words. ‘No, that doesn’t sound right either. Honey bun. No, definitely not. Lo-’

He cut himself off at the word that was undeniably going to be “love” and Rose was reminded of her earlier conversation with Donna. Her friend had tried to reassure her but Rose still wasn’t so sure if the Doctor ever would say that word.

Rose shook herself out of it. There was no use dwelling on it. Just because the Doctor couldn’t say the word didn’t mean that he didn't feel it. He was an alien after all and he couldn’t be expected to react to things the same way as she did. Plus he had always been a bit skittish when it came to things like this. The fact that he was even considering using a pet name for her was a miracle and Rose wasn’t going to press for more.

‘Sugar,’ continued the Doctor as if nothing had been amiss. ‘Oh, I seem to have picked up a bit of a pattern here. Sweet things. But none of them seem to fit.’

‘Are you saying I’m not sweet?’ asked Rose teasingly.

‘Wouldn’t dare,’ said the Doctor in an equally teasing tone. 'But I don't hear you putting forward any ideas.'

Rose shrugged. 'Mickey always just called me Babe.'

‘I am not calling you what Mickey called you,' said the Doctor, his tone darkening a little. 'In fact I think we should make a new rule. No mentioning ex-boyfriends in the bedroom.’

‘All right, all right, keep your hair on,' chuckled Rose. 'It was just a suggestion.’

‘How about I just call you, my Rose.’

Rose chuckled again. ‘Your Rose,’ she agreed. ‘And my Doctor.’

Suddenly Rose's mind was no longer in the same place as her body. She was back on Satellite Five, the golden energy of the time vortex surrounding her. The Doctor was on the floor below her, begging her to let go of the power.

You’ve got the entire vortex running through your head. You’re gonna burn!

She looked down at him then.

I want you safe. My Doctor. Protected from the false God.

Rose reeled from the memory with a gasp and had to blink a few times before being able to focus on the Doctor’s face before her. The features may have been different but it was the same face she had just been staring at in her memory. A face full of worry.

‘Rose,’ said the Doctor frantically, his hands gripping her shoulders. He must have pulled her up into a sitting position at some point. ‘Rose, are you all right?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,’ she said but the Doctor didn’t look convinced.

‘What happened?’ he asked, though his voice was a bit calmer now.

‘I think it was a memory.’

‘What of?’

‘Bad Wolf,’ said Rose and she could tell that the Doctor wasn’t at all surprised. ‘Every now and then I remember something small but I haven’t had a flashback so intense since seeing Jack again. Doctor, what happened on Satellite Five? I know there’s more than I remember - more than you’re telling me - and I want to know.’

The Doctor sighed and his grip on her shoulders relaxed. He began to rub comforting circles over the soft skin as he considered her request.

‘I was surrounded by Daleks,’ he began, ‘about to be exterminated any minute. And then the TARDIS appeared and the doors opened, spilling the golden energy of the vortex out into the room. And then you stepped out, eyes glowing with the same light. You looked beautiful. And terrifying.’

Rose listened carefully as he told her of how she destroyed the entire Dalek fleet with just a wave of her hand and how she had brought Jack back to life by sheer force of will. Every now and then she would get a flash of memory, confirming his words.

‘But the time vortex is a powerful thing,’ continued the Doctor. ‘It isn’t meant to be contained in a single mind. You could see all of time and space and it was burning you up from the inside out. I couldn’t let that happen. So, I got up, I took your hands in mine,’ he mimicked the action as he said the words, ‘and I did this.’

He lowered his face down to hers and gave her the sweetest kiss she had ever had in her life. Except that it hadn’t been, had it? Because now she could remember the one that had come before it - their first kiss. She could remember the feel of his previous self’s lips on hers and how he had used that kiss to pull the time vortex from her.

The Doctor pulled back and rested his forehead against hers. ‘I took the vortex out of you and gave it back to the TARDIS. By this time you had already passed out so I carried you inside and left the Game Station.’

‘That’s why you regenerated,’ said Rose, choking out the last word as tears began to form in her eyes. ‘I went there to save you and I ended up killing you instead.’

The Doctor pulled back properly at that so he could look her in the eyes. ‘No,’ he said with such conviction that Rose just cried harder. ‘You didn’t kill me, Rose. I died for you.’

‘Same thing.’

‘No, it isn’t.’ He sighed and pulled her into a tight embrace. ‘What is it that you’re always telling me? It wasn’t your fault.' He pulled back to look her in the eyes again. 'If you hadn’t have done what you did then I would have just died that little bit sooner. And let me tell you, death by Rose is a whole lot better than death by extermination.’

Rose let herself chuckle at that and the Doctor’s lips curled up into a smile. He moved his hand to her cheek so he could wipe away her tears and she smiled up at him, grateful for the gesture.

‘Not to mention the fact that if you had never become the Bad Wolf, then I would have had to face a long and lonely life without you,' he continued. 'So, don’t you worry, Rose Tyler. You definitely saved my life that day.’

‘I love you,’ she blurted out before she could stop herself and the Doctor froze, looking like a deer caught in headlights. ‘You don’t have to say it back,’ she said quickly. ‘Not until you’re ready.’

He relaxed and his eyes went from wide and frightened to full of relief and adoration. ‘I don’t deserve you,’ he whispered.

‘Too right,’ she said, smiling cheekily at him through the now drying tears. She didn’t have time to say anything more however before the Doctor’s lips claimed hers in a fierce kiss and, before she knew it, he was rolling her back into the mattress and covering her body with his.

Chapter Text

The Doctor walked around the console, pressing buttons and setting coordinates. He had just been doing a bit of tinkering under the console when he had been interrupted by an odd message asking for assistance. The message itself wasn’t unusual, he picked up distress calls all the time, no, what was odd about it was the way he had received it: by psychic paper. There weren’t many people in the universe with the knowledge or skill to do that. His interest piqued, he had straight away got up and started to set a course.

‘Where we going?’ asked a voice from the other side of the room. The Doctor looked up to see Rose walking up to join him at the console.

‘The biggest library in the universe,’ he said as he continued to flick the necessary switches to send them on their way. He smiled proudly when Rose beat him to one. She really had been quick to learn how to fly the TARDIS. At this rate she’d be flying it on her own in no time.

‘What? TARDIS library not big enough for ya?’ teased Rose as he set about pushing the last few buttons of the dematerialisation sequence.

‘Yeah, it is,’ said the Doctor, too distracted to tease her back. ‘Although… I do need to get that special edition of the Game of Thrones books. The one where George R R Martin actually did kill everyone off and then spent a thousand pages describing the snow blowing over their graves. It’s amazing how many synonyms there are for wind. Not as many for snow but he still managed to-’

‘Doctor, you’re rambling,' Rose cut him off. 'Why are we really going to this library?’

The Doctor paused, his hand resting on the lever in front of him. ‘I got a message on the psychic paper,’ he said. ‘Asking for my help.’

‘Like what the Face of Boe did on New Earth?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Don’t think it’s him this time, though.’ His face broke into a grin. ‘Shall we found out?'

Rose smiled at him with an adventurous look that in her eyes. Oh, how he had missed that look. He hadn’t seen it nearly enough since their encounter with the Master. ‘Mysterious summons, giant library, promises of danger… how could a girl resist?’

His own smile still in place, the Doctor pulled down the lever and sent the TARDIS hurtling through time and space. Destination: The Library.

----

‘Books,’ shouted the Doctor as he led Rose and Donna out of the TARDIS doors. ‘People never really stop loving books.’

He peered around the room they had landed in. It was pretty empty. Just books and shadows. ‘Fifty first century,’ he said for the benefit of his companions. ‘By now you've got holovids, direct to brain downloads, fiction mist, but you need the smell.’ He took a big sniff of the air as he made his way to the far door. It was a bit dusty but underneath that was the undeniable smell of old books – one of the best smells in the universe.

‘The smell of books,’ he said as he opened the door. ‘Deep breath.’

Outside the door, they were greeted with the sight of a huge corridor and an impressive set of marble steps that led down to a view of…

‘The Library. So big it doesn't need a name. Just a great big The.’

‘It’s huge!’ said Rose, staring at the sight in awe. ‘All those buildings contain books?’

The Doctor smiled, pleased with her reaction. ‘Yep.’

‘It's like a city,’ said Donna in much the same awe.

‘It's a world,’ said the Doctor and both Donna and Rose’s eyes grew wider. ‘Literally, a world. The whole core of the planet is the index computer. Biggest hard drive ever. And up here, every book ever written. Whole continents of Jeffrey Archer, Bridget Jones, Monty Python's Big Red Book. Brand new editions, specially printed.’ They reached the bottom of the steps and he looked over the edge of the balcony to get his bearings. ‘We're near the equator, so,’ he licked his finger and held it on the air, ‘this must be biographies! I love biographies.’

‘Yeah, very you,’ said Donna. ‘Always a death at the end.’

Rose looked like she wanted to protest but the Doctor cut her off. ‘You need a good death,’ he said, non-pulsed at Donna’s comment. She had a point after all. ‘Without death, there'd only be comedies. Dying gives us size. Way-a. Spoilers,’ he said, snatching the book that Donna had just picked up out of her hands.

‘What?’ asked Donna, clearly confused.

‘These books are from your future,’ explained the Doctor. ‘You don't want to read ahead. Spoil all the surprises. Like peeking at the end.’

‘Isn't travelling with you one big spoiler?’

‘I try to keep you away from major plot developments. Which, to be honest, I seem to be very bad at,’ he added at Rose’s scoff. ‘But I’ll tell you one thing. This is the biggest library in the universe. So where is everyone? It's silent.’

He got out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at a nearby computer terminal. The screen slowly came to life.

‘Maybe they’re all just somewhere else?’ said Rose. ‘Nobody likes biographies. Well, nobody except you,’ she added, patting him affectionately on the shoulder.

‘I’ll have you know that biographies can be terribly interesting,’ said the Doctor defensively as he made his way through the navigation of the Library’s computer system.

‘Maybe it's a Sunday,’ suggested Donna.

‘No, I never land on Sundays. Sundays are boring.’

‘Well, maybe everyone's really, really quiet.’ She said the last few words as an exaggerated whisper.

‘Yeah, maybe,’ said the Doctor distractedly. He was now more focused on the screen in front of him. He was trying to scan for humanoid life forms but the computer was saying that there was none. None apart from himself and the two people beside him. ‘But they'd still show up on the system.’

‘Doctor, why are we here?’ asked Donna. ‘Really, why?’

‘Invitation.’

‘Invitation from who? Where are they?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Is that, you don’t know where they are, or you don’t know who they are?’

The Doctor thought for a moment. ‘Both.’ He didn’t have to look at her to know that Donna was rolling her eyes at him.

The screen made a beeping noise and the Doctor furrowed his brow. ‘Now that's interesting.’

‘What is?’ asked Rose, peering over his shoulder so that she could the screen too. ‘What are you doing?’

The Doctor moved over a little so that both Rose and Donna could see the screen. ‘Scanning for life forms,' he said as he started the scan again. 'If I do a scan looking for your basic humanoids. You know, your book readers, few limbs and a face, apart from us, I get nothing. Zippo, nada. See? Nobody home. But if I widen the parameters to any kind of life…’ He did so and an error message flashed up on the screen.

1,000,000,000,000 lifeform number capped at maximum record.

‘A million, million. Gives up after that. A million, million.’

‘That’s a lot of life forms,’ said Rose, looking curiously around the area. The lack of sound was obviously unnerving her as well.

‘But there's nothing here,’ said Donna. ‘There's no one.’

‘And not a sound,’ said the Doctor. ‘A million million life forms… and silence in the Library.’

‘But there's no one here,’ repeated Donna. ‘There's just books. I mean, it's not the books, is it? I mean, it can't be the books, can it? I mean, books can't be alive.’

The Doctor looked down at the books on the balcony in front of them. Nah, of course it wasn’t the books. Still…

He slowly reached for the one the top of the pile.

‘Welcome,’ said a voice from somewhere behind them, making all three people jump. Rose gave a little embarrassed laugh and they trotted up the marble staircase to find the source of the voice.

It was coming from the room they had started in and once he had entered said room, the Doctor noticed that there was a statue over by the desk. A Node. The Doctor felt a little silly for not realising sooner. Of course there would have been a Node to greet them.

The Node turned its “head” and revealed that it had the face of a human woman. ‘I am Courtesy Node seven one zero slash aqua,’ it said. ‘Please enjoy the Library and respect the personal access codes of all your fellow readers, regardless of species or hygiene taboo.’

‘That face, it looks real,’ said Donna. This was going to be tricky to explain.

‘Yeah, don't worry about it,’ said the Doctor but of course Donna didn’t let up.

‘A statue with a real face, though? It's a hologram or something, isn't it?’

‘No, but really, it's fine.’

Judging by the look on Rose’s face, she had figured out that the face was real. ‘But Doctor,’ she began but the Node had started speaking again.

‘Additional. There follows a brief message from the Head Librarian for your urgent attention. It has been edited for tone and content by a Felman Lux Automated Decency Filter. Message follows. Run. For God's sake, run. No way is safe. The Library has sealed itself, we can't. Oh, they're here.’ The Node made a few sounds that sounded like cries of pain and possibly death and then ended the message.

‘I guess that’s the promise of danger I mentioned earlier,’ said Rose, nervously glancing around the room as if expecting a hoard of demons to jump out of the shadows.

‘I’d say so,’ said the Doctor. ‘Any other messages, same date stamp?’ he asked the Node.

‘One additional message. This message carries a Felman Lux coherency warning of five zero eleven-’

‘Yeah, yeah, fine, fine, fine. Just play it.’

Seriously, how hard was it just to play a simple message?

‘Message follows. Count the shadows. For God's sake, remember, if you want to live, count the shadows. Message ends.’

Maybe Rose wasn’t too far off with her worries.

They left the room and entered a (thankfully well-lit) corridor filled with more books. There was still no sign of whoever sent the message on the psychic paper. ‘So you have no idea who asked us here,’ said Donna. It wasn’t a question; she was just fishing for more information. Unfortunately the Doctor didn’t have any answers for her.

‘No clue,’ he said, looking around the corridor.

‘Well, give us a look.’ Donna held her hand out and the Doctor reluctantly gave her the psychic paper still showing the message.

The Library come as soon as you can. x

‘What do you think?’ he asked. ‘Cry for help?’

‘Cry for help with a kiss?’ said Donna disbelievingly.

‘Oh, we've all done that,’ said the Doctor, trying not to draw attention to it. The kiss at the end was why he hadn’t shown Rose the message before. He was worried that she wouldn’t want to come if she saw it - worried that she would look at him like she was looking at him right now.

‘Forgot to mention something did you?’ she asked, arms crossed and left eyebrow raised.

‘I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything,’ insisted the Doctor.

Rose looked like she disagreed but the Doctor was saved from arguing further by the lights at the end of the corridor going out. Followed by the next set. And the next. The darkness was getting closer and it definitely didn’t seem like it was being caused by just a power failure.

‘What's happening?’ asked Donna.

But the Doctor didn’t answer. He had a much more pressing thought on his mind. ‘Run!’ he shouted, grabbing Rose’s hand and leading the way away from the closing in shadows.

They headed for the nearest door but it was jammed. ‘The wood's warped,’ growled the Doctor in frustration as he pushed his weight against it. It didn’t budge.

Rose pulled out her screwdriver and pointed at the door. ‘What setting?’ she asked.

‘There isn’t one. It's wood.’

‘What, it doesn't do wood?’ asked Donna incredulously. The shadows were getting closer.

Oh! But there was something that the sonic could do. ‘Hang on, hang on,’ he said, snatching the screwdriver out of Rose’s hand. ‘I can vibrate the molecules, fry the bindings. I can shatterline the interface.’

‘Oh, get out of the way,’ said Donna, grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him away from the door. As soon as she had got him clear, she gave the door an almighty kick and it flew open.

‘Nice work,’ said Rose as they ran through, sealing the doors behind them by jamming a book in between the handles.

Once sure the door would hold, they turned around and saw another one of the Library’s gadgets. This time it was a security camera. ‘Oh. Hello,’ said the Doctor. ‘Sorry to burst on you like this. Okay if we stop here for a bit?’

The camera fell to floor. That was odd.

‘What is it?’ asked Donna as they walked up to it.

‘Security camera,’ said the Doctor. ‘Switched itself off.’ He bent down and used Rose’s sonic to see if he could get it back online.

‘So what was that?’ asked Rose, nodding towards the doors. ‘The darkness? And why did that thing warn us about the shadows? What’s in them?’

‘More importantly, are we safe here?’ asked Donna.

‘Of course we're safe,’ said the Doctor. ‘There's a little shop.’ He nodded to the other side of the room where there was indeed a little shop and smiled when he saw Rose’s lips twitch in amusement.

The camera made a clicking sound as the lens slid open and the Doctor returned his focus to the device. ‘Gotcha!’ he said in triumph. But his victorious smile faded when he saw the words that had begun to scroll across the screen.

No, stop it. No. No.

‘Oh, I'm sorry,’ he said to the camera, turning off the sonic and putting it back on the floor. ‘I really am. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It's alive,’ he explained to Rose and Donna.

‘An alive security camera?’ asked Rose.

‘Yep.’

‘Okay.’

Turning the sonic off had seemed to calm the camera and now it was displaying a different message.

Others are coming.

‘Others?’ asked Rose. ‘Who else is coming?’

‘Whoever sent us the message, maybe?’ speculated the Doctor.

Donna ran over to the Node that was standing in the middle of the room. This one had the face of a young man. ‘Excuse me. What does it mean, others?’ she asked it.

‘That's barely more than a speak your weight machine, it can't help you,’ said the Doctor.

‘So why's it got a face?’

‘This flesh aspect was donated by Mark Chambers on the occasion of his death,’ said the Node and the Doctor groaned. He had been trying to shield Donna from that little quirk of the humans of this time. He hadn’t thought that she would be all that pleased by it.

And he had been right.

‘It's a real face?’ asked Donna in disgusted shock.

‘It has been actualised individually for you from the many facial aspects saved to our extensive flesh banks. Please enjoy,’ said the Node, not helping matters in the slightest.

‘It chose me a dead face it thought I'd like?’ continued Donna. ‘That statue's got a real dead person's face on it.’ She was starting to freak out.

‘It's the fifty first century,’ the Doctor tried to explain as he and Rose walked up to join her. ‘That's basically like donating a park bench.’

‘It's donating a face!’

Donna started to walk backwards away from the Node. ‘No, wait, no,’ yelled the Doctor, rushing forward and grabbing her by the waist, bringing her towards him and away from the shadow that she had almost stepped into.

He immediately dropped his hands at the sound of her protests and pointed behind her. ‘The shadow,’ he said. ‘Look.’

‘What about it?’ asked Donna.

‘Count the shadows,’ he said, repeating the first Node’s message.

‘One. There, counted it. One shadow.’

‘Yeah… But what's casting it?’

All three of them looked up at the skylight that was directly above them. There was nothing there to cast any sort of shadow. It had appeared all on it’s own.

The Doctor whacked himself on the head. ‘Oh, I'm thick!’ he cried, making Rose and Donna jump. ‘Look at me, I'm old and thick. Head's too full of stuff. I need a bigger head.’ Something was moving the shadows! No, more than that. They were the shadows.

As if to prove his hypothesis correct, another light started to flicker.

‘The power must be going,’ said Donna.

‘This place runs on fission cells,’ said the Doctor. ‘They'll outburn the sun.’

‘Then why is it dark?’

‘It's not dark.’

‘That shadow,’ said Donna, looking at the floor. ‘It's gone.’

‘We need to get back to the TARDIS,’ said the Doctor with urgency. If this was what he thought it was, nowhere in the Library was safe.

‘Doctor, what’s wrong?’ asked Rose worriedly.

‘That shadow hasn't gone. It's moved.’

‘Reminder,’ said the Node that the Doctor had all but forgotten about. ‘The Library has been breached. Others are coming. Reminder. The Library has been breached. Others are coming.’

A loud bang echoed across the room and the far door flew open with a flash of bright light.

The others were here.

Chapter Text

Six people entered the room, all wearing identical spacesuits. One of them approached the Doctor and the filter of their helmet visor shifted so that he could now see her face. The woman was middle-aged and had a mischievous smile. Like a child who had been caught stealing out of the cookie jar and was in no way ashamed of it. ‘Hello, sweetie,’ she said.

To which the Doctor replied, ‘get out.’ He ignored Rose’s comment about his rudeness and fixed the newcomers with a stern glare. ‘All of you. Turn around, get back in your rocket and fly away. Tell your grandchildren you came to the Library and lived. They won't believe you.’

‘Pop your helmets, everyone,’ said the woman, ignoring his warnings. ‘We've got breathers.’ She took off her helmet and shook her hair out. Blimey, it was curly!

‘How do you know they're not androids?’ said one of the other spacesuited people, another woman.

‘Because I've dated androids. They're rubbish.’

One by one, the rest of the party removed their helmets. There were three woman and three men. Score one for gender equality, thought the Doctor, but that didn’t change the fact that they were all equally in danger.

‘Who is this?’ asked one of the men. ‘You said we were the only expedition. I paid for exclusives.’

‘I lied,’ said the woman who the Doctor supposed was the leader. Whether that was an official position or just a role that she had just naturally assumed was yet to be determined. ‘I'm always lying. Bound to be others.’

The man did not look impressed. 'Miss Evangelista, I want to see the contracts,’ he said and the youngest of the women (a pretty girl with lots of makeup) nodded eagerly and took off her backpack.

‘You came through the north door, yeah?’ said the leader, addressing the Doctor. ‘How was that, much damage?’

That was strange. She didn’t seem surprised that he was here. Was it her who had sent the message? But who was she? The Doctor was fairly sure that he had never met her before.

Still, that didn’t matter. Whether she knew who he was or not, she still had to leave.

‘Please, just leave,’ he said. ‘I'm asking you seriously and properly, just leave.’ Wait a minute; he had missed something, hadn’t he? He whirled around to face the man who had spoken before. ‘Hang on. Did you say expedition?’

My expedition,’ corrected the man. ‘I funded it.’

But that would mean…

‘Oh, you're not, are you?’ said the Doctor, looking around the group of people. ‘Tell me you're not archaeologists.’

‘Got a problem with archaeologists?’ asked the leader.

‘I'm a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists.’

She smiled in understanding and then held out her hand. ‘Professor River Song, archaeologist.’

The Doctor shook her hand and started guiding her back to the door she had just come through, telling her again how important it was to leave.

‘Wait!’ he heard Rose shout and he turned to see that she was talking to the one woman of the group that had yet to have been named. The woman froze at Rose’s shout… just before stepping into a shadow.

‘What is it?’ she asked, worriedly glancing at Rose.

‘It’s okay,’ said Rose, softer this time, ‘just step away from the shadow. What’s your name?’

‘Anita.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ said Rose. ‘My name is Rose Tyler,’ she pointed to Donna, ‘That’s Donna Noble,’ she jabbed her thumb over her shoulder, 'and that’s the Doctor.’ She turned to face the other newcomers. ‘So, who are the rest of you, then?’

One by one, they introduced themselves. The women he already knew the names of but he was grateful for the quick introduction of the other three people. The man who had funded the expedition was called Lux and the other two men were both called Dave (to save confusion one was called “Proper Dave” and the other was called “Other Dave”).

‘How did you decide which was which?’ asked Rose, looking between the two Daves.

‘Because Proper Dave was the first Dave,’ said Other Dave. ‘He’s the pilot.’

‘The way you came, does it look the same as before?’ the Doctor asked Other Dave, putting a hand on his shoulder and leading him towards the door. These people needed to leave. They all did.

‘Yeah. Oh, it's a bit darker,’ said Other Dave, looking down the corridor.

‘How much darker?’

‘Oh, like I could see where we came through just like a moment ago. I can't now.’

They weren’t getting out this way, then.

‘Seal up this door,’ he said, striding back into the room. ‘We'll find another way out.’

‘We're not looking for a way out,’ said Lux a bit angrily. ‘Miss Evangelista?’

‘I'm Mister Lux's personal everything,’ said the young woman and the Doctor saw Rose raise an eyebrow at Lux.

‘Oh, not like that,’ said River with a laugh. ‘She does have standards.’

And did she just wink at Rose?

‘You need to sign these contracts agreeing that your individual experience inside the Library are the intellectual property of the Felman Lux Corporation,’ said Miss Evangelista, a bit embarrassed now.

The Doctor, Rose and Donna took the offered contracts and, as if reading each other’s minds, each tore them up and threw the papers to the floor.

Lux did not look pleased. Miss Evangelista looked a bit confused and/or terrified. And River just looked highly amused.

‘My family built this library,’ protested Lux. ‘I have rights.’

‘You have a mouth that won't stop,’ corrected River before turning to the Doctor. ‘You think there's danger here?’

‘Something came to this library and killed everything in it,’ he said. ‘Killed a whole world. Danger? Could be.’ His sarcasm was unmistakable.

‘That was a hundred years ago,' said River. 'The Library's been silent for a hundred years. Whatever came here's long dead.’

‘Bet your life?’

River smiled. ‘Always.’

The Doctor decided that there was something a tad unsettling about this woman. It was the way she looked at him like she knew him.

‘What are you doing?’ shouted Lux to Other Dave.

‘He said seal the door.’

The Doctor turned to see that Other Dave was indeed sealing the doors. He had actually listened. Oh, the Doctor liked Other Dave.

‘Doctor, what is going on?’ asked Rose, tapping him on the shoulder. ‘What’s out there?’

‘Not quite sure yet,’ he said. ‘But I have some very nasty suspicions.’ He asked (or rather, demanded) Lux to give him a torch and the man did so, albeit with a look of great annoyance. ‘Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark,’ he continued, shining the torchlight down a row of shelves. ‘But they're wrong, because it's not irrational. It's Vashta Nerada.’

‘What's Vashta Nerada?’ asked Rose, peering at the shadows.

‘It's what's in the dark. It's what's always in the dark.’

And if Vashta Nerada were here, then that was very very very bad news for them.

‘Lights!’ he shouted, running back to the group. ‘That's what we need, lights. You got lights?’ He threw the torch back at Lux without warning. He had to give the man a little bit of credit for being able to catch it in time.

‘What for?’ asked River.

‘Form a circle. Safe area. Big as you can, lights pointing out.’

The expedition group hesitated, sending each other questioning glances. All except for River. 'Oi. Do as he says,’ she said, getting out her own torch.

‘You're not listening to this man?’ said Lux.

‘Apparently I am,’ said River simply before turning to address the whole team. ‘Anita, unpack the lights. Other Dave, make sure the door's secure, then help Anita. Mister Lux, put your helmet back on, block the visor. Proper Dave, find an active terminal. I want you to access the Library database. See what you can find about what happened here a hundred years ago. Pretty boy, you're with me. Step into my office.’

The team immediately started following her orders. Even Lux. ‘Professor Song, why am I the only one wearing my helmet?’ he asked.

River gave him smile. ‘I don't fancy you.’

The Doctor almost laughed. He was beginning to rather like this River Song. Now if only he knew why she seemed to already like him.

The Doctor actually did give a small chuckle when Lux took off his helmet, looking very unimpressed with River’s joke. But then again, “unimpressed” just seemed to be the man’s default expression.

The Doctor was just about to offer Proper Dave some help with the terminal when River shouted, ‘Pretty boy. With me, I said.’

The Doctor turned around and saw that she was talking to him. ‘Oh, I'm pretty boy?’ he asked Rose and Donna who were looking at him in amusement. Well, Donna was definitely amused, Rose looked like she wasn’t too sure.

‘Yes,’ answered Donna before pausing and adding, ‘That came out a bit quick.’

‘Pretty?’ he asked, this time the question was directed solely at Rose. ‘You think?’ He gave her his trademark cheeky grin, hoping to get a smile from her.

He was not disappointed. ‘Oh, you know you are,’ she said with that teasing twinkle back in her eyes. The Doctor just continued to grin cheekily (and a lit bit smugly) at her.

But his smile fell when he heard River call out for him once more. ‘Don't let your shadows cross,’ he told the group, his expression serious again. ‘Seriously, don't even let them touch. Any of them could be infected.’

‘How can a shadow be infected?’ asked Other Dave but the Doctor didn’t answer. River was starting to look a bit impatient and he couldn’t really blame her. It was important that they all get the lights set up. Their lives depended on it.

He walked up to where River had stationed herself next to the shop entrance and saw that she had gotten a book out of her backpack. It looked like it had lived quite a full life, that book. It was a bit battered and the Doctor could see that a few pages had rips in them. But that wasn’t the most curious thing about the book. The most curious thing about it – the thing that had grabbed the Doctor’s attention instantly – was that the cover looked an awful lot like the TARDIS doors. It had a squared pattern and was even the right shade of blue.

Coincidence? The Doctor doubted it.

‘Thanks,’ said River once he was stood beside her.

‘For what?’

‘The usual. For coming when I call.’

‘Oh, that was you?’ he asked although he had already assumed as much. The way River had addressed him earlier was like she had expected him to be there.

‘You're doing a very good job, acting like you don't know me,’ she said. ‘I'm assuming there's a reason.’

She was definitely from his future then. Oh, this could be bad.

‘A fairly good one, actually,’ he said as his mind raced through reasons why he shouldn’t be talking to this woman. Paradoxes could happen. Or worse, she could tell him something from his future that he didn’t want to know. What if she accidentally let slip that the next him had decided that that multicolour coat from his sixth body actually went rather well with the scarf from his fourth? Then he would have to live out the rest of this regeneration with the knowledge that when this body died, his fashion sense would die with it.

No, that would be too much. He really really should walk away now.

But of course, he didn’t.

‘Okay, shall we do diaries, then?’ asked River, flicking through the pages of her blue book. ‘Where are we this time?’ She looked up at him and peered at him through squinted eyes. ‘Uh, going by your face, I'd say it's early days for you, yeah?’ She looked back down at her diary. ‘So, uh, crash of the Byzantium. Have we done that yet?’ She looked back up at him but the Doctor stared at her blankly. ‘Obviously ringing no bells. Right. Oh, picnic at Asgard. Have we done Asgard yet?’

The Doctor continued to stare blankly.

‘Obviously not. Blimey, very early days, then. Whew, life with time travellers. Never knew it could be such hard work.’

And then she looked at him. Properly looked at him. ‘Look at you,’ she said. ‘Oh, you're young.’ She looked over at the others. ‘Rose too.’

Oh, so she knew Rose. That was good. It was very very bad that the Doctor now knew this of course, but still. It was good that Rose was in his future.

‘I'm really not that young, you know,’ he said to River, mainly because he hadn’t said anything in a while and he really should give some sort of input into the conversation.

‘No, but you are,’ she said, reaching out her hand to touch his cheek.

Well, that was awkward. Why was she doing that?

‘Your eyes,’ she continued, lowering her hand. ‘You're younger than I've ever seen you.’ Her eyes grew wide at the Doctor’s awkward silence. ‘Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.’

Oh this was probably going to hurt her but he had to ask. ‘Who are you?’

Yep, there it was, right there in her eyes. Hurt.

Suddenly a loud ringing sound came from across the room, saving River from answering a question that she probably shouldn’t have answered anyway.

‘Sorry, that was me,’ said Proper Dave. ‘Trying to get through into the security protocols. I seem to have set something off. What is that? Is that an alarm?’

‘It sounds more like a phone,’ said Rose, her brow crinkled in confusion. ‘Someone making a call?’

‘It depends on your meaning,’ said Proper Dave. ‘I'm trying to call up the data core, but it's not responding. Just that noise.’

‘But it's a phone,’ said Donna, looking just as confused as Rose (and everyone else for that matter) and the Doctor couldn’t blame her. Why a phone?

‘Let me try something,’ he said, running up to the terminal and pressing a few buttons. The ringing stopped and the terminal beeped as a message came up on the screen.

Access denied.

‘Okay, doesn't like that. Let's try something else.’ He tried a few different buttons and the image on the screen changed… to the view of a little girl sitting in what looked like a lounge room of an Earth home.

He hadn’t been expecting that.

‘Hello?’ he said. Because, well, what else could he say?

‘Hello,’ replied the girl, looking just as shocked as he was. ‘Are you in my television?’

‘Well, no, I'm, I'm… sort of in space. Uh, I was trying to call up the data core of a triple grid security processor.’

The little girl just looked at him, clearly not knowing what he was talking about. ‘Would you like to speak to my Dad?’ she asked.

The Doctor nodded. ‘Dad or your Mum. That'd be lovely.’

But the girl didn’t move. ‘I know you,’ she said, a spark of recognition growing on her face. ‘You're in my library.’

Oh, now that was interesting.

‘Your library?’ asked the Doctor.

‘The library's never been on the television before. What have you done?’

‘Uh, well, I just rerouted the interface.’

And then the screen changed again.

Access denied.

‘Doctor, who was she?’ asked Rose. ‘And what did she mean her library? I thought Lux’s family owned it.’

‘I don’t know,’ he whispered as he tried to get the image back up. No luck. ‘I need another terminal,’ he said, louder this time, and he rushed across the room to find one. ‘Keep working on those lights. We need those lights!’

‘You heard him, people,’ said River to her team. ‘Let there be light.’

There was another terminal just behind the desk. Near where he and River had been talking before. The Doctor began trying to get the little girl back on the screen but that became all the more difficult when he noticed a blue book sitting on he bench net to him. River’s diary.

He shouldn’t look, he knew he shouldn’t… but the temptation was just too much. The way River acted with him, he got the impression that he meant a lot to her. They must be close. But how close? Who was she?

He had just picked up the book that held the answers to his future when another hand appeared on it. ‘Sorry, you're not allowed to see inside the book,’ said River, taking it from him. ‘It's against the rules.’

‘What rules?’

‘Your rules.’

Well, at least it seemed that future him was a bit more sensible than this him. Or maybe he just remembered how bad the temptation had been.

River walked away and the Doctor returned to his task of trying to call up the data core. But it wasn't long before he was once again distracted. This time by something really odd. Random books were literally flying off the shelves! They were soaring across the room; causing people to duck out of their way unless they fancied a book-sized bruise on their face.

‘What's that? I didn't do that,’ he said and then turned to Proper Dave who was at the other terminal. ‘Did you do that?’

‘Not me,’ answered Dave.

The Doctor turned back to his screen and tried a few more buttons but still got the access denied message. Except this time there was something else. The letters CAL accompanied the message. ‘What's CAL?’ he asked to no one in particular.

He looked around the room as books continued to soar off the shelves. Rose made a mad dash across the room to join him. ‘What the hell is going on?’ she asked. ‘What’s causing it?’

‘No idea,’ said the Doctor honestly.

‘It’s almost like the Library’s haunted,’ said Rose with a small laugh but it died on her lips when the Doctor gave her a knowing look. ‘It’s not seriously haunted is it?' she asked, a little bit nervously.

‘Not by ghosts,’ he answered, looking at the shadows around the room. Any one of them could be Vashta Nerada.

Rose followed his gaze. ‘So, what are Vashta Nerada?' she asked. 'What do they want?’

‘They’re like piranhas. They want to eat.’

‘And I’m guessing that we’re their favourite meal.'

The Doctor nodded.

The books had stopped their air assault now and the others were once again working on getting the lights up and running. ‘Well at least that’s over with,’ said Rose but she had spoke too soon. Another wave of books flew off the shelves, causing them all to jump. At least it was only a few books this time. ‘My fault for saying anything, I suppose,’ mumbled Rose and the Doctor couldn’t help but smile.

‘What's causing that?’ called out River. ‘Is it the little girl?’

‘But who is the little girl?’ asked the Doctor. ‘What's she got to do with this place? How does the data core work? What's the principle? What's CAL?’

‘That’s a lot of questions,’ said Rose.

‘And not enough answers.’

‘Ask Mister Lux,’ said River.

So the Doctor did.

‘Sorry, you didn't sign your personal experience contracts,’ said Lux in a tone that suggested that he wasn’t sorry at all. In fact, the Doctor would have gone as far as to call it mocking.

‘Mister Lux. Right now, you're in more danger than you've ever been in your whole life,’ said the Doctor, walking up to the man who had just made it to his Most Irritating Individuals in the Universe list. ‘And you're protecting a patent?’

‘I'm protecting my family's pride.’

Aaaand he just made it to number one on the list.

‘Well, funny thing, Mister Lux,' said the Doctor in a deceptively calm tone. 'I don't want to see everyone in this room dead because some idiot thinks his pride is more important.’

‘Then why don't you sign his contract?’ cut in River. There was a pause while the Doctor just stared at River, not sure of what to say to that. ‘I didn't either,’ she continued with a smile. ‘I'm getting worse than you.’

Seriously, who the hell was this woman?

But he couldn’t think about that now. He needed to focus. ‘Okay, okay, okay. Let's start at the beginning,' he said. 'What happened here? On the actual day, a hundred years ago, what physically happened?’

‘There was a message from the Library,’ answered River. ‘Just one. The lights are going out. Then the computer sealed the planet, and there was nothing for a hundred years.’

‘It's taken three generations of my family just to decode the seals and get back in,’ said Lux.

‘Uh, excuse me?’ call Miss Evangelista from behind them but Lux waved her off.

‘There was one other thing in the last message,’ continued River, getting something out of her backpack.

‘That's confidential,’ said Lux, throwing her a glare.

But River just glared back. ‘I trust this man with my life, with everything.’ She said it with such determination that the Doctor was a bit thrown. He knew that most of his friends trusted him completely but there were very few that said it with such meaning.

‘You've only just met him.’

‘No, he's only just met me.’

Miss Evangelista called out to them again but everybody was too involved in the conversation to pay any attention. The Doctor felt a little guilty but then he saw Rose move out of the corner of his eye. He let her deal with Miss Evangelista while River showed him a data extract that had come with the message.

‘Four thousand and twenty two saved. No survivors,’ he read. But that didn’t make sense.

‘Four thousand and twenty two. That's the exact number of people who were in the Library when the planet was sealed,’ said River.

‘But how can four thousand and twenty two people have been saved if there were no survivors?’ asked Donna.

‘That's what we're here to find out.’

‘And so far what we haven't found,’ said Lux, ‘are any bodies.’

Chapter Text

After Miss Evangelista’s second plea for attention, Rose turned from the conversation that was going on around her to see what she was trying to tell them. She had said that it had been important and now Rose understood why. Miss Evangelista was currently walking towards an open door that Rose was sure hadn’t been there before. The young woman must have given up trying to get their attention and gone to investigate herself.

Rose briefly considered telling the Doctor about the door but River was now showing him something that looked quite important and she didn’t want to break his concentration. People’s lives were on the line.

But she couldn’t just let Miss Evangelista wander off.

Rose made up her mind and headed towards the door that Miss Evangelista had just walked through, intending to bring her back to where it was safe. There was one slight problem... By the time Rose had made it through the door and into the corridor beyond, Miss Evangelista was nowhere to be seen. And there were two ways she could have gone. Making a snap decision, Rose turned to her right and set off at a bit of a jog, hoping that she had gone the right way.

It was a couple of minutes before she decided that Miss Evangelista couldn’t have gotten this far without Rose catching up to her by now. Dammit! She must have gone the other way.

Giving a sigh of frustration, Rose turned back around only to find that the mostly lit corridor that she had just come down was now pitch black. Vashta Nerada. Rose backed up a few steps. She would have to try and find another way back.

With one last look at the darkness, she turned on her heel and ran in the other direction.

----

The Doctor turned on the spot as a scream echoed around the room. It took him point five of a second to realise that both Rose and Miss Evangelista were no longer in the room. They must have gone to investigate the doorway that was in the middle of the far wall. The doorway that definitely had not been there before. The doorway that led to the area where the scream had come from.

‘ROSE!’

It was only two more seconds before the Doctor had run through the mysterious doorway and was heading to the source of the scream he had heard. It wasn’t until he had made it to the large room full of desks and books that he realised that the others had followed him. Thankfully they had brought torches with them. In his panic, the Doctor hadn’t even thought of grabbing one.

The Doctor’s eyes frantically searched the dimly lit room. It was silent now but it was definitely where the scream had come from. But where were Rose and Miss Evangelista?

His gaze fell on skeletal figure slumped in one of the chairs and he was sure that one of his hearts had stopped for a second. He rushed over to the figure and almost cried in relief when he saw the familiar spacesuit (or what was left of the spacesuit – the fabric had been torn to shreds). It wasn’t Rose.

The others approached and suddenly the Doctor felt extremely guilty. Had been so relieved that it hadn’t been Rose that he had momentarily forgotten that someone had still died. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered to what was left of Miss Evangelista.

‘Is that?’ asked Donna, looking at the skeleton with wide eyes.

‘Miss Evangelista,’ said the Doctor, answering her unfinished question before taking a better look around the room. Where was Rose?

‘But it can’t be,’ said Anita. ‘We heard her scream a few seconds ago. What could do that to a person in a few seconds?’

‘It took a lot less than a few seconds,’ said the Doctor before shouting, ‘ROSE?’

There was no answer. The Doctor was really starting to panic now. There were no other skeletons in the room but that didn’t mean that she had made it out alive. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked down expecting it to see Donna but instead he saw River’s concerned eyes staring up at him. ‘She’s not here, Doctor,’ she said, ‘but we’ll find her.’

'Hello?'

The sound of Miss Evangelista’s voice drew the Doctor’s attention back to the woman who had just died. He had been wrong when he had said that there were no ghosts in the Library.

‘I'm sorry, everyone,’ said River, walking back over to what remained of her crewmate. ‘This isn't going to be pleasant. She's ghosting.’

‘She's what?’ asked Donna.

‘Hello?’ asked Miss Evangelista again. ‘Excuse me. I'm sorry. Hello? Excuse me.’

‘That's, that's her, that's Miss Evangelista.’ Poor Donna was trying so hard to understand.

‘I don't want to sound horrible,’ said Proper Dave, ‘but couldn't we just, you know?’

‘This is her last moment so no, we can't,’ said River, her voice quiet but firm. ‘A little respect, thank you.’

Miss Evangelista’s voice continued to float through the room. ‘It's a data ghost,’ River explained to Donna. ‘She'll be gone in a moment.’ She turned on her spacesuit’s communication device and started to try and comfort Miss Evangelista, the words echoing through the torn spacesuit on the skeleton in front of them. A futile gesture, thought the Doctor, but a compassionate one just the same. It was one of the reasons he liked humans so much.

‘What's a data ghost?’ asked Donna.

‘There's a neural relay in the communicator,’ he whispered, nodding to the small device on the neck of Miss Evangelista’s spacesuit. ‘Lets you send thought mail. That's it there. Those green lights. Sometimes it can hold an impression of a living consciousness for a short time after death. Like an afterimage.’

‘My grandfather lasted a day,’ said Anita. ‘Kept talking about his shoelaces.’

The Doctor resisted the urge to tap his foot in impatience as Donna slowly came to terms with the concept. He needed to find Rose and he was wasting time here. But then Miss Evangelista asked to speak with Donna and the Doctor suddenly felt a wave of shame hit him. Miss Evangelista deserved respect in her last few moments.

So he stood silently as Donna tried to reassure the young woman that he hadn’t bothered to get to know (and there was that guilt again). It wasn’t until Miss Evangelista had started repeating herself over and over that River finally switched the relay off.

Once it was all done, the Doctor all but sprinted out of the room and down the corridor, straight past the room they had set up the lights in. Rose must have gone this way; it was her only other option apart from the two rooms they had already been in.

But he didn’t get far before he was forced to skid to a halt. The corridor in front of him was almost pitch black. The Doctor could just about see the light from the far side of the corridor and hoped beyond all hope that that’s where Rose had been when the Vashta Nerada had appeared.

‘They cut her way off,’ he said, more than a hint of panic in his voice.

‘She must have gone to try and find another way around,’ said River from beside him.

The Doctor briefly considered just running through the darkness but he knew that he would make it less than two steps before the Vashta Nerada consumed him. And then he wouldn’t be any help to anyone. Giving the Vashta Nerada one last glare, he turned and angrily stomped towards the room in which they had started.

‘I’m gonna try calling her,’ said Donna, already lifting her phone to her ear. Everybody situated themselves within the circle of light in the centre of the room and stood silently as Donna waited for Rose to answer. After a moment she lowered her phone. ‘Went to voicemail,’ she said before looking anxiously at the Doctor. ‘You don’t think she’s…’

‘No,’ said the Doctor, not letting her finish her sentence. He would not let himself believe that Rose was gone. ‘She’s not dead.’ He glared at the others, daring them to contest him. No one did but he could tell from their faces that they didn’t share his belief of Rose’s fate. They all had nothing but pity in their eyes. All apart from Donna and River. They too shared the Doctor’s faith that Rose was still alive. Or at the very least, they had hope that she was.

The Doctor stood up straight and held out his hand. ‘Someone give me a torch,’ he said. ‘I’m going to find her.’

No one moved.

‘Torch. NOW!’

‘Doctor,’ said River in that gentle but firm voice she had used earlier, ‘I know you’re worried about her, I am too, but you can’t just go sprinting after her. You’ll get yourself killed. We need a proper plan to get rid of whatever did that to Miss Evangelista. Rose is smart, she can look after herself. She’ll be fine, I promise.’

‘How can you promise me that?’ snapped the Doctor, eyes blazing. ‘What? Are you going to try and tell me that because you know my future, you know she makes it out of here? Because time doesn’t work like that.’

‘I’m not an idiot,’ said River. Her tone was still even but the Doctor saw a flash of anger in her eyes. ‘I’ve been doing this long enough to know that time can be rewritten. Nothing is set in stone.’

‘Doing what, exactly?’ he asked, his anger now simmering just beneath the words. ‘Travelling in time?’

‘No, travelling with you.’

‘Rose!’

The Doctor whipped his head around at the sound of Donna’s cry and saw that she once again had her mobile phone to her ear. But this time instead of worry, there was a look of enormous relief on her face. The same look that he imagined was on his face as well. Rose had answered her phone. She was alive!

The Doctor strode over to Donna in two quick steps and took the phone from her, ignoring her shout of protest. ‘Rose, where are you?’ he asked urgently.

‘In a corridor,’ she answered, a little bit breathless. She had been running. ‘Not sure which one, they all look the same.’ She paused and there was the scraping sound of a book being taken off a shelf. ‘Still in Biographies. Though I imagine that would be a pretty big area.’

‘Over a thousand square miles,’ said the Doctor, rubbing his hand over his face. That was a lot of corridors that she could be in. He let out a growl of annoyance. ‘Rule one: don’t wander off. How many time do I have to tell you?’

‘All right, all right, I know,’ said Rose defensively. ‘I only left the room so I could go get Miss Evangelista and bring her back. But I went the wrong way and I tried to go back but the Vashta Nerada had blocked me off.’

The Doctor let out a sigh to calm himself. He hadn’t meant to blame her. He had just been so worried. He still was but at least now he knew she was alive. ‘Yeah, I saw,’ he said.

There was a slight pause before Rose asked, ‘Is Miss Evangelista okay?’ Her voice was a bit quieter than before. ‘I thought I heard a scream.’

The Doctor sighed again. ‘No. They got her.’ He heard Rose curse under her breath. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Not your fault. We all ignored her. We should have listened the first time she tried to tell us about the door.’

The Doctor nodded even though he knew Rose couldn’t see him. ‘Is there anything nearby that you recognise?’ he asked. ‘Anything at all to tell me where you are.’

‘No, just books,’ she said. ‘But don’t worry about me.’ Yeah, like he could stop? ‘I’ll find my way back. You’re at the little shop, yeah? Love a little shop.’

The Doctor gave a forced laugh at her attempt to ease his worry. He glanced towards the shop entrance. ‘Yeah, love a little shop.’

‘You need to stay with the others,’ continued Rose. ‘You’re the only one who knows what these things are so you’re probably the only one who can keep them safe.’

The Doctor nodded again. He knew that Rose would take his silence as a reluctant “yes”.

‘I’ll see you soon, yeah?’ she said and he could tell that she was trying to be brave so that he wouldn’t worry. But he could still hear that little bit of fear in her voice.

‘Yeah,’ he said, his own voice sounding strained. ‘Be careful.’

‘You too. And Doctor, I love you.’

This time the Doctor could definitely hear how afraid she was. He opened his mouth to say those words back to her but no sound came out. Damn his cowardice! He loved Rose, that fact had become increasingly apparent. So why couldn’t he say the words? Pinching the bridge of nose with his fingers and scrunching his eyes shut, he gave her one last warning to stay out of the shadows and then hung up the phone.

He scrubbed his hands over his face one more time before turning back to face the others. ‘Okay, we make a plan,’ he said, giving Donna her phone back. ‘But as soon as I can, I’m going after Rose. No arguments.’ He directed that last bit at River, expecting her to fight him on it, but he had been wrong.

‘Arguments?’ she said. ‘I’ll be right behind you.’

The Doctor regarded the woman in front of him for a moment. She hadn’t panicked like he had but he could see that she was just as worried. ‘Who are you?’ he finally said.

‘Professor River Song, University of-’

‘To me,’ he cut her off angrily. ‘Who are you to me?’

‘Spoilers,’ said River although she looked like she really wanted to say something more.

‘So what are the Vashta Nerada?’ asked Anita.

‘The piranhas of the air,’ answered the Doctor, turning away from River and addressing the rest of the group. ‘They are literally the shadows that melt the flesh. Most planets have them, but usually in small clusters. I've never seen an infestation on this scale, or this aggressive.’

‘What do mean most planets?’ asked Donna. ‘Even Earth?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Where there's meat, there's Vashta Nerada.’

‘But if they were on Earth, we'd know,’ insisted Donna.

‘Normally they live on road kill. But sometimes people go missing. Not everyone comes back out of the dark.’ The Doctor shuddered at the thought before strengthening his resolve. Rose was not going to be one of those people. She was coming back, he would make sure of it.

‘Every shadow?’ asked River, looking about the room.

‘No. But any shadow,’ answered the Doctor, staring out into the darkness of the room, his mind still on Rose.

‘So, about that plan? How do we stop them?’

The Doctor did have a plan. A plan with three simple steps. Step 1: Find a way to get these people out of the Library and Donna back to the TARDIS. Step 2: Go find Rose. Step 3: Take Rose back to the TARDIS and leave this God forsaken planet for good. Step 4: Spend the next few days holed up in their bedroom showing Rose exactly how much he needed her. Okay, four steps. It was a four-step plan.

But he wasn’t about to go and tell a room full of strangers that.

‘Daleks, aim for the eyestalk,’ he said instead. ‘Sontarans, back of the neck. Vashta Nerada? Run. Just run.’

‘Run?’ asked River, obviously expecting something a bit grander. ‘Run where?’

‘This is an index point,' he said, finally facing the group again. 'There must be an exit teleport somewhere.’

All heads turned to Lux.

‘Don't look at me. I haven't memorised the schematics.’

‘Doctor, the little shop,’ said Donna. ‘They always make you go through the little shop on the way out so they can sell you stuff.’

The Doctor looked at the shop entrance with newfound hope. He dashed across the room and stuck his head through the doorway. He could see the teleportation device on the other side of the room. ‘You're right,’ he said, moving back towards the group. ‘Brilliant! That's why I like the little shop.’

‘Okay, let's move it,’ said Proper Dave and he started to make his way across the room.

And that was when the Doctor noticed it. Proper Dave had two shadows.

Oh, Dave, not you too.

‘Actually, Proper Dave? Could you stay where you are for a moment?’ he said and the man did as he was told.

‘Why?’

‘I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry. But you've got two shadows.’

Everybody looked down at the floor at Proper Dave’s feet where his two shadows stuck out at different angles. ‘It's how they hunt,’ explained the Doctor. ‘They latch on to a food source and keep it fresh.’

‘What do I do?’ asked Proper Dave, quiet panic in his voice.

‘You stay absolutely still, like there's a wasp in the room. Like there's a million wasps.’

‘We're not leaving you, Dave,’ said River.

‘Course we're not leaving him,’ said the Doctor. ‘Where's your helmet? Don't point, just tell me.’

‘On the floor by my bag,’ said Dave and Anita went over to get it.

‘Don't cross his shadow,’ warned the Doctor as Anita gave him the helmet. ‘Thanks. Now, the rest of you, helmets back on and sealed up. We'll need everything we've got.’ As the rest of the team put their own helmets on, the Doctor tentatively walked up to Dave and put his on for him.

‘But Doctor, we haven't got any helmets,’ said Donna. He had been rather hoping it would take her a bit longer to realise that.

‘Yeah, but we're safe anyway,’ he said, hoping to ease her worry.

‘How are we safe?’

Oh well, it was worth a try.

‘We're not. That was a clever lie to shut you up.’ He turned to River. ‘Professor, anything I can do with the suit?’

‘What good are the damn suits?’ asked Lux angrily. ‘Miss Evangelista was wearing her suit. There was nothing left.’

‘We can increase the mesh density,’ answered River, which was just as well seeing as the Doctor’s ability to put up with Lux had dropped to below zero. ‘Dial it up four hundred percent. Make it a tougher meal.’

The Doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. Except that it wasn’t his, it was Rose’s. He hadn’t given it back to her after trying to use it on the door. He pushed down the worry that threatened to consume him again and put the screwdriver back in his pocket and retrieved his own one instead. He pointed it at Proper Dave’s suit and increased the mesh density as River had instructed. Well, just with one tiny difference.

‘Eight hundred percent,’ he said, holding out his screwdriver to River. ‘Pass it on.’

‘Gotcha,’ said River, holding up her own sonic screwdriver.

What!?

‘That’s a sonic screwdriver,’ said the Doctor, staring at the object. Why did River have her own sonic screwdriver? He didn’t make them for just anyone. Although Romana had been able to make her own but he was fairly certain that River was not a Time Lord. How could she be?

‘Yeah, I know. Snap,’ said River as she moved to each person, fixing up their suits to protect them against the Vashta Nerada.

Everyone except Donna.

The Doctor made a decision. So far his four-point plan had gone down the drain but there was still something he could do. He could get Donna back to the TARDIS. He grabbed her hand and dragged her towards the shop entrance. ‘With me. Come on.’

‘What are we doing? We shopping?’ asked Donna as she allowed herself to be pulled along. ‘Is it a good time to shop?’

Oh, but they weren’t here for the shop. They were here for the teleports. ‘No talking, just moving,’ said the Doctor, not in the mood for arguing. But he had promised not to do this to Donna again. He owed her at least some kind of explanation.

He positioned her on the teleport and told her to stay put. ‘It's a teleport,’ he explained as he moved over to the controls and began configuring them so that he could get Donna to the TARDIS. ‘Can't send the others, TARDIS won't recognise them but at least they have their suit to protect them. But you don't have a suit. You're not safe.’

‘You don't have a suit, so you're in just as much danger as I am and I'm not leaving you,’ said Donna defiantly and under any other circumstances the Doctor may have listened to her. But not today. Today he already had far too many things to worry about and he needed to know that at least someone would be safe.

‘Donna, let me explain,’ he said and then activated the teleport. Donna disappeared but the Doctor could still see her annoyed face. Oh, he was in for a slap when this was all over. But it would be worth it.

‘Sorry, Donna,’ he said to the empty space where she had been a second ago.

River called his name from the other room and he rushed back to see what had happened. Surely the Vashta Nerada couldn’t have gotten to someone else so quickly.

And he had been right. When he had gotten into the room, the first thing he noticed was that no one had two shadows – not even Proper Dave. ‘Where did it go?’ asked the Doctor.

‘It's just gone,’ said Proper Dave with giddy relief. ‘I looked round, one shadow, see.’ The Doctor wished he could share the man’s relief but he knew that the Vashta Nerada didn’t just let people go.

‘Does that mean we can leave?’ asked River, a twinge of cautious hope in her voice. ‘I don't want to hang around here.’

‘I don't know why we're still here,’ said Lux. ‘We can leave him, can't we?’ He paused at the hurt look on Dave’s face. ‘I mean, no offence.’

‘Shut up, Mister Lux,’ snapped River, once again saving the man from the Doctor’s barely contained fury.

‘Did you feel anything, like an energy transfer?’ the Doctor asked Proper Dave. ‘Anything at all?’

‘No, no, but look, it's gone.’ He turned on the spot.

‘Stop there,’ said the Doctor, a bit more angrily than he had meant to. This whole situation was getting to him. He needed to get these people to safety and find Rose. ‘Stop, stop, stop there. Stop moving. They're never just gone and they never give up.’ He knelt down and started scanning Dave’s one remaining shadow but the scan showed nothing. It was just a shadow. Where had they gone?

‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’ asked Proper Dave.

‘No one, they're fine,’ said the Doctor, looking up at the man.

‘No seriously, turn them back on.’

‘They are on,’ insisted River.

‘I can't see a ruddy thing.’

The Doctor stood up and took a couple of steps back away from Proper Dave. He was pretty sure he knew where the Vashta Nerada had moved. ‘Dave, turn around,’ he said, praying that he was wrong in his suspicions.

Dave turned to face them and the Doctor cursed under his breath. The visor of Proper Dave’s helmet was completely black. The Vashta Nerada were inside the suit!

‘What's going on?’ asked Dave, starting to panic again. ‘Why can't I see? Is the power gone? Are we safe here?’

‘Dave, I want you stay still,’ said the Doctor. ‘Absolutely still.’

Dave jerked backwards and gave a small grunt of pain.

‘Dave? Dave, can you hear me? Are you all right? Talk to me, Dave.’

Dave stood up straight again and stilled. ‘I'm fine,’ he said. ‘I'm okay. I'm fine.’

‘I want you to stay still,’ repeated the Doctor. ‘Absolutely still.’

‘I'm fine. I'm okay. I'm fine. I can't. Why can't I? I, I can't. Why can't I?’

Oh, Dave.

‘I, I can't. Why can't I? I-’

The green lights on Dave’s spacesuit started to flicker. ‘He's gone. He's ghosting,’ said River.

‘Then why is he still standing?’ asked Lux.

‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’ said Dave. ‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’

The Doctor moved towards Dave, ignoring River’s protests. ‘Dave, can you hear me?’ he asked.

‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’

Suddenly Dave lunged forward and grabbed the Doctor by the shoulders, forcing him to his knees. The movement caused Dave’s skull to fall against the glass of the helmet and into the lights of the visor.

Hey, who turned out the lights? Hey, who turned out the lights?

River rushed forward and used her sonic screwdriver to send a pulse of electricity through Proper Dave’s suit. The Doctor stumbled back as the suit that was now being controlled by the Vashta Nerada let him go.

‘Back from it!’ he yelled to the others as he got to his feet. ‘Get back. Right back.’

The suit took a jerky step towards them.

‘Doesn't move very fast, does it?’ said River.

‘It's a swarm in a suit,’ said the Doctor. ‘But it's learning.’ He nodded to the ground where the suit now had four shadows. Shadows that were growing and getting close and closer to them.

‘What do we do?’ asked Lux. ‘Where do we go?’

‘See that wall behind you?’ asked River. ‘Duck.’ The Doctor looked at the wall and then back at River just in time to move out of the way of the beam from the squarness gun that she now had in her hand. It only took a matter of seconds for a perfect square hole to appear in the wall. ‘Everybody out,’ shouted River and they all rushed through the hole and into the corridor beyond.

But the Vashta Nerada were not far behind them.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

‘Run!’ shouted River and the group sprinted down the corridor, not really caring where they ended up as long as it was away from the skeleton in the spacesuit.

----

Once the others could run no longer, they stopped and the Doctor turned his attention towards the lights. He had to do something as the others caught their breaths, he didn’t like standing still. Standing still allowed his mind to focus on things that he would rather not focus on.

‘Trying to boost the power,’ he said as he sonicked the light fitting with his screwdriver. ‘Light doesn't stop them, but it slows them down.’

‘So, what's the plan?’ asked River. ‘Do we have a plan?’

The Doctor still had his four-point plan but somehow he doubted that that’s what River had meant.

River got out her own screwdriver and pointed it at the light, which got brighter as soon as she had pressed the button. ‘Your screwdriver looks exactly like mine,’ said the Doctor, staring at the device suspiciously.

‘Yeah, you gave it to me.’

‘I don't give my screwdriver to anyone.’

River smiled. ‘I'm not anyone.’

The Doctor wasn’t sure he liked that smile. It was far too warm and loving. Only the people closest to him gave him that smile. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.

River’s smile faded and was replaced by a brief look of hurt before she composed herself. ‘What's the plan?’ she asked again.

‘I teleported Donna back to the TARDIS,’ said the Doctor. ‘If we don't get back there in under five hours, emergency program one will activate.’

‘Take her home, yeah,’ said River before yelling to the others, ‘we need to get a shift on.’

The Doctor momentarily wondered how River knew what Emergency Program One meant but pushed it aside, replacing it with a more urgent worry. ‘She's not there,’ he said, staring at his own sonic screwdriver now. ‘I should have received a signal. The console signals me if there's a teleport breach.’

‘Well, maybe the coordinates have slipped. The equipment here's ancient.’

The Doctor caught sight of a Node just up the corridor and ran to it. Maybe it could tell him where Donna was. ‘Donna Noble,’ he said to it. ‘There's a Donna Noble somewhere in this library. Do you have the software to locate her position?’ He should have thought of this earlier. Maybe the Node could tell him where Rose was as well.

The Node turned its “head” and the Doctor paled. It had Donna’s face.

Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.

No, not Donna as well.

Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.

‘How can it be Donna?’ asked River. ‘How's that possible?’

Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

‘Doctor!’ shouted River at the sound of the Vashta Nerada approaching but the Doctor was still staring at the Node. He had tried so hard to keep everyone safe and now he had lost Donna too.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

Donna Noble has left the library.

‘Doctor, we've got to go now!’ shouted River.

Donna Noble has been saved.

Hey, Who turned out the lights?

With one last sorrowful look at Donna’s face, the Doctor let River pull him down the corridor and away from the advancing skeleton. But they didn’t get very far. A shadow crossed over their path forwards and the group was forced to a stop.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

The spacesuit was getting closer.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

The Vashta Nerada had them trapped.

Chapter Text

Hey, who turned out the lights? Hey, who turned out the lights?

The Doctor’s mind raced as he thought of how to get them out of this. The shadows behind them were definitely a no go. The Vashta Nerada would devour them all in seconds. They would have to try and push past the Dave (or what used to be Dave). Those Vashta Nerada were confined to the spacesuit and if they were very, very lucky, they might be able to get past before their own shadows were infected.

He was just about to tell the others of his plan when River announced her own plan. Which was admittedly far better than his. She pointed her squareness gun at the wall beside them and ushered everybody through the hole that it had created.

----

Rose leant against the wall of the corridor she was in. It felt like she had been running for hours (although she knew it hadn’t been that long) and yet she still had no idea where she was. All these bookshelves looked the same and so, for all she knew, she could have just been running around in circles. She had come across more than one corridor that had been unnaturally dark, causing her to make detour after detour and now she had lost all sense of direction. At least this corridor had windows on one side, letting a reasonable amount of light in.

She got out her phone and tried calling Donna again to see how the others were getting along (and maybe because she was a little bit scared and needed to hear a friendly voice) but it just kept going to voicemail.

Rose put her phone back into her pocket and stared out of the window to try and distract herself from worrying about why Donna wasn’t answering. The sun was low in the sky and the light that came from it made the buildings look rather beautiful. She wondered how long it would take for the sun to set and shivered at the thought of trying to navigate the Library at night. Hopefully the moon would provide enough light to hold back the shadows.

She was starting to really regret the eagerness she had shown when the Doctor had first mentioned the message. And not just because she was now lost in a giant library while being hunted by space piranhas. It was because of the revelation of who had sent the message in the first place. When Rose had first seen the message on the psychic paper, she had thought that it might have been from one of the Doctor’s ex-girlfriends (she was no longer naïve enough to think that in 900 years she had been the only one to turn his head) and that was why he hadn’t wanted to show it to her. But now that they had met River, Rose could see that the Doctor had absolutely no clue who the woman was. So of course her first thought had been that maybe that meant that River was a future girlfriend.

Rose banished that trail of thought instantly. Whatever the future held for her and the Doctor, she didn’t want to know at the moment. It was no use dwelling on what could be. She had to focus on the now. And right now she had to find her way back to that shop and back to the Doctor and Donna.

Walking this time, she continued down the generously lit corridor, nervously glancing at every shadow she came across.

----

The Doctor and his group had finally found a room that looked safe enough to hole up in for a bit. It was a large room with a promising looking window in the high ceiling, the light shining from it made a large circle on the floor in the middle of the room. The group quickly made their way to that light.

At River’s unneeded insistence, the Doctor started scanning the shadows for Vashta Nerada.

‘There's no lights here,’ said River, looking up at the skylight. ‘Sunset's coming. We can't stay long. Have you found a live one?’

‘Maybe,’ said the Doctor, giving his sonic screwdriver a whack. ‘It's getting harder to tell. What's wrong with you?’ That last bit was directed at his screwdriver as it continued to misbehave. He turned to River. ‘There’s another way to check. Have you got a packed lunch? Any meat?’

River quickly undid her backpack and got out her lunchbox. ‘Chicken leg,’ she said proudly as she pulled out the item. Without waiting for the Doctor to explain, she chucked the chicken into the shadow that the Doctor had just been trying to scan. Before the leg had even hit the floor, there was nothing left of it but bone.

‘Okay, we've got a hot one,’ said River, backing up to join the rest of her team in the middle of the light circle. ‘Watch your feet.’

‘They won't attack until there's enough of them,’ said the Doctor, thankful for that one small break in an otherwise nightmarish situation. ‘But they've got our scent now. They're coming.’

But now that the group had stopped to take a breath and think, they now had the chance to question his authority. ‘Oh, yeah, who is he?’ said Other Dave to River. ‘You haven't even told us. You just expect us to trust him?’

‘He's the Doctor,’ said River as if that was enough to explain and right now the Doctor wasn’t in the mood to reassure anybody of his intentions. He didn’t need these people to trust him - he just needed them safe. The sooner they were safe, the sooner he could go look for Rose and find out what happened to Donna. He tuned out the conversation and resumed trying to scan the shadows, deciding to let River deal with her team’s suspicions.

But the sonic screwdriver still wasn’t working properly. He got out Rose’s screwdriver, trying not to focus on the fresh bout of worry that came with it, and tried scanning the shadows with that instead. Still nothing.

‘What's wrong with it?’ asked River, walking over to him.

‘There's a signal coming from somewhere, interfering with it,’ he said. He had his own screwdriver in his hand again now.

‘Then use the red settings.’

‘It doesn't have a red setting.’

‘Well, use the dampers.’

Okay, this was getting annoying. ‘It doesn't have dampers,’ said the Doctor through gritted teeth. He really didn’t want to deal with whatever part of his future River represented right now. He was barely keeping it together at the moment.

‘It will do one day,’ said River, showing him her own screwdriver - the one he had supposedly given her - and the Doctor snapped.

‘So, some time in the future, I just give you my screwdriver?’ he asked, angrily.

River didn’t look too worried at his anger. ‘Yes, you did,’ she said, not unkindly.

‘And why would I do that?’

Now River did look a little upset. ‘I didn't pluck it from your cold dead hands, if that's what you're worried about.’

‘And I know that because?’

‘Listen to me,’ said River firmly. ‘You’re worried about Rose and your friend. You're angry. I understand. But you need to be less emotional, Doctor, right now-’

‘Less emotional?’ said the Doctor, almost shouting. ‘Rose is out there somewhere. Alone. In a world of flesh-eating shadows. And I don't even know what has happened to Donna. So give me one good reason why I shouldn’t be emotional right now.’

‘There are five people in this room still alive,’ answered River without hesitation. ‘Focus on that. Dear God, you're hard work young.’

‘Oh, for heaven's sake!’ shouted Lux from across the room. ‘Look at the pair of you. We're all going to die right here, and you're just squabbling like an old married couple.’

The Doctor’s eyes widened and he quickly looked to River. No, she couldn't be.

He hoped to see some sort of reassurance in River's eyes. Some trace of denial of Lux's accusation. But he found none. Instead he saw only pity and remorse. Why remorse?

‘Doctor, one day I'm going to be someone that you trust completely,’ she said, staring at him intently, ‘but I can't wait for you to find that out. So I'm going to prove it to you. And I'm sorry. I'm really very sorry.’ She leaned in and whispered something into his ear. Something he had never expected to hear again.

His name.

River pulled back and asked him a question but the Doctor couldn’t hear her. He was frozen in shock. The only people who had known that name had died in the war… and there was only one reason he would ever tell anyone else. Lux’s earlier words ringed in his ears.

Old married couple.

‘Doctor, are we good?’ asked River for what must have been the second time.

A whispered ‘yeah’ was all the Doctor could get out. But it seemed to have satisfied River at least. She walked back to join the others, clutching her sonic screwdriver in her hand.

The Doctor returned his focus to his own sonic screwdriver. He needed a distraction. Better yet, he needed to work out whatever was going on here so he could find Rose and Donna and leave this Godforsaken place and forget all about River and what role she would play in his future. ‘Do you know how hard it is to interfere with my sonic screwdriver?’ he asked to no one in particular.

But River answered anyway. ‘I do, actually,' she said.

‘So there is a very strong signal coming from somewhere and it wasn’t there before,’ continued the Doctor, ignoring her comment. He started to pace around the circle of light. ‘So what's new? What's changed?’ When no one answered him this time he raised his voice, urging the group to think. ‘Come on! What's new? What's different?’

‘I don't know,’ said Other Dave. ‘Nothing. It's getting dark?’

‘It's a screwdriver. It works in the dark.’

But, hold on… Other Dave might have been on to something there. ‘Moon rise,’ said the Doctor, looking up to the window that showed an impressive view of the moon up above. ‘Tell me about the moon. What's there?’

‘It's not real, it was built as part of the Library,’ said Lux. ‘It's just a Doctor Moon.’

‘What's a Doctor Moon?’

‘A virus checker. It supports and maintains the main computer at the core of the planet.’

The Doctor pressed a button on his screwdriver and it started making its familiar buzzing noise. ‘Well, it’s still active,’ he said, referring to the Doctor Moon. ‘It's signalling. Look. Someone somewhere in this library is alive and communicating with the moon.’ He held his screwdriver to his ear. ‘Yeah, the signal is definitely coming from the moon. I'm blocking it, but it's trying to break through.’

River called his name (his chosen one not his real one) and he looked up to see that a light was shining from the tip of the sonic. It was a holographic projection. ‘Donna!’ he shouted in surprise at the image of his friend. Donna let out a little gasp and then disappeared. She hadn’t been there for long but it had been enough for the Doctor to be sure that the hologram had actually been Donna and not just a saved image of her. She had looked at him like she couldn’t believe he was actually there. But why did she appear when he blocked the Moon’s signal? Where was she?

‘That was her,’ said River. ‘That was your friend! Can you get her back? What was that?’

The Doctor stepped forward to where Donna’s hologram had been a moment ago and returned his focus to the mysterious signal. ‘Hold on, hold on, hold on. I'm trying to find the wavelength,’ he said, fiddling with the sonic screwdriver. ‘Argh, I'm being blocked.’

‘Professor?’ called Anita but River waved her off.

The Doctor wasn’t so dismissive. He had learnt his lesson from ignoring Miss Evangelista. ‘What is it, Anita?’ he asked, turning to face her. When he did, his face fell. She had two shadows.

River had seen it too. ‘Okay, helmets on, everyone,’ she said. ‘Anita, I'll get yours.’

‘It didn't do Proper Dave any good,’ said Anita, tears falling down her cheeks.

‘Just keep it together, okay?’ said River, reassuringly. ‘We’ll fix this.’

‘Keeping it together. I'm only crying. I'm about to die. It's not an overreaction.’

River put the helmet on Anita’s head and the Doctor sonicked the visor to black out the glass. For a moment River panicked, thinking that the Vashta Nerada had gotten inside the spacesuit already but the Doctor was quick to explain. ‘I just tinted her visor,’ he said. ‘Maybe they'll think they're already in there, leave her alone.’ It was a long shot, he knew, but it was the only thing he could do.

River seemed doubtful too. ‘Do you think they can be fooled like that?’

‘Maybe. I don't know. It's a swarm. It's not like we chat.’

Other Dave approached Anita but the Doctor ushered him back. ‘Sorry Anita but we have to stay back a bit. It’s just…’ Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that there was something else wrong in the room. There should have only been five people in it but now there were six. He turned to face the spacesuited skeleton that had caught up to them. ‘Then again.’

Hey, who turned out the lights?

‘Run!’ shouted the Doctor and the group once again set off through the Library.

----

Oh, this is useless, thought the Doctor as the group ran through yet another corridor. They could spend forever running but the Vashta Nerada would never stop chasing them. There had to be something else he could try.

The corridor they were in was an enclosed bridge that led to the next building and the whole of one wall, as well as the ceiling, was a window. The sun hadn’t quite set yet meaning that the Doctor had plenty of light to help protect him from any Vashta Nerada that were not in the spacesuit following them. It was a good a place as any to test out his idea.

‘Professor, go ahead,’ he said. ‘Find a safe spot.’

River obviously knew what he was planning to do. ‘It's a carnivorous swarm in a suit. You can't reason with it.’

‘Five minutes,’ he said, ushering the others past him.

‘Other Dave, stay with him,’ said River and Dave stopped a few paces behind the Doctor. ‘Pull him out when he's too stupid to leave. Two minutes, Doctor.’ The Doctor really didn’t like how well she knew him. He didn’t want to accept what it meant. What it all meant.

River, Anita and Lux all rounded the corner just as the Vashta Nerada appeared at the other end of the walkway.

Hey, who turned out the lights?

‘You hear that? Those words?’ asked the Doctor, running forwards a little. ‘That is the very last thought of the man who wore that suit before you climbed inside and stripped his flesh.’ He slowly backed up a few paces as the spacesuit advanced on him. ‘That's a man's soul trapped inside a neural relay, going round and round forever. Now, if you don't have the decency to let him go, how about this? Use him. Talk to me. It's easy. Neural relay. Just point and think. Use him, talk to me.’

Hey, who turned out the lights?

Okay, not looking promising so far but the Doctor wasn’t going to give up so easily. He just had to draw answers out of the swarm. ‘The Vashta Nerada live on all the worlds in this system, but you hunt in forests. What are you doing in a library?’ he asked.

‘We should go,’ said Other Dave from behind him. ‘Doctor!’

‘In a minute,’ said the Doctor, keeping his eyes fixed on the spacesuit in front of him. ‘You came to the Library to hunt. Why? Just tell me why?’

The spacesuit came to a stop. ‘We. Did not,’ said the Vashta Nerada through Proper Dave’s neural relay.

Success.

‘We did not,’ they said again. They seemed to be having a little trouble with it.

‘Take it easy, you'll get the hang of it,’ urged the Doctor. He was not really in a patient mood but he wasn’t about to go and blow what could be his only chance to reason with the swarm. ‘Did not what?’

‘We did not come here.’

What did that mean?

‘Well, of course you did. Of course you came here.’

‘We come from here.’

‘From here?’

‘We hatched here.’

‘But you hatch from trees,’ said the Doctor. ‘From spores in trees.’

‘These are our forests.’

‘You're nowhere near a forest. Look around you.’

‘These are our forests,’ repeated the Vashta Nerada.

‘You're not in a forest; you're in a library. There are no trees in a…’ and then the Doctor realised what they meant. The books were made of paper. And paper came from trees. And tress came from forests. ‘…library.’

‘We should go,’ said Other Dave again. ‘Doctor!’

But the Doctor was in the midst of a revelation. ‘Books. You came in the books. Microspores in a million, million books.’ He looked out the window and took in the size of the Library. No wonder the system had shorted out when it tried to scan for life forms. There was no way he could get rid of an infestation this size. The Library belonged to the Vashta Nerada now.

And Rose was still out there.

‘We should go. Doctor!’ said Dave for the third time and the Doctor whipped around to face him. Or rather, he faced what was left of him. Now he was just another puppet for the Vashta Nerada. ‘We should go. Doctor!’

‘Oh Dave, I'm so sorry.’

Hey, who turned out the lights?

We should go. Doctor!

The two skeletons were coming at him from both sides now, trapping him in the middle of the walkway. It was a good thing he had his escape route already planned out, then. Wasting no more time, the Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at the floor and the trapdoor beneath his feet opened. He fell through it and grabbed a hold of the support beam on the bottom of the bridge to stop himself from plummeting to the ground far below. Putting his screwdriver between his teeth, he grabbed the beam with his other hand as well and began to inch his way along the underside of the bridge.

----

Rose was starting to really get worried now. She was sure she had been in this corridor before. She rounded the next corner and moved over to the window to get her bearings. Yep, she definitely recognised that bridge in the distance. She was going around in circles.

Rose cursed under her breath and was about to turn back when she noticed that there was something moving underneath the bridge. It was the Doctor!

Rose had no idea what he was doing hanging from the underside of the bridge but he seemed to be making his way towards the next building. At least she knew he was alive. And more than that, she knew which direction he was headed in.

She thought she saw something move out of the corner of her eye and quickly decided that she had wasted enough time staying still. ‘I’m coming, Doctor,’ she whispered and then set off down the corridor at a run.

Chapter Text

By the time the Doctor had caught up to River and the others, the sun had set and night had fallen. Now they only had the electric lights of the Library to keep them safe... and the Vashta Nerada had already proved that those lights were no more than a small obstacle to them.

The Doctor had considered leaving the others and going off to search for Rose but he knew he shouldn’t. He couldn’t just abandon them. Plus, he still had to find out what had happened to Donna.

He reached the room that the others were in just in time to hear River talking about his future self. ‘I've seen whole armies turn and run away,’ she said. ‘And he'd just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers.’

‘Nobody can open a TARDIS by snapping their fingers,’ he said as he walked down the stairs and joined them on the bottom landing of the room. ‘It doesn't work like that.’

‘It does for the Doctor,’ said River.

‘I am the Doctor,’ he growled but River seemed unfazed. The Doctor scrubbed his hand over his face. There was no point getting angry with River, none of this was her fault. ‘How are you three doing?’ he asked, now calmer.

But River had noticed the absence of her other crewmate. ‘Where's Other Dave?’ she asked.

‘He didn’t make it,’ said the Doctor sadly. Another person he couldn’t keep safe.

‘Well, if they've taken him, why haven't they gotten me yet?’ asked Anita and the Doctor was relieved to hear the proof that the Vashta Nerada hadn’t consumed her. She still had two shadows though.

‘I don't know,’ he said, scanning the shadows. ‘Maybe tinting your visor's making a difference.’

‘It's making a difference all right. No one's ever going to see my face again.’

‘I know, I’m sorry. Can I get you anything?’

‘An old age would be nice,’ said Anita and the Doctor let out a small chuckle at her attempt to lighten the mood. ‘Anything you can do?’

‘I'm all over it,’ said the Doctor with determination. He liked Anta and he wasn’t planning on losing her too.

‘Doctor,’ said Anita. She sounded like she was about to ask something personal. ‘When we first met you, you didn't trust Professor Song. And then she whispered a word in your ear, and you did.’ And there it was. ‘My life so far. I could do with a word like that. What did she say?’ The Doctor didn’t answer and Anita let out a small humourless laugh. ‘Give a dead girl a break. Your secrets are safe with me.’

The Doctor was still trying to think of a way deflect the question when he realised that Anita had just given him one. ‘Safe,’ he whispered, thinking back to the message that River had shown him earlier.

‘What?’

‘Safe. You don't say saved. You say safe.’ The Doctor whipped his head around to face Lux. ‘The data fragment! What did it say?’

Lux recited the message, four thousand and twenty-two people saved, and the Doctor’s eyes widened at the confirmation. ‘It didn’t say they were safe, it said they were saved. You see, it didn't mean safe. It literally meant, saved!’

The Doctor moved over to one of the terminals in the room and accessed the Library’s Archive. He brought up the records for the day that the four thousand and twenty-two people had disappeared. ‘See, there it is,’ he said pointing at the screen. Finally he was making some progress. ‘A hundred years ago, massive power surge. All the teleports going at once. Soon as the Vashta Nerada hit their hatching cycle, they attack. Someone hits the alarm. The computer tries to teleport everyone out.’

‘It tried to teleport four thousand twenty two people?’ asked River.

‘It succeeded. Pulled them all out, but then what? Nowhere to send them. Nowhere safe in the whole library. Vashta Nerada growing in every shadow. Four thousand and twenty-two people all beamed up and nowhere to go. They're stuck in the system, waiting to be sent, like emails. So what's a computer to do? What does a computer always do?’

‘It saved them,’ said River with a smile.

The Doctor nodded and then ran to the nearest table. He shoved the books out of the way and started drawing on it with a whiteboard marker that he had gotten out of his pocket. ‘The Library,’ he said as he drew a great big circle. ‘A whole world of books, and right at the core,’ he drew a smaller circle in the middle and then shaded it in, ‘the biggest hard drive in history. The index to everything ever written, backup copies of every single book. The computer saved four thousand and twenty-two people the only way a computer can.’ He drew an arrow pointing to small circle that represented the core of the planet. ‘It saved them to the hard drive.’

----

Rose made her way along the bridge that she was almost positive was the same one she had seen the Doctor on. Or at least, it led to the same place. The only problem was that it was nighttime now and any natural light that the windows would have provided was gone. The moon and the lights from the nearby buildings provided a little bit of comfort but not enough for Rose’s liking. She had never really liked the dark to begin with. She absolutely hated it now.

She made it off the bridge and into a corridor that at least had some working lights hanging from the ceiling and she breathed a sigh of relief. And that relief grew even more when she saw someone in a familiar looking spacesuit at the end of the next corridor. She had found the others. ‘Hello,’ she shouted as she made her way towards them at a bit of a jog. The figure turned towards her but their visor was dark and they were too far away for her to be able to tell who it was. ‘Thank God, I was starting to think I’d be lost forever in this place.’

‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’ said the man up ahead and Rose recognised the voice as one of the Daves.

She looked up at the working lights above her. ‘The lights are on,’ she said. ‘Dave, wasn’t it?’

‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’

Rose slowed to a walk and peered at the man who was about ten feet in front of her. He hadn’t moved. ‘Nobody turned out the lights,’ she said. ‘They’re on. Where are the others?’

Another spacesuited figure appeared from around the corner behind Dave and Rose stopped still. She could see through this one’s visor. Whoever had been wearing that spacesuit, there was nothing left of them but bones.

‘We should go. Doctor!’

Rose recognised the voice as the other Dave. But why was he talking to the Doctor?

Rose looked behind her, hoping to see the man in question but there was no one there. She looked back and saw the first Dave take a shaky step towards her. The jolt of the step caused his head to fall forward and Rose could see that he was also just a skeleton. But how were they talking? How were they moving?

‘Dave, what happened?’ she tried asking but got no answer, just another menacing step in her direction. Whatever was in those suits, they weren’t people any more.

With a sorrowful look towards the two men, Rose turned and fled. She briefly considered going back over the bridge but that would just take her further away from the Doctor so she continued further down the corridor. She opened a door that lead to the stairwell and was grateful for the fluorescent lighting that illuminated the steps for safety. She entered the stairwell and shut the door just as she heard Dave’s voice echo down the corridor. She couldn’t get back onto that floor, she would just have to go down and hope that the Doctor was on one of the floors below her.

----

The Doctor looked up as an alarm sounded.

‘What is it? What's wrong?’ asked Lux.

Autodestruct enabled in twenty minutes,’ said the voice of the computer and the Doctor rushed over to look at the terminal. Sure enough, the system was counting down to maximum erasure.

‘What's maximum erasure?’ asked River, looking at the screen over the Doctor’s shoulder.

‘In twenty minutes, this planet's going to crack like an egg,’ said the Doctor. That was just typical. As soon as he made a breakthrough, something else happened to make the situation even worse than it was before.

‘No. No, it's all right,’ said Lux, oddly calm about his impending doom. ‘The Doctor Moon will stop it. It's programmed to protect Cal.’

Suddenly the terminal screen went blank. ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no!’ cried the Doctor, giving the terminal a whack for good measure. He started scanning it with the sonic but it was no use.

All library systems are permanently offline. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Lux’s calm demeanor vanished. ‘We need to stop this,’ he said urgently. ‘We've got to save Cal.’

The Doctor whirled round to face him. The man seemed awfully worried about the computer system when he should have been more worried about his own life. ‘What is it? What is Cal?’ he asked.

‘We need to get to the main computer. I'll show you.’

‘It's at the core of the planet.’

‘Well, then. Let's go,’ said River and she pointed her sonic screwdriver at the floor. The circular symbol that the Doctor had assumed was just a design lowered itself from the rest of the floor and then opened, revealing a bright blue light.

‘Gravity platform,’ said River and the Doctor beamed at her.

‘Brilliant,’ he said and River gave a shrug and a wink.

‘Of course I am.’

The four of them stepped onto the platform and descended towards the core of the planet.

----

Once they had reached the Data Core, the Doctor ran to the terminal that was in the middle of the room and started scanning it.

‘Help me. Please, help me,’ said a voice that the Doctor recognised as the little girl that they had seen before. But he didn’t have time to focus on that right now. He had to stop the planet from blowing itself up.

‘What's that?’ asked Anita, referring to the voice.

‘Was that a child?’ said River.

‘The computer's in sleep mode,’ said the Doctor as he tapped away at the keyboard. ‘I can't wake it up. I'm trying.’

River moved over to read one of the screens and started trying to help. ‘Doctor, these readings.’

She was right. The readings were weird.

‘I know. You'd think it was dreaming.’

‘It is dreaming,’ said Lux, ‘of a normal life, and a lovely Dad, and of every book ever written.’ He had a peculiar expression on his face. Almost like he was mourning someone.

‘Computers don't dream,’ said Anita.

‘No, but little girls do.’

Lux pulled down a lever of a control panel and a door opened at the far side of the room. They followed him through and came face-to-face with another Node. But this one was attached to the whole computer system. And it had the face of a familiar girl.

‘Please help me,’ said the Node. ‘Please help me.’

‘It's the little girl,’ said Anita. ‘The girl we saw in the computer.’

‘She's not in the computer,’ said Lux. ‘In a way, she is the computer. The main command node. This is Cal.’

‘Cal is a child,’ said the Doctor and he angrily turned to Lux. ‘A child hooked up to a mainframe? Why didn't you tell me this? I needed to know this!’

‘Because she's family!’ Lux shouted back and the Doctor’s anger vanished at the look in his eyes. ‘Cal. Charlotte Abigail Lux. My grandfather's youngest daughter. She was dying, so he built her a library and put her living mind inside, with a moon to watch over her, and all of human history to pass the time. Any era to live in, any book to read. She loved books more than anything, and he gave her them all. He asked only that she be left in peace. A secret, not a freak show.’

The Doctor stared at the man in front of him, seeing him properly for the first time. Maybe he wasn’t just the irritating man that the Doctor had thought him to be. He was just a man protecting his family. And Cal was part of that family. Rose had made the connection straight away, why didn’t he listen?

‘You weren't protecting a patent, you were protecting her,’ said the Doctor, more softly now.

Lux nodded and then walked up to Cal. ‘This is only half a life, of course. But it's forever.’

‘And then the shadows came.’

‘The shadows,’ said Cal. ‘I have to. I have to save. Have to save.’

‘And she saved them,’ continued the Doctor, looking at the girl with sad awe. ‘She saved everyone in the Library. Folded them into her dreams and kept them safe.’

‘Then why didn't she tell us?’ asked Anita.

‘Because she's forgotten. She's got over four thousand living minds chatting away inside her head. It must be like being, well, me.’

‘So what do we do?’ asked River.

Autodestruct in ten minutes.

The Doctor rushed back over to the terminals with more determination than ever. He knew what he had to do to get the people back. ‘We beam all the people out of the data core,’ he said. ‘The computer will reset and stop the countdown.’ He faltered. There was a problem. ‘Charlotte doesn't have enough memory space left to make the transfer,’ he whispered, mostly to himself.

He looked over to one of the control panels. There was something he could do but it was risky. And Rose would hate him for it. But he had to do it. It was the only way to get those people back. He ran over to the controls and pulled out some wires so that he could set up his plan. ‘I'll hook myself up to the computer,’ he said. ‘She can borrow my memory space.’

‘But it'll kill you stone dead,’ said River, running over to him. ‘It'll burn out both your hearts and don't think you'll regenerate.’

Yeah, there was that tiny flaw in his plan.

‘I'll try my hardest not to die,’ he said, trying not to focus on the truth of River’s words. ‘Honestly, it's my main thing.’

But River wasn’t buying it. ‘Doctor!’ she shouted.

‘I'm right, this works. Shut up. Now listen. You and Luxy boy, back up to the main library. Prime any data cells you can find for maximum download, and before you say anything else, Professor, can I just mention in passing as you're here, shut up.’

He needed to get them out of there and if being rude did the trick, well, he was good at being rude, wasn’t he? Besides, there was still one more hurdle he had to overcome.

‘Oh, I hate you sometimes,’ shouted River but she did as he had told her, muttering a promise to kill him if he died.

‘What about the Vashta Nerada?’ asked Anita, staying where she was.

‘These are their forests,’ said the Doctor as he ran about the room, flicking the necessary switches. ‘I'm going to seal Charlotte inside her little world, take everybody else away. The shadows can swarm to their hearts' content.’

‘So you think they're just going to let us go?’

‘Best offer they're going to get.’

‘You're going to make them an offer?’

‘They'd better take it because right now, I'm finding it very hard to make any kind of offer at all,’ said the Doctor, turning angrily towards the figure that had once been Anita. The figure that now only had one shadow. ‘You know what? I really liked Anita. She was brave, even when she was crying. And she never gave in. And you ate her.’ He pointed the sonic screwdriver at Anita’s helmet and the visor lit up to show the skeleton inside. ‘But I'm going to let that pass, just as long as you let them pass.’

‘How long have you known?’ asked the Vashta Nerada.

‘I counted the shadows. You only have one now.’ The last of the green lights of Anita’s neural relay started to flicker. ‘She's nearly gone. Be kind.’

‘These are our forests. We are not kind.’

‘I'm giving you back your forests,’ said the Doctor, leaving no room to argue, ‘but you are giving me them. You are letting them go.'

‘These are our forests. They are our meat.’

Shadows began to stretch out on the floor from the spacesuit, reaching for the Doctor.

‘Don't play games with me,’ shouted the Doctor, all his anger of the day finally coming out. ‘You just killed someone I liked. That is not a safe place to stand. I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up.’

The shadows stopped for a moment while the Vashta Nerada did as he had told them. Then, slowly, they receded. They now knew what the Doctor was capable of.

‘You have one day,’ said the Vashta Nerada.

But the Doctor still had one more thing to say. ‘And if I find out that you have taken Rose then I swear I will burn this library to the ground,’ he growled. ‘There’ll be nothing left of your forests but ash and dust. Clear?’

The Vashta Nerada didn’t answer; they just left the spacesuit and Anita’s body collapsed to the floor.

‘Oh, Anita,’ said River who had come back into the room at some point. She looked down sadly at what was left of her crew mate.

‘I'm sorry,’ said the Doctor and he turned back to the terminal. ‘I couldn’t help her. She's been dead a while now. I told you to go!’

‘Lux can manage without me,' insisted River, 'but you can't.’

The Doctor felt her grab his arm and turned just in time to see her fist coming towards him as she knocked him unconscious.

Chapter Text

Rose had made it through two floors of the building without any sign of skeletons in spacesuits. That was all well and good but she also hadn’t seen any sign of anyone else either.

Time to try the next floor, then.

She rounded another corner and smiled when she saw the door to the stairwell up ahead. But her smile disappeared when she saw the lights at the far end of the corridor switch off.

And then the next set.

And then the next. The shadows were getting closer.

Rose set off running forwards towards the door that led to the stairwell but the Vashta Nerada were closer than she was. Realising that she wasn’t going to make it in time, she skidded to a stop and turned to run back the other way. But those lights had begun to turn off too. She was trapped.

And then the advancing darkness stopped, just a few sets of lights away. Rose took a moment to wonder why the Vashta Nerada weren’t coming for her anymore but then decided that that was a question for later. Right now, she needed to find the Doctor. She cautiously made her way to the stairwell door but as soon as she was through, she ran down the stairs as fast as her legs would let her.

----

River tried her hardest not to look to where the Doctor was currently handcuffed to the wall unconscious. She failed of course. She just couldn’t help staring at the incredible man that both was and wasn’t her best friend in the universe. Well, one of her best friends.

Over the years she had become quite accustomed to meeting him and Rose in the wrong order and she had known that eventually the day would come when neither of them knew who she was. She had always known it would kill her, she just hadn’t realised that it would have been in the literal sense.

And she couldn’t even say goodbye properly.

River sniffed away the tears that threatened to surface and resumed her task of wiring herself up to the mainframe - the task that would end her life.

The Doctor began to stir and River knew he would wake up in a few seconds. Just in time for her to say a few words. At least that was some comfort, she supposed. She knew he would be angry and beg her to let him do this for her but she couldn’t let him do that (hence the handcuffs). She couldn’t let her best friend kill himself before he had even had the chance to become the man that she knew. And even if she was willing to let time be rewritten, how could she face Rose afterwards?

No, this was the way it had to be.

The Doctor woke properly and straight away started begging River to let him do this instead, just like she had known he would. Once he realised that words were not going to sway her, he reached for one of the three sonic screwdrivers that were on the floor but River had made sure to put them out of his reach. Before she had handcuffed him, she had taken both his and Rose’s screwdrivers out of his pockets and placed them on the floor with her own. She had put her diary with them as well. She knew that she was taking a risk leaving it with the Doctor (what if he read it?) but she just couldn’t bear the thought of that book dying with her. All those memories were more precious to her than anything. She would just have to trust that this young Doctor was smart enough not to give in to temptation.

The Doctor grunted in pain as his arm reached as far as it could and he was pulled back to the wall by his restraints. ‘Why am I handcuffed?’ he asked, looking between River and the offending object. ‘Why do you even have handcuffs?’

‘Spoilers,’ said River with a cheeky smile. She just couldn’t resist one last attempt at their playful banter.

But the Doctor still hadn’t experienced that banter. ‘This is not a joke,’ he said angrily. ‘Stop this now. This is going to kill you! I'd have a chance, you don't have any.’

‘You wouldn't have a chance, and neither do I,’ snapped River, finally letting the mask fall. God, she hated this man sometimes. He could be so stubborn. How did Rose put up with him 24/7? River took a couple of seconds to compose herself. ‘I'm timing it for the end of the countdown,' she said. 'There'll be a blip in the command flow. That way it should improve our chances of a clean download.’

‘River, please,’ begged the Doctor, still pulling at his handcuffs.

But River ignored him. These were the last moments she was going to spend with him. With anyone. She didn’t want to spend them arguing. ‘Funny thing is, this means you've always known how I was going to die,’ she said, not being able to keep the thought to herself. ‘All that time, you knew I was coming here. The last time I saw you, the future you, I mean, you took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers.’

Autodestruct in one minute.

‘You even made me my own sonic screwdriver. I should have known just from that alone. Rose was the only one you ever gave something so personal to.’ The Doctor made another futile attempt to reach for the screwdrivers. ‘There's nothing you can do,’ insisted River. She couldn’t stop her tears from falling this time.

‘You can let me do this,’ said the Doctor.

‘If you die here, it'll mean I've never met you.’

‘Time can be rewritten.’

‘Not those times. Not one line. Don't you dare.’ River tried her best to give him a comforting smile. ‘You’re not meant to do this for me, Doctor. You still have so much more ahead of you. You have a future and I’m not going to-’ She stopped herself before she gave too much away. ‘It’s okay,’ she continued softly. ‘It’s not over for you yet. You’ll see me again. And you watch us run.’

Autodestruct in ten

‘River, you know my name,’ said the Doctor, fear in his eyes. She knew he had been worried about that - ever since stupid Lux had put the thought into his head. She had wanted to deny it straightaway but she had needed him to trust her at the time and she had known that letting him believe Lux's insinuation was the only way to do it. And in that moment, River had known that it was the whole reason that she had been told his name in the first place.

‘There's only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name,’ continued the Doctor. ‘There's only one time I could.’

Seven, six

‘Who said it was you who told me?’ she said, trying to give him what little reassurance she could. She hoped that that one sentence was enough. She put on the headpiece that would allow Cal to use her memory space and glanced at the countdown on the computer screen.

Four, three.

The Doctor went to question her further or plead her to stop or possibly both but it didn’t matter. They were out of time. She gave her friend one last sad smile. ‘Spoilers.’

Two, one

River joined two cables together and closed her eyes as the bright white light consumed her.

----

Rose had made it to the next floor and through a couple of corridors without any sign of the Vashta Nerada at all. Where had they gone? Had the Doctor done something?

She froze when she heard something up ahead. It sounded like someone was shouting. As she got closer, she realised that these shouts were of joy, not fear or anger. And even better, she recognised that voice. It was Lux.

Rose ran to the source of the noise and entered a room that was full of people. Where had they all come from?

Lux was flittering about the crowd, a joyous smile on his face. He seemed like a completely different person (or maybe this had always been who he was and he had just been hiding it). He even hugged a few of the random people.

Rose heard her name being called and turned just in time to catch Donna as the redhead threw herself at her.

Donna pulled back from the hug. ‘You’re all right,’ she said. ‘Thank God for that. Listen, I gotta find him.’

‘Find who? The Doctor?’ Rose looked around the room. She couldn’t see him anywhere.

‘No, Lee,’ said Donna. ‘My husband.’

Rose whipped her head back around to face her. ‘Husband?’

‘Well, sort of husband. Doesn’t matter. He’s got to be here somewhere.’

Donna walked off and started going through the crowd, asking people if they had seen a man named Lee. Rose just stared after her. Donna had a husband? What the hell had Rose missed? She hadn’t been lost for that long.

Shaking herself out of it, she walked over to Lux and asked him about the Doctor. ‘He’s down at the Data Core,’ said Lux happily. ‘He did it! Four thousand and twenty-two people saved and he got them all back. And now we can get them home.’

Rose gave him a polite smile as he lunged forwards and gave her a hug. But she was still too worried to join in on his celebratory mood. At times like this – times where everybody lived – the Doctor was usually right in the middle of it. The fact that he was nowhere to be seen made Rose feel uneasy. ‘Where’s the Data Core?’ she asked Lux once he had let her go.

He took her over to a platform and pressed a few buttons on a control panel. The platform glowed blue and Lux motioned for her to step onto it. ‘The Data Core is at the centre of the planet,’ he said. ‘This should take you pretty much straight to him.'

Rose nodded her thanks and Lux pressed a button. The platform descended and Rose tried not to worry about what she would find when it stopped.

----

The Doctor stared at the chair that River had been sitting on. There was nothing there now. The power surge hadn’t just fried her brain; it had vapourised her whole body. She had been right; neither of them would have stood a chance. Nobody could have.

He didn’t know who River was, but he did know that he was incredibly grateful to her. Grateful but also incredibly guilty. She had sacrificed herself, not only to help those people trapped in the Data Core, but for him as well. For the life he was going to have. He didn’t care too much of what part River was going to play in that life at the moment. He was just sorry that it had begun and ended this way.

The Doctor heard the sound of running footsteps coming towards him and expected it to be Lux, coming to see why they hadn’t made it back up yet.

But it wasn’t Lux.

‘Rose!’ cried the Doctor, trying to stand. The handcuffs held him back and he fell to the floor again.

‘Doctor!’ she cried, obviously as relieved as he was. Her eyes fell to the sonic screwdrivers on the floor and she grabbed one so that she could undo the handcuffs. ‘Why are you handcuffed to the wall?’ she asked.

‘It was River,’ he said, not quite succeeding in keeping the guilt out of his voice. ‘The only way to free everyone was to hook someone up to the mainframe and let Cal share their memory space.’ He realised that Rose would have no idea what he was talking about but it didn’t matter. He could explain it properly later.

But she understood enough to get the general idea. ‘She handcuffed you to the wall so you wouldn’t be the one to do it,’ she said. It wasn’t a question.

‘Yeah,’ said the Doctor, answering her anyway. His voice was thick with guilt now. Guilt for what had happened to River. And guilt for even considering leaving Rose in the first place.

The handcuffs restraining him snapped open and the Doctor instantly wrapped his now free arms around Rose, holding her close as he possibly could. He had been so scared that he had lost her. Rose stroked his hair and he buried his face into her shoulder so she wouldn’t see the tears that were forming in his eyes. He suspected that Rose knew they were there anyway.

----

Lux had teleported the four thousand and twenty-two people to safety and the Doctor had reinstated quarantine on the Library so that nobody would come to the planet ever again. The Vashta Nerada could have their forest and Cal could rest in peace. He, Rose and Donna had then made their way back through the now brightly lit corridors of the Library, each lost in thought. Donna had not been able to find the man who had been her husband in Cal’s dream world and was still reeling from the loss of a life she wasn’t even sure she had wanted. And the Doctor and Rose were both thinking of River.

They found themselves back at the balcony that they had started at. With the hand that was not holding Rose’s, the Doctor got River’s diary out of his pocket and put it on the ledge, followed by her sonic screwdriver.

‘Who was she?’ asked Rose softly.

‘I don’t know.’

‘But she knew you.’ The Doctor nodded. ‘So, that means you’ll get to see her again.’

The Doctor knew that Rose was just trying to comfort him but her words brought back the fear and confusion he had felt earlier. River had said that he had not been the one to tell her name but that wasn’t possible, was it? He was the only one left with that knowledge. And he didn’t give it away lightly. Only someone he truly loved would hear those words from him. Would he love River? He would at least care about her, that was obvious. How could he not when he knew what she had done for him?

He looked down at the diary that held all the answers but held off opening it.

Spoilers.

Whatever life he and River had to come, it was not one that should be read in a book. He had to live it. And he would have to live it with the knowledge of her ultimate fate.

This means you always knew how I was going to die.

The Doctor’s eyes widened as he processed the thought. All those adventures that River had mentioned – all that running – all that time, he knew that she would die at the Library. And at the end of it, when it finally came time to say goodbye, he gave her a screwdriver. Why? He snatched the object up and looked it over, trying to find some clue to its true purpose.

Rose must have seen the hope in his eyes. ‘Doctor, what is it?’ she asked.

‘Why would I give her a screwdriver?’ he asked, still staring at the object in his hand. ‘Why would I do that? Thing is, future me had years to think about it, all those years to think of a way to save her, and what he did was give her a screwdriver. Why would I do that?’

He opened the screwdriver’s casing and inside he found the answer. River’s neural relay. And it still had two green lights flashing.

‘Oh! Oh! Oh, look at that,’ he cried. ‘I'm very good!’

‘What have you done?’ asked Donna.

The Doctor held up the screwdriver to show them the relay. ‘Saved her.’

Letting go of Rose’s hand for the first time since getting her back, the Doctor sprinted back through the Library, shouting an apology to Rose and Donna and telling them to wait for him in the TARDIS.

He reached the gravity platform and pointed his own sonic screwdriver at the controls. He needed a shortcut. River didn’t have much time left.

Platform disabled.

The Doctor dived into the blue light and let the gravity tunnel do its work without the platform slowing it down.

Once he made it to the Data Core, he ran straight to a socket in the control panel and plugged River’s neural relay into it. Charlotte may not have been able to handle sharing her world with over four thousand minds… but surely one wouldn’t hurt. He glanced over to the Node that had Charlotte's face and the little girl smiled. It had worked. River Song had been saved.

----

The Doctor slowly walked into the room that housed the TARDIS. He took a moment to smile at the wonderful box in front of him. Things had looked hopeless for a while there and he hadn’t been sure that he would ever see it, Rose, or Donna again.

But they were safe now. And so was everybody else, one way or another. The Vashta Nerada had kept their promise of giving them a chance to leave. Well, of course they did, they read the stories, they knew who he was. What they didn’t know was that the Doctor had been bluffing. He had had absolutely no idea how he would have gotten rid of an infestation like that. He couldn’t fight them so he had had to make them surrender. And he did.

I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away and he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the doors with a snap of his fingers.

The Doctor looked down at his fingers for a moment before lifting them up in front of him. He snapped them together and the TARDIS doors opened, revealing the two brilliant people inside. They both turned to face him and Rose gave him a smile.

The Doctor smiled back as he strode towards her. Towards home. Taking Rose’s hand, he turned back to face the doors behind him. He snapped his fingers again and they closed, blocking out the view of the planet that he never wanted to see again.

Chapter Text

Rose took her seat next to the Doctor on the shuttle bus. For the past few days she had been nagging him to take them somewhere new and peaceful and the Doctor had finally decided on the perfect place. The planet Midnight, he had told her and Donna, was a one of the most revered pleasure planets in the universe. And one of its best attractions was its sapphire waterfall that could only be reached by a four hour space shuttle ride. Rose had suggested just using the TARDIS but the Doctor had insisted that the shuttle ride was all part of the experience and she wasn’t one to argue. She had never gotten the chance to go on any proper road trips back in London and she found that she was actually quite looking forward to going on one now (albeit without the actual road). Getting to know different people who were all joined by a similar purpose, it sounded like great fun.

‘It’s a pity Donna didn’t want to come,’ said the Doctor as they both settled properly into their seats. Donna had opted to stay in the planet’s luxurious spa resort and enjoy the comforts of clear blue pools and personal masseurs.

‘Yeah,’ agreed Rose half-heartedly. ‘But then again it might be good to have some time for just us. Maybe we could make this sort of a romantic getaway type thing.’ She loved having Donna around, she really did, but sometimes she found herself missing the days when she had had the Doctor all to herself.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘A romantic getaway with just us and ten other passengers?’

‘Okay, maybe not a romantic getaway,’ conceded Rose. ‘Just a holiday, then. It’s nice to have some time to ourselves for a change.’

‘We have lots of time to ourselves. Just last week we had a good few hours while Donna visited her family.’

‘Yeah but we just spent it in the TARDIS.’

‘I didn’t hear you complaining,’ he said before leaning in to whisper in her ear. ‘In fact, I do recall that the most of the sounds I heard from you at the time were that of pure bliss.’

He pulled back and gave her a wicked smile and Rose shivered despite herself. That had been just after the Library and the Doctor had been quite insistent on showing her just how much he had missed her in their few hours of separation.

The Doctor had obviously noticed her reaction, if his smug smile was anything to go by, but he wasn’t going to distract her that easily. ‘Don’t try and change the subject,’ she said with a teasing smile. ‘And you know I’m right.’

The Doctor chuckled. ‘You may have a point,’ he said, draping his arm over the back of her seat. ‘It is nice for it to be just us out enjoying the universe with no running or danger. We should do it more often. Maybe when Donna is asleep or visiting Wilf.’

‘Like a date night?’

The Doctor paused, looking a little troubled. ‘Well, yeah,’ he finally admitted. ‘But do we have to call it that? It’s too…’

‘Domestic?’

‘I was going to say human, but domestic works.’

Rose poked him in the side playfully. ‘But I am human, remember?’

The Doctor let out a heavy sigh but Rose knew that it was just him being dramatic. ‘Fine, date night it is,’ he said.

Rose smiled at her victory. ‘Sounds great.’

Their conversation was interrupted by the shuttle Hostess approaching them to give them their in-flight goodies. 'That's the headphones for channels one to thirty six,’ she said as she passed the Doctor and Rose the items. ‘Modem link for 3D vidgames. Complimentary earplugs. Complimentary slippers. Complimentary juice pack and complimentary peanuts. I must warn you some products may contain nuts.’

‘That'll be the peanuts,’ said the Doctor and Rose lifted the back of her hand to her mouth to stop herself from laughing.

The Hostess didn’t find it as amusing. Rose supposed she must have had heard that joke a million times before. ‘Enjoy your trip,’ she said with a tone that Rose had used many times while working with customers. Polite on the outside but 100% done on the inside.

‘Thanks,’ said Rose.

‘Can't wait,’ added the Doctor. ‘Allons-y.’

‘I'm sorry?’

The Doctor’s smile faltered a little. ‘It's French,’ he explained to the Hostess, ‘for let's go.’

‘Fascinating,’ said the Hostess in much the same tone as before and she moved on to the next set of passengers.

Rose was just trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation with some of the other people on the bus when the decision was taken out of her hands. The man who was sitting behind her reached over the seats and held his hand out to the Doctor. ‘Hobbes. Professor Winfold Hobbes,’ he introduced himself, shaking the Doctor’s hand and then Rose’s. Even if Hobbes hadn’t have introduced himself as a professor, Rose would have assumed as much anyway. He was older (a bit past middle-aged) with very little hair and Rose had seen many of her high school teachers wear that each same suit ensemble (it seemed that the fashion style for teachers was pretty universal).

‘I'm the Doctor and this is Rose,’ said the Doctor cheerfully. ‘Hello.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ said Rose. She held her hand out to the young woman who was sitting next to Hobbes – the one who he had not introduced, Rose noted. ‘And what’s your name?’

‘I’m Dee Dee,’ said the woman, shaking Rose’s hand and then the Doctor’s. She looked like she was about to say something else but Hobbes cut her off.

‘Where’s my water bottle?’ he asked Dee Dee (a little too rudely for Rose’s liking) and then turned back to the Doctor. ‘It's my fourteenth time,’ he said, obviously referring to trip they were taking.

‘Oh. Our first.’

Hobbes started to go into some of the details of his previous trips but was interrupted by the Hostess welcoming all the passengers. Rose wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed.

While the Hostess went through the safety features of the bus (Rose was a bit disappointed that the windows had to be shielded until they got to the waterfall due to the intense sunlight), Rose looked around the bus at the other passengers. There were only a few. Apart from her and the Doctor, there were: Hobbes and Dee Dee, a family of three (husband and wife and their teenage son), and a blonde woman sitting by herself.

The Captain’s voice came over the PA announcing that they would have to take a little detour and giving them their expected arrival time and the bus shook as it prepared for take off. The Doctor and Rose gave each other an excited smile.

The Hostess went back to explaining the features of the bus, this time the entertainment features. She pressed a button on her remote and screens unfolded from the ceiling in front of each set of seats. Each screen showed the same music channel, making the song sound a little echoey in the small room. The Hostess pressed another button and a sort of light display filled the room. She pressed yet another button and a projector screen unrolled from the ceiling at the front of the bus and old-time cartoons started to play, the audio mixing horribly with the music coming from the video screens.

The Hostess lowered the remote and then finished her demonstration. Rose looked around the room at the other passengers, they all seemed just as annoyed about the racket as she was but they also all seemed to be content with dealing with it on their own.

This certainly wasn’t what Rose had imagined.

Out of the corner of her eye she spotted the Doctor’s subtle movement and she turned to see he had his sonic screwdriver out. He looked at her unsurely. Rose pulled out her own screwdriver. ‘If you don’t, I will,’ she said.

The Doctor smiled in relief and then activated his screwdriver. All the “entertainment” features switched off and the screens folded back up into the ceiling.

‘Well, that's a mercy,’ Rose heard Hobbes say behind her.

‘I do apologise, ladies and gentlemen, and variations thereupon,’ said the Hostess, walking down the centre aisle, clicking at her remote (which thankfully was no longer working). ‘We seem to had a failure of the Entertainment System.’

‘But what do we do?’ asked the woman from the family.

‘We've got four hours of this?’ said her husband. ‘Four hours of just sitting here?’

The Doctor turned in his seat so he could face them. ‘Tell you what. We'll have to talk to each other instead.’

----

Since the entertainment had been switched off, the trip had gone much more like Rose had pictured. Everybody introduced themselves and soon after, the stories began. The mother, father and son were called Val, Biff and Jethro respectively and they were your typical tourist family, complete with moody teenager, but they had some delightfully funny tales and weren’t afraid of making fun of themselves. The other woman was called Skye and she kept mostly to herself but Rose did manage to get a conversation out of her. It turned out that she had just gone through a bad breakup.

Hobbes and Dee Dee (who turned out to be one of his students who had impressed him with a paper on the Lost Moon of Poosh) were right in the middle of a slideshow about the history of Midnight, or rather the absence of history, when the bus came to a shuddering stop.

‘Are we there?’ asked Biff.

‘We can't be,’ said Dee Dee, ‘it's too soon.’

‘They don't stop,’ added Hobbes. ‘Crusader vehicles never stop.’

At this moment, the Hostess stepped in. ‘If you could just return to your seats,’ she said. ‘It's just a small delay.’ She made her way to the end of the room and picked up the phone, no doubt talking to the Captain.

Once the Hostess was otherwise preoccupied, the passengers returned to their theories. Biff suggested that it was a pit stop but Hobbes quickly dismissed it. ‘I've been on this expedition fourteen times,’ he said a bit pompously. ‘They never stop.’

‘Well, evidently we have stopped,’ snapped Skye, ‘so there's no point in denying it.’

Jethro seemed to be finding the whole thing rather amusing. ‘We've broken down,’ he said with a little laugh. Rose was pretty sure it was the first time she had seen him smile.

‘Thanks, Jethro,’ said his mother in warning but Jethro ignored her.

‘In the middle of nowhere.’

‘That's enough,’ said Biff to his son. ‘Now stop it.’

‘Ladies and gentlemen, and variations thereupon,’ cut in the Hostess, having finished speaking to Captain. She strode up the aisle and pulled on the cord of the projector screen, which then rolled back up to the ceiling. ‘We're just experiencing a short delay. The driver needs to stabilise the engine feeds. It's perfectly routine, so if you could just stay in your seats.’

She said it very calmly and reassuringly but Rose wasn’t convinced. And neither was the Doctor. He made to go through the door that led the cockpit but the Hostess stopped him. He flashed her the psychic paper, declaring himself an engine expert (not entirely untrue) and stepped past her.

Once he was gone, the other passengers immediately started talking again, bombarding the Hostess with questions that she no doubt couldn’t answer. Questions about the engines and why they stopped in the first place and how long it would take to stabilise them.

‘All right that’s enough,’ said Rose, sharply, when Biff, Val, and Hobbes had started to get more frustrated with the lack of specifics in the Hostess’s answers. ‘There’s no use berating,’ she turned to the Hostess, ‘sorry, what was your name?’

The Hostess looked a little shocked at the question. ‘Naomi,’ she answered after a pause.

Rose turned back to the other passengers. ‘There’s no use hassling Naomi. She’s in the same boat – or in this case, bus - as us so everyone just take a breath and calm down.' She waited a moment for everyone to take in her words and then continued. ‘It’s probably just as Jethro said, we’ve broken down.’ Hobbes went to cut in, no doubt about to tell her that Crusaders never stopped, but Rose put a hand up to stop him. ‘I know it’s not happened before but there’s a first time for everything, okay?’

Hobbes closed his mouth and reluctantly backed off so Rose continued. ‘I’m sure the Captain has already called someone and they are sending a tow truck or rescue ship or whatever as we speak. Isn’t that right?’ She turned to Naomi, who nodded.

‘Yes. If the driver can’t get the engines stabilised, then the rescue ship will only be a couple of hours away at most. So, if you could all please kindly return to your seats, and I’ll go check on the driver’s progress.’

The passengers didn’t look too convinced and they didn’t go back to their seats but they at least backed off Naomi. She sent Rose a grateful look before she hurried to towards the cockpit. She almost walked straight into the Doctor as he was coming out of the door. ‘I do apologise, sir,’ she said and then rushed past him to go talk to the driver.

‘What did they say?’ Sky asked the Doctor as soon as Naomi had left.

‘Oh, just stabilising,’ he replied but Rose could tell there was something more. ‘Happens all the time.’

Sky returned to her seat, huffing about having a schedule to keep and Rose walked up to the Doctor to ask him what was really going on but Dee Dee beat her to it. ‘Excuse me, Doctor,’ she whispered, ‘but they're micropetrol engines, aren't they?’

‘Now, don't bother the man,’ said Hobbes, joining them. His voice was much louder and had attracted the attention of everyone else in the room.

‘My father was a mechanic,’ said Dee Dee. ‘Micropetrol doesn't stabilise. What does stabilise mean?’

The Doctor took a second to think of an answer. ‘Well. Bit of flim-flam,’ he said, a tad unconvincingly. ‘Don't worry, they're sorting it out.’

‘So it's not the engines?’ asked Hobbes.

‘It's just a little pause, that's all.’

‘How much air have we got?’

Rose put her head in her hands. She and Naomi had just gotten everyone calm - well, calm-ish anyway - but a sentence like that would only cause panic.

‘What did he say?’ asked Val.

And there it was. Panic.

‘Nothing,’ insisted the Doctor. ‘Everything is fine.'

But Val was not so easily reassured. ‘Are we running out of air?'

‘I was just speculating,’ said Hobbes, obviously realising the effect of his words and now trying to fix the damage.

‘Is that right, miss?’ Biff asked Naomi as she walked back into the passenger area of the bus. ‘Are we running out of air?’

‘Is that what the Captain said?’ asked Val.

‘If you could all just remain calm,’ requested Naomi. ‘Everything is under control.’

But it was too late. The calm that Rose and Naomi had managed to instate earlier had well and truly dissipated.

‘Well, doesn't look like it to me.’

‘How much air have we got?’

‘We’re not running out of air.’

‘Well, he said it.’

‘It's fine. The air is on a circular filter.’

'Mum, don't.'

‘He started it.’

‘Everyone! Quiet!’ shouted the Doctor over the panicking voices in the room. Rose breathed a sigh of relief when they all listened to him and fell silent. ‘Thank you. Now, if you'd care to listen to my good friend Dee Dee.’ He gestured to Dee Dee and she took a moment to answer, looking a bit thrown at being given the chance to speak.

‘Oh. Uh, it's just that, well, the air's on a circular filter,’ she explained, a little shyly, ‘so we could stay breathing for ten years.’

‘There you go,’ said the Doctor and the tension in the room lessened a little now that everybody knew they weren’t going to suffocate to death. ‘And I've spoken to the Captain. I can guarantee you everything's fine.’

As soon as he had uttered the words, a loud thumping came from one of the walls of the bus.

‘What was that?’ asked Val.

‘It must be the metal,’ said Hobbes. ‘We're cooling down. It's just settling.’

‘Or rocks,’ added Dee Dee. ‘It could be rocks falling.’

‘What I want to know is, how long do we have to sit here,’ said Biff, irritably. At least he wasn’t panicking.

More thumps came from further along the wall. That didn’t sound like rocks.

‘What is that?’ asked Sky.

‘There's someone out there,’ said Val and Rose had to admit that the thumping did sound an awful lot like knocking.

‘Now, don't be ridiculous,’ said Hobbes.

‘Like I said, it could be rocks,’ said Dee Dee.

‘We're out in the open,’ said Naomi and Rose felt a pang of betrayal at the woman’s abandonment of trying to keep the passengers calm. ‘Nothing could fall against the sides.’

Another couple of thumps and Rose had to admit that ignoring them might not be the best option. Keeping people calm was all very well but keeping them safe was more important. And to be safe, they needed to know what was going on. ‘They sound a bit like knocks, don’t they?’ she whispered, mainly to the Doctor.

‘Is there something out there?’ asked Sky.

Knock knock.

‘What the hell is making that noise?’

‘I'm sorry, but the light out there is Xtonic,’ said Hobbes. He had that pompous tone again. ‘That means it would destroy any living thing in a split second. It is impossible for someone to be outside.’

Knock knock.

‘Well, what the hell is that, then?’

Sky was panicking a bit now and Rose moved over to try and calm her but the woman shrugged her off.

Naomi tried to usher everyone back to their seats but no one listened, they were all focussed on the Doctor, who had taken out his stethoscope and was holding it against the wall. ‘Hello?’ he asked and was answered by another two knocks on the far wall, this time they were much quicker.

‘It's moving,’ said Jethro.

The emergency exit rattled, making Rose jump and everyone turned to face it. Something was trying to get in. Rose was officially a little scared now.

‘It's trying the door,’ said Val, obviously scared too.

‘There is no it,’ said Hobbes, angrily. ‘There's nothing out there. Can't be.’

The door continued to rattle. ‘Yeah, I’m not so sure about that, Professor,’ said Rose, eyeing the door. She took a step backwards and jumped a little when her back hit something solid. She turned and let out a sigh of relief when she saw that it was the Doctor. He reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

The door stopped rattling and then there were two more knocks, this time on the roof. Rose (and everyone else) looked cautiously to the ceiling. She really didn’t like how trapped they were. There was nowhere to run.

There was nothing but silence for a few seconds until another two knocks came from the door that they had all boarded the bus from.

‘That's the entrance. Can it get in?’ asked Val, even more scared than before.

‘No,’ answered Dee Dee. ‘That door's on two hundred weight hydraulics.’

‘Stop it. Don't encourage them,’ said Hobbes to his student.

‘Well, what do you think it is?’ she snapped back at him.

Biff slowly walked up to the entrance. ‘Biff, don't,’ whispered his wife as he held his hand up to the door.

‘Mister Cane. Better not,’ agreed the Doctor.

‘Nah, it's cast iron, that door,’ said Biff, inspecting said door. He knocked three times on the metal to make his point.

And he got three knocks in return from whatever was outside.

‘Three times,’ gasped Val. ‘Did you hear that? It did it three times.’

‘It answered,’ said Jethro, his teenage bravado that he had displayed earlier had totally disappeared from his voice.

‘It did it three times!’

‘All right, all right, all right. Everyone calm down,’ said the Doctor.

‘No, but it answered,’ said Sky. ‘It answered. Don't tell me that thing's not alive. It answered him.’

Knock knock knock.

Sky turned towards Naomi. ‘You're the hostess. You're supposed to do something,’ she shouted angrily.

‘Oi! Let’s not start that again,’ said Rose. She turned back to face the Doctor, hoping for some support but he had moved over to the door. Rose knew what he was about to do and she opened her mouth to warn him not to but it was too late. He knocked on the door, four times this time.

There was a long pause and for a moment Rose let herself hope that maybe whatever it was that was out there had gone.

Knock knock knock knock.

She really should have known better. When had they ever been that lucky?

‘What is it?’ asked Sky. She was really starting to panic now. ‘What the hell's making that noise? She said she'd get me. Stop it. Make it stop. Somebody make it stop.' Rose moved towards her to try and sooth her but Sky backed away. ‘Don't just stand there judging at me. It's not my fault. He started it with his stories.’ She pointed at Hobbes angrily.

‘Calm down!’ shouted Dee Dee.

But Sky wasn't listening, instead she pointed at Biff. ‘And he made it worse!’

‘You're not helping,’ snapped Val, defending her husband.

‘Why didn't you leave it alone? Stop staring at me. Just tell me what the hell it is.’

‘Sky, just take a few deep breaths,’ said Rose, trying to calm the now distraught woman. But just as she had said it, more thumps sounded. Whatever was out there was on the roof.

‘It's coming for me,’ cried Sky, backing herself up against the far wall. ‘Oh, it's coming for me. It's coming for me. It's coming for me. It's coming for me.’

Listening to the thumps on the roof, Rose was starting to think that Sky may not just be being paranoid anymore. Whatever was moving out there was moving towards where she was sitting. And it was moving very quickly.

The Doctor had sensed the danger too. ‘Get out of there!’ he shouted, reaching towards the now screaming Sky but before he could reach her, there was a loud bang and the whole bus began to shake violently. The lights went out but Rose still caught glimpses of the others being tossed to the floor as sparks flew through the air, temporary illuminating the room. The entertainment system turned back on, adding to the noise of the shaking bus and its screaming passengers.

Finally, the shaking stopped and the sparks died down, leaving the bus and its passengers stranded in darkness.

Chapter Text

Rose had hit her head hard when the bus had started shaking but it hadn’t been quite enough to knock her out. Her vision was a still bit blurry though and she tried to focus on one of the entertainment screens to clear it. For a second she could have sworn she had seen Mickey's face on the screen, calling out her name, but then she blinked a couple of times and the image was gone. She must have imagined it.

‘Rose, you okay?’ she heard the Doctor call out.

‘I’m fine,’ she said, getting to her feet. ‘You?’

The Doctor rushed over to check her for injuries himself. Only when he was sure that she was unharmed did he answer. ‘Arms, legs, neck, head, nose. I'm fine,’ he said before turning to address the rest of the passengers. ‘Everyone else? How are we?’

Slowly, the other people got to their feet. They all grumbled small complaints about scrapes and bruises but they were otherwise uninjured. Naomi got some torches and handed them out and once everyone had turned them on and the room was somewhat brightened, Rose could see that there was one person who hadn’t gotten up off the floor.

Sky was sitting near where she had been before the bus had started shaking but she was no longer panicking. She wasn’t doing anything. She was just sitting there, head in her hands, facing the wall, amongst what was left of the front row of seats.

‘What happened to the seats?’ asked Val. ‘They've been ripped up.’

Rose looked around the room, searching for something that could have done that sort of damage but there was no one else in the room. No monster, no aliens. Just six frightened people.

The Doctor walked over to Sky and knelt down beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘It's all right,’ he said. ‘It's over. We're still alive. Look, the wall's still intact. Do you see?’ He shined his torch on the wall that was indeed still intact… but it had a very nasty looking dent in it. A dent that had been made from the outside.

Rose walked over to Sky and knelt down on the other side of her. She reached out and rubbed the woman’s back soothingly but didn’t get any response. ‘Maybe she’s in shock,’ said Rose to the Doctor before looking back down at Sky. ‘It’s okay,’ she soothed. ‘We’re safe.’

Naomi had been trying to get the driver on the intercom but was having no luck. She crossed the room and pressed the button that would open the door to the cockpit. As soon as the door started to open, an alarm sounded and Rose had to shield her eyes from the bright white light that was shining through the doorway. Naomi quickly pressed the button again and the door closed. The bus was dark and silent once more.

Well, silent apart from the panicked voices of the passengers.

‘What happened? What was that?’ asked Val in a shrill voice.

‘Is it the driver? Have we lost the driver?’ asked Biff.

‘The cabin's gone,’ said Naomi in shock.

‘Don't be ridiculous,’ scoffed Hobbes. ‘It can't be gone. How can it be gone?’

‘But it has,’ said Rose.

‘You saw it,’ added Dee Dee.

‘There was nothing there, like it was ripped away.’

‘What are you doing?’ asked Biff, shining his torch on the Doctor, who had moved over to a panel on the wall.

‘Ah, that's better,’ said the Doctor as the torchlight illuminated the panel he was inspecting. ‘Little bit of light. Thank you. Molto bene.’ Now that he could see what he was doing, he started to sonic the panel.

‘Do you know what you're doing?’ asked Val.

‘Don’t worry, he’s an expert with this kind of thing,’ said Rose but Val wasn’t reassured.

‘What sort of thing?’

Biff interrupted before Rose could answer. ‘You'd better leave that wall alone,’ he said to the Doctor. ‘Just in case.’

‘No, it's safe,’ assured the Doctor as he took the panel off the wall. ‘Any rupture would automatically seal itself.’

He started examining the wires inside the wall and Rose leant down next to him. ‘Is that what happened to the other wall?’ she asked, making sure to keep her voice low enough so that nobody else would hear. She gave a quick nod to where the dent was in the other wall near Sky. ‘Something tore through it and it sealed itself back up again?'

The Doctor glanced at the wall worryingly. ‘Maybe,’ he said and then looked back down at the panel he was holding. There was even more worry on his face now. ‘Something sliced the whole cabin off,’ he said.

‘But if it gets separated?’ asked Naomi, clearly worried about the two people who had been inside the other room.

‘It loses integrity. I'm sorry, they've been reduced to dust.’ Naomi let out a little whimper and Rose watched the Doctor’s face set in resolve. ‘But they sent a distress signal,’ he assured everyone, getting up so he could join them in the middle of the room. ‘Help is on its way. They saved our lives. We are going to get out of here, I promise. We're still alive, and they are going to find us.’

‘Doctor, look at her,’ said Jethro. He was still shining his torch on Sky. She still hadn't moved.

‘Right. Yes. Sorry. Have we got a medical kit?’

‘Why won't she turn around?’

‘What's her name?’ asked Hobbes.

‘Sky,’ answered Rose.

‘Silvestry,’ added Naomi. ‘Mrs Sky Silvestry.’

‘Sky? Can you hear me?’ asked the Doctor and he knelt down at the end of the row of ruined seats, just a little way away from Sky. ‘Are you all right? Can you move, Sky? Just look at me.’

No response.

‘That noise from outside,’ said Jethro. ‘It's stopped.’

‘Well, thank God for that,’ said Val.

‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing,’ said Rose, looking cautiously at the dent in the wall.

Jethro must have followed her gaze. ‘You think it got inside?’ he asked.

Rose tried to think of answer that wouldn’t immediately cause panic but failed to come up with one. ‘I don’t know,’ was the best she managed.

‘It was heading for her,’ said Jethro, once again looking at Sky.

‘We don’t know that,’ said Rose. She looked back over to Sky just in time to see the woman finally move. Sky turned her head to face them. The relief that Rose had felt in that moment vanished as soon as the torchlight illuminated the woman’s face. It was pale and cold but it was the eyes that got Rose. They were wide and curious and more than a little unnerving, like they were trying to see straight into their souls.

The Doctor noticed the change too (how could anyone not?) and tilted his head to try and get a better look. Sky faced him and mimicked his movements.

‘Are you all right?’ the Doctor asked her.

‘Are you all right?’ replied Sky, her voice flat.

‘Are you hurt?’

‘Are you hurt?’

‘You don't have to talk.’

‘You don't have to talk.’

Okay, that was starting to get real creepy.

‘I'm trying to help.’

‘I'm trying to help.’

‘Doctor,’ said Rose worryingly. A shiver went down her spine as Sky repeated her.

‘Can you stop?’ the Doctor asked Sky.

‘Can you stop?’

‘I'd like you to stop,’ he said, a bit more forcefully his time.

‘I'd like you to stop.’

‘Why's she doing that?’ asked Hobbes.

‘Why's she doing that?’ repeated Sky, her head whipping around to face him.

‘She's gone mad,’ said Biff.

‘She's gone mad.’

‘Stop it,’ snapped Val.

‘Stop it.’

Soon the passengers were all talking at once again. The Doctor and Rose tried to shush them but to no avail. Sky repeated each word, only causing them all to panic more. All apart from Jethro, who seemed to have regained his teenage bravado. ‘My name's Jethro,’ he said and then let out a chuckle when Sky repeated his words.

‘Jethro, leave it. Just shut up,’ said the Doctor, irritably.

‘Jethro, leave it. Just shut up.’

‘But why is she repeating everything?’ asked Rose once the others had finally settled down a bit.

‘But why is she repeating everything?’ repeated Sky. She had even emphasised the same word that Rose had.

‘I don’t know,’ said the Doctor, inching closer to Sky. She once again turned to face him. ‘Learning?’

‘I don’t know. Learning?’

‘Copying?’

‘Copying?’

‘Absorbing?’

‘Absorbing?’

The Doctor looked at Sky quizzically, trying to figure her out. ‘The square root of pi is 1.772453850905516027298167483341. Wow.’ Sky had not only repeated what he had said, she had started before he had even finished his sentence.

‘But that's impossible,’ said Hobbes.

‘But that's impossible,’ repeated Sky.

And then the panicking started again.

‘She can copy anything.’

‘She can copy anything.’

‘Biff, don't just stand there, do something. Make her stop.’

‘Biff, don't just stand there, do something. Make her stop.’

‘You're scaring my wife.’

‘You're scaring my wife.’

‘Six, six, six.’

‘Six, six, six.’

‘Being creepy, Jethro.’

‘Being creepy, Jethro.’

‘She's different. She's something else. Do something. Make her stop,’ cried Val, Sky repeating her words and then, by some miracle, the lights of the bus came back on and the passengers fell silent.

‘That's the back up system,’ said Naomi and then Sky. She announced that the rescue ship would only be an hour away and Rose let that knowledge calm her nerves. Just one more hour. They could do this.

The news seemed to have had the same effect on the others as well. They all seemed to have settled down a bit and had started thinking clearly again. ‘I suggest we all calm down,’ said Hobbes, finally saying something useful. ‘This panic isn't helping. That poor woman is evidently in a state of self induced hysteria. We should leave her alone.’

A look of worry passed over his face as he finished his last silence and everyone turned to face Sky. She hadn't just repeated Hobbes's words, she had finished the sentence at the exact same time that he had.

‘How can she do that?’ asked Val, Sky echoing her words. ‘She's talking with you. And with me. Oh, my God. Biff, what's she doing?’

‘She's repeating, at exactly the same time,’ said Jethro and Sky.

‘That's impossible.’

‘There's not even a delay.’

‘Oh man, that is weird.’

‘I think you should all be very, very quiet. Have you got that?’ said the Doctor along with Sky.

Rose ushered the passengers to the other end of the bus, trying to field off their questions. They were understandably freaked out but the more they talked, the more scared they became so silence was the best option at the moment. Rose put her finger to her lips in a shush gesture and thankfully they took her lead and quieted down. Once she was sure she could trust the other passengers not to speak, she made her way back to the Doctor who was testing out Sky’s new ability.

‘Oh, Doctor, you're so handsome. Yes, I am, thank you,’ he said along with Sky and Rose rolled her eyes.

She knelt down beside him. ‘How does she know what we’re going to say?’ she asked in a whisper, hoping that maybe if she spoke quietly enough, Sky wouldn’t hear her and wouldn’t repeat her. No such luck. ‘Is she telepathic?’

‘Must be,’ he answered and Rose cringed as Sky answered with him. ‘Either that or…’ He didn’t need to finish his sentence, Rose knew what he meant. Either Sky was telepathic… or the thing that was controlling her was.

‘First she repeats, then she catches up,’ continued the Doctor and Rose could tell that it was mostly to himself. ‘What's the next stage?’

‘Next stage of what?’ asked Dee Dee from the other end of the bus. It seemed the extra distance hadn’t made much of a difference. Sky still spoke with her.

‘That's not her, is it,’ said Jethro and Sky together. ‘That's not Mrs Silvestry any more.’

‘I don't think so, no,’ said the Doctor, sadly, and Val began to cry into her husband's shoulder. ‘I think the more we talk, the more she learns.’

‘Doctor, maybe you shouldn’t get too close,’ warned Rose. If this thing was telepathic, then that meant that the Doctor had to be extra careful.

‘I think you’re right,’ he said, taking her hand and standing up. ‘Let's just move back.’

They both backed up and away from Sky who was still watching them with those curious eyes.

‘Fifty minutes, that's all we need,’ whispered the Doctor to the passengers once he and Rose had reached them. The whispering didn’t stop Sky from copying him, even at this distance. ‘Fifty minutes till the rescue arrives. And she's not exactly strong. Look at her. All she's got is our voices.’

Rose bit back a comment about the power of words. She didn’t want to cause any unnecessary fear and she really didn’t like to hear her voice echoed back at her.

‘I can't, I can't look at her,’ said Val. ‘It's those eyes.’

‘We must not look at goblin men,’ said Dee Dee.

‘What's that supposed to mean?’ asked Biff, asking the question that Rose was holding back.

‘It's a poem,’ explained the Doctor (and Sky). ‘Christina Rossetti.’

‘We must not look at goblin men. We must not buy their fruits. Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry, thirsty roots?’ quoted Dee Dee and Sky.

‘Now she’s being creepy,’ said Jethro and Rose shot him a look.

‘She's not a goblin, or a monster,’ said Hobbes, back to his puffed-up tone. ‘She's just a very sick woman.’

‘Maybe that's why it went for her,’ said Jethro.

‘There is no it.’

‘Think about it though,’ continued Jethro. ‘That knocking went all the way round the bus until it found her. And she was the most scared out of all of us. Maybe that's what it needed. That's how it got in.’

‘For the last time. Nothing can live on the surface of Midnight.’

‘Can you all please just shut up a minute,’ snapped Rose. ‘Whatever is going on here, I think its safe to say that the more we speak, the worse it gets.’

The Doctor nodded. ‘She’s right. We need to quietly think of a way to help Sky. Maybe she’s still in there somewhere.’

‘You can help her if you want,’ said Biff, ‘but I'm not going near.’

‘No, I've got to stay back, because if she's copying us, then maybe the final stage is becoming us. I don't want her becoming me, or things could get a whole lot worse.’

‘Oh, like you're so special,’ said Val.

‘He is, actually,’ said Rose before she could stop herself. She didn’t like Val’s tone.

The two women stared at each other for a moment before Naomi suggested something that shocked them both out of it.

‘We should throw her out.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ asked Hobbes.

‘Can we do that?’ asked Val after a moment of indecision.

‘Surely, you can’t be serious?’ said Rose, looking pleadingly at Naomi. She hadn’t pegged her as a murderer but fear and grief did funny things someone’s mind. Rose knew that better than most.

‘That thing, whatever it is, killed the driver, and the mechanic, and I don't think she's finished yet,’ said Naomi, her resolve unwavering.

‘She can't even move,’ said the Doctor.

‘Look at her. Look at her eyes.’ Rose reluctantly did so and shivered as Sky talked along with Naomi. ‘She killed Joe, and she killed Claude, and we're next.’

‘Sky didn’t do that,’ said Rose, looking away from the woman who only a couple of hours ago had been lamenting over her girlfriend leaving her.

‘She's still doing it,’ said Biff, taking a few angry steps towards where Sky was still sitting. ‘Just stop it. Stop talking. Stop it!’

‘Biff, don't, sweetheart,’ cried Val at her husband’s shouts.

‘But she won't stop!’ He walked back over to them and took a breath to calm himself. ‘We can't throw her out, though. We can't even open the doors.’

At least that was something, thought Rose.

‘Yes, we can,’ said Dee Dee and Rose almost groaned. ‘Because there's an air pressure seal.’ Dee Dee turned to Naomi. ‘Like when you opened the cabin door, you weren't pulled out. You had a couple of seconds, because it takes the pressure wall about six seconds to collapse. Well, six seconds exactly. That's enough time to throw someone out.’

‘Thanks, Dee Dee. Just what we needed,’ said the Doctor, sarcastically.

‘Would it kill her outside?’ asked Val.

‘I don't know. But she's got a body now. It would certainly kill the physical form.’

‘No one is killing anyone,’ said the Doctor, angrily, but no one paid him any mind.

‘I wouldn't risk the cabin door twice,’ said Naomi, ‘but we've got that one.’ She nodded to the entrance. ‘All we need to do is grab hold of her and throw her out.’

‘Now, listen, all of you,’ said the Doctor, copied by Sky. ‘For all we know that's a brand new life form over there. And if it's come inside to discover us, than what's it found? This little bunch of humans. What do you amount to, murder? Because this is where you decide. You decide who you are. Could you actually murder her? Any of you? Really? Or are you better than that?’

Everyone took a moment to take in his words, some looking unsure of themselves.

But they weren’t unsure for long.

‘I'd do it,’ said Naomi.

‘So would I,’ agreed Biff.

‘And me.’

‘I think we should.’

‘You want to become a murderer?’ asked Rose, incredulously. She may have been surprised at Naomi’s attitude but never would she had thought that sweet little Dee Dee would be capable of killing someone.

‘I want her out,’ replied Dee Dee, her voice laced with fear.

‘You can't say that,’ said the Doctor, just as shocked as Rose.

‘I'm sorry, but Rose said it herself. And so did you, Doctor. She is growing in strength.’

‘That's not what we said.’

‘I want to go home. I'm sorry. I want to be safe.’

Rose didn’t know what to do. Daleks and Cybermen were easy. But how did they deal a group of people who were just terrified for their lives?

‘The rescue ship will be here soon,’ she said, trying to sound reassuring. ‘And then we’ll be safe.’

‘But what happens then?’ asked Naomi. ‘If it takes that thing back to the Leisure Palace, if that thing reaches civilisation. What if it spreads?’

‘No, because when we get back to the base, I'll be there to contain it,’ insisted the Doctor.

‘You haven't done much so far,’ said Val.

‘You're just standing in the back with the rest of us,’ agreed Biff. Rose didn’t like where this was heading. They were starting to turn on the Doctor when they needed to listen to him.

‘She's dangerous,’ insisted Naomi, copied by Sky. ‘It's my job to see that this vessel is safe, and we should get rid of her.’

‘Now, hang on. I think perhaps we're all going a little bit too far,’ said Hobbes and Rose let out a sigh of relief that at least one person was still thinking clearly.

‘Two people are dead!’

‘Don't make it a third,’ warned the Doctor and Naomi fell silent. After a couple of moments, he turned to Jethro. ‘Jethro, what do you say?’

‘I'm not killing anyone,’ said the young man at once. He was trying not to show it but Rose could see how scared he was. She gave him a small smile that she hoped was both grateful and reassuring.

‘He's just a boy,’ said Val.

‘What, so I don't get a vote?’

‘No one gets a vote,’ said Rose, her reassuring tone from earlier gone. Now she was just angry. ‘We are not gong to murder someone. Full stop. You’ll have to get through me first.’

‘Okay,’ said Naomi after a moment and Rose’s jaw dropped. How had things gotten so out of control?

‘You’ll have to get through me too,’ said the Doctor, taking Rose by the shoulders and gently pulling her to his side. He took a small step forward so that he was now slightly in front of her, not enough to block her from view but enough to be able to put himself in between her and the others.

‘Fine by me,’ said Biff, squaring his shoulders.

‘Now you're being stupid,’ snapped the Doctor. ‘Just think about it. Could you actually take hold of someone and throw them out of that door?’

‘Calling me a coward?’

‘Who put you in charge, anyway?’ said Val.

‘You’re a Doctor of what, exactly?’ asked Hobbes and it looked like the Doctor and Rose had lost one of their only allies. At least Jethro still seemed to be against the idea of chucking someone out of an airlock.

‘They weren’t even booked in,’ said Naomi. ‘The rest of you, tickets in advance. They just turned up out of the blue.’

‘Where from?’ Val asked them.

‘We’re just travelling. We’re travellers,’ insisted the Doctor. ‘We just wanted a quiet date, that’s all.’

‘But you were talking to someone on the phone before you boarded,’ said Naomi. ‘Who was that?’

‘Just Donna. Just our friend.’

‘You were talking to another woman just before a date?’ asked Val. She turned to Rose. ‘I’d be worried if I were you.’

‘Oi, it’s nothing like that,’ said Rose, jumping to the Doctor’s defense. ‘He’s not like that.’

‘He hasn't even told us his name.’

‘The thing is though, Doctor, you've been loving this,’ said Jethro and Rose’s face fell. There went their last ally. ‘The way you were testing that thing out,’ he nodded at Sky, ‘you were almost happy about it.’

‘It has to be said, you do seem to have a certain glee,’ agreed Hobbes.

‘All right, I'm interested,’ said the Doctor. ‘Yes, I can't help it. Because whatever's inside her, it's brand new, and that's fascinating.’ Sky was still echoing everyone’s words from her position on the floor.

‘You wanted this to happen,’ accused Val.

‘Of course he didn’t,’ said Rose.

Biff turned on her. ‘And you were talking to her, all on your own, before all the trouble. Right at the front, you were talking to that Sky woman. I saw you.’

‘And you went into the cabin,’ said Naomi, nodding at the Doctor.

‘What were you saying to her?’ Biff asked Rose.

‘I was just talking.’

‘Saying what?’

‘Leave her alone,’ said the Doctor. ‘She hasn’t done anything. Neither of us have.’

‘We have to stick together,’ insisted Rose.

‘But you called us humans like you're not one of us,’ said Jethro, looking at the Doctor.

‘He did,’ said Val. ‘That's what he said.’

‘And the wiring,’ added Dee Dee. ‘He went into that panel and opened up the wiring.’

‘He was trying to help,’ said Rose.

‘And that was after,’ added the Doctor.

‘But how did you know what to do?’ asked Biff.

The Doctor had reached the end of his rope. ‘Because I'm clever!’ he snapped and the group fell silent at his outburst.

‘I see,’ said Hobbes after a moment. ‘Well, that makes things clear.’

‘And what are we, then?’ asked Biff. ‘Idiots?’

‘That's not what I meant.’

‘If you're clever, then what are we?’ asked Dee Dee.

‘You've been looking down on us from the moment we walked in,’ added Val.

‘Even if he goes, he's practically volunteered,’ said Naomi.

‘Oh come on, just listen to yourself, please,’ begged the Doctor but it was too late. They had all turned on him.

‘Do you mean... we throw him out as well?’ Biff asked Naomi.

‘If we have to.’

‘Then you’ll definitely have to go through me,’ said Rose, stepping forward. She had gone right off Naomi. Come to think of it, she wasn’t sure she liked anyone else in the room at the moment either.

The Doctor once again took her shoulders, this time to hold her back. 'Look can we all just calm down a bit?’ he asked, Sky echoing his words. ‘I know you're scared, and so am I. Look at me, I am. But we have all got to calm down and cool off and think.’

‘Perhaps you could tell us your name,’ said Hobbes.

‘What does it matter?’

‘Then tell us,’ said Naomi.

‘John Smith.’

‘Your real name.’

‘He's lying,’ said Biff. ‘Look at his face.’

‘His name is the Doctor,’ said Rose. ‘Why isn’t that enough?’

‘Why won't you tell us?’ asked Jethro and the cycle of accusations started all over again.

‘He's been lying to us right from the start.’

‘No one's called John Smith. Come off it.’

Finally the Doctor had had enough. ‘Now listen to me,’ he said, sharply. ‘Listen to me right now, because you need me, all of you. If we are going to get out of this, then you need me.’

‘So you keep saying,’ said Hobbes. ‘You've been repeating yourself more than her.’ He pointed at Sky and that’s when Rose realised it. Sky hadn’t repeated his words.

Jethro had noticed it too and soon everyone had stopped talking and was staring at Sky. ‘When did she?’ asked the Doctor but stopped when he realised that Sky was still copying him. ‘No, she hasn't. She's still doing it.’

‘She looks the same to me,’ said Val and then let out a relieved gasp when she realised that Sky wasn’t speaking with her. ‘No, she's stopped. Look, I'm talking, and she's not.’

One by one the others tested themselves and each time, Sky remained silent.

‘Sky, what are you doing?’ asked the Doctor and this time she did copy the words.

Rose was scared to speak but she was also dying to know if Sky had stopped copying her as well. After taking a moment to gather up her courage, she said what everyone else was thinking. ‘Doctor, I think she’s just copying you now.’ She was equal parts relieved and terrified when Sky didn’t speak with her. Why had she singled out the Doctor? Maybe it was because he was the cleverest man in the room? Or maybe whatever had taken over Sky had recognised him as its biggest threat?

‘Why me? Why are you doing this?’ the Doctor asked Sky, her voice echoing his own.

But this new development had just encouraged the suspicions that the other passengers had already had about the Doctor.

‘Do you see? I said so. She's with him.’

‘How do you explain it, Doctor, if you're so clever?’

‘I don't know. Sky, stop it. I said stop it. Just stop it,’ said the Doctor and, for the first time, Rose could clearly hear the fear in his voice. He knelt down in front of Sky. ‘Mrs Silvestry, I'm trying to understand,’ he said, slowly, Sky still speaking with him. ‘You've captured my speech. What for? What do you need? You need my voice in particular. The cleverest voice in the room. Why? Because I'm the only one who can help? Oh, I'd love that to be true, but your eyes, they're saying something else. Listen to me. Whatever you want, if it's life, or form, or consciousness, or voice, you don't have to steal it. You can find it without hurting anyone. And I'll help you. That's a promise. So, what do you think?’

‘Do we have a deal?’

‘Do we have a deal?’

Rose gasped. Sky had finished the sentence first.

Chapter Text

‘Hold on, did she?’

‘She spoke first.’

‘She can't have.’

‘She did.’

‘She spoke first.’

Rose ran over to where the Doctor was sitting. ‘Doctor, what happened?’ she asked but he didn’t answer.

‘Oh, look at that,’ said Sky ‘I'm ahead of you.’ Rose turned to see that the look in her eyes was no longer one of curiosity. Rose would have called it smugness had she not been so scared.

‘Oh, look at that. I'm ahead of you,’ repeated the Doctor.

‘What did you do to him?’ Rose snapped at Sky.

‘I think it's moved,’ said Sky, followed by the Doctor. ‘I think it's letting me go.’

‘I think it's letting me go.’

‘What do you mean? Letting you go from what?’ asked Dee Dee.

‘But he's repeating now,’ said Biff. ‘He's the one doing it. It's him.’

‘They're separating,’ said Jethro.

Rose thought back to what the Doctor had said about stages. Repeating had been the first stage, copying was the second. And the third stage was…

‘I don’t think so,’ said Rose. ‘I think it’s still in her.’

‘Mrs. Silvestry, is that you?’ Naomi asked Sky.

‘Yes. Yes, it's me,’ she replied, now with a smile on her face. Rose didn’t like that smile. It had far too much victory in it.

‘Yes. Yes, it's me,’ repeated the Doctor. Rose took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. He didn’t squeeze back and Rose’s fear grew even more.

‘I'm coming back,’ said Sky and then the Doctor. ‘It's me.’

‘It's me.’

‘Like it's passed into the Doctor,’ said Jethro, ignoring Rose’s protest. ‘It's transferred. Whatever it is, it's gone inside him.’

‘No, that's not what happened,’ said Dee Dee and Rose almost decided to start liking her again.

‘But look at her,’ said Val, pointing to Sky.

Rose once again turned to face the woman at the centre of it all. Sky had lifted her hands up and was wiggling her fingers. She let out a pleased sigh. ‘Look at me, I can move.’

‘Look at me. I can move.’

‘I can feel again.’

‘I can feel again.’

‘I'm coming back to life.’

‘I'm coming back to life.’

‘What have you done to him?’ Rose asked again, trying to keep her voice calm but failing.

‘Look at him. He can't move,’ was all Sky said.

‘Look at him. He can't move.’

‘Help me,’ begged Sky.

‘Help me,’ repeated the Doctor but Rose was fairly certain those words were his as well. He needed help.

‘Listen to me,’ said Rose to the others. ‘Remember what the Doctor said. Whatever that was in Sky was repeating because it was learning. But now it’s got what it needed so now what’s it doing? What’s the next stage?’

‘There is no next stage,’ said Hobbes as he helped Sky to her feet, though Rose noticed that he hesitated for a moment before he had reached out to take the woman’s hands.

‘Oh, thank you,’ said Sky and the Doctor once again repeated her.

‘They've completely separated,’ said Jethro.

‘But don’t you see?’ asked Rose, not leaving the Doctor’s side. ‘When she was repeating, the delay got shorter and shorter until she was in sync with all of us. She’s still doing the exact same thing except the delay has gone the other way round. She’s speaking first but whatever it is, is still in her.’

‘But she’s choosing the words now,’ said Val.

‘It's in him now,’ agreed Biff before adding, ‘I said it was him all the time.’

Rose almost cried in frustration. ‘Please,’ she begged but no one was listening.

‘She's free,’ said Val. ‘She's been saved.’

‘Oh, it was so cold,’ said Sky.

‘Oh, it was so cold,’ repeated the Doctor.

‘I couldn't breathe.’

‘I couldn't breathe.’

‘I'm sorry.’

‘I'm sorry.’

‘I must have scared you so much.’

‘I must have scared you so much.’

‘No, no, it's all right,’ said Val, giving Sky a hug. ‘I've got you. Ooo, there you are, my love. It's gone. Everything's all right now.’

‘I wouldn't touch her,’ said Dee Dee.

‘She’s right,’ said Rose, relieved that at least one person was listening to her.

‘But it's gone,’ said Biff. ‘She's clean. It passed into him.’

‘That's not what happened,’ insisted Dee Dee.

‘Thank you for your opinion, Dee, but clearly Mrs Silvestry has been released,’ said Hobbes.

‘Has she?’ asked Rose in a tone that told the others exactly what she thought the answer to her question was and Val rounded on her.

‘Just leave her alone. She's safe, isn't she?’ Val turned to face her son. ‘Jethro, it's let her go, hasn't it?’

Jethro looked between Sky and the Doctor. ‘I think so, yeah,’ he said. ‘Looks like it. Professor?’

‘I'd say, from observation,’ said Hobbes, ‘the Doctor can't move. And when she was possessed, she couldn't move, so…’

‘Well, there we are then,’ said Biff as if Hobbes's words were proof of Sky's innocence and the matter was now closed. ‘Now the only problem we've got is this Doctor.’

‘It's inside his head,’ said Sky.

‘No, it’s not,’ said Rose just as the Doctor repeated Sky’s words.

Val looked at her pityingly. ‘I know he’s your partner but you can’t deny the proof in front of your eyes.’

‘There is no proof!’ snapped Rose.

‘It killed the driver,’ said Sky.

‘It killed the driver,’ repeated the Doctor.

‘And the mechanic.’

‘And the mechanic.’

‘And now it wants us.’

‘And now it wants us.’

‘I said so,’ said Val, utterly taken in by whatever was controlling Sky.

‘He's waited so long.’

‘He's waited so long.’

‘In the dark.’

‘In the dark.’

‘And the cold.’

‘And the cold.’

‘And the diamonds.’

‘And the diamonds.’

‘Until you came.’

‘Until you came.’

‘How would Sky know all this?’ Rose asked. ‘Just think about it,’ she begged but Sky wasn’t finished.

‘Bodies so hot,' she said.

‘Bodies so hot,’ repeated the Doctor,

‘With blood.’

‘With blood.’

‘And pain.’

‘And pain.’

‘Stop,’ cried Val. ‘Oh, my God, make him stop. Someone make him stop.’

‘It’s not him, it’s her,’ said Rose. She moved so she was directly in front of the Doctor, looking into his terror filled eyes. ‘Please, Doctor. Fight back. You can beat this, I know you can.’

But the Doctor didn’t answer her. He didn’t even blink.

‘Rose is right,’ said Dee Dee and Rose gave her a grateful smile. ‘It's still her. He's just repeating.’

‘But that's what the thing does,’ said Biff. ‘It repeats.’

‘Just let her talk,’ said Naomi and Rose’s hope grew. She now had two people who wanted to help. Two people who would listen.

‘What do you know?’ snapped Biff at Naomi. ‘Fat lot of good you've been.’

‘Just let her explain.’

The group fell silent and Dee Dee took her chance. ‘I think. I mean, from what I've seen, it repeats, then it synchronises, then it goes on to the next stage and that's exactly what the Doctor said would happen. That’s right, isn’t it, Rose? That’s what he meant?’

Rose nodded. ‘Yes. Yes. Thank you.’

Biff turned on Dee Dee. ‘What, and you're on their side?’ he asked, accusingly.

‘There are no sides,’ said Rose. ‘We need to stop squabbling and try and fix this.’

‘She’s right,’ said Dee Dee and then she nodded at Sky who was basking in the newfound ability to stand and move. Or maybe she was basking in the confusion and fear that she was causing. ‘Look at her. It's not possessing him, it's draining him.’

‘She's got his voice,’ agreed Naomi.

‘Yes,’ cried Rose in gratitude. ‘Thank you. Thank you.’

‘But that's not true,’ said Val, ‘because it can't.’

‘Why can’t it?’ asked Rose. ‘How do you know what it can do?’

‘Because I saw it pass into him. I saw it with my own eyes.’

‘So did I,’ said Biff.

‘It went from her, to him,’ continued Val and she once again turned to Jethro. ‘You saw it, didn't you?’

‘I don't know,’ he said, looking from his mother to Rose and then to Sky and the Doctor.

‘Oh, don't be stupid, Jethro. Of course you did.’

‘I suppose he was right next to her,’ said Jethro but he was still unsure of himself.

‘Everyone saw it. Everyone,’ insisted Biff.

'Is that what you all saw?’ asked Rose, finally standing up. She had had enough. ‘Because it’s not what I saw.’

‘Nor me,’ said Dee Dee. ‘I saw her stealing his voice.’

‘She's as bad as those two,’ said Val, angrily pointing at Dee Dee. ‘Someone shut her up.’

A request that Hobbes was only too happy to oblige. To be fair, he did try softly at first (well, as softly as Rose had heard him speak to his student) but when Dee Dee didn’t back down he lost his temper. ‘You're making a fool of yourself,’ he shouted, ‘pretending you're an expert in mechanics and hydraulics, when I can tell you, you are nothing more than average at best. Now shut up.’

‘Oi! There’s no need for that,’ shouted Rose, her own anger well and truly flared.

‘That's how he does it,’ said Sky. Her smile had only grown with every angry word spoken.

‘That's how he does it,’ repeated the Doctor and Rose held back a sob. She didn’t know what to do.

‘He makes you fight.’

‘He makes you fight.’

‘Creeps into your head.’

‘Creeps into your head.’

‘And whispers.’

‘And whispers.’

‘Listen.’

‘Listen.’

‘Just listen.’

‘Just listen.’

‘No, that’s what you’re doing,’ said Rose, glaring at what used to be Sky Silvestry. ‘I don’t know what you are but you’re not Sky. I talked to Sky and that is not her voice.’

But it was too late. The damage had been done.

‘Throw him out,’ said Biff.

‘Get him out of my head!’ shouted Val.

‘You can’t,’ pleaded Rose.

‘But we should. We should throw him out.’

‘Don't just talk about it,’ snapped Val. ‘Just... You're useless. Do something.’

‘I will,’ said Biff. ‘You watch me. I'm going to throw him out.’

He took a step forward but Rose put herself between him and the Doctor. ‘I won’t let you,’ she said.

‘Throw him out,’ urged Sky and the Doctor repeated. ‘Push past her and get rid of him.’

‘Push past her and get rid of him.’

‘Now.’

‘Now.’

Biff took another step forward but Rose was ready for him. At first he just tried to side-step her but when Rose blocked him, he got angry. ‘Move!’ he shouted.

‘No,’ said Rose, her voice absolute.

Suddenly Biff reached for her and grabbed hold of her waist. Rose screamed and kicked and Biff dropped her but she was no longer between him and the Doctor. She got to her feet and made a lunge for Biff but a pair of hands grabbed her from behind and dragged her back. It was the Professor.

‘No, you can’t,’ she screamed as Biff put his arms under the Doctor’s shoulders and started to drag him towards the door. The Doctor was powerless to stop him.

Rose struggled against Hobbes’s grip and she thought she may have been able to shake him off but then Val grabbed her arms as well, making it impossible for Rose to get free. ‘It'll be you next,’ she threatened and then she shot a glare at Dee Dee, warning her that she too would share their fate if she interrupted.

‘I’m not sure about this,’ said Hobbes but he kept his grip on Rose anyway.

‘What sort of a man are you?’ growled Biff as he continued to haul the Doctor across the room.

‘Just do it,’ said Val. ‘Throw him out. Get him out.’

Thankfully Biff was having a bit of trouble. The Doctor’s foot had gotten caught on one on the chairs, hindering Biff’s attempts at dragging him to the door. But it didn’t take long for him to get a better grip and the Doctor’s foot came free of the chair. Biff continued to pull him closer and closer to the door.

‘Please, don’t this,’ cried Rose. ‘It’s not him. It’s her!’

‘Cast him out,’ said Sky.

‘Cast him out,’ repeated the Doctor.

‘Into the sun.’

‘Into the sun.’

‘And the night.’

‘And the night.’

‘Get him out. Get him out,’ cried Val.

‘Do it.’

‘Do it.’

‘Do it now.’

‘No, please,’ begged Rose, still straining against Hobbes and Val.

‘Do it now.’

‘You can’t!’

‘Faster.’

‘Faster.’

‘Doctor, fight back. You’ve got to fight back!’

Biff had gotten him almost to the door now.

‘That's the way,’ said Sky, the victory in her voice unmistakable.

‘That's the way,’ said the Doctor, repeating the words that were egging on his murderers.

‘You can do it.’

‘You can do it.’

‘Molto bene.’

‘Molto bene.’

They were words that the Doctor had said so many times before but now they just sounded wrong. ‘It’s not him,’ pleaded Rose, tears streaming down her face. ‘Please just listen to me!’

‘Allons-y.’

‘Allons-y.’

‘That's his voice,’ whispered Naomi. Rose had almost missed it in her hysterics to get free of the Professor’s grip.

‘The starlight waits.’

‘She's taken his voice.’

‘The starlight waits.’

‘The emptiness.’

‘The emptiness.’

‘Get him out,’ shouted Val and Rose let out another cry of protest and desperation.

‘The Midnight sky.’

‘The Midnight sky.’

‘It's her,’ said Naomi again, more sure of herself this time. ‘She's taken his voice!’

She lunged towards Sky and grabbed her by the shoulders. Before anyone could do anything, Naomi pulled Sky towards the door and pressed the button on the wall beside it. Rose turned her head away to shield her eyes from the bright light coming from outside.

Everyone screamed except for Naomi, who had started counting. As soon as she hit the number six, a great whooshing sound came from the doorway and then the door slammed shut. Everyone stopped screaming and Rose looked back towards the door. Naomi and Sky were gone. They had been sucked out into deadly sunlight.

Hobbes had loosened his grip on Rose in the commotion and she quickly broke free of him and rushed to where the Doctor was now on the floor where Biff had dropped him.

‘It's gone,’ said the Doctor as he rolled onto his back and Rose let out a sob of relief. He was back. ‘It's gone. It's gone, it's gone.’

Rose helped him to sit up against the seat and then immediately wrapped her arms around him. She could still hear him whispering in her ear. ‘It’s gone, it’s gone.’

Eventually, he stopped his mantra and Rose felt him put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer. She buried her head into his chest. She knew that the other passengers were all just as frightened as she was but she just couldn’t look at them right now.

After a few moments of silence, it was Val who spoke up.

‘I said it was her.’

----

The rescue ship had found them and the passengers had spent the majority of trip back to the Leisure Place in silence. After giving Donna a quick summary of what had happened, Rose was eager to get back to the TARDIS and away from the planet Midnight. So was the Doctor, though he didn’t say it.

Once sure that the authorities of the planet were properly warned about the thing that still could be out there in the diamonds, the Doctor, Rose and Donna retreated to the TARDIS and Rose sent them into the vortex. After a quick goodnight to Donna, Rose led the Doctor to bed, insisting that he try and get some sleep. It had been what he had told her to do after having her mind taken over by the Master and she guessed that the same rule would apply to this situation. It wasn’t until she was lying in bed, with the Doctor’s head cradled against her chest, that she realised that it had been the first time she had flown the TARDIS by herself without any guidance from the Doctor.

She should have been happy about that, and part of her was, but she was just too worried about the Doctor to properly acknowledge her achievement. He had barely spoken since Naomi had dragged that thing back out into the Midnight sun, setting him free. Rose thought that maybe he was scared to, in case he heard his words echoed back at him. She wouldn’t blame him if he was. Listening to that thing repeat his words had been scary enough but when it had stolen his voice and had manipulated the others into trying to kill him… that had just been terrifying. Rose could still see it in her mind - the look of pure fear on the Doctor’s face as he sat there, utterly helpless.

So she didn’t push the Doctor to try and speak now. She just lay there with him, silently stroking his hair.

After a few minutes, he finally spoke. ‘Next time we go on a date,’ he whispered, so quiet that Rose had almost not heard him, ‘you pick the place.’

Chapter Text

Rose walked into the console room with Donna in tow. They had just been talking in the library and the conversation had inevitably ended up on shopping. As soon as Rose had started to talk about the different markets she had been to with the Doctor, Donna’s eyes had lit up. It hadn’t taken long for her to convince Rose that they needed a shopping trip so now they just had to talk the Doctor into it.

‘Doctor?’ Rose called out when she didn’t immediately see him in the console room. If he wasn’t in the galley or the library, nine times out of ten, the console room would be where she would find him. Well, maybe eight times out of ten. He did seem to spend a bit more time in the bedroom these days but on those occasions Rose was usually with him.

‘Yes?’ came the Doctor’s muffled reply. Rose walked further into the room and saw that one of the pieces of grating had been lifted up and there were a few bits and pieces – random tools and the Doctor’s spare hand - on the floor next to the console. She walked up to the hole in the grating and peered into it. The Doctor was lying on his back with his shirtsleeves rolled up and was playing with the wiring underneath the console. Both of his hands were needed for whatever he was doing so his sonic screwdriver was wedged between his teeth, hence the muffled speech.

Rose took a moment to appreciate how sexy he looked before asking, ‘TARDIS all right?’

The Doctor let out a few muffled words that sounded something like “routine tinkering” and Rose reached down to take the screwdriver out of his mouth. ‘Thank you,’ he said, his words now distinguishable.

‘Don’t thank me yet. I’m wiping it off on your suit jacket.’

‘Oi!’

Rose giggled as she placed the screwdriver on top of his jacket that was bunched up on top of the console.

‘Anyway, Doctor,’ said Donna, walking up to join Rose at the console. ‘Me and Rose were just talking…’

‘That doesn’t bode well.’

‘Watch it or I’ll put this piece of metal back in place and you’ll be stuck down there,’ threatened Donna but she had a teasing note in her voice. ‘Me and Rose will just go shopping without you.’

‘Shopping?’ asked the Doctor, lifting himself up out of the hole in the floor. Whether it was because he had finished his tinkering or because he was afraid that Donna might make good on her threat, Rose wasn’t sure.

‘I was just telling Donna about that place where I got the Bazoolium for Mum,’ said Rose. ‘You know, the one with all the banners?’

‘Zhimindi III. Yeah I remember.’

‘And I was thinking that maybe I could find something for Gramps,’ finished Donna.

‘What about your Mum?’

Donna thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, I suppose I’d better get something for her and all.’

Surprisingly, the Doctor didn’t put up a fight at all. ‘Okay, shopping it is,’ he said, picking up his sonic and putting his suit jacket on. He put in the coordinates and then Rose helped him send the TARDIS out of the time vortex. She smiled happily as the central column moved up and down in front of her.

The TARDIS landed with its usual groaning noise and the Doctor bounded down the ramp towards the door, the mess of tools on the floor already forgotten. He grabbed his coat that was hanging over a coral strut and shrugged it on. ‘Oh, you’ll love this Donna,’ he said as they followed him out of the TARDIS. ‘They have the most amazing hot chocolate. Well, I say hot chocolate. It’s not exactly chocolate but it’s the closest thing that a 21st century human would be familiar with.’

The market was exactly how Rose remembered it. Colourful banners hung from almost every lamp post and every shop they passed held the promise of exciting gadgets and knickknacks or exotic alien food that Rose knew that, despite its appearance, tasted phenomenal. The Doctor and Rose’s intertwined hands swung between them as they strolled through the busy street. Every now and then the Doctor would point out a specific shop and explain it to Donna.

Looking around at all the things for sale, Rose was almost sad that she didn’t have anyone to buy anything for anymore. Then she realised that that wasn’t strictly true. The Doctor may not have ever shown the indication that he wanted her to buy him something, but looking up at him now as he chattered away about nothing in particular, Rose realised that she wanted to. It had been a few weeks since that terrible ordeal on Midnight and Rose knew that the Doctor was still having nightmares about it. He deserved a nice surprise for a change.

The question was: what do you get an alien that has a transdimensional time machine with an uncountable number of rooms containing an uncountable number of objects?

She knew the Doctor was always after parts for the TARDIS but Rose doubted she would have any idea of what any of them would look like even if they were right under her nose. She would just have to look around for something different, maybe something a bit more personal.

But she wasn’t going to be able to do that with the Doctor’s hand glued to hers.

Gently, she pulled the Doctor to a stop and slid her hand free. ‘Why don’t you and Donna go try that hot chocolate without me,’ she said. ‘There was a shop back there that I want to check out.’ The Doctor looked like he was about to protest but Rose cut him off. ‘Won’t be long, promise.’

‘Okay,’ he agreed. ‘Need some money?’

‘Nah, I’ve still got my credit stick from last time. Got it from my old room earlier. It should still work, shouldn’t it? They seem pretty universal.’

‘Yeah, it’ll work. Don’t spend it all on sweets,’ he added, pointing at her in mock warning.

‘No promises,’ said Rose with a teasing smile and she leaned up to give him a quick peck on the lips. ‘See you later,’ she said before turning around and heading back the way they had come from.

After a few steps she turned on the spot and watched as Donna ribbed the Doctor about the kiss Rose had just given him. She couldn’t hear what Donna was saying but she was fairly sure the words “sweet” and “domestic” came up. The Doctor said something in retort and Donna threw her head back in laughter. It wasn’t long before the Doctor was laughing along with her.

Rose smiled at the pair as they started to walk in the direction of the hot chocolate stand. Bringing Donna aboard the TARDIS had definitely been the right thing to do. She was just the sort of friend that both Rose and the Doctor had needed to help them get back to normal after that horrible year with the Master.

With one last smile, Rose turned back around and headed for the gadget shop she had seen before, hoping to find some sort of clue as to what she could get for the Doctor.

----

Half an hour of going from shop to shop had wielded nothing and Rose was starting to lose hope. Surely there must be something that the Doctor would want.

She had found herself in a China Town looking section of the market where most of the shops were selling food – not what she was after – so she made to go try the next street but stopped at the sound of someone calling out to her.

‘Tell your fortune, miss?’ asked a young woman in front of a stall across the path from Rose. Unlike the ones around her, this woman’s stall was closed off. A bright red curtain separated it from the rest of the street. 'Your life foretold.'

‘Oh, I think I’m okay, thank you,’ said Rose, trying to brush her off kindly.

‘But don’t you want to know if you’ll be happy?’

Rose thought about her life with the Doctor and Donna and smiled. ‘I already am.’

But it seemed the fortune-teller was not going to give up so easily. ‘There is an aura about you,’ she said and Rose faltered at the look on the young woman’s face. She no longer looked like someone who was trying to rein in another sucker to con some money out of. She was looking at Rose with an intense look of concentration, like she was trying to solve a great puzzle. ‘A power,’ she continued. ‘Don’t you want to know what it yields?’

Rose stood there for a moment in indecision. She was never one to believe in this sort of thing but then again, she had seen stranger things. She didn’t want to know about her future but if this woman could sense what was left of Bad Wolf, maybe she could help Rose understand it. The Doctor had explained the biology changes well enough, but what about the psychological ones?

Making up her mind, Rose nodded and followed the fortune-teller into her room. If nothing else, maybe the woman could give Rose an idea of what to buy the Doctor.

Once inside, the fortune-teller sat down on the plush cushions in the centre of the room and Rose knelt down in front of her. The heavy smell of incense wafted through the small chamber. ‘I’m not exactly sure of what to do,’ said Rose, feeling sillier by the second.

‘Just relax,’ said the fortune-teller, kindly. She held out one of her hands out to Rose. ‘Give me your hand.’

Rose did as she was asked and the fortune-teller began to trace circles across her palm with on of her manicured fingertips. ‘I sense something of the Wolf about you,’ she said and Rose fought to control her breathing. ‘You are very special.’

‘Um, thanks,’ said Rose, not quite sure of what to say.

The fortune-teller didn’t seem to mind the lack of feedback. ‘I see you have some else who is special in your life. A man.’ Rose went to confirm her statement but the fortune-teller didn’t need her to. ‘The most remarkable man. How did you meet him?’ she asked.

‘Aren’t you supposed to tell me?’ joked Rose, weakly. She was a little unsure of what she should tell this woman. She found it a little unnerving how quickly she had focussed on the Doctor and didn’t want to give away too much. The Doctor had a lot of enemies after all.

‘I see the future,' said the fortune-teller. 'Tell me the past. How did you meet?’

‘At work… sort of.’

‘But you were not meant to work that night.’

Rose’s uneasiness grew. How did she know that? She must be telepathic. ‘No, I was meant to finish earlier,’ she said as she tried to bring her hands out of the woman’s reach but the woman tightened her grip. ‘Shona never showed up for her shift so they asked me to take it.’

‘Rose, Shona hasn’t shown up. Can you work an extra shift?’

‘Yeah, sure. Just let me call Mickey to tell him I’m working late.’

Rose reeled from the memory that seemed unusually intense and looked back at the fortune-teller. ‘Yes, I see,’ said the woman, staring intently at Rose’s hand. ‘But what would have happened if you hadn’t have taken that shift?’

‘Then I would never have met him. Everything would have been different.’

Rose shivered. She didn’t want to know what her life would have been like if she had never had met the Doctor.

The fortune-teller raised her head, her eyes sharp. ‘What if you could choose again?’

‘I…’ Rose was starting to feel a little lightheaded. The strong smell of the incense was making it hard to concentrate.

‘What if you could change it? What if you could say no.’

‘Rose, Shona hasn’t shown up. Can you work an extra shift?’

‘I… I don’t… Stop it.’

‘Make the decision, Rose. Say no to that shift and change your life.’

Rose could have sworn she felt something touch her back but the smell of perfume and the fortune-teller’s words were all she could focus on.

‘Say no, Rose.’

Rose tried to push the memory away but it just kept coming back. She could see herself in the shop, talking to her manger.

‘Shona hasn’t shown up. Can you work an extra shift?’

‘I…’

‘Can you work an extra shift?’

‘Say no, Rose. Say no and change the world!’

‘Rose, Shona hasn’t shown up. Can you work an extra shift?’

‘I can’t tonight sorry. I’ve already got plans.’

Chapter Text

Rose laughed along with her friends as Mickey did an impression of some TV show character that Rose had never heard of. She wasn’t sure if Mickey’s impersonation was good or not, but he made the most hilarious faces while doing it.

Her laughter died down when her mate, Keisha, tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the TV that was hanging on the wall in the pub. ‘Isn’t that where you work?’ asked Keisha.

Rose turned to face the screen and her smile dropped completely. The shop that she worked at was on the news. Or rather, what was left of it was. ‘Can you turn it up?’ she asked the bartender and she walked closer to get a better view of the TV. The others followed her but Rose didn't notice, her eyes were fixed on the screen that was still showing the burning remains of the place where she had spent the last year working. ‘I should have been there tonight.'

She said it as barely a whisper but it was still loud enough for Mickey to hear it. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked, also staring at the screen in shock.

‘Shona didn’t turn up for work and they asked me to cover her shift and work until closing,' explained Rose. 'But I said no.’

‘Well, thank God for that.’

Mickey gave her shoulders a tight squeeze but Rose barely registered it. The news anchor had started to talk. ‘Most employees had left for the night,’ he was saying, ‘but we can confirm that there have been two casualties. Two men. One is believed to have been a maintenance man who worked at the store as an electrician, and the other is still unidentified. It is believed that he is culprit behind this explosion.’

‘Oh my God,’ whispered Shareen. ‘Why would anyone blow up a shop?’

‘Rose, are you all right?’ asked Mickey,' now facing her. ‘Did you know him?’

‘The electrician,’ stammered Rose. ‘I think it was Wilson.’

Mickey’s hands went back to her shoulders and pulled her closer in a half hug. ‘I think I’d better take her home,’ he told the others. Her friends all murmured in agreement and Rose let her boyfriend lead her out of the pub.

----

The next day, after escaping her mother’s nagging about finding another job and claiming compensation, Rose stood across the road from the remains of Henrik’s Department Store. Police tape still blocked off the area.

She still couldn’t wrap her head around it. Shareen had had a point, why would anyone want to blow up a shop that had virtually no one in it? It didn’t make sense.

Rose spared a thought for poor Wilson. The chief electrician was a bit of a grumpy man but he was good at what he did and he was always there to lend a hand if you needed it. Rose hadn’t gotten to know him much and right now, she wished she'd made more of an effort.

‘I thought I might find you here,’ said Mickey, walking up to stand beside her. Rose turned her head to look at him. He seemed… different somehow. And it wasn’t just his combat style clothes. He held his head high with a confidence that she had never seen in him before. A confidence she had always hoped he would find.

But she wasn't exactly in the mood to comment on it.

‘I just had to see for myself,’ said Rose, turning back towards the remains of the building in front of them. ‘I just can’t believe it. I mean, why would anyone do this?’

‘To try and save the world?’ said Mickey with a shrug.

Rose scoffed. ‘Funny way of doing it. Blowing up an empty shop.’

‘What if it wasn’t empty?’ asked Mickey.

‘What do you mean?’

She turned back to face him again. He was watching something just behind her, a peculiar expression on his face. Rose thought she felt something on her back for a moment but when she looked over her shoulder; there was nothing there.

Mickey shook his head as if clearing it. ‘Doesn’t matter. Listen, I need you to do something for me. Stay home tonight. Both you and Jackie. Don’t go out. It wont be safe.’

‘Why not?’ pressed Rose. He really was acting rather odd. Not at all like he was last night when she had seen him last.

‘I can’t explain yet. But please, Rose. Just trust me. Stay home.’

Rose took a moment to look him over. He may have been holding himself differently and acting strangely… but his eyes were still the same. He was still the same caring Mickey she had known all her life and Rose trusted him. ‘Okay,’ she said at last and Mickey seemed to let go of a breath he had been holding.

‘Good.’

Rose gave him a small smile and then turned back to face the building. ‘What am I gonna do now?’ she asked. ‘Mum’s already hounding me to get another job.’ She turned back to face Mickey but there was no one there. Rose looked around the street but couldn’t see any sign of him. He must have gone back to work.

With one last regretful look at the building where she used to work, Rose turned around and walked back down the street. She didn’t notice the blue box hiding in the shadows as she passed it.

----

That night Rose did as Mickey had asked. She convinced her Mum to stay home and have a quiet night in watching the telly. They had just settled on something to watch when an emergency news report came through. Apparently shop dummies were coming to life all over London. Actual shop dummies!

A loud bang from the kitchen made both Rose and Jackie jump. They cautiously entered the room but quickly backed up when a plastic spatula came flying at their heads. And it wasn’t just the kitchen utensils that had seemed to come to life. It was almost everything. The microwave door swung violently on its hinges; the fridge magnets were flying across the room; even the phone line had a mind of its own, weaving this way and that before finally ripping itself from the wall.

Rose had thought the news report wasn't serious at first but she was rapidly starting to rethink that opinion.

‘What’s going on?’ shrieked Jackie, clutching Rose’s arm and pulling her away from the kitchen.

But the living room wasn’t exactly safe either. The TV was no longer broadcasting; instead it was jolting slightly as it sparked. The cord that connected it to the wall was whipping back and forth. The drink bottle that Rose had left on the coffee table was now rolling across the floor, seemingly of its own accord.

‘It’s everything plastic,’ said Rose, looking around the room. ‘Everything plastic has gone mental.’ She had no idea why or even how but she knew she was right. She quickly turned to face her mother. ‘Which room has the least plastic. Where can we hide?’

‘Bathroom,’ said Jackie at once. ‘That’s what they say to do for earthquakes.’

‘This isn’t an earthquake, Mum,’ said Rose, growling in frustration.

‘Well, I don’t know!' cried Jackie. 'What the hell is happening?’

‘I don’t know but we have to get away from the plastic,’ said Rose and then an idea came to her. It wasn’t the best idea, mind, but it was better than staying in a flat with million objects that seemed to want to hurt them. ‘The roof,’ she said, already pushing her mother towards the door. ‘We can’t stay in the flat, there’s too much plastic.’

As if to reiterate her point, a loud crash came from Jackie’s bedroom. Her hairdryer was whizzing about the room and had smashed the dressing table mirror. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ said Rose. ‘Right now.’

Her and her Mum ran out the door. Jackie started heading to the lift but Rose stopped her. ‘We can’t take the lift, that’s bound to be affected.’

Jackie grumbled about running up the stairs in her bare feet but she did it anyway.

Once on the roof, Rose let out a sigh of relief. There didn’t seem to be any dangers up here. She walked over to the ledge and looked out across the city. Cars on the nearby roads seemed to be out of control and there were people running and screaming as various things chased them. In the distance, Rose could see the glow of fires that had been started and could hear the sound of sirens.

‘It’s everywhere,’ gasped Jackie, joining Rose at the edge of the building. ‘I was going to go shopping tonight. I would have been out there with all those shop dummies if you hadn’t have asked me to stay home.’

Rose put an arm around her mother, who returned the embrace. ‘Thank Mickey,’ she said. ‘He’s the one who told me to stay home.’

‘I never thought I'd be thanking him for saving my life,' said Jackie with a small laugh. 'Did he know this was going to happen?’

‘He must have but I don’t see how.’

‘Well, it doesn’t matter I suppose,’ said Jackie, pulling away from the hug. ‘We escaped the worst of it.’

‘Yeah,’ agreed Rose. ‘For now at least.’

----

It was a few more hours before everything died down and the word spread that it was all clear. Rose let out a sigh of relief as she walked back into the now quiet flat. She immediately ran into her room grabbed her warmest jacket. It had gotten rather chilly up on the roof and Rose hadn’t exactly been dressed for the event.

Her and her Mum had been back in the flat for about five minutes and were sipping their cups of tea when Mickey barged in through the front door, not even bothering to knock. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked through ragged breaths. He must have run all the way up the stairs.

Rose ran forwards and wrapped her arms around him. ‘We’re fine,’ she said. ‘We didn’t go out, just like you said. And when all he craziness started, we hid on the roof.’

‘The roof. Good idea. I was trapped in my wardrobe. Hang on…’ He pulled out of the hug, a confused look on his face. ‘What do you mean, like I said?’

‘This morning. You told me to stay in tonight. You said it wasn’t going to be safe. Did you know this would happen?’ Rose looked Mickey over. He wasn’t wearing the same thing he had been earlier. He was back in his usual work clothes.

‘Rose, I didn’t see you at all today,' said Mickey, still clearly confused. 'I was at work. I had only just got home when everything started going crazy.’

He was telling the truth, she knew he was. Rose had always been able to see straight through him. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? She had seen him. He may have acted a bit differently but it had definitely been Mickey.

Rose rubbed her temple. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Must just be stress or something.’

Her Mum made her a fresh cup of tea and it wasn’t long until the conversation turned to how they were going to fix all the stuff that had been broken. Rose put in the necessary input into the discussion but her mind was elsewhere. She couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu about this whole scenario. She shook herself out of it. How could she be feeling that way? Nothing as weird (or as exciting) as this ever happened to her.

----

Nothing else happened for a year. Nothing at all. Rose and Mickey stayed together despite the fact that the relationship was going stale. Rose had long since admitted to herself that she was unlikely to find anyone better and Mickey loved her too much to let her go. Rose still cared about Mickey. He was a good bloke and a dear friend. But every now and then she wanted more than he could give her. She may have been being selfish, but she couldn’t help it. Surely there had to be more to life than this?

After Henrik's had blown up, she had gotten a job at a café serving chips and her life was just as dull as it always had been. Get up, catch the bus, go to work, come back home, eat chips, go to bed, and that was it. Sometimes her and Mickey would go out to the pub for dinner or she would go see her Mum but that was about as exciting as it got. Every now and then Rose would see an article in a magazine about how this person went to this place and that person did that and she found herself wishing she could do something of the like - travel the world or something. But even with both her and Mickey’s income that sort of adventure was a good five years off. So Rose had resigned herself to the monotony of her day-to-day life.

And then a spaceship had crashed into Big Ben.

At first the people of Earth were excited. First contact with alien life! But then Britain’s Emergency Parliament announced that they had detected a spaceship in the sky just above London - a much bigger ship than the one that had crashed into the Thames – and that it was ready to wipe out the city. Rose and Mickey had watched the news report as the acting Prime Minister begged the UN to hand over the nuclear codes to them so that they could strike the aliens first. A plea that did not go unanswered and Great Britain fired their first nuclear missile.

But not at the alien spaceship. They fired their weapon at Hong Kong, killing millions of innocent people.

For the next few days the world had waited with bated breath for retaliation. People in London had started evacuating and it hadn't been long before the looting started. Rose was sure that they were on the brink of World War Three.

But then it was revealed that a low level politician – Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North – had discovered that Britain’s Emergency Parliament, the ones who had fired the missile, were actually “alien spies” (well, that's what the news report had called them anyway) and the military had quickly rounded up the spies and disposed of them.

No details were given as to where these spies had come from but the governments of the world had been quick to name the spaceship sightings as a hoax created by them to convince the UN to hand over the missile codes.

So World War Three had been prevented… but the worry remained. “Alien spies” or no, England had still devastated Hong Kong and they weren’t likely to be forgiven for that. Harriet Jones had taken over as Prime Minister and seemed to be doing a great deal to keep the peace but the people of Britain still feared a retaliation strike.

And yet, Rose’s life didn’t change. She still served chips in a stuffy café only now her customers didn’t smile or stop for a friendly chat like they used to. The one good part of her job was gone.

Four months after the destruction of Hong Kong, Rose was doing her usual afternoon routine of mopping up the tables when Mickey came running into the café. ‘We figured it out,’ he said, rushing over to her. ‘I know how to fix this.’

‘Fix what?’ asked Rose. She really wasn’t in the mood for riddles.

‘Everything. But I need you to come with me.’

‘I’m in the middle of my shift.’

‘It’s important.’

Rose stood up straight and faced him. He had more life in his face than she had seen in the past two months but that didn’t change her mood. ‘More important than paying the rent?’ she asked, irritably.

‘Yes,’ he answered at once and Rose rolled her eyes and went back to wiping the table in front of her. ‘Rose, this world is wrong! You know it is. You shouldn’t be here serving chips, you should be out there helping people.’

Right, that was it. Rose had had enough.

‘How am I supposed to help?’ she asked, straightening up again and chucking her cloth angrily onto the table. ‘This is how the world is, Mickey. I can’t change it. No one can.’ She let out an exhausted sigh and picked her cloth back up. ‘Please just let me do my job,’ she said, much quieter this time.

Mickey didn’t say anything. He stared at her sadly for a minute and then walked back out the door, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Rose felt a little guilty for ruining his good mood but she couldn’t find it in her to go after him.

When she got home that night, Mickey didn’t mention the conversation so she followed his lead and pretended that it had never happened.

A few weeks later, a lottery ticket was shoved through Jackie Tyler’s letterbox with a note telling her to take Rose away for Christmas.

Chapter Text

Christmas came along and with it came the Sycorax spaceship. Rose and Jackie watched the news from their hotel room in Brighton as Harriet Jones gave a speech, urging people to stay calm.

Rose looked up at the ceiling where she knew that several people were stood on the edge of the hotel roof, seemingly ready to jump. They hadn’t given any indication of wanting to be there. They hadn’t given anyone any response at all actually. Millions of people around the world had just suddenly started walking, zombie-like, towards the highest building in their vicinity.

It had to be the aliens in that spaceship controlling them, thought Rose. It was too much of a coincidence for it not to be.

There was no news for a few hours but slowly reports started to come in of the people walking away from the roofs. Rose looked out the window. Sure enough, the people who had been atop of the hotel were back on solid ground; seemingly back in their right minds. A voice on the TV signalled an incoming broadcast and Rose walked back over to watch.

The news reader announced that the people around the world who had been under the mysterious influence had been set free but Prime Minister Harriet Jones had been killed by the alien invaders. He was just about to go into more detail when suddenly the screen turned to static. Rose tried the other channels but each gave the same result.

‘Maybe it’s just our TV?’ suggested Jackie and they both headed to the hotel lobby to ask the receptionist.

What they found when they exited the lift was that they weren’t the only people who had been having the problem. Almost every guest in the hotel was there, asking for information or demanding answers.

Suddenly a desperate cry came from outside the building and Rose ran to the source of the noise. All the people outside were looking in the same direction, shock on each of their faces. Rose followed their gaze and gasped at the mushroom cloud she could see in the distance.

‘But that’s…’ whispered Jackie from beside her.

‘London,’ finished Rose. ‘I think London’s gone.’

‘All those people…’

Rose’s eyes widened in fear as she thought about Mickey. He had stayed home for Christmas to spend it with his cousins. She quickly pulled out her mobile phone and dialled the number but the call went straight to voicemail. ‘Oh, Mickey,’ she whispered, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

----

The spaceship had moved to Paris and then Berlin and then Rome, destroying each city as it went. The death toll was in the hundreds of millions. It wasn’t until it was heading to Moscow that the armies of the world managed to catch up with it. Their attack on the ship had not been enough to destroy it but it had been enough to make it leave.

No one knew if it would return.

Rose and Jackie carried what little possessions they had up the busy street. Once the spaceship had left, the world had been able to start clearing the damage. Many people had been left homeless after London had been destroyed and were in need of relocation. It had taken months, but finally Rose and Jackie had been allocated to a house in Leeds.

‘Got the key?’ asked Jackie as they stared at the door to their new home.

Rose shrugged. ‘They didn’t give me one. I thought they gave it to you?’

Suddenly, the door to the house opened and a small, balding man smiled at them. ‘Hey, hey. Is a big house,’ he said with a heavy Italian accent and a bit too much enthusiasm. ‘Room for all. Welcome! In you come.’

Rose and Jackie followed him inside. There were other people inside as well. Two kids were standing on the stairs, obviously curious about the newcomers.

‘I thought this was our house,’ said Jackie.

‘Is many peoples house,’ said the little Italian man, still smiling. ‘Is wonderful.’

Jackie went to argue further but Rose stopped her. ‘Just leave it Mum,’ she said. ‘Thousands of people are needing homes. Makes sense that we share.’

‘We've been here for eight weeks already,’ said their new housemate. ‘I had a nice little paper shop in Shepherd's Bush. All gone now. So, upstairs, we have Merchandani family. Seven of them. Good family. Good kids.’ His smile fell and he nodded to the young boy who was closest to the bottom of the stairs. ‘Except for that one. You be careful of him.’ There was a pause while the child looked at the man, offended, before the Italian’s smile returned. ‘I's a joking!’ he cried happily, pinching the boy’s cheeks. ‘Where's that smile, eh?’

Once sure that the boy was indeed smiling, he turned back to Rose and Jackie and finally introduced himself. ‘Rocco Colasanto. I'm here with my wife and her sister and her husband and their kids and their daughter's kids. We've got the front room. My mother, she's got the back room. She's old. You forgive, eh?’ He led them down the hall and stopped when they reached the kitchen. ‘And this? This is you. This is your palazzo.’

‘What, this is our room?’ asked Jackie, incredulously. ‘The bleedin’ kitchen.’

‘You got camp beds,’ said Rocco. ‘You got the cooker, you keep warm. You got the fridge, you keep cool. Is good?’

Rose once again silenced her mother’s protests. ‘It’s fine. We’ll make do. What about the bathroom?’

‘Nobody lives in the bathroom.’

Ages ago, Rose would have smiled at that. But now she just couldn’t find it in her to feel anything other than the numbness that had settled within her since London had been destroyed. She hadn’t heard from any of her friends or co-workers or Mickey. It had taken a few weeks but she had finally accepted the fact that, apart from her Mum, everyone she had ever cared about was dead.

And if it hadn’t been for that small lotto win all those months ago, Rose and Jackie would have died with them.

‘I meant, is there a roster or something?’ she asked Rocco, bringing her focus back to the present.

‘Is pot-luck!’ said Rocco, back to his over the top enthusiasm. ‘Is fun. I go wake Mamma. She likes new people.' He rushed out of the room, shouting to his mother. ‘Mamma! Is people! Nice people!’

‘So I guess this is it, then?’ said Jackie once they were alone.

Rose looked down at the two camp beds on the floor. They were similar to the ones they had been sleeping on when they had been waiting for relocation. ‘Guess so,’ she said, putting down her suitcase on the one closest to the oven. ‘At least it’s a proper house. Bit crowded but Rocco seems nice.’

‘Suppose,’ agreed Jackie.

Rose leant over and gave her mother a hug. ‘We’ll be okay, I promise,’ she soothed, though she wasn’t sure she if believed her own words. ‘I’ll go out tomorrow and see if I can get a job. Get some money coming again. Then maybe we can get our own place.’

Jackie nodded and pulled out of the hug. ‘Me too. Though I doubt hairdressers are in high demand at the moment.’ There was an awkward pause and then Jackie let out another sob. ‘Oh, Rose, what are we gonna do?’

----

A month went by and neither Rose nor Jackie had managed to find work. The effect that the loss of London had had on the employment market had spread far further than just the people who used to live there. So many businesses had either been destroyed with the city or just collapsed because of it. The fact that the country's borders had been closed didn’t help.

Rose was walking home from yet another failed attempt at finding work when she noticed a bright light out of the corner of her eye but by the time she had turned her head to look properly, it had gone. Curiosity piqued, she walked towards the park where she had thought the light had come from.

When she got to park, she stopped still. It was empty, not surprising seeing as the sun was just going down, except for one lone man sitting on a bench, almost like he was waiting for her. The man had heard her approach. He stood up and smiled at her. ‘Hello, Rose,’ he said.

And that was all it took for Rose to let go of all the tears she had been holding back over the past few months. ‘Mickey!’ she cried and she ran forwards and lunged at him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. ‘Oh my God, I thought you were dead. I asked the soldiers but they didn’t have any record of you being relocated so I just assumed…’ She pulled out of the hug and punched his shoulder (not hard enough to leave a bruise but a bit rougher than a playful hit). ‘Where the hell have you been?’

‘Long story,’ said Mickey and he gestured to the bench behind him. Rose eyed him for a moment. He had definitely changed a lot. He was much more serious than he usually was and he was wearing strange clothes that Rose found vaguely familiar but still didn’t associate with the boyfriend she had thought she had lost. After a moment, she sat down and waited for Mickey to explain.

“I’m not the man you knew, Rose,’ he said, sitting down next to her. ‘And I couldn’t even begin to tell you about all the places I’ve been.’

‘But what have you been doing all this time?’ asked Rose. She still couldn’t believe that he was actually alive. Maybe there was still hope yet.

‘I’ve been trying to fix everything. There’s this organisation, UNIT, they’re called, and I’ve been working with them to try and get everything back to how it used to be.’

Well that explained the odd clothes at least. But now Rose had a bigger question. ‘How do you mean, change it back? London is gone, along with most other cities over Europe. How could we ever go back to how it was before?’

‘None of this was meant to happen,’ he said. ‘There was a man. He was maddening at times but he was clever and he was brilliant and he stopped all this from happening. Shop Dummies, Hong Kong, the Sycorax ship that destroyed London. He stopped them all.’ He turned to face her, an intense look in his eyes. ‘His name was the Doctor.’

‘I’m the Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?’

Rose blinked a couple of times. Where had that memory come from? She was fairly certain she had never met anyone by that name. Who the hell called themselves the Doctor, anyway?

Mickey must have noticed her reaction. ‘You knew him,’ he said.

‘Did I?’ asked Rose, a little unsure of herself now. ‘When?’

Mickey just gave her a sad smile. ‘I think you dream about him sometimes. A man in a leather jacket, or sometimes a man in a suit. Tall, thin man. Apparently his hair looked good but I don’t think it was all the great to be honest.’ He sniffed indignantly.

Rose almost laughed. ‘Are you… jealous?’ she asked in a teasing tone that she hadn’t used in so long that she had forgotten that she even could. ‘Jealous of a man who doesn’t exist?’

'Nah, not jealous,’ he said. ‘Not anymore, anyway. And he does exist. Just not in this universe. Here, he died in that explosion at Henrik's.’

‘But that would make him the bomber?’

‘He was trying to stop the Autons – those shop dummies – but he got caught up in the explosion.’

‘So how could I know him?’

‘You were meant to be there. But because you weren’t, the Doctor had no one else to keep safe. He had no one he needed to stay alive for. I think part of him didn’t want to make it out of there. It was a bad time for him and it was you who helped him out of it.’

An image appeared in Rose’s mind of her in the basement back at Henrik's. She was being cornered by shop dummies.

Rose recoiled from the memory she shouldn’t have had. ‘You’re not making any sense,’ she said, a bit more angrily than she had meant to. She was just so confused.

‘Something's coming, Rose,’ said Mickey, more urgent now. ‘Something worse.’

Rose let out a humourless laugh. ‘How could things possibly get worse?’

‘Trust me. They can and we need the Doctor. Every single universe is in danger. It's coming, Rose. It's coming from across the stars and nothing can stop it.’

What is?’

‘The darkness.’

Rose wasn’t sure what to say to that. Part of her was worried for Mickey’s sanity… but part of her wanted to believe him – wanted to believe that there was someone out there who could fix the world.

‘I need your help,’ continued Mickey. ‘Come with me. Please.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because you’re at the centre of it all.’

‘But I’m not important. I’m just a shop girl turned dinner lady tuned refugee. If all that stuff about this Doctor is true and he was as amazing as you say he was, why did he need me? How could I have made that much of a difference?’

‘Because you loved him. And I have no idea what kind of relationship you two have in the other universe - the proper universe - but I do know that he loves you too. You may not think you’re important but you are. Especially to him.’

Rose turned away, not being able to take the intensity in Mickey’s eyes, but he continued anyway.

‘Rose Tyler, you changed the world.’

Rose pushed herself off of the bench and brushed away the tears that were forming in her eyes. ‘I can’t do this,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what you want me to do but whatever it is, I can’t. I’m sorry.’ And without looking back, she walked out of the park.

----

Rose didn’t tell anyone about seeing Mickey at the park and tried to put it out of her mind. How could anything that Mickey had said been true? Even if the Doctor did exist, why would someone like that love her? She was just a high-school drop out from the Estates.

So she pretended that the conversation hadn’t happened and continued her life just as she had before (although she felt a little lighter knowing that Mickey was still alive). But that all changed three weeks later when the Emergency Government issued a new law. It was full of fancy words and conditional clauses but the overall message was clear. England for the English. No foreigners allowed.

‘But I don’t understand,’ said Rose as Rocco gave her a big hug. His family was already on the back of the soldiers’ jeep, as was all their luggage. ‘Where are you going to go?’

Rocco pulled back from the hug and gave her a big smile. Rose found that she was rather going to miss that smile. ‘They build labour camps,’ said Rocco in the same cheerful enthusiasm that he had shown the whole time since Rose had known him. It had annoyed her at first but in the months gone by, Rocco’s positive attitude had become hard not to give in to. Rose didn’t have many happy memories from her time in Leeds, but those few that she did have were because of Rocco.

‘But labour doing what?’ asked Rose. ‘There isn’t any work.’

Rocco faltered but only for a moment. A few seconds was all it took for his smile to be back in place. ‘Digging, sewing. Is good.’ He grabbed Rose by the shoulders and gave her a kiss on each cheek. ‘Now stop it before I kiss you too much.’ Rose let out a little laugh and gave him one last hug.

Rocco pulled away and gave Jackie the same treatment. He gave them both a little wave before joining his family on the jeep.

‘I think I’m actually going to miss him,’ said Jackie as the jeep started to pull away. ‘Drove me mad most of the time, mind, but still… He was good to have around. Always up for a laugh. Always happy, you know.’

Rose caught sight of Rocco on the back of the jeep as it turned the corner. He didn’t look happy now. He was holding his crying wife close to him, a look of utter hopelessness on his face. ‘Labour camps,' she said. 'Doesn’t sound right, does it?’

‘No, it doesn’t, does it?’ sighed Jackie. ‘Still, there’s nothing we can do it about it.’

‘But there must be,’ said Rose, quietly. The thought of just carrying on with her every day life suddenly seemed wrong somehow.

‘Come off it,’ said Jackie, not unkindly. ‘What could we possibly do to change the world?’

Rose Tyler, you changed the world.

Without another word, Rose turned and walked down the street. Her Mum shouted after her, warning her that it would be dark soon and that it wasn’t safe, but Rose wasn’t listening. She didn’t care if it wasn’t safe; she couldn’t just stand there and do nothing.

She found Mickey on the same park bench that she had found him sitting on three weeks ago. And just like before, he looked as if he had been waiting for her. Rose walked up to him. ‘I’m ready,’ she said without a hint of uncertainty. ‘Let’s go change the world.’

Chapter Text

Mickey had taken her to a sort of military base that was set up in a huge warehouse. Rose had no idea where it was but judging by the length of the car ride, it was probably somewhere near London (or where London used to be). Night had fallen by the time they got there.

Mickey introduced her to a soldier named Erisa Magambo. She was a Captain and Rose got the impression that she had earned that title. She seemed very serious and straightforward and was probably very good at her job.

After the introductions were done, Mickey went straight to business. ‘Is it awake?’ he asked Magambo.

‘Is what awake?’ asked Rose.

‘Seems to be quiet today,’ said Magambo, answering Mickey’s question. ‘Ticking over. Like it's waiting.’

Mickey’s gaze foccussed on something on the other side of the room and Rose turned to see a wooden blue box standing there. The top of the box read Police Public Calll Box and there was light on the roof but it didn’t appear to be working. Cables ran from the box and connected to other, more technical looking, pieces of equipment in the room.

‘A police box?’ asked Rose, confused. How could a box be awake or waiting?

‘It’s a bit more than just a box,’ said Mickey, walking towards it. He took a hold of Rose’s hand and pulled her along with him until they stopped stopped just outside the door. ‘Come inside,’ he said, smiling in the way he always used to whenever he had given her a birthday or Christmas present that she hadn’t been expecting.

‘Inside the wooden box?’ asked Rose, sceptically.

‘I told you, it’s more than just a box.’

He still had that smile on his face and Rose couldn’t help but give in. She followed Mickey inside and stopped still at what she saw. ‘But… It’s…’ she stammered and she took the few steps back out of the door to double check. The outside was definitely just a small wooden box but inside... the room was massive! She ran back inside and saw that Mickey’s smile had grown even more.

‘What do you think?’ he asked.

‘It’s bigger on the inside.’ Rose knew that she was stating the obvious but she felt that it just needed to be said. She walked up and joined Mickey at the piece of machinery that was in the middle of the cavernous room. ‘Oh my God, it’s true, isn’t it? Everything you told me?’

Mickey nodded. ‘This is the Doctor’s TARDIS. We salvaged it from what was left of London. It was just down the street from where Henrik’s used to be.’

‘But the outside's made of wood,’ said Rose, running her hand along the buttons of the machine in front of her. It seemed oddly familiar. A bit like deja vu. ‘How did it survive the attack?’

‘The Doctor always said she was indestructible.’

‘She?’

Mickey shrugged. ‘He always called it a she.’ He turned to face her with a knowing smile. ‘It’s alive.’

Looking around the room, Rose could see that Mickey was right. There was a sort of hum coming from all around them. Rose couldn’t exactly hear it; it was more of a feeling than a sound. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ she asked. She didn’t know why but she could just tell that the machine – the TARDIS – wasn’t well. Maybe it was just because of the dim lighting and lack of activity. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what this room would have looked like in its prime. She imagined a warm greenish light illuminating the room, the mechanism in the middle of the room alive with blinking lights as the column on top moved up and down. For a moment, she could have sworn she had heard a soft wheezing sound.

Rose opened her eyes and saw Mickey looking at her curiously. But he wasn’t looking at her face; he was looking over her shoulder - at her back. ‘Why are you looking at my back like that?’ she asked, twisting her neck to check it. ‘People keep doing that but every time I look, there’s nothing there.’

‘There is something there,’ said Mickey, now looking at her face again. ‘But at the same time, it isn’t.’

‘You keep saying things that don’t make sense,’ said Rose sharply. She was so tired and so confused. She hadn’t known what to expect when she had decided to come with Mickey but she had hoped for some sort of plan to help fix the world. Instead she was getting more riddles and a box that defied the laws of physics.

‘Then I guess you won’t like me telling you that we’re standing in a time machine and that whatever is on your back is from another world,’ he deadpanned, seemingly unaffected by Rose's sharp tone.

Rose stared blankly at Mickey for a minute before breaking out in a fit of giggles. ‘I’m sorry,’ she finally said, wiping away the tears. It had been a long time since she had properly laughed.

‘You don’t believe me?’ asked Mickey. This time he sounded a little bit disappointed.

‘No, it’s not that, it’s just… I'm standing in a box that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside – a box that is somehow alive. Why shouldn’t it be time machine too?’

‘So… you do believe me?’ asked Mickey.

Rose sighed and nodded. ‘I’m sorry I snapped. It’s just been a long few months.’

Mickey shrugged it off. ‘It’s all right. It’s a lot to take in. You should have seen me when I first saw the TARDIS…’ He trailed off for a moment. ‘Well, actually you did see it. You just don’t remember.’ He shot a glance at whatever was (or wasn’t) on Rose’s back and then lifted his eyes to meet hers again. ‘Do you want to see it?’

----

Mickey led Rose to a circle of mirrors that was across the room from the TARDIS. More cables ran along the floor, joining everything together. ‘We don't know how the TARDIS works, but we've managed to scrape off the surface technology,' explained Mickey. 'Enough to show you the creature.'

‘Creature?’ asked Rose. ‘Is that what’s on my back?’

Mickey nodded and guided her to the centre of the circle. ‘Just stand here.’

‘Out of the circle, please,’ said Magambo from the array of computers just outside the mirrors.

Mickey gave her a mock salute. ‘Yes, ma'am.’

He walked out of the circle and Rose suddenly felt very nervous. ‘Is this dangerous?’ she asked but it was too late for an answer. Magambo gave the order to activate the machine and the lights around Rose switched on, causing her to shut her eyes to protect them from the blinding light.

‘Open your eyes, Rose,’ urged Mickey and Rose slowly did so. She looked in the mirror to her left and caught sight of a giant beetle hanging off her back.

‘Oh my God,' she gasped, now even more afraid than before. ‘What is it?’

‘We don’t know much about it,’ said Mickey, ‘but it seems to be feeding off of time by changing it. By making someone's life take a different turn. Like meetings never made, children never born… a life never loved.’

‘What did it change?’ asked Rose, willing herself to calm down. If she didn’t look at the mirrors – if she couldn’t see the thing on her back – it didn’t seem as bad.

‘The day Henrik’s blew up, your manager asked you to work that night.’

Rose thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, I remember. Shona hadn’t turned up so they asked me to cover her shift.’

Mickey nodded. ‘That’s what changed. In the proper universe, you took that shift but the creature made you say no, and, by saying no, you never met the Doctor and the whole world was different because of it.’

‘So, not so important after all then,’ said Rose, slightly disappointed (and still slightly scared). For a minute there, she had thought she was special but it wasn’t her, it was this beetle thing. ‘I’m just a host.’

‘It chose you for a reason, Rose,’ said Mickey. ‘It chose you because it saw how much of a difference you made. And you did it just by being you.’

Rose didn’t know what to say to that. ‘Can you get it off me?’ she asked instead.

‘We can't even touch it. It seems to be in a state of flux.’

‘And what does that mean?’

‘I don't know. It's the sort of thing the Doctor would say.' Mickey gave a little laugh, as if remembering an inside joke. His smile faded a bit when he realised that Rose wasn't laughing with him.

Captain Magambo turned the machine off and Rose let out a sigh of relief. ‘It’s still there though, isn’t it?’ she said to Mickey who had joined her in the middle of the circle again. ‘Just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s gone.’ Mickey nodded. ‘If we get rid of it, will that undo whatever it did? Will it fix the world?’

‘We think so.’

‘Then how do we do it?’

Mickey smiled. ‘You're going to travel in time.’

----

Mickey had given her some clothes that Rose was fairly sure were hers anyway (ones she had thought she'd lost with everything else in their flat) and showed her to a room where she could get changed. Once dressed, she made her way back into the main room of the warehouse where soldiers and scientists were hooking up even more cables to various pieces of equipment.

She walked over to where Mickey was standing and he gave her a jacket with a bunch of wires attached to it and helped her put it on. ‘The TARDIS has tracked down the time of intervention,’ he explained. ‘They asked you to do that extra shift at exactly six minutes to one. Just after lunch.’

‘Keep the jacket on until that time,’ said Magambo, walking up to her and Mickey. ‘It's insulation against temporal feedback.’ She nodded at the technical looking watch that a scientist had just put on Rose’s wrist. ‘This will correspond to local time wherever you land.’ She held out a glass of water. ‘This is to combat dehydration.’

Rose took the water and downed it in one go. ‘Thanks,’ she said, giving the empty glass back.

They made their way over to the mirror circle once again and Rose stood in the middle. This time Mickey didn’t join her. ‘This is as far as I go,’ he said. ‘From now on, it all up to you.’

Rose looked uncertainly at the mirrors. ‘I’m not gonna see that thing again, am I?’

‘Nah, the mirrors are just incidental. They bounce chronon energy back into the centre which we control and decide the destination.’

Rose let out a small chuckle. Mickey had always been a bit of a nerd but this was something else. ‘It's a time machine,’ she said. She still couldn’t quite believe it.

‘It's a time machine,’ said Mickey, matching her smile.

‘Powering up,’ said Magambo and the moment was broken.

‘How do you know it's going to work?’ asked Rose, now nervous again.

‘Oh we don’t. We’re just sort of winging it.’

Rose let out another laugh at Mickey’s flippant tone. ‘Great.’

‘You’ll be fine,’ assured Mickey. ‘Just remember, six minutes to one. Make sure you take that shift.’

‘How?’

Mickey shrugged. ‘Up to you.’

Rose nodded, trying to think confident. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure I can think of something… Or maybe I’ll just wing it.’ She gave Mickey a teasing smile and he laughed. Rose’s face grew more serious but her smile didn’t totally fade. ‘Thanks, Micks,’ she said, earnestly.

‘Activate lodestone,’ shouted Magambo.

‘Good luck,’ said Mickey.

Rose nodded her thanks. ‘I'm ready.’

‘And don’t forget to tell him about the stars going out.’

Rose nodded again, not quite understanding him but she was sure that it would all make sense soon.

‘What made you change your mind?’ asked Mickey as the machine entered the final stages of powering up.

‘Because I realised that I couldn’t just sit back while there are people out there suffering,’ said Rose, thinking back to the haunted look she had seen on Rocco’s face as he was driven away on the back of a jeep. ‘Not when I can do something to help. I don’t know if this will work but I can at least try.’

Mickey smiled and Rose thought she saw a little bit of pride in his eyes. ‘Now that’s the Rose Tyler I remember.’

The whir of the machine grew louder and Magambo flicked the last switch. ‘Activate!'

----

Rose opened her eyes and the first thing she noticed was that it was daylight. The second thing she noticed was that she was only a few streets away from Henrik’s. She almost cried out in joy at the sight of the busy London street – the people all going about their day-to-day lives. It had worked. She’s travelled back in time! She checked the watch that the scientist had given her. Ten to one. She had four minutes to convince herself to take that shift.

She ran the few streets it took to reach Henrik’s and by the time she had gotten there, she only had two minutes left.

She looked up and saw herself walking down the street towards the shop. Rose peered at herself, curiously. It was definitely odd seeing a younger version of herself but what really caught Rose’s attention was her clothes. They were the exact same ones that she was wearing now - underneath her bulky jacket.

Rose now knew what she had to do. She rushed across the street, ignoring the angry honks of the cars she cut off, and blocked her other self’s path just metres from the edge of the Henrik’s building. She really hoped that this was the right thing to do.

‘I know. I know, it’s weird,’ she said as her younger self stared at her in shock and wonder. ‘But you’ve got to listen. You need to go home right now.’

Her younger self went to ask a question but Rose didn’t let her. ‘There’s no time for questions. Please just go. If you don’t, Mum will be in danger.’

Rose wasn’t sure whether it was her words or her pleading eyes or just the fact that she was there at all, but after a few seconds, her younger self gave her a fearful nod and turned around and ran in the opposite direction. Rose let out a sigh of relief. She had figured that mentioning her Mum would have been the best way to convince her younger self to go home but she really hadn’t been sure if it would have worked.

She shook herself out of it and looked back at her watch. One minute to go. She ran up the few metres left to the door and walked into Henrik’s department store.

She had been in the building for about ten seconds when she heard someone calling her name. It was her manager, Anita.

‘Rose…’ Anita faltered as she took in Rose's appearance. ‘What’s with the jacket?’

‘Oh just something that Mickey gave me,’ she said. ‘I’ll take it off before I get back to work.’

Anita gave her an odd look but accepted the explanation. ‘Shona hasn’t shown up. Can you work an extra shift?’

‘Yeah, sure. Just let me call Mickey to tell him I’m working late.’

‘Thanks,’ said Anita and she walked off, back to her manger duties.

Rose frowned. She had expected to feel time change or the Earth move or something but she just felt the same. Shrugging off the jacket and hiding it behind one of the registers, she went back to doing what she had been doing all those years ago: working in a shop, wondering how this was suppose to make a difference.

----

Closing time came and Rose had still yet to feel any change and she had begun to wonder if she had mucked it up somehow. Or maybe Mickey had been wrong and the beetle thing had changed something else in her life? Maybe she was never supposed to meet the Doctor?

She was almost at the door on her way out when someone shoved a small plastic back in her face. It was the lotto money for Wilson. Rose felt a pang of guilt. In all the drama, she had forgotten that Wilson had died this day.

Well if she couldn’t save the world, maybe she could at least save him. She took the bag in front of her and ran to the lift.

----

‘Wilson?’ she called once she had stepped out of the lift and into the shop's basement. ‘Wilson, are you there?’

Please be still alive, she added to herself.

Wilson didn't call back out to her so Rose walked further down the basement corridor. She tried his office but there was no answer and the door was locked.

It wasn’t looking good so far but she wasn’t giving up.

She searched to rooms of the basement one by one but to no avail. Finally, when she reached a room full of shop window dummies, she thought she saw something move. ‘Wilson is that you?’ she called.

But it wasn’t Wilson. Rose watched, eyes wide, as the shop dummies in the room started to move. And then she remembered what had happened the day after the shop blew up, how all the plastic had come to life. Suddenly she was very afraid.

She backed up a few paces and jumped when her back hit the wall behind her. The dummies were all around her now. She was trapped.

It all felt terribly familiar but Rose didn’t really have time to process that thought. The dummy directly in front of her had raised its arm above its head threateningly.

This was it, she thought. She had gone through all that just to die here in a basement, surrounded by shop window dummies. She closed her eyes and waited for the final blow.

Suddenly a hand grabbed hers. Rose opened her eyes and turned to see a man with short cropped hair and a leather jacket. In a strong northern accent, he said just one word.

‘Run.’

----

Did I mention it also travels in time?

Better with two.

I’m so glad I met you.

I can dance!

You were fantastic.

New new Doctor.

Stuck with you, that’s not so bad.

How long are you going to stay with me?

I promised you forever.

I don’t want to waste any more time.

My Rose.

My Doctor.

Rose let out a scream as all the memories flooded back to her. She felt the beetle let go of her back and turned to see it twitch one last time on the floor before it stilled. The curtain to the small shop rustled and she looked up to see the Doctor running in, eyes wide with panic. He had obviously heard her scream. Donna wasn’t far behind him.

The fortune-teller had made a fearful retreat out the back of the room, mumbling something unintelligible, but Rose didn’t pay her any attention. She ran to the Doctor and launched herself at him, needing to feel his arms around her. ‘You were gone,’ she sobbed against his chest. ‘I never took that late shift at Henrik's and you died. Then there was the Slitheen in Downing Street and Hong Kong was destroyed, and then the Sycorax came, and they took Rocco away, and, and-’ She knew she was babbling and she knew that her words made no sense to the Doctor but she needed to get it out. ‘-and I missed you. I didn’t even know you but I still missed you.’

‘Hey, hey, I’m right here,’ soothed the Doctor, stroking her hair. He moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed her away slightly, just enough so that she could see his eyes. Rose let out another sob. God, she loved those eyes. ‘See. I haven’t gone anywhere.’

Rose nodded, barely containing another sob and then lunged forward to hold him once more. This time the Doctor hugged her a little tighter.

After she had calmed down and had wiped her eyes, Rose showed the Doctor the beetle that had been on her back. ‘It's one of the Trickster's Brigade,’ he explained. ‘Changes a life in tiny little ways. Most times, the universe just compensates around it, but with you? Great big parallel world.’

‘But aren’t they supposed to be sealed off?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘They are. But you had one created around you.’

‘But what about Mickey?’

‘What about him?’

Rose told him what had happened in the parallel world and how Mickey had warned her about the stars going out. ‘He said it was all worlds,’ she said, finishing her story. ‘I think it was him - the actual him - the one I grew up with, not a parallel version.’

The Doctor looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Maybe we should get back to the TARDIS.'

The three of them walked out of the shop and back into the marketplace. Rose and the Doctor stopped dead and stared up at all the banners. When they had entered the shop, the banners had all said different things. But now they all said the same two words.

Bad Wolf.

‘Are you doing that?’ the Doctor asked Rose, looking around the street. Every sign around them said Bad Wolf.

‘I don’t know,’ said Rose. ‘If I am, it’s not on purpose. But Doctor, if Mickey got through to that world, that means the walls are breaking down. You said that two universes would collapse if that happened.’

The Doctor’s eyes widened as he realised the severity of the situation and he grabbed Rose’s hand and started running towards the TARDIS. Donna was right behind them. ‘What’s happened?’ she asked as they entered the TARDIS, which was also plastered with the same two words. Inside, the interior was bathed in a deep red light and Rose could here the cloister bell ringing from deep within the ship. ‘What’s Bad Wolf?’

Rose and the Doctor looked at each other worryingly.

‘It’s the end of the universe.’

Chapter Text

The Doctor had decided that the best place to go first would be 21st century London. ‘It’s the most likely place where Mickey would be able to push his way through the walls of the universe,’ he said as he piloted the TARDIS towards their destination. The lighting in the console room had returned to normal and the cloister bell had stopped ringing but Rose still felt on edge. ‘And, let’s face it,’ the Doctor continued, ‘if there is something going on that is threatening the whole wide multiverse, planet Earth is probably going to be slap bang in the middle of it.’

The TARDIS materialised and the Doctor ran out the door, Rose and Donna close behind him. What they found outside was a little anti-climatic. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a milkman was doing his usual rounds. ‘It's fine. Everything's fine,’ said the Doctor, sounding a bit surprised (and maybe a tad disappointed). He noticed the milkman on the other side of the road and called out to him. ‘Excuse me. What day is it?’

‘Saturday,’ replied the milkman, giving the Doctor a weird look.

‘Saturday,’ repeated the Doctor. ‘Good, I like Saturdays.’

He went to go back in the TARDIS but Rose didn’t follow. ‘I’m just going to go talk to the milkman,’ she said. ‘You know, ask him a few questions.’

‘I already did that,’ said the Doctor, giving a confused look.

Rose rolled her eyes at him. ‘All you did was ask him the day. Hardly a proper investigation, is it? Maybe he knows about the stars going out. Surely something weird like that would be n the news or something.’

The Doctor smiled proudly at her. ‘Good thinking, Lewis,’ he said and then he rushed back into the TARDIS, no doubt to run a few scans.

Donna followed the Doctor inside and Rose made her way over to the milkman. ‘Excuse me, sorry,’ she said as she reached him and the milkman stopped to face her. ‘Odd question, but have you noticed anything weird happening recently?’

Just as the words had left her mouth, the ground started to shake. The bottles in the milkman’s float rattled and loose tiles fell off of nearby house roofs, smashing on the pavement below.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the earthquake stopped. But Rose was no longer focused on the ground... her attention had been diverted to the sky. It was night when only seconds ago it was sunshine. But that wasn’t the only odd thing about it. Rose’s jaw dropped as she stared up at the unfamiliar planets that hung in the sky above her. She didn’t have to wonder about the reason behind the sudden earthquake anymore. She knew what it was. The Earth had moved. Or, more likely, it had been taken. But by whom? And for what purpose?

Rose tore her eyes away from the sky and made to run to the TARDIS to get the Doctor but froze when she saw that the space where it had been a minute ago was now empty. The Earth had moved but the TARDIS hadn’t. She was on her own.

----

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor was scanning the surrounding area of space for any irregular activity when suddenly the whole room shook.

‘What the hell was that?’ asked Donna.

‘Don't know,’ said the Doctor. ‘It came from outside.’ He immediately thought of Rose and ran to check if she was all right. The earthquake hadn’t lasted long but could have easily done some damage to anyone standing in the wrong spot. He opened the TARDIS doors and paled at what he saw. It wasn’t the London street they had been in a minute beforehand.

‘But we're in space,’ gasped Donna, looking out over his shoulder. ‘How did that happen? What did you do?’

The Doctor ran back to the console and checked the scanner again. ‘We haven't moved,’ he said. ‘We're fixed.’ The more he looked at the readings in front of him, the more his anxiety grew. ‘It can't have,’ he whispered. He tapped a few more buttons but the readings did not change. ‘The TARDIS is still in the same place, but the Earth has gone. The entire planet. It's gone.’

And so had Rose.

Donna closed the doors and joined him at the console. ‘But if the Earth's been moved, they've lost the Sun,’ she said. Now that the initial shock had worn off, her fear was setting in. ‘What about my Mum? And Granddad? They're dead, aren't they? Are they dead?’

‘I don't know, Donna,’ said the Doctor, trying not to focus on his own similar fears. ‘I just don't know. I'm sorry, I don't know.’

‘That's my family. My whole world.’ Her eyes widened. ‘And Rose. Oh my God, Doctor. I’m so sorry.’

The Doctor gulped down the panic that threatened to surface. He didn’t want to think about the possibility of Rose being gone forever. ‘There's no readings,’ he said, looking at his most recent scan. ‘Nothing. Not a trace. Not even a whisper. Oh, that is fearsome technology.’ He whacked the console in frustration and immediately regretted it as a sharp pain pulsed through his hand.

‘So what do we do?’ asked Donna.

‘We've got to get help,’ he said, shaking his hand to try and lessen the pain. It worked somewhat but it didn’t help the fear that he was only just managing to control. What if Donna was right? What if they were all dead?

‘From where?’ asked Donna, bringing him out of his internal panicking and back into action-mode. Whoever had taken the Earth had access to highly advanced and highly outlawed technology. And there was only one place that the Doctor could think of that would be able to track that sort of thing.

‘Donna, I'm taking you to the Shadow Proclamation.’

----

Rose dialled the TARDIS number again but still got no response. She had tried both the TARDIS and Donna’s mobile multiple times but neither line seemed to be working. Whoever moved the Earth must be blocking the signals going out somehow.

She would just have to phone someone a bit closer, then.

The phone rang a couple of times before Rose heard the brilliant voice of Martha Jones. ‘Rose, I’ve been trying to call the TARDIS.’

‘Me too,’ said Rose, sighing in relief that she wasn’t totally alone in this. ‘You haven’t been able to get through either?’

Martha took a couple of seconds to answer. ‘What do you mean; you’ve been trying too?’ she asked, confused. ‘Where are you?’

‘On Earth. London. Any chance your UNIT buddies can come get me?’

‘I’m in New York but I can send word. Where’s the Doctor?’

‘In the TARDIS. We were parked on the street but when the Earth moved, the TARDIS didn’t. The Doctor and Donna were still inside. Look, don’t worry about sending someone to get me, I’ll figure something out. What do you know about whoever moved us?’

‘We don’t know who they are but we are probably about to find out. We’ve detected about two hundred objects heading for Earth. Should be in orbit any minute. I was just about to call Jack to see what Torchwood knows.’

‘Good idea, call me if you find out anything. I’m on my way to Donna’s house. If the Doctor is going to turn up anywhere on Earth, it will probably be there.’

‘Good luck,’ said Martha and she hung up the phone.

Rose pocketed her mobile and looked back up at the sky, her stride unfaltering. Two hundred flying objects sounded a bit much for just a welcoming party. She had a feeling that the Earth being moved was just the beginning.

----

After walking a few more blocks, Rose heard the sounds of shouting and car alarms. She turned the corner to see that nearly every shop window on the street was broken. The looting had started.

That hadn’t taken long.

She had made it half way down the street when a new sound echoed around the street. This one came from above. Rose looked up to the sky and bit back a curse. She could now see what the two hundred flying objects that UNIT had detected were. They were Dalek ships. And one of them was flying almost right above her, shooting at random buildings. She could almost hear the cries of ‘Exterminate” that she knew would be coming from the creatures inside the ship.

‘Run,’ Rose shouted at the people on the street. ‘Find somewhere safe and stay there.’ A laser bolt fired from the ship, blasting a shop across the street. ‘Run!’ Rose shouted again and this time, the few people who hadn’t already headed her warning (or hadn’t fled at the mere sight of the ship), did so.

Rose took one last look at the Dalek ship before she ran too.

It just had to be the Daleks didn’t it?

The relief that she had felt when she had been talking to Martha was long gone, replaced with a cold feeling of dread. Every time she met the Daleks, she almost lost everything. She just hoped that this wouldn’t be the time that she did.

----

The Doctor had landed them at the Shadow Proclamation. A posh name for police, he had told Donna and she wasn’t really in the mood to ask any questions. She was too worried. Someone had stolen the Earth, along with her entire family and everyone she had ever cared about apart from the Doctor.

A bunch of Rhino aliens had led the Doctor and Donna to see the head of the institution, the Architect. ‘Time Lords are the stuff of legend,’ said the Architect (a tall albino woman). ‘They belong in the myths and whispers of the Higher Species. You cannot possibly exist.’

‘I’ve got a missing planet,’ said the Doctor, straight to business. He may have been good at hiding his emotions but Donna could tell be the way his jaw tensed that the situation terrified him just as much as it did her. Rose was on Earth too. And they had no idea where she was or even if she was still alive.

‘Then you're not as wise as the stories would say,’ said the Architect in a very pompous tone. Donna instantly took a disliking to her. ‘The picture is far bigger than you imagine. The whole universe is in outrage, Doctor. Twenty four worlds have been taken from the sky.’

This caught the Doctor off guard. ‘How many? Which ones? Show me.’ He ran around the desk in the centre of the room to join the Architect in front of a computer screen and putting on what Rose had often called his “brainy-specs”.

‘Locations range far and wide,’ said the Architect, ‘but all disappeared at the exact same moment, leaving no trace.’

The Doctor leaned in to read the screen. ‘Callufrax Minorr. Jahoo. Shallacatop. Woman Wept. Clom. Clom's gone? Who'd want Clom?’

The Architect didn’t seem to know. ‘All different sizes,’ she said. ‘Some populated, some not. But all unconnected.’

Donna was starting to doubt if the Shadow Proclamation would be able to help them at all. So far the only thing they’d been able to do was give them a list of other planets that had just disappeared into thin air.

A memory brought itself to the forefront of Donna’s mind. This wasn’t the first time someone had said that a planet had been lost. ‘What about Pyrovillia?’ she asked, interrupting the Doctor's conversation with the Architect.

The Architect didn’t seem very impressed with the intrusion. ‘Who is the female?’ she asked with distain. It was obvious that she didn’t think that Donna was worth being there at all, let alone being listened to.

Well, Donna just might have something to say about that.

‘Donna,’ she said, answering the Architect’s question. ‘I'm a human being. Maybe not the stuff of legend but every bit as important as Time Lords, thank you.’ That seemed to wipe the condescending look off of the woman’s face (and brought about a little bit of a smile on the Doctor’s) so Donna gave herself a mental high-five and carried on. ‘Way back, when we were in Pompeii, Lucius said Pyrovillia had gone missing.’

‘Pyrovillia is cold case,’ said one of the Rhinos beside her. ‘Not relevant.’

‘How do you mean, cold case?’

It was the Architect who answered this time. ‘The planet Pyrovillia cannot be part of this. It disappeared over two thousand years ago.’

But Donna was on a roll and she wasn’t going to let the woman deter her. ‘But there's the Adipose breeding planet, too,’ she said. ‘Miss Foster said that was lost, but that must've been a long time ago.’

‘That's it!’ shouted the Doctor, a little bit of hope finally returning to his features. ‘Donna, brilliant. Planets are being taken out of time as well as space. Let's put this into 3-D.’ He did something to the computer in front of him and a hologram of all the missing planets filled the room. ‘Now, if we add Pyrovillia and Adipose Three. Something missing.’ He started whispering to himself as he thought of any other planets to add. ‘Oh! The Lost Moon of Poosh.’ Donna hadn’t heard of that one but the Doctor seemed pretty sure of himself so he added it to the list.

Once the last planet was added to the hologram, the planets suddenly moved, forming a different alignment. ‘What did you do?’ asked the Architect.

The Doctor walked to the centre of the hologram. ‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘The planets rearranged themselves into the optimum pattern. Oh, look at that. Twenty seven planets in perfect balance. Come on, that is gorgeous. Oh, Rose would love this.’ His smile faded as he no doubt started thinking of what this all meant for his girlfriend who was trapped on one of those planets.

Donna walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Come on, don't get all spaceman,’ she said softly, trying to ease the fear she knew he felt. She felt it too. ‘What does it all mean?’

She doubted that she had succeeded in easing the Doctor’s fear but her words had been enough to bring him back to the task at hand at least. ‘All those worlds fit together like pieces of an engine,’ he explained. ‘It's like a powerhouse. But what for?’

‘Who could design such a thing?’ asked the Architect.

‘Someone tried to move the Earth once before. Long time ago,' whispered the Doctor. He was staring off into the distance; eyes furrowed a little in thought or memory. ‘Can't be.’

----

Ten minutes later and they had yet to find any more answers. The Doctor had refused to tell them who had tried to move the Earth before, opting for going through all the information that the Shadow Proclamation had collected on the missing planets instead. Donna, feeling more than a little useless, had taken a seat on the stairs and tried not think about her Mum and Granddad and what had happened to the Earth. But the more she tried not to think about it, the more she did. And the more she thought about, the louder the thumping in her head became. Donna thought it was just a headache coming on, but the rhythm sounded different somehow, almost like a heartbeat. It was almost hypnotic...

A movement out of the corner of her eye brought Donna out of her trance and she jumped a little at the sight of the food tray in front of her. ‘You need sustenance,’ said the albino woman holding the tray. She was one of the Architect’s assistants. ‘Take the water, it purifies.’

‘Thanks,’ said Donna, taking the offered drink. After a moment, she noticed that the woman was still staring at her, a peculiar expression on her face. ‘What is it?’ she asked, maybe a tad more snappy than she had meant to.

‘You are something new.’

Donna gave her a sad smile, both in apology for her earlier rudeness, and in denial of the woman's statement. ‘Not me. I'm just a temp. Shorthand, filing, hundred words per minute.’ She gave a humourless laugh at her abysmally short skill set. ‘Fat lot of good that is now. I'm no use to anyone.’

‘I'm so sorry for your loss.’

Donna nodded solemnly. ‘Yeah. My whole planet's gone.’

‘I mean the loss that is yet to come.’

Donna was about to ask her what she meant by that but the woman gave her another sympathetic look and ran up the stairs. Donna contemplated going up after her but the sound of the Doctor calling her name stopped her. ‘Donna, come on, think. Earth,’ he said and she turned back to face him. ‘There must've been some sort of warning. Was anything happening back in your day, like electrical storms, freak weather, patterns in the sky?’

Donna tried to think. Maybe she could help. When she failed to think of anything that could possibly be relevant to the situation, her shoulders fell. ‘No. I don't think so, no.’

The Doctor’s shoulders slumped a bit too, clearly disappointed. ‘You sure?’ he asked, a little bit of hope (and a lot of desperation) in his voice.

Donna thought again. ‘Well, there were the bees disappearing,’ she said with a shrug. She highly doubted that it was important and judging by the look the Doctor had on his face, he agreed.

‘The bees disappearing,’ he repeated, all hope gone from his eyes.

But it soon came back.

‘The bees disappearing!’ he shouted as if that one sentence solved all their problems.

‘How is that significant?’ asked the Architect.

Donna was quick to explain, her hope returning with the Doctor’s. ‘On Earth we had these insects,’ she said as she ran over to the Doctor, who had just started frantically jabbing keys on the computer keyboard. ‘Some people said it was pollution or mobile phone signals.’

‘Or, they were going back home,’ said the Doctor and Donna’s jaw dropped.

No! They couldn’t be…

‘Back home where?’

‘Planet Melissa Majoria.’

But they were.

‘Are you saying bees are aliens?’ asked Donna, her jaw still on the floor.

‘Not all of them,’ said the Doctor, not moving his eyes away from whatever he was doing on the computer. Donna peered at the screen but didn’t understand heads or tails of the readings it was giving. ‘But if the migrant bees felt something coming, some sort of danger, and escaped. Tandocca!’

‘The Tandocca Scale,’ said the Architect, moving to join them at the screen.

Well that made two people in the room who knew what was going on. If only they could explain it to the third.

As if hearing Donna's unspoken thought, the Doctor began to do just that. ‘Tandocca Scale is the series of wavelengths used as a carrier signals by migrant bees,’ he told Donna. ‘Infinitely small. No wonder we didn't see it. It's like looking for a speck of cinnamon in the Sahara, but look, there it is.’ He pointed to the screen which showed what Donna assumed was the migrant bees’ trail. ‘The Tandocca trail. The transmat that moved the planets was using the same wavelength, we can follow the path.’

‘And we can find the Earth,’ Donna finished his sentence for him. Now that sounded more like it. Hope was well and truly bubbling within her now. The Doctor too, judging by the twinkle that had returned to his eyes. ‘Well, stop talking and do it.’

The Doctor gave her one of his trademark grins. ‘I am.’ And with that, they both ran in the direction of the TARDIS.

‘We're a bit late,’ he said as they reached the magnificent timeship and he checked the scanner. ‘The signal's scattered, but it's a start.’

‘A starts a start,’ said Donna, trying to keep hold of the optimism that the Doctor was projecting.

But that optimism faded when the Doctor poked his head out the door to tell the Architect about the start they had. A start which apparently meant that the Shadow Proclamation needed to seize control of the TARDIS and use it to declare war on whoever had taken the planets. Donna took a step towards the doors, intending to tell the woman exactly where she could stick her war, but the Doctor, knowing her too well, waved a hand behind him, indicating that she should stay back. She reluctantly did so and went back to her place behind the console.

‘Right. Yes,’ she could hear the Doctor saying to the Architect outside. ‘Course. I'll just go and get you the key.’

He ran back up to the console and with a roll of the eyes and then a wink, he sent the TARDIS away from the Shadow Proclamation. Donna let out a little laugh as she heard the Architect shouting at them in shock and outrage as the TARDIS dematerialised in front of her. Seriously, how thick could you get?

A couple of minutes later the central column stilled and the TARDIS fell silent. ‘It's stopped,’ said the Doctor. For a moment, Donna thought he was just talking about the TARDIS but then she saw the way he was looking at the console screen. They had obviously reached the end of the trail they were following.

‘Is that good or bad?’ she asked. ‘Where are we?’

‘The Medusa Cascade,’ he said, somewhat in awe. ‘I came here when I was just a kid, ninety years old. It was the centre of a rift in time and space.’

But Donna couldn’t help notice what was missing from the image on the screen. ‘So, where are the twenty seven planets?’ she asked, not liking how defeated the Doctor’s voice had gotten.

‘Nowhere. The Tandocca Trail stops dead. End of the line.’

Chapter Text

Rose had finally made it to the right neighbourhood. She was slowly making her way down the street that would take her to Donna’s home when she heard the sound of Dalek fire from the next street over. The Dalek gun was louder than usual but nowhere near as loud as the explosion that followed. It sounded like they had destroyed a whole building. Rose closed her eyes and tried not to think about who had been inside that building.

But she couldn't help it. She knew how many families lived in these streets. How many had the Daleks slaughtered?

With a strengthened resolve, Rose opened her eyes again and continued down the street, making sure to stick to the shadows. So far she had been lucky.

But that luck couldn’t last forever.

Rose stopped as she heard the familiar robotic sound of a Dalek’s voice from just around the corner, followed by another familiar voice. It was Wilf. Cautiously, she tiptoed forwards and stuck her head around the corner. In the street ahead, she saw Wilf and Sylvia standing in front of a Dalek. Wilf had something in his hand… a paintball gun?

Wilf raised the gun and, with impeccable aim, shot the Dalek square in the eyestalk. There was a tense couple of seconds when no one did anything before the Dalek finally responded.

‘My vision is not impaired.’

Rose looked around her, desperately looking for something to use against the Dalek, but the only thing she saw was a brick on the ground. She looked back up at the Dalek that was now aiming it’s gun at Wilf and Sylvia.

The brick would have to do.

Not wasting any more time, Rose picked up the heavy object. ‘Oi, Dalek!’ she shouted and then lobbed the brick at it.

The brick hit the top of the Dalek’s casing with a clang. It didn't even make a dent but it had served its purpose. The Dalek had turned its attention away from Wilf and Sylvia and had turned to face Rose.

‘That’s right,’ she shouted at it. ‘I know what you are. If you wanna find out how, you better come and get me.’

‘Exterminate!’ cried the Dalek, obviously not caring how Rose knew of its race. Rose lunged sideways and covered her head as the brick wall the she had just been next to shattered into a cloud of rock and dust.

‘Get back home!’ she shouted at Wilf and Sylvia but she didn’t have time to see if they had heard or listened. The Dalek was advancing on her. She ran back down the street she had just come down, zigzagging as she went. Maybe if she was very very lucky and jumped a couple of fences and took a couple of narrow back alleys, she would be able to lose the monster chasing her.

----

Half an hour later, Rose tapped on the door of the Noble residence. She still couldn’t quite believe she had lost the Dalek but after a ten minute chase through the streets of Chiswick, it had deemed Rose not worth the effort and had given up searching for her. After that, Rose had waited another fifteen minutes, just to be sure.

One of the curtains of the house in front of her shifted slightly and then the sound of hurried footsteps could be heard. The door opened and Wilf ushered Rose inside. ‘Thank goodness, we were so worried,’ he said as he closed the door behind them and locked it. ‘Are you all right, sweetheart?’

‘I’m fine,’ she said, waving off his concerns.

‘Where’s Donna?’ asked Sylvia as soon as Rose had stepped into the living room.

‘She’s with the Doctor,’ said Rose in what she hoped was a reassuring tone and she explained to them about what had happened when they had landed on Earth earlier that day. She also gave them a brief description of the Daleks and how important it was not to take them on, especially not with something as useless as a paintball gun. She directed that last but at Wilf with a stern look.

After Rose had finished her story, silence fell between the three of them. They could hear Daleks shouting orders in the distance, taking people from their homes.

And Rose had no idea how to stop them.

‘The thing is,’ she admitted to the others. ‘I don’t know what to do. There are people out there who can help me fight the Daleks but we need the Doctor. And I don’t even know where he is. I don’t know how to find him.’

Any response that Wilf or Sylvia would have had to her confession was cut off by an insistent beeping noise coming from across the room. It was coming from a laptop.

‘Can anyone hear me?’ asked a voice through the static that was on the screen. ‘The Subwave Network is open. You should be able to hear my voice. Is there anyone there?’

‘I know that voice,’ whispered Rose.

‘This message is of the utmost importance. We haven't much time. Can anyone hear me?’

The static dissolved and the image of Harriet Jones appeared on the screen.

‘Harriet!’ shouted Rose, running to the screen but Harriet didn’t seem to be able to hear her. Instead she seemed to be talking to someone else.

‘Captain Jack Harkness, shame on you. Now stand to attention, sir.’

‘What? Who is that?’ came Jack’s voice.

Rose almost laughed as Harriet flashed her ID card at the screen and introduced herself as the former Prime Minister.

‘Harriet, Jack, can you hear me?’ Rose tried again but still got no reply. She turned to Wilf and Sylvia who both had very confused looks on their faces. ‘Have you got a webcam?’

‘No, she wouldn't let me,’ said Wilf, pointing to Sylvia. ‘She said they're naughty.’

Rose chose to ignore what he meant by that and turned back to the screen. She couldn’t speak to them but at least she could hear them. She would know what they were planning and she could help. The question was, how was Harriet even communicating with them in the first place? And would the Daleks be able to listen in as well?

‘Sarah Jane Smith, 13 Bannerman Road,’ said Harriet. ‘Are you there?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, I'm here,’ said the voice that Rose instantly recognised as the Doctor’s former companion. ‘That, that's me.’

‘Good. Now let's see if we can talk to each other.’

Harriet did something on her end and the screen changed so instead of just showing one webcam view, it showed four. Rose smiled at the faces of Jack and Sarah (there was a teenage boy with Sarah whom Rose didn’t recognise but she figured that she would find out eventually) that now took up quarters two and three. The first quarter of the screen was dedicated to Harriet's webcam. The last quarter however was just static.

‘The fourth contact seems to be having some trouble getting through,’ said Harriet.

‘That's me,’ said Rose to the screen even though she knew they couldn’t hear her. ‘Harriet, that's me.’

‘I'll just boost the signal,’ said Harriet and a moment later, the static cleared.

‘Hello?’ said Martha, looking more than a little confused. Rose’s shoulders fell a little. She still couldn’t talk to her friends but at least she now knew that Martha was safe.

‘Martha, where are you?’ asked Jack, clearly surprised to see her.

‘I guess Project Indigo was more clever than we thought,’ said Martha. ‘One second I was in Manhattan, next second - maybe Indigo tapped into my mind, because I ended up in the one place that I wanted to be.’

Francine walked up and sat beside Martha at her computer. Rose smiled as the two shared a moment. Martha was back home. But what was this Project Indigo thing?

Yet another question that Rose didn’t know the answer to. She was starting to feel more than a little bit left out.

She returned her focus to the laptop screen in front of her. Martha was speaking again. ‘But then all of a sudden, it's like the laptop turned itself on,’ she was saying.

‘It did. That was me’ said Harriet and she presented her ID card as she once again introduced herself. ‘I thought it was about time we all met. Given the current crisis. Torchwood, this is Sarah Jane Smith.’

‘I've been following your work,’ Jack told Sarah. ‘Nice job with the Slitheen.’

‘Yeah, well, I've been staying away from you lot,’ said Sarah. ‘Too many guns.’

Rose let out a small laugh. It was good to see that Sarah Jane was still doing her bit to protect the Earth.

‘All the same, might I say looking good, ma'am?’

Rose rolled her eyes at Jack’s flirting. ‘Stop it,’ she said to the screen.

Sarah didn’t seem to mind though.

‘Not now, Captain,’ said Harriet. ‘And Martha Jones, former companion to the Doctor.’

‘Friend,’ corrected Rose.

‘But how did you find me?’ said Martha, asking the question that they were all thinking.

‘This, ladies and gentlemen, this is the Subwave Network,’ explained Harriet. A sentient piece of software programmed to seek out anyone and everyone who can help to contact the Doctor.’

‘What if the Daleks can hear us?’

‘No, that's the beauty of the Subwave. It's undetectable.’

Rose worried her lip nervously. Undetectable sounded a lot like the word unsinkable. And that didn’t exactly work out too well for the Titanic.

‘And you invented it?’ asked Sarah.

‘I developed it,' said Harrier. 'It was created by the Mister Copper Foundation.’

Speaking of the Titanic… Could it really be the same Mister Copper that Rose and the Doctor had met on that doomed voyage? Rose kind of hoped it was.

‘Yeah, but what we need right now is a weapon,’ said Jack and despite Rose’s dislike of Torchowood’s idea of weaponry, she couldn’t help but agree. They needed to fight the Daleks somehow. Bricks and paintball guns just weren’t going to cut it against and army. ‘Martha, back there at UNIT,’ continued Jack, ‘what, what did they give you? What was that key thing?’

‘The Osterhagen Key,’ said Martha, holding up a small square object.

Rose had no idea what an Osterhagen Key was but Harriet obviously did, and, judging by her reaction, it was bad. ‘That key is not to be used, Doctor Jones,’ she said, displaying the command she had once possessed as Prime Minister. ‘Not under any circumstances.’

‘But what is an Osterhagen Key?’ asked Jack.

‘Forget about the Key, and that's an order,’ said Harriet and the subject was dropped. ‘All we need is the Doctor.’

‘And Rose,’ added Martha and Rose gave her friend a grateful smile that she knew she couldn’t see. ‘She’s on Earth somewhere. She called before. Her and the Doctor got separated. He’s still on the TARDIS somewhere. We’ve both been trying to call him but haven’t gotten through.’

‘That's why we need the Subwave,’ said Harriet. ‘To bring us all together. Combine forces. The Doctor's secret army.’

Rose cringed. She didn’t want to be part of an army and she knew for a fact that the Doctor wouldn’t want them calling themselves one.

‘Wait a minute,’ said Jack. ‘We boost the signal. That's it. We transmit the TARDIS telephone number through Torchwood itself, using all the power of the Rift.’

‘And we've got Mister Smith,’ said the boy next to Sarah Jane.

Who the hell was Mister Smith?

‘He can link up with every telephone exchange on the Earth,' continued the boy. ‘He can get the whole world to call the same number, all at the same time. Billions of phones, calling out all at once.’

‘Brilliant,’ beamed Jack. ‘Who's the kid?’

‘That's my son,’ said Sarah Jane and Rose’s jaw dropped. She was sure that Sarah Jane hadn’t had kids when they had met at Deffry Vale. And the boy was already well into his teenage years.

Rose filed it away as yet another question to ask when this was all over and returned her focus to the conversation. Another man had appeared beside Jack, most likely one of his team at Torchwood.

‘Ianto Jones,’ he introduced himself as, a little nervously. ‘Er, if we start transmitting, then this Subwave Network is going to become visible. I mean, to the Daleks.’

‘Yes, and they'll trace it back to me,' said Harriet without a hint of fear. 'But my life doesn't matter. Not if it saves the Earth.’

Rose felt a pang of guilt at those words. Harriet Jones was a good woman. Maybe she hadn’t deserved what the Doctor had done to her career. She gave a sad smile as Jack saluted Harriet.

‘Thank you, Captain. But there are people out there dying on the streets.’

‘Marvellous woman,’ said Wilf at Harriet’s brave words. ‘I voted for her.’

Sylvia shot him a glare. ‘You did not.’

‘Now, enough of words,’ said Harriet. ‘Let's begin.’

Torchwood activated the rift and Sarah Jane connected them to Mister Smith (and Rose was really hoping that Mister Smith was a computer of some kind) and Martha sent them the TARDIS phone number.

‘Opening Subwave Network to maximum,’ said Harriet and Sarah Jane instructed Mister Smith to make the call.

‘Calling the Doctor,’ said a voice from Sarah’s screen (and yes Mister Smith definitely sounded like a computer).

‘So am I,’ said Rose and she got out her phone and dialled the TARDIS’s number. She looked up and saw that Wilf and Sylvia had their phones out too and she gave them a smile before reading out the number so that they could call the Doctor too. Every little signal boost helped.

After a few seconds Jack announced that they had a fix and Rose almost cried n relief. But that relief was doused out when one of Jack’s team told Harriet that the Daleks had found her.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘I'm using the Network to mask your transmission. Keep going.’ There was an explosion from Harriet’s room and her voice went from determined and purposeful, to resigned. ‘Captain, I'm transferring the Subwave Network to Torchwood. You're in charge now. And tell the Doctor from me he chose his companions well. It's been an honour.’ She stood up and moved away from her workstation.

Rose watched on with the rest of her friends as three Daleks glided into Harriet’s house. ‘Harriet Jones. Former Prime Minister,’ she said to the Daleks that were standing in front of her and Rose gave a small smile as she flashed them her ID card. Even in the face of death, Harriet was still Harriet.

‘Yes, we know who you are,’ said one of the Daleks.

‘Oh, you know nothing of any human, and that will be your downfall.’

‘Exterminate!’

Rose bowed her head as the quarter of the screen dedicated to Harriet’s webcam turned to static.

----

The Doctor wasn’t sure how long it had been since he or Donna had said anything. He was too busy trying to think of some other way to find the Earth. To find Rose.

‘You’re not giving up?’ asked Donna, obviously unnerved by the Doctor’s lack of movement.

‘Of course not,’ he half-snapped as he pushed himself off of the coral strut that he was leaning against and began to pace in small circles. ‘But I don’t know what else I can do. I traced the signal but there’s nothing here. I just…’ He pulled at his hair in frustration. ‘I just need to think.’

After a few minutes of more thinking and more pacing and more coming up with nothing, he angrily kicked the console, barely missing the jar that contained his spare hand as he did so. Ignoring the pain in his foot, he stared down at the jar. He had forgotten to put it away again when he had been tinkering underneath the console a few hours ago.

Had it only been a few hours? It felt like days.

Either way, Rose would probably grumble at him for not putting it away when she got back. He rested his hands on the console and his head fell forward.

If she got back.

The Doctor squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to focus on that two-letter word. He couldn’t give up yet. Not when there was still a chance. Not when Rose needed him.

A beeping noise from the console made his head snap up and he shared a hopeful glance with Donna before sliding the screen so it was right in front of him. The beeping was a signal… and it was coming from Earth!

‘Rose, is that you?’ he whispered, knowing full well that even if it was, he wouldn’t get an answer from her at the moment.

‘What is it?’ asked Donna.

‘It’s a phone signal,’ answered the Doctor, surprised. How were phone signals suddenly getting through?

But Donna had a more important question. ‘Can we follow it?’

The Doctor turned to her and grinned. ‘Oh, just watch me.’

It didn’t take long to lock onto the signal and suddenly the TARDIS was shaking and sparking as it tried to reach the Earth. ‘We're travelling through time,’ shouted the Doctor as he and Donna held onto the console to keep themselves steady. ‘One second in the future. The phone call's pulling us through.’

The TARDIS started shaking even more and the Doctor gritted his teeth and counted down in his head. Just as he reached number one, the TARDIS stilled and the scanner now showed a reading of the twenty-seven missing planets.

‘Twenty-seven planets,’ said Donna, looking at the scanner over the Doctor’s shoulder. ‘And there's the Earth. But why couldn't we see them?’

‘The entire Medusa Cascade has been put a second out of sync with the rest of the universe,’ said the Doctor, slightly in awe. He had to admit, that was impressive. ‘Perfect hiding place. Tiny little pocket of time. But we found them.’ The console started beeping again and the picture started to distort. But this time it was a different type of signal. 'Oh, what's that?’ he asked, trying to lock onto it. ‘Hold on, hold on. Some sort of Subwave Network.’

The image on the screen changed and the Doctor’s eyes widened in surprise and relief at the sight of three of his friends, each occupying a quarter of the screen each. The top quarter was dedicated to the Doctor and Donna. But a little bit of worry wormed its way back to the forefront of his mind when he realised that Rose wasn’t among the people on the screen.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ yelled Jack. ‘Doctor, it's the Daleks.’

Any relief that the Doctor still felt faded in an instant. He had really been hoping that it wasn’t the Daleks but he wasn't that surprised. He had had his suspicions. The Daleks had tried this sort of thing before after all. A hundred years or so into the Earth’s future but a long, long time ago for the Doctor.

But he had stopped them then and he was determined to stop them now.

‘They're taking people to their spaceship,’ explained Sarah.

‘It's not just Dalek Caan,’ added Martha.

The Doctor had figured as much. One Dalek was powerful but even they wouldn’t be able to organise something like this single-handed. Not that the Daleks had hands, but that was beside the point.

‘That's Martha,’ said Donna, still in the relief stage. She had never met the Daleks and had no idea how unrelieved she should feel at the mention of their name. ‘And who's he?’ she asked, pointing at Jack’s quarter of the screen. Oh God, not this again.

‘Captain Jack,’ said the Doctor. ‘And don't. Just don't,’ he warned and Donna’s face fell. Under any other circumstances, the Doctor would have found it funny. He could almost hear Rose giggling in his mind.

His face fell.

Where was she?

‘It's like an outer space Facebook,’ said Donna.

‘Everyone except Rose,’ whispered the Doctor.

And then the screen went blank.

‘We've lost them,’ said Donna, worry retuning to her voice.

‘No, no, no, no, no. There's another signal coming through,’ said the Doctor. ‘There's someone else out there.’ He banged the screen a couple of times as if that would make it work. ‘Hello? Can you hear me? Rose?’

But the voice that answered was not Rose.

‘Your voice is different, and yet its arrogance is unchanged.'

The Doctor paled. No. It couldn't be.

'Welcome to my new Empire Doctor,’ continued Davros and the screen changed again to show the image of the Doctor’s old enemy. ‘It is only fitting that you should bear witness to the resurrection and the triumph of Davros, lord and creator of the Dalek race.’

And just when the Doctor thought things couldn’t have gotten worse.

‘Doctor?’ asked Donna, clearly worried at the look on his face.

‘Have you nothing to say?’ taunted Davros.

‘Doctor, it's all right. We're, we're in the TARDIS. We're safe,’ said Donna, putting a hand on his arm. He was grateful for the gesture but it wasn’t him that he was afraid for right now. It was the Earth and everyone on it. Davros didn’t do small, low casualty projects. He was a scientist and a megalomaniac and whatever he had planned, the Doctor had no doubt that the cost would be high.

And then there was the fact that he was here at all. Alive. The Doctor had seen him die in the Time War and no one came back from that.

‘But you were destroyed,’ he said to Davros. ‘In the very first year of the Time War, at the Gates of Elysium. I saw your command ship fly into the jaws of the Nightmare Child. I tried to save you.’

‘But it took one stronger than you. Dalek Caan himself.’

‘I flew into the wild and fire,’ said a voice from somewhere behind Davros. ‘I danced and died a thousand times.’ It was Dalek Caan but the Dalek’s voice didn’t sound as robotic as usual. He must be out of his casing.

Either way, Dalek Caan had obviously gone mad.

‘Emergency Temporal Shift took him back into the Time War itself,’ explained Davros.

‘But that's impossible,’ said the Doctor. ‘The entire War is timelocked.’

No wonder Caan had gone insane.

‘And yet he succeeded. Oh, it cost him his mind, but imagine. A single, simple Dalek succeeded where Emperors and Time Lords have failed. A testament, don't you think, to my remarkable creations?’

‘And you made a new race of Daleks.’ The Doctor couldn’t help but keep the fear and anger out of his voice. Out of all the people who perished in the Time War, why did it have to be the monsters who had made it out? First the Master, now Davros.

A small voice at the back of the Doctor’s mind added himself to the list but he pushed it away. This was not the time for wallowing in guilt. He needed to stop Davros and his army of Daleks.

‘I gave myself to them,’ said Davros as he undid his tunic. ‘Quite literally. Each one grown from a cell of my own body.’ The Doctor fought the bile that rose in his throat at the sight of Davros’s bones and internal organs that were no longer covered by the skin that should have been there. ‘New Daleks. True Daleks. I have my children, Doctor. What do you have, now?’

The Doctor knew the answer to that. He had his knowledge and he had his friends.

He had Rose.

And that was all he needed.

He glared at the screen in front of him. ‘After all this time, everything we saw, everything we lost, I have only one thing to say to you,’ he told Davros. ‘Bye!’ He pulled on the lever in front of him and sent the TARDIS flying towards Earth. The scanner screen went back to the readings of the planets.

‘Try and get as close as you can to Mum’s,’ said Donna as she grabbed hold of the console once more. ‘Front garden would be nice. No, scratch that, right in the middle of the living room.’

The Doctor wasn’t sure if he could land that accurately after the damage the TARDIS had sustained from following the signal to Earth, but he was going to try. Flipping another switch, he set course for Donna’s home. Hopefully, that’s where Rose had headed too.

----

The Subwave Network turned off and Rose bit back a curse. But at least the Doctor was close now. And at least now they could devise a plan.

A silence settled over the living room as the three people took in what had just happened. Wilf and Sylvia were still reeling from the sight of seeing Harriet Jones exterminated but Rose had moved her focus on to the deformed man that had been talking to the Doctor. Davros. The Doctor had mentioned him once or twice and he hadn’t sounded like someone Rose would want to meet. The Daleks were bad enough. Rose didn’t want to get to know the mind who created them.

But then the silence was broken by the most beautiful sound in the universe, the TARDIS. It didn’t sound awfully close – maybe a couple of streets away - but the still night made it sound as clear as day.

‘It’s them,’ cried Wilf. ‘It’s the Doctor and Donna.’ He went to go for the door but Rose stopped him. Donna would never forgive her if she let her Graddad get killed by a Dalek.

‘No, stay here,’ she said. ‘I’ll go get them. I’ll bring her back, I promise.’ Reluctantly, Wilf nodded and backed away from the door to let Rose pass. ‘Thank you.’

‘Good luck, sweetheart,’ he said and Rose took a cautious step out of the door.

Peering down the street, she deemed it safe and took off at a run towards where the sound of the TARDIS had come from.

Two streets down, she stopped at the sight of the magnificent blue box that was at the other end of the road. And just outside, were the two people that Rose had been worried she would never see again.

Donna was the first to notice her. She nodded to where Rose was standing and the Doctor turned. Even from this distance, Rose could see that he was just as relieved to see her as she was to see him. Giving him her best smile, she ran forwards, smiling even more when he copied her movement.

She was almost to him when a movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. A Dalek. Maybe she hadn’t been as successful in losing it as she had thought? But Rose didn't have time to dwell on that thought. The Dalek had trained it's weapon on the Doctor.

Rose turned back to face him. He had seen it too. He was skidding to a halt, no doubt wanting to draw the Dalek’s fire as far away from Rose as possible. But Rose wasn’t just going to stand there and let him be shot. She put on a burst of speed, trying to reach the Doctor.

But she wasn’t quick enough. The Doctor’s body glowed green as the Dalek’s energy bolt hit him and he collapsed to the pavement. ‘Doctor!’ shouted Rose and she all but dove to the ground at his side. She vaguely registered the sound of another gun and then an explosion but she didn’t care. ‘I’ve got you,’ she said as she cradled the Doctor’s head in her hands.

‘Rose,’ he gasped out as he looked up at her. He tried to give her a smile but it melted into a groan of pain.

‘Don't die,’ said Rose, trying to hold back her sobs. ‘Oh, my God. Don't die.’ She felt someone’s hands on her shoulders and she looked up to see Jack. ‘It’s all my fault,’ she said to him. ‘I led the Dalek here.’

‘You don’t know that,’ said Jack, a sense of urgency in his voice. ‘Now, let’s get him into the TARDIS. Quick.’

Donna helped Rose carry the barely alive Doctor back to the TARDIS as Jack covered them, making sure no more Daleks would have the chance to take a shot at them. Once inside, they lowered the Doctor onto the grating by the console. Rose grabbed the Doctor’s hand, squeezing a little too hard. ‘Don’t die,’ she whispered again, no longer being able to hold back the tears.

‘Step back,’ urged Jack. ‘Rose. Do as I say, and get back. He's dying and you know what happens next.’

‘No,’ she cried.

‘What do you mean, what happens next?’ asked Donna, getting up and joining Jack on the other side on the console, leaving Rose alone on the floor with the Doctor. The Doctor stared down at where their hands were joined. Rose followed his gaze and let out another sob at the golden energy she saw there.

‘It's starting,’ said the Doctor, looking back up at her with nothing but apology in his eyes.

‘No, don’t go,’ sobbed Rose.

Jack grabbed her shoulders again and this time hauled her away from the Doctor. She didn’t fight him. ‘Here we go,’ he said. ‘Good luck, Doctor.’

‘Will someone please tell me what is going on?’ shouted Donna.

‘When he's dying, his body, it repairs itself. It changes,’ Rose tried to explain, never taking her eyes off of the Doctor who had managed to pull himself up so he was leaning against the console. His whole body was glowing now. ‘But you can't!’

She felt terrible for saying it but she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this Doctor yet. Her first Doctor may have been the one who she had originally fallen in love with but this Doctor was the one who had loved her back (even if he didn’t say it). She didn’t want him to go.

‘I'm sorry, it's too late,’ said the Doctor. ‘I'm regenerating.’

Rose shielded her eyes in the crook of Jack’s neck as the Doctor exploded in a bright golden light.

Chapter Text

The last thing the Doctor saw before he started regenerating was Rose’s fearful face. He couldn’t leave her like that. But what could he do? He couldn’t stop the regeneration, not without dying permanently... But he could stop the change. As the bright light overcame him, he focussed all his willpower on redirecting it to his hand. Not one of the ones attached to his arms, but the one that was sitting in a jar on the floor.

The golden light that was bursting from him changed direction and flowed into his spare hand and then left the Doctor’s body completely. With a gasp, the Doctor stumbled back as his legs threatened to give way – the same legs he had had before regenerating. It had worked. He was no longer dying but he was the same man. He wasn’t sure if this counted towards his remaining regenerations but he would worry about that later. Right now he had an army of Daleks to deal with and three people to explain himself to.

‘Now then. Where were we?’ he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

It didn’t work. No one else said a word so the Doctor decided to keep talking. This him was good at that. Talking. He let himself smile at the reminder that he was still this him.

He leant down so that he was eye level with the hand that he had just poured his regeneration energy into. It was still glowing so he blew on it and the light faded.

‘You see? Used the regeneration energy to heal myself,’ he explained, ‘but soon as I was done, I didn't need to change. I didn't want to. Why would I? Look at me.’ His attempt at lightening the mood worked about as well as the last one had so he just carried on. ‘So, to stop the energy going all the way, I siphoned off the rest into a handy bio-matching receptacle, namely my hand. That hand there. My handy spare hand.’ He looked to his hand and then stood up to face his friends. ‘Thanks for that, Jack.’

But Jack just stared at him dumbfounded, not an expression that appeared on his face often. It was quite comical really. But the Doctor would have to file it away for later. Right now, he was too focussed on the woman next to Jack who was now slowly walking forwards.

‘You're still you?’ asked Rose, tentatively.

‘I'm still me.’

Not needing any more confirmation or explanation, Rose lunged at him. The Doctor’s arms were already outstretched, waiting for her. He hummed happily as he embraced his girlfriend in a tight hug. He could feel her tears against his skin as she burrowed her head into the crook of his neck. ‘It’s okay,’ he soothed. ‘I’m still here.’

‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,’ she sobbed.

The Doctor held her a little tighter, shushing away her apology. He didn’t blame her one bit.

----

Mickey Smith walked stealthily through the streets of London. Well, as stealthily as one could with Jackie Tyler in tow anyway. She was (amazingly) staying quiet, being smart enough to know the danger they were in, but she wasn’t exactly trained in this sort of thing. Back in the other universe, Mickey had given her a few lessons on how to operate the guns they were both carrying but that had been on the side – nothing official. Pete didn’t know about Jackie’s plans to join Mickey in his mission but Mickey had quickly decided that he would rather have Pete angry with him than Jackie angry with him so he had agreed to her coming along. Rose was her daughter after all; he didn’t blame her for wanting to see her again.

The two of them made it to the end of the alleyway in between streets and stopped as they saw two Daleks on the road ahead. Mickey was sure they would turn and spot them any second but then a car came hurtling around the corner of the street and the Daleks turned to face it instead. The car screeched to a halt just before them.

‘All human transport is forbidden,’ said one of the Daleks.

‘I surrender,’ came a familiar voice from inside the car. ‘I’m sorry!’

‘That’s Sarah Jane,’ whispered Mickey. ‘The old friend of the Doctor’s that me and Rose met a while back,’ he added at Jackie’s confused look.

He and Jackie aimed their guns at the Daleks that were threatening Sarah Jane but from this angle they didn’t have a clear shot at both of them. Mickey looked at Jackie and nodded to her Dimension Hopper. They could use them as teleports.

Jackie understood what Mickey meant at once. ‘Left or right?’ she asked.

‘I’ll take the right,’ he said and they both pressed the buttons of their Hoppers. A second later they appeared on either side of Sarah Jane’s car, guns at the ready.

The Daleks were crying ‘Exterminate!’ but Mickey and Jackie were too quick for them. They fired their weapons and the Daleks in front of them exploded into scrap metal.

‘Mickey?’ asked Sarah Jane, getting out of her car.

‘Us Smiths got to stick together,’ he said, acknowledging the gratitude in her eyes.

‘Jackie Tyler, Rose's mum,’ Jackie introduced herself. ‘Now where the hell is my daughter?’

----

Mickey followed the signal on his handheld tracker. It had been specifically designed to track the TARDIS. Though, it had taken a lot of technical fiddling to make it work properly and even now Mickey didn’t completely trust its accuracy.

But worked it did.

Mickey, Jackie, and Sarah Jane peered around the abandoned car they were hiding behind and watched as four Daleks surrounded the blue box on the other side of the street. ‘Transferring TARDIS to the Crucible,’ said one of the Daleks as a circle of light surrounded the TARDIS and it was lifted up and away from the Earth. Right into the heart of the Dalek’s command ship, Mickey figured.

‘Those teleport things,’ said Sarah Jane. ‘Can we use them? If they've taken the Doctor to the Dalek spaceship, then that's where we need to be.’

‘It's not just a teleport, it's a dimension jump,’ explained Mickey. ‘Man, this thing rips a hole in the fabric of space.’

‘But can we use it?’

‘Not yet. It burns up energy. Needs half an hour between jumps.’

‘Then put down your guns.’

Mickey’s eyebrows furrowed. ‘Do what?’ he asked.

‘If you're carrying a gun, they'll shoot you dead,’ said Sarah Jane and without explaining further, she stepped out into the street with her hands raised. ‘Daleks, I surrender.’

‘All humans in this sector will be taken to the Crucible,’ said one of the Daleks.

‘She's bloody mad!’ whispered Mickey, watching Sarah Jane turn herself over to them.

‘Yeah, but Mickey, if they've got the Doctor, then they've got Rose,’ said Jackie and she put down her gun and followed Sarah Jane. ‘And us,’ she shouted to the Daleks. ‘We surrender.’

Mickey looked down at the gun in his hand and then back to the women who were walking towards the Daleks. He knew they were right, that this was the best plan. But it didn’t mean he had to like it.

Giving his gun a kiss goodbye, he put it down on the ground and allowed the Daleks to capture him too.

----

After the hugs were over and the Doctor had shrugged off what little discomfort he had had left from the regeneration (he seemed to be recovering quite well from this one), the four people in the TARDIS had started swapping information. The Doctor and Donna told them about the Medusa Cascade and Jack told them about everything Torchwood had discovered, which wasn’t as much as what the Doctor had hoped.

Rose didn’t put much input into the conversation, having mainly been focussed on getting people off the streets as she made her way to Donna’s home. But her determined spark seemed to return a little when she mentioned Donna’s family. ‘I promised them I would bring you back to them,’ she told Donna. ‘The TARDIS all right for a small jump?’ she asked the Doctor as she made her way to the controls.

But before she could reach them, the lights went out and the TARDIS fell silent.

‘They've got us,’ said the Doctor, rushing around the console, trying the different controls. But to no avail. ‘Power's gone. Some kind of chronon loop.’

Suddenly, the TARDIS jerked and the room tilted. The Doctor tried to grab hold of something to keep himself standing but he wasn’t quick enough and he fell painfully to the floor. The sound of groaning from all around the room told him that the others had done the same.

‘Rose? Donna? Jack?’ he called as he got back to his feet. ‘Everyone okay?’

There was a round of murmured confirmations and they all stared at the central column that was unmoving. The Doctor knew what they were thinking. The central column wasn’t moving but the TARDIS was. The shaking had stopped but there was still the unmistakable feel of movement beneath their feet. Like being on an aeroplane.

The Daleks were taking them somewhere.

The Doctor moved over to Rose and put an arm around her. He didn't use enough pressure to pull her into his side but, after almost losing her, he was reluctant to have any space between them. Rose must have been thinking the sane thing because she straightaway leaned into him anyway.

‘The Crucible is right in the middle of all the planets,’ said Jack, having already explained that the Crucible was the Dalek command ship. ‘Guess that’s out destination.’

‘You said these planets were like an engine,’ said Donna to the Doctor. ‘But what for?’

The Doctor shook his head, sadly. ‘Wish I knew.’ He looked down at Rose. ‘Did Mickey say anything else in that parallel world? Pete’s World is ahead of us so its possible that they got a glimpse into the future.’

Rose thought for a moment and then shook her head. ‘Just that the stars were going out,’ she said with a silent apology. The Doctor gave her a small squeeze to let her know it was all right. She still felt responsible for (possibly) leading the Dalek to them and the Doctor didn’t want her to feel any more unnecessary guilt. None of this was her fault.

‘And that it was happening in every universe,’ she continued. ‘But whatever’s causing it must be affecting the void too. If Mickey can get through. Isn’t that right, Doctor?’

The Doctor nodded. ‘At the very least it’s crossing the void and affecting the universe walls which is very very very bad news.’ He let out a frustrated sigh. ‘But what is it?’

They all fell silent again, each lost in thought.

A beeping came from the scanner, the only thing left in the TARDIS that seemed to be working, and the Doctor reluctantly let Rose go so he could check it. The screen showed a map of the twenty-seven planets with a red pulsing dot in the middle. ‘The Dalek Crucible,’ he said. ‘All aboard.’

It didn’t take much longer for the TARDIS to finally still completely. They were on the Dalek’s ship now and just outside the doors, was an army of them. They didn’t stand a chance.

Silently, the Doctor moved back over to Rose and once again put his arms around her, this time he did pull her to him. He could tell that this was just making her more scared but he couldn’t help it. He honestly wasn’t sure if he could win this one.

‘We’ll think of something, yeah?’ said Rose, putting her hands on his arms. ‘We always do.’

The Doctor tried to give her a comforting smile but it fell as he heard the Supreme Dalek outside.

‘Doctor, you will step forth or die.’

‘We'll have to go out,’ he said. ‘Because if we don't, they'll get in.’

‘What happened to “the assembled hordes of Genghis Kahn can’t get through those doors”?’ said Rose, trying for a teasing tone but the way she kept looking anxiously at the doors gave her away.

‘You've got extrapolator shielding,’ added Jack.

The Doctor sighed and reluctantly pulled away from Rose again. He didn’t let go completely however. He took her hand in his and held it tight. ‘Last time we fought the Daleks, they were scavengers and hybrids, and mad. But this is a fully-fledged Dalek Empire, at the height of its power. Experts at fighting TARDISes, they can do anything. Right now, that wooden door is just wood.’

‘What about Jack’s vortex manipulator?’ asked Rose and all eyes turned to Jack.

‘Went down with the power loss,’ he said in apology. The Doctor gave him a small smile to reassure him that it wasn’t his fault and then straightened his back and squared his shoulders. If he was going to face an army of Daleks, he was going to do it with dignity. He wouldn’t let them see his fear.

He looked around at the others and saw that they all held their bodies in a similar determination. All except one.

‘Donna?’ he asked and she snapped out of whatever trance she was in. ‘You all right?’

Donna shook her head but it was more to clear it than to answer his question. ‘Yeah,’ she said, unconvincingly. ‘I’m fine.'

‘I'm sorry. There's nothing else we can do,’ said the Doctor. He hated that he had brought her into this.

‘No, I know.’ She sounded more sure of herself this time at least.

‘Surrender, Doctor, and face your Dalek masters,’ came the booming voice of the Supreme Dalek outside.

‘Nothing else for it then,’ he said, giving his friends a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

But Rose and Jack humoured him anyway. ‘Daleks,’ said Rose with a forced laugh.

‘Oh, God,’ said Jack in much the same way.

At the sight of his friends’ bravery, the Doctor’s smile turned into something more genuine. He was so proud of them and so lucky to have known them. ‘It's been good, though, hasn't it?’ he said, his voice thick with emotion. ‘All of us. All of it. Everything we did.’

He turned to Donna. ‘You were brilliant,’ he told her and she gave him an embarrassed smile.

He turned to Jack. ‘And you were brilliant.’ Jack gave him a grateful nod that said, right back at ya.

Finally, he turned to Rose. ‘And you were…’ He trailed off, not being able to finish his sentence. There were not enough words in the English language to describe what Rose had been to him. There weren’t enough words in any language.

Thankfully, she seemed to understand. ‘You too,’ she said and she gave his hand a small squeeze.

With one last nod, he and Rose led the others out of the TARDIS and into the Crucible.

Outside the TARDIS, the Daleks were chanting in victory and the Doctor fought the urge to bring Rose a little closer to him. ‘Behold, Doctor. Behold the might of the true Dalek race,’ taunted the Supreme Dalek. He would have been easy enough to spot in the sea of pepper pots, even if he hadn't been sat on his own special podium. While all the other Daleks were the usual gold colour, the Supreme Dalek was red and had a different style dome and casing.

The Doctor then realised that only three of them had stepped out of the TARDIS. ‘Donna!’ he called back to her and then muttered, ‘You're no safer in there.’

She started to make a move to follow them outside but just before she reached the TARDIS door, it slammed shut. The Doctor let go of Rose’s hand so he could rush back to the TARDIS. ‘What?’ he asked as he pulled at the door handle. It wouldn’t open.

‘Doctor? What have you done?’ Donna called from inside.

‘It wasn't me. I didn't do anything.’

‘Oi! Oi, I'm not staying behind!’ He could hear her banging on the closed door from her side.

He turned angrily to the Supreme Dalek. ‘What did you do?’ he demanded.

‘This is not of Dalek origin.’

But the Doctor wasn’t buying it. ‘Stop it! She's my friend. Now open the door and let her out.’

‘This is Time Lord treachery,’ accused the Supreme Dalek.

‘Me? The door just closed on its own.’

But if it wasn’t the Daleks, then what was it? What had trapped Donna inside?

‘Nevertheless,’ said the Supreme Dalek, ‘the TARDIS is a weapon and it will be destroyed.’ At the Dalek’s words, the floor underneath the TARDIS slid open and the blue box fell.

‘What are you doing?’ cried the Doctor looking down at the hole that the TARDIS had just disappeared down. Jack and Rose ran over too.

‘Donna!’ shouted Rose, peering over the ledge.

‘Bring it back!’ shouted the Doctor as ran back to stand in front of the Supreme Dalek. ‘What have you done? Where's it going?’

‘The Crucible has a heart of Z-neutrino energy. The TARDIS will be deposited into the core.’

All resolve the Doctor had had about not showing the Daleks any fear dissolved at hearing those words.

‘You can't!’ he cried. ‘You've taken the defences down. It'll be torn apart!’

‘But Donna's still in there!’ shouted Rose as her and Jack joined the Doctor in front of the Supreme Dalek.

‘Let her go!’ cried Jack.

‘The female and the TARDIS will perish together. Observe’ said the Supreme Dalek and the Doctor turned to see a video screen appear in the air before them. It showed the fiery heart of the Crucible. ‘The last child of Gallifrey is powerless.’

On screen, the TARDIS was bobbing up and down as it fought the lava-type substance that was threatening to destroy it. But the Doctor knew it couldn’t hold on forever. Both the TARDIS and Donna would be dead in less than a minute if they stayed there.

‘Please. I'm begging you,’ he said, turning to the Supreme Dalek. ‘I'll do anything! Just get her out of there!’

‘You are connected to the TARDIS,’ taunted the Supreme Dalek. ‘Now feel it die.’

The Doctor turned back to the screen and gritted his teeth as he watched and felt the TARDIS being ripped apart. A hand clasped around his but he didn’t’ look away. He just gripped Rose’s hand tighter as the Daleks started counting down to the deaths of his ship and his best friend.

‘Five, four, three, two, one.’

And then it was over. The TARDIS was gone. Rose let out a little sob and the Doctor let go of her hand so he could pull her against his side. He still didn’t look away from the screen.

‘The TARDIS has been destroyed,’ said the Supreme Dalek. ‘Now tell me, Doctor. What do you feel? Anger? Sorrow? Despair?’

‘Yeah,’ he croaked out.

‘Then if emotions are so important, surely we have enhanced you?’

‘Yeah?’ asked Jack and the Doctor turned to see that he had a revolver in his hand. ‘Feel this!’ The bullets pinged off of the Supreme Dalek’s casing as Jack let off a couple of pointless shots.

‘Exterminate!’ cried the Supreme Dalek and Jack screamed as his body glowed bright green for a second before it fell to the floor. Rose immediately ran over to kneel beside him.

‘Jack,’ she cried and then after a moment added a whispered, ‘he’s dead.’ Of course, the Doctor knew that Jack wouldn’t stay that way. And so did Rose. But the Daleks didn’t. Maybe Jack’s attack hadn’t been so pointless after all.

The Doctor knelt down beside Rose and took her shoulders lightly as if consoling her. ‘Rose, come here. Leave him. There’s nothing we can do.’ Rose gave a small nod and allowed him to pull her up off of the floor.

‘Escort them to the Vault,’ instructed the Supreme Dalek and the Doctor and Rose were led away. The Doctor looked back just in time to see Jack give him a wink.

Praying that Jack knew what he was doing, he turned his gaze away from him and followed the Daleks out of the room and towards the Vault where Davros would no doubt be waiting for him.

Chapter Text

Donna Noble gave a choking sob as she dove behind the console. All around her, the TARDIS was falling apart. A loud bang echoed through the room and she let out a little scream as she shielded her eyes from the sparks that were coming from the walls.

Why hadn’t she followed the others while she had the chance?

She knew the reason, of course. It had been that thumping noise in her head again. It was almost like it was urging her to stay still. And now, as she knelt there in an exploding TARDIS, the noise had returned.

Without really realising what she was doing or why, Donna reached her hand out towards the jar that was on the floor in front of her. The jar that contained the Doctor’s spare hand. As soon as she touched it, a golden energy flowed from it and a strange sensation passed through her. Before she could even think of a word to describe the feeling, it stopped and the jar shattered. The hand fell to the grating and the fingers began to twitch. Donna watched in amazement as the same type of golden light flowed from the hand again. But this time the light looked more solid... and it was shaping itself into the form of the rest of the body that the hand was missing.

With a shower of sparks, the body sat up and the golden light was replaced by the skin tones of a person. The Doctor.

‘It's you!’ said Donna in astonishment. What had happened? Had another Doctor really just grown from the spare hand?

And just when Donna had thought there was nothing else that spaceman could do to surprise her.

‘Oh, yes!’ said the new Doctor.

And then Donna realised something else and she quickly diverted her eyes.

‘You're naked.’

‘Oh, yes,’ he said but he didn’t seem that deterred by it. ‘Still, more important things to deal with.’ He scrambled up to the console and pressed a a few buttons. The familiar wheezing noise of the TARDIS engines started and Donna almost cried with relief at the sight of the central column moving. Once the TARDIS had dematerialised, she rushed over to the scanner to check where they were but the screen was blank.

‘Doctor, how do you turn this thing back on?’ she asked but when she turned to face him, he was gone.

A couple of minutes later (just enough time for Donna to worry that she had imagined the whole thing), he reappeared, shrugging on the last piece of a blue suit. He made his way over to one of the walls to inspect it and Donna realised that whatever the Doctor had done to override the Dalek’s control of the ship had also repaired it.

Or maybe the ship could just repair itself.

‘All repaired. Lovely,’ he said as he hopped down from inspecting the wall and joined Donna at the console. She went to ask one of the million questions that were running through her mind but he shushed her. ‘No one knows we're here,’ he said in an almost-whisper before returning to his normal volume. ‘Got to keep quiet. Silent running, like on submarines when you can't even drop a spanner. Don't drop a spanner. I like blue. What do you think?’

But Donna didn’t give a rats about the colour of his suit. ‘You are bonkers!’ she said.

‘Why? What's wrong with blue?’ asked the Doctor, looking at his outfit.

‘Is that what Time Lords do? Lop a bit off, grow another one? You're like worms.’

‘No, no, no, no, no. I'm unique,’ insisted the Doctor. The new Doctor. The new unique Doctor, apparently. ‘Never been another like me,' he continued. 'Because all that regeneration energy went into the hand.’ He held up the hand that Donna assumed must have been the one that had been in the jar and wiggled his fingers. ‘Look at my hand. I love that hand. But then you touched it. Wham!’ Donna jumped and made a frightened squeak as he mimed hitting something. ‘Shush,’ he said, whispering again. ‘Instantaneous biological metacrisis. I grew out of you.’ He looked her over, as if assessing her, and Donna’s eyes narrowed. ‘Still, could be worse.’

‘Oi, watch it, spaceman.’

‘Oi, watch it, Earth girl.’

Both the Doctor and Donna stared at each other for a second, shocked. ‘Oh, I sound like you,’ said the Doctor. ‘I sound all, all sort of rough.’

And that set off another round of ‘Oi’ going back and forth until the Doctor shushed Donna again. She wasn’t sure she liked this new Doctor. He was far too much like her. It was sort of unsettling.

He was obviously thinking the same thing. ‘I must have picked up a bit of your voice, that's all,' he said. 'Is it? Did I? No.’ His eyes widened just like they always did (or at least, how the other Doctor’s eyes always did) when he realised something important. ‘Oh, you are kidding me! No way. One heart. I've only got one heart. This body has got only one heart.’

‘What, like you're human?’ asked Donna, putting a hand on his chest to check for herself. Sure enough, there was only one heart beating beneath her fingers.

The new/unique/human Doctor made a face. ‘Oh, that's disgusting.’

‘Oi!’

‘Oi!’

‘Stop it.’

‘No, wait,’ said the Doctor as his eyes widened again. ‘I'm part Time Lord, part human.’ The two of them stared at each other for a moment as they took in the new information. ‘Well, isn't that wizard?’

Donna still wasn’t sure she understood how this new Doctor was here… with one heart. Wait, one heart. One beating heart.

‘I kept hearing that noise, that heartbeat,’ she said as she realised the significance of it. It was that heartbeat that had made her stay in the TARDIS - the one that had drawn her to touch the jar and start this whole metacrisis thing.

‘Oh, that was me,’ said the Doctor as if it was nothing and then he moved over to finally fix the scanner. ‘My single heart. Because I'm a complicated event in time and space. Must have rippled back, converging on you.’

‘But why me?’ asked Donna.

‘Because you're special.’

Donna rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, I keep telling you, I'm not.’

‘No, but you are,’ said the Doctor and he looked back up at her. His eyes were doing that thing again - the widening in realisation thing - but this time they were also filled with sympathy (or perhaps it was empathy). ‘Oh. You really don't believe that, do you?’ he said and Donna swallowed nervously at how understanding his voice was. Like he now knew the truth about her. ‘I can see, Donna, what you're thinking. All that attitude, all that lip, because all this time you think you're not worth it.’

‘Stop it,’ she said, not wanting to hear any more but the Doctor carried on anyway.

‘Shouting at the world because no one's listening. Well, why should they?’

‘Doctor?’ she asked, more firmly this time. ‘Stop it.’

‘But look at what you did,’ he said with that smile that only the Doctor could do. The one of complete adoration and pride. Donna was about to shrug his words off or thank him for them or… well, she didn’t really know what she had intended to say but it didn’t matter. The Doctor’s smile had faded and he now had a thoughtful look on his face. ‘No, it's more than that,’ he said. ‘It's like we were always heading for this. You came to the TARDIS. And you found me again. Your Granddad. Your car. Donna, your car! You parked your car right where the TARDIS was going land. That's not coincidence at all! We've been blind. Something's been drawing us together for such a long time.'

Donna wasn’t sure how to take this all in. What the Doctor was implying, it couldn’t be true. ‘But you're talking like destiny,’ she said, her voice wavering slightly. ‘There's no such thing. Is there?’

‘It's still not finished,’ he said, somehow ignoring her question and answering it at the same time. ‘It's like the pattern's not complete. The strands are still drawing together. But heading for what?’

Donna wasn't sure she wanted to find out.

----

Rose reached out to test the forcefield around her. The light rippled and flared at her touch. The Doctor was standing a few feet away from her, his own containment field surrounding him.

The holding cells had been activated within moments of the Doctor and Rose stepping into the room. It seemed Davros was smart enough to realise the threat the Doctor posed to his plan… whatever that plan was. They hadn’t gotten to that part yet. At the moment, Davros and the Doctor just seemed to be taunting each other.

‘The Supreme Dalek said Vault,’ the Doctor was saying. ‘As in dungeon, cellar, prison. You're not in charge of the Daleks, are you? They've got you locked away down here in the basement like, what, a servant? Slave? Court jester?’

He had obviously touched a nerve. ‘We have… an arrangement,’ said Davros with obvious disapproval of said arrangement.

‘No, no, no, no, no. No, I've got the word,’ said the Doctor. All his bravado had returned since seeing the TARDIS perish but Rose knew that the pain was still there, just beneath the surface. They had lost both Donna and the TARDIS and, if the way Rose was feeling right now was anything to go by, it was going to take them a long time to get over that. If they did get over it at all, that is. Right now, Rose doubted they ever would.

‘You're the Dalek's pet!’ shouted the Doctor and Rose returned her focus to what was happening now. She could grieve later. If she got the chance.

‘So very full of fire, is he not,’ said Davros, moving his chair (which looked a lot like the lower half of a Dalek) towards her. ‘And to think of all you’ve done to be beside him.’

‘Leave her alone,’ said the Doctor, his taunting replaced by something dark and threatening.

‘She is mine to do as I please,’ said Davros, simply. But it was clear that he was glad to have found a way to wipe the smile off of the Doctor’s face.

‘Then why am I still alive?’ asked Rose, standing up a little straighter. She didn't want to give Davros the satisfaction of seeing her fear.

‘You must be here. It was foretold. Even the Supreme Dalek would not dare to contradict the prophecies of Dalek Caan.’ He pressed a button on his chair and a light switched on across the room, illuminating Dalek Caan. His casing was open, having looked like it had been ripped off, and the creature inside was twitching.

‘So cold and dark,’ said Caan. The shrill voice sent a shiver down Rose's spine. He was obviously mad. ‘Fire is coming. The endless flames.’

‘What happened to him?’ she asked.

‘He flew into the Time War unprotected,’ answered the Doctor.

‘Caan did more than that,’ said Davros. ‘He saw time. Its infinite complexity and majesty, raging through his mind. And he saw you. Both of you.’

‘This I have foreseen, in the wild and the wind,’ said Caan. ‘The Doctor will be here as witness, at the end of everything. The Doctor and his precious Children of Time.’ Caan let out a cackle that sent another shiver through Rose. ‘And one of them will die.’

Rose lowered her head at that, once again thinking of Donna.

The Doctor was obviously having similar thoughts. ‘Was it you, Caan?’ he shouted. ‘Did you kill Donna? Why did the TARDIS door close? Tell me!’

‘Oh, that's it,’ said Davros in what was probably as close to glee as the man got. ‘The anger, the fire, the rage of a Time Lord who butchered millions. There he is.’ The Doctor held Davros’s gaze. His anger was still there but now it was overshadowed by guilt. ‘Why so shy?’ taunted Davros. ‘Show your companion. Show her your true self.’

‘He already has done,’ said Rose and the Doctor turned his head to look at her. They locked eyes and she tried to pour as much love and reassurance as she could into her gaze. ‘I know exactly who he is.’

‘And yet Dalek Caan disagrees,’ said Davros and Caan giggled again.

‘I have seen. At the time of ending, the Doctor's soul will be revealed.’

‘What does that mean?’ asked the Doctor, turning away from Rose to face the Dalek. Rose wasn’t sure how much comfort she had been able to give him but at least he didn’t seem quite as dejected as he had done a moment ago.

‘We will discover it together,’ said Davros. ‘Our final journey. Because the ending approaches. The testing begins.’

‘Testing of what?’

‘The Reality Bomb.’

That didn’t sound good.

‘What’s a Reality Bomb?’ asked Rose.

Davros flicked a switch on his chair and a screen appeared in the air before them, similar to the one that the Supreme Dalek had used to show them the destruction of the TARDIS. But this one didn’t show the fiery heart of the Crucible, it showed a room, inside of which were about a dozen people guarded by a lot more Daleks. Whatever this Reality Bomb was, these prisoners were obviously the test subjects.

‘What are you gonna do to them?’ asked Rose. She couldn’t keep that edge of fear out of her voice.

‘Behold. The apotheosis of my genius,’ said Davros.

The sound of the Supreme Dalek’s voice could be heard through the video link. ‘Four, three, two, one, zero. Activate planetary alignment field.’

The screen changed to a view of the twenty seven planets and Rose’s eyes widened as the planets started to glow.

‘That's Z-neutrino energy,’ said the Doctor, clear panic in his voice, ‘flattened by the alignment of the planets into a single string. No, Davros. Davros, you can't! You can't! No!’

‘What’s he doing?’ Rose asked, her own panic rising at the scared look on the Doctor’s face.

The screen flicked back to the view of the prisoners and Rose gasped as they all started to dissolve into atoms. Only the Daleks remained. ‘Doctor, what happened?’ she asked when she had finally found her voice again. It had taken less then ten seconds for all of the people in that room to vanish into thin air.

It was Davros who explained. ‘Electrical energy, Miss Tyler. Every atom in existence is bound by an electrical field. The Reality Bomb cancels it out. Structure falls apart. That test was focused on the prisoners alone. Full transmission will dissolve every form of matter.’

‘Mickey said the stars were going out,’ she whispered, not looking away from the space on the wall where the screen had just been.

‘The twenty seven planets,’ said the Doctor and Rose finally turned to face him. He had a look of disgusted shock in his eyes. ‘They become one vast transmitter, blasting that wavelength.’

‘Across the entire universe,’ continued Davros. ‘Never stopping, never faltering, never fading. People and planets and stars will become dust, and the dust will become atoms, and the atoms will become… nothing. And the wavelength will continue, breaking through the Rift at the heart of the Medusa Cascade into every dimension, every parallel, every single corner of creation. This is my ultimate victory, Doctor. The destruction of REALITY ITSELF!’

And they had no way of stopping it.

----

Jack rolled out of the Daleks’ disposal chamber, coughing. That had not been a fun experience. He got up and brushed himself off but he knew he couldn’t stay where he was for long. He had to come up with a plan to save the Doctor and Rose. And fast.

After a few moments, he realised that beyond storming into this vault place and getting himself killed a few dozen times and then captured, he had diddly-squat. So he decided on a new course of action. Sarah Jane had mentioned that the Daleks had been taking human prisoners; maybe he could at least find a way to save them. He set the vortex manipulator on his wrist to scan for human lifeforms and saw that there was a small group of people, about a dozen or so, in a room on the other side of the Crucible. He looked down the corridor. So far he had not seen any more Daleks but he knew there was no way he could make it that far without running into them.

He let out a half-sigh, half-groan. The ventilation ducts it would have to be.

----

After an uncomfortable ten minutes of crawling, Jack was almost to the room that contained the prisoners. But then his vortex manipulator beeped and the life form readings disappeared. Jack sighed in defeat. He had been too late. The Daleks must have killed them all. But what for? Why bring them on board in the first place?

He looked to the vortex manipulator again. He had been wrong, the Daleks hadn’t killed all the humans. There were still three people left but they weren’t in the same room as the others had been. They were in the one next to it. The one that Jack was just coming up to.

A minute later, Jack kicked the panel on the wall and sent it flying into the corridor beyond, leaving just enough of a gap for him to roll through.

So he did.

Standing up, he gave a big stretch before addressing the people in front of him. ‘Just my luck. I climb through two miles of ventilation shafts, chasing life signs on this thing, and who do I find? Mickey Mouse.’

‘You can talk, Captain Cheesecake,’ said Mickey Smith and there was a moment before both men laughed and came together for a hug.

‘Good to see you,’ said Jack, patting Mickey on the back. ‘And that's Beefcake.’

‘And that's enough hugging.’

Mickey pulled out of the hug and Jack turned his attention to the other two people. One of the women he didn’t recognise but the other he knew well, even though they had never met. ‘We meet at last, Miss Smith,’ he said, saluting Sarah Jane.

Sarah didn’t acknowledge the salute, instead she went straight to business, her eyes set in determination. ‘There is something we can do,’ she said. ‘You've got to understand. I have a son down there on Earth. He's only fourteen years old. I've brought this.’ She held up a necklace. It didn’t look anything special but, giving it another look, Jack realise that the gem of the necklace was very special indeed. ‘It was given to me by a Verron Soothsayer,’ explained Sarah Jane as she handed the necklace over to Jack. ‘He said, this is for the End of Days.’

‘Is that a Warp Star?’ asked Jack, not quite believing what he was seeing.

Sarah Jane nodded.

‘Going to tell me what a Warp Star is?’ asked Mickey.

‘A warpfold conjugation trapped in a carbonised shell,’ explained Jack. ‘It's an explosion, Mickey. An explosion waiting to happen.’

And it was how they were going to save the Earth.

----

‘So what is this thing?’ asked Donna as she handed the (human) Doctor some sort of machanism. He was just putting the final touches on some sort of device he had made that would apparently help them stop the Daleks. Not too long ago they had seen on the TARDIS scanner the power that could be generated by the twenty seven planets outside and the Doctor had quickly realised the extent of Davros’s plan. After that, he had immediately jumped into action, collecting bits and bobs to build the device he now had in his hands.

‘It's our only hope,’ he said. ‘A Z-neutrino biological inversion catalyser.’

Z-neutri- what?

‘Yeah. Earth girl, remember?’ said Donna, hoping he would elaborate further, this time in English.

Thankfully, he did. ‘Davros said he built those Daleks out of himself. His genetic code runs through the entire race. If I can use this to lock the Crucible's transmission onto Davros himself.’

‘It destroys the Daleks?’ asked Donna, allowing herself to hope.

The Doctor nodded, his eyes set in determination and barely contained rage. ‘Biggest backfire in history.’

----

Rose was still trying to take in the extremity of what Davros had planned when the screen above them crackled and came to life. She had expected it to be the Supreme Dalek, announcing that the Reality Bomb was ready, but instead the voice of Martha Jones flowed through the Vault.

‘This message is for the Dalek Crucible. Repeat. Can you hear me?’

‘Put me through,’ said the Doctor at once.

‘It begins as Dalek Caan foretold,’ said Davros, obviously pleased with the turn of events.

‘The Children of Time will gather,’ giggled Caan, ‘and one of them will die.’

‘Stop saying that,’ growled the Doctor before once again telling Davros to let him talk to Martha.

Davros must have given in because suddenly Martha was aware of their presence. ‘Doctor! Rose! I'm sorry, I had to,’ she said.

‘Oh, but the Doctor is powerless,’ said Davros. ‘My prisoner. State your intent.’

Martha held up the object that she had shown them back when they were talking on the Subwave Network. ‘I've got the Osterhagen Key,' she said. 'Leave this planet and its people alone or I'll use it.’

The Doctor clearly had never heard of the Key either. ‘Osterhagen what? What's an Osterhagen Key?’

‘There's a chain of twenty five nuclear warheads placed in strategic points beneath the Earth's crust,' explained Martha and Rose felt the colour drain from her face. Surely she couldn’t be suggesting…

But she was.

‘If I use the key,’ continued Martha, ‘they detonate and the Earth gets ripped apart.’

‘What?’ asked the Doctor, clearly appalled. ‘Who invented that? Well, someone called Osterhagen, I suppose. Martha, are you insane?’

‘The Osterhagen Key is to be used if the suffering of the human race is so great, so without hope, that this becomes the final option.’

‘That's never an option.’

‘Don't argue with me, Doctor!’ she shouted. Martha clearly didn’t like her own ultimatum against Davros but she was determined. ‘Because it's more than that. Now, I reckon the Daleks need these twenty seven planets for something. But what if it becomes twenty six? What happens then? Daleks? Would you risk it?’

Rose was torn between being proud of Martha for realising the significance of the number of planets, and angry at her for even considering the solution she was presenting. ‘Martha, there’s got to be another way,’ she said, desperately.

‘Is there?’ asked Martha, challenging Rose or the Doctor to come up with something better. But they didn’t have time to think of an alternative before another screen appeared in the air beside the first one. This screen showed Jack and Rose breathed a sigh of relief that the Daleks hadn’t gotten to him again.

‘Captain Jack Harkness, calling all Dalek boys and girls,’ said Jack. ‘Are you receiving me? Don't send in your goons, or I'll set this thing off.’

Rose tried to make out what he was holding - it looked like a necklace with wires hanging off of it - but then she noticed who was standing behind Jack. There was Sarah Jane, Mickey (Rose had wondered when he would finally show up) and…

‘Mum!’ cried Rose. What was she doing here?

‘Captain, what are you doing?’ the Doctor asked Jack.

‘I've got a Warp Star wired into the mainframe.’ That must have been what the necklace was. ‘I break this shell, the entire Crucible goes up.’

Still not a great solution, thought Rose, but at least it was better than Martha’s. But why did her Mum have to be here? She was supposed to be safe in that parallel world. Safe with Pete and their baby.

But the Doctor was just as against Jack's plan as he was Martha's. ‘You can't!’ he said, angrily. ‘Where did you get a Warp Star?’

‘From me,’ said Sarah Jane, stepping forwards. ‘We had no choice. We saw what happened to the prisoners.’

‘Impossible,’ said Davros and for a second, Rose thought he meant it was impossible for them to have seen the prisoners, but then she noticed the way he was looking at Sarah. ‘That face. After all these years.’

Sarah must have been with the Doctor on one of the occasions when he had met the Daleks’ creator.

‘Davros,’ whispered Sarah. Fear flashed through her eyes but it was only a second or two before that fear turned into anger. ‘It's been quite a while. Sarah Jane Smith. Remember?’

Davros clearly did remember her and was very pleased that she was here. ‘Oh, this is meant to be,’ he said. ‘The circle of Time is closing. You were there on Skaro at the very beginning of my creation.’

‘And I've learnt how to fight since then. You let the Doctor go, or this Warp Star, it gets opened.’

‘I'll do it,’ said Jack, holding the Star before him, threateningly. ‘Don't imagine I wouldn't.’

‘Jack, just slow down for a moment,’ said Rose. She didn’t mind sacrificing her own life to stop the Daleks and save the Earth, and she knew the Doctor would feel the same (although, she knew he would rather that Rose was not involved). And if Jack, Mickey and Sarah wanted to go down fighting, so be it.

But there was no way in hell that they were taking her Mum down with them. ‘Doctor, tell him,' said Rose, turning to face him. She had expected him to be sharing her resolve, but instead he was just silently staring at the ground. He looked, dare she say it, defeated. Rose wanted to run over and hold him but she knew she couldn’t. ‘Doctor?’ she asked, tentatively.

But he still didn’t look at her.

‘And the prophecy unfolds,’ said Davros.

‘The Doctor's soul is revealed,’ said Caan with another insane giggle. ‘See him. See the heart of him.’

‘The man who abhors violence,’ continued Davros, ‘never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.’

‘That’s not true,’ said Rose and Davros turned towards her.

‘You yourself absorbed the entire time vortex for him, did you not? You made yourself a God. What better weapon is there?’

Rose resisted the urge to shift nervously on her feet. ‘That was my decision, not his,’ she said, though a bit less defiantly than before.

Davros smiled at his victory. ‘Behold your Children of Time,’ he said to the Doctor, ‘transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor. You made this.’

‘They're trying to help,’ he whispered, still not looking up.

‘Already I have seen them sacrifice today, for their beloved Doctor. The Earth woman who fell opening the Subwave Network.’

‘Who was that?’ asked the Doctor and he finally looked at Rose.

‘Harriet Jones,’ she answered. She didn't want to burden the Doctor with this, especially not right now, but she couldn't lie. Harriet deserved better than that. ‘The Daleks shot her when she was trying to get you here.’ Rose could tell that the Doctor was feeling the same guilt she had felt when she had seen it happen. After everything he had done to Harriet, she had still been willing to sacrifice her life for him.

‘How many more?’ asked Davros. ‘Just think. How many have died in your name?’

The Doctor didn’t answer and Rose hung her head, thinking of all the people she had seen sacrifice themselves for the Doctor. She knew that he would be remembering them too. Her hand twitched, aching to hold his, but once again she knew it wasn’t possible. She balled it into a fist instead, anger flaring within her. Why was Davros doing this? He was already destroying everything else, why did he have to torture the Doctor this way?

And he wasn’t finished.

‘The Doctor,’ he continued. ‘The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.’

Rose opened her mouth to defend the Doctor, to tell Davros that he didn’t know a thing about who he really was, but she didn’t get the chance. The Supreme Dalek had lost his patience.

‘Enough,’ his booming voice echoed around the vault. ‘Engage defence zero five.’

This brought everyone back to the stand off that they were in. ‘It's the Crucible or the Earth,’ said Martha, gripping the Osterhagen Key tighter.

‘Transmat engaged,’ said a Dalek and before any one could carry out any threats, the Doctor and Rose’s friends disappeared from their respective video screens and appeared in the vault in front of them. The Osterhagen Key and the Warp Star left behind.

‘Don't move, all of you. Stay still,’ warned the Doctor.

‘Guard them!’ shouted Davros and the Daleks swooped in, surrounding the new prisoners. ‘On your knees, all of you. Surrender!’

‘Do as he says,’ said the Doctor and the others obeyed, including Rose. But she had a different reason.

‘What are you doing here?’ she asked her mother who was kneeling beside Rose’s containment cell.

‘I had to know you were safe.’

Rose reached out to touch her but the light of the forcefield rippled when her hand hit it.

‘The final prophecy is in place,’ said Davros and Rose got back to her feet. ‘The Doctor and his children, all gathered as witnesses. Supreme Dalek, the time has come. Now, DETONATE THE REALITY BOMB!’

The Supreme Dalek gave the order and the Daleks started counting down to the end of everything. The Doctor pleaded with Davros to stop but it was no use. The man was insane.

‘Nothing can stop the detonation,’ he cried. ‘Nothing and no one!’

And then another sound drifted through the room, silencing Davros’s insane laughter. The best sound in the universe: the TARDIS.

Rose stared at the spot across the room where the TARDIS was materialising. She had no idea how, but the TARDIS had made it out of the heart of the Crucible. And that meant that Donna was still alive. And that meant that they still had hope.

‘Impossible,’ said Davros, staring at the now solid blue box in front of him. The door opened, revealing a figure, silhouetted against the light inside. But it wasn’t Donna.

It was the Doctor.

Chapter Text

Rose just stared in shock as the newly arrived Doctor ran at Davros, a strange device in his hand. ‘Don't!’ cried the Doctor (the one in the containment cells) but to no avail. The other Doctor kept on running forwards until Davros lifted his hand and an energy bolt shot from his finger, hitting the newcomer straight in the chest. The new Doctor - or was he a future Doctor? Rose had no idea – cried out in pain and fell to the floor. He dropped the device that was in his hands and it slid across the floor.

‘Activate holding cell,’ said Davros and a forcefield descended, surrounding the new Doctor.

But Rose hadn’t given up hope yet. There was still one more person who could help them.

‘Doctor!’ shouted Donna, running out of the TARDIS. She headed straight to the device that he had dropped and picked it up. ‘I've got it.’ She looked down at the thing in her hands, panic in her eyes. ‘But I don't know what to do!’

‘Donna, watch out!’ shouted Rose but it was too late. Davros lifted his hand again and another bolt of energy shot through the air towards Donna. The force of it lifted her up off the ground and threw her across the room.

‘Donna! Are you all right, Donna?’

But Donna remained still, crumpled up against the bulky piece of epuipment she had just been thrown into.

‘Destroy the weapon,' shouted Davros. The device that Donna had been holding a moment ago sparked as a Dalek fired at it, leaving it nothing but a burnt shell. ‘I was wrong about your warriors, Doctor. They are pathetic.’

But neither the Doctor nor Rose responded to Davros's taunt.

‘How comes there are two of you?’ Rose asked the Doctor (the one that she had entered the Vault with). She turned to the other one. ‘Are you from the future?’

The new Doctor shook his head. ‘Human biological metacrisis,’ he explained.

Well that hadn’t helped Rose’s confusion in the slightest.

‘Never mind that,’ said the other Doctor. ‘Now we've got no way of stopping the Reality Bomb.’

The Supreme Dalek’s voice echoed around the room, counting down to the destruction of everything. Davros turned the video screen back on and Rose watched in horror as the planets started to glow again. This was it. They had failed and now the whole of reality was going to pay the price.

The Supreme Dalek had just reached the end of the countdown when suddenly the screen disappeared and an alarm sounded. Judging by the look of anger and shock on Davros’s face, it meant that something had gone wrong with the Reality Bomb.

Rose was just about to ask what was going on when Donna’s smug voice came from across the room. Rose turned to see that she was sitting at the controls that she had so recently been slumped against.

‘Closing all Z-neutrino relay loops using an internalised synchronous back-feed reversal loop. That button there.’

Donna pressed the aforementioned button and, despite not understanding a word that she had said, Rose just knew that she had just deactivated the Reality Bomb. But how had she known what to do?

Rose looked to the new Doctor, expecting him to be smiling proudly at Donna’s ability to follow instructions that he had given her but he looked just as gobsmacked as she did. Both Doctors did.

‘Donna, you can't even change a plug.’

‘Do you want to bet, Time Boy?’ said Donna, highly pleased with herself. Rose couldn’t deny that she deserved that smug tone… but she was still so confused as to how she even knew how to do all this in the first place.

The only person in the room (apart from Donna herself) who didn’t seem to be in a state of shock was Davros. He was just furious at his robbed victory. ‘You'll suffer for this,’ he shouted, lifting his finger, obviously intending to zap Donna again.

But Donna just casually lifted a lever on the control panel and the electricity that was forming at the tip of Davros’s finger backtracked and shot up is arm. He howled in pain for a moment until the energy faded.

‘Oh, bio-electric dampening field with a retrograde field arc inversion,’ said Donna.

‘Exterminate her!’ cried Davros and the Daleks descended on Donna, pointing their weapons at her.

‘Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.’

But the deadly energy bolts never came.

‘Weapons non-functional,’ cried one of the Daleks, its weapon twitching uselessly.

‘Macrotransmission of a K-filter wavelength blocking Dalek weaponry in a self-replicating energy blindfold matrix.’

Rose had no idea what Donna had just said but she got the general idea. Donna had done something clever with the controls again. Something that Rose was fairly sure she hadn’t known how to do five minutes ago.

‘How did you work that out?’ the Doctor asked Donna. ‘You're…’

‘Time Lord,’ cut in the other Doctor with a look of proud awe directed at Donna. ‘Part Time Lord.’

‘Part human,’ finished Donna with a smile. ‘Oh, yes. That was a two-way biological metacrisis. Half Doctor, half Donna.’

Wait… did she just say half Doctor?

Rose was still immensely confused but at least the Doctors seemed to understand now. ‘The Doctor Donna,’ whispered the Doctor (the one in the brown suit – the new Doctor was wearing blue). ‘Just like the Ood said, remember? They saw it coming. The Doctor Donna.’

Donna nodded and pressed another few buttons on the controls. ‘Holding cells deactivated. And seal the Vault.’ The forcefields surrounding them disappeared but Rose and the two Doctors didn’t move. They just stared dumbly at Donna. ‘Well, don't just stand there, you skinny boys in suits. Get to work.’

The two Doctors snapped out of it and ran to join her at the controls.

‘Stop them!’ shouted Davros. ‘Get them away from the controls.’

The Daleks made to move towards the Doctors but Donna was too quick for them. ‘And spin,’ she said as she flicked another switch. The Daleks began to spin comically. They stopped for a moment, only for Donna to press another button, sending then spinning the other way. Jack let out a laugh at the sight. Rose wanted to laugh to but she was still having trouble processing the whole “half Doctor” thing.

‘What did you do?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Trip switch circuit-breaker in the psychokinetic threshold manipulator,’ answered Donna.

Rose had no clue what that meant but according to the Doctor it was brilliant.

‘Why did we never think of that?’ the other Doctor asked.

‘Because you two were just Time Lords, you dumbos,’ said Donna, ‘lacking that little bit of human. That gut instinct that comes hand in hand with planet Earth. I can think of ideas you two couldn't dream of in a million years. Oh, the universe has been waiting for me. Now, let's send that trip switch all over the ship.’ She paused, holding her hands up in front of her. ‘Did I ever tell you, best temp in Chiswick? Hundred words per minute.’ She waggled her fingers in the air and then returned them to the controls.

At some point Jack must have run into the TARDIS because now he was running out of it, carrying his gun that he had left inside. He chucked it to Mickey who then wasted no time in pointing the massive weapon at Davros. It was at this point that Rose realised that she was still just standing there when she should be doing something to help. She ran to the nearest Dalek (which was still spinning on the spot) and called for someone to help her. Sarah Jane appeared at her side instantly and together they pushed the Dalek away, sending it spiralling onto the wall.

‘Good to see you again,’ shouted Sarah over the sound of the Dalek’s cries.

‘You too,’ Rose shouted back.

Over at the controls, it seemed that the Doctors and Donna were sending the twenty seven planets back to their rightful places in time and space.

‘Off you go, Clom,’ shouted the Doctor.

‘Back home, Adipose Three,’ said the other.

With a triumphant cry of 'Ha!' that sounded a lot like the Doctor's, Donna listed off the remaining planets and announced that they had been returned home.

Now that that had been sorted with and the Daleks and Davros were neutralised, Rose finally felt safe in asking the question she had wanted to ask since seeing Donna at the controls. ‘What the hell is going on? Anybody gonna explain?’

‘He poured all his regeneration energy into his spare hand,’ explained Donna, nodding towards the Doctor in the brown suit. ‘I touched the hand, and he,’ she nodded to the Doctor in blue, ‘grew out of that but that fed back into me. But, it just stayed dormant in my head till the synapses got that little extra spark, kicking them into life. Thank you, Davros! Part human, part Time Lord. And I got the best bit of the Doctor. I got his mind.’

‘So there's three of you?’ asked Sarah Jane.

‘Three Doctors?’ asked Rose, her mind trying to wrap itself around the idea of such a thing.

‘I can't tell you what I'm thinking right now,’ said Jack.

Rose was fairly certain she knew exactly what Jack was thinking right now. And it scared her. Donna with the Doctor’s mind she could handle, she was still Donna underneath it all so there were no worries there… but what about the man in the blue suit? Was he someone else underneath too or were he and the Doctor exactly the same in body and mind? Did they both have the same feelings? Would they both want to continue their relationship with Rose? Or would they expect her to choose between them?

Rose forced the questions out of her mind. There were more important things to deal with at the moment. Namely, an army of Daleks and their very angry creator.

‘But you promised me, Dalek Caan,’ growled Davros, turning towards the mad Dalek. ‘Why did you not foresee this?’

Caan just laughed.

‘Oh, I think he did,’ said the Doctor. ‘Something's been manipulating the timelines for ages, getting Donna Noble to the right place at the right time.’

‘This would always have happened,’ said Caan. ‘I only helped, Doctor.’

And just when Rose had thought that she had had her fill of surprises for the day. The last member of the Cult of Skaro had willingly helped the Doctor.

‘You betrayed the Daleks,’ accused Davros.

‘I saw the Daleks,’ countered Caan. He didn’t seem quite as crazy as before. Still insane, definitely, but now his insanity had a sense of purpose. ‘What we have done, throughout time and space, I saw the truth of us, Creator, and I decreed, no more!’ Rose thought she saw the Doctor flinch at those words but by the time she had turned to face him properly, his face was back to its previous look of determination.

‘Heads up!’ shouted Jack and Rose looked up to see the Supreme Dalek descending toward them.

‘Davros, you have betrayed us,’ he said as he reached the floor of the Vault.

‘It was Dalek Caan,’ protested Davros but the Supreme Dalek either didn’t listen or didn’t care (Rose suspected the latter).

‘The Vault will be purged. You will all be exterminated.’

The Supreme Dalek fired at the controls the Doctors and Donna were working on and it exploded in a shower of sparks.

Jack, meanwhile, had gotten his gun back off of Mickey. ‘Like I was saying, feel this!’ he shouted at the Supreme Dalek and then he fired the weapon. The Supreme Dalek exploded as the energy pulse hit it, sending shrapnel all over the room.

But it was too late; the damage had already been done.

‘Oh, we've lost the magnetron,’ said the Doctor. ‘And there's only one planet left.’ He let out a half groan, half laugh. ‘Oh, guess which one. But we can use the TARDIS.’

He ran into the TARDIS just as the other Doctor (the Metacrisis one) declared that he was making sure the Earth remained stable. Rose almost rolled her eyes, now understanding the Doctor's earlier reaction. Of course it would have been the Earth that had been left behind.

Dalek Caan was speaking; something about prophecies and destroying the Daleks but Rose didn’t care about that anymore. The Daleks had failed in their plan and the Earth was being saved. Now she could focus on reuniting with her mother.

‘Rose!’ shouted Jackie as Rose reached her and she immediately opened her arms up for a hug. ‘Oh, I’ve missed you so much, sweetheart.’

‘I’ve missed you too,’ said Rose, trying not to sob into her Mum’s shoulder.

The moment was broken by the sound of a series of nearby explosions and Rose jumped out of her mother’s arms, ready to protect her from whatever attack was coming.

But it wasn’t an attack - at least, not on them, anyway. Something was causing the Daleks to explode. Rose turned to face the controls to see the Metacrisis Doctor there, angry resolve on his face.

‘What have you done?’ cried the other Doctor, having just run back out of the TARDIS.

‘Fulfilling the prophecy.’

Rose almost backed up a step at the look on his face. She recognised that anger but she hadn’t seen it in so long.

The whole Crucible was shaking around them now and Rose had a sneaking suspicion that whatever the Metacrisis had done to the Daleks in the Vault, he had done to all of them. She ducked as bits of the ceiling began to fall apart.

The Doctor shouted at everyone to get inside the TARDIS and Rose grabbed her Mum’s hand, dragging her to the safety of the time ship. The others all followed in a neat line until only the Time Lord Doctor remained outside. He was beckoning Davros to join them. After everything the man had just done and tried to do, the Doctor was still trying to save him.

Rose smiled proudly. Now that was the Doctor she knew and loved. Not that she thought less of the other Doctor for destroying all the Daleks. She herself had once done the exact same thing but she liked to think that she had grown since then. And so had the Doctor. This new Doctor just seemed to have forgotten that.

The Doctor joined them in the TARDIS, Davros having decided to stay behind rather than accept his help, and bounded up to the console. ‘But what about the Earth?’ Sarah asked him as the TARDIS dematerialised. ‘It's stuck in the wrong part of space.’

‘I'm on it.’ He flicked a switch and pulled the scanner towards him. ‘Torchwood Hub, this is the Doctor. Are you receiving me?’

‘Loud and clear,’ came the voice of one of Jack’s team. ‘Is Jack there?’ Rose shuffled closer to the Doctor so that she could see the scanner. The woman on the screen looked very familiar.

‘Can't get rid of him. Jack, what's her name?’

‘Gwen Cooper,’ answered Jack with a clear amount of pride and admiration in his voice.

The Doctor turned back to the scanner. ‘Tell me, Gwen Cooper, are you from an old Cardiff family?’

He obviously recognised Gwen too. Rose smiled as she thought back to the woman they had met so long ago in a 19th century mortuary. The servant girl who had saved the world. Gwen even had the same name (or close enough).

‘Yes, all the way back to the eighteen hundreds,’ said Gwen, looking confused at the Doctor’s line of questioning.

‘Ah, thought so. Spatial genetic multiplicity.’

He smiled at Rose and the two shared a moment of happy reminiscing. Gwen really did look just like her great great aunt (or however her and Gwyneth were related). ‘It's a funny old world,’ said the Doctor before getting back to business. ‘Now, Torchwood, I want you to open up that Rift Manipulator. Send all the power to me.’

‘Doing it now, sir,’ said the other member of Jack’s team. Rose remembered seeing him earlier on the Subway Network. Ianto, was it?

‘What's that for?’ Rose asked the Doctor.

‘It's a tow rope,’ he answered. ‘Now then. Sarah, what was your son's name?’

‘Luke. He's called Luke. And the computer's called Mister Smith.'

The Doctor pressed a button on the scanner. ‘Calling Luke and Mister Smith. This is the Doctor. Come on, Luke. Shake a leg.’

The young boy appeared on the screen. ‘Is Mum there?’ he asked at once and Rose smiled at the relieved look on Sarah Jane’s face. She still didn’t know how this boy was her son, but it didn’t matter. Sarah Jane looked every bit a mother should. She obviously cared about Luke very much.

‘Oh, she's fine and dandy,’ said the Doctor. ‘Now, Mister Smith, I want you to harness the Rift power and loop it around the TARDIS. You got that?’

‘I regret I will need remote access to TARDIS base code numerals,’ came the voice of Mister Smith.

The Doctor’s eyebrows furrowed and he ran a hand through his hair. ‘Oh, blimey, that's going to take a while.’

‘No, no, no. Let me,’ said Sarah, pushing herself between him and Rose so she could get to the scanner. ‘K9, out you come!’

The Doctor’s look of annoyance at being shoved out of the way instantly transformed to one of pure glee when the robotic dog appeared on the screen. ‘Oh, good dog! K9,’ he cried. ‘Give Mister Smith the base code.’

K9 did as he was asked and the Doctor turned to address the people in the console room. He began to usher each of them to a specific place around the console and gave them all a task each. Well… everyone except Jackie. 'We've got the Torchwood Rift looped around the TARDIS by Mister Smith,’ he explained, ‘and we're going to fly Planet Earth back home. Right then. Off we go.’

He pulled down a lever and the TARDIS began to move. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, the TARDIS jerked a bit with the effort of dragging the Earth, but that didn’t hinder the atmosphere in the room. Rose smiled along with the rest of them as they all worked together to fly the TARDIS through space.

Eventually, the “rope” snapped and the TARDIS gave one last shudder before it levelled out, now flying unburdened. They had done it. The Earth was back home.

Everybody cheered as they realised their success and Rose couldn’t help clapping her hands together in excitement. She had flown the TARDIS before, but never had it felt so good. She hugged the nearest person in celebration and looked up to see the Doctor smiling down at her. He leant in for a quick kiss, which Rose gladly returned. It wasn’t until he had moved on to hug the next person that she realised that he was wearing a blue suit.

Oh, this was going to be awkward.

Martha spun her round to give her a tight hug and Rose pushed the thought out of her mind. This was a time for joy, not worry.

Finally, after hugging almost everybody else in the room, she found herself in front of the original Doctor, who, as soon as Rose was close enough, wrapped his arms around her waist and gave her the best snog of her life. It was the kind of kiss that, if it weren’t for the fact that they were surrounded by six other people, Rose was fairly sure she would have been backed up against the coral strut by now… probably with the Doctor’s hand down her jeans. He must have noticed the other him kiss her and now he wanted to show her how it was really done.

Rose smiled against his lips. Jealous git.

‘Oi!’

Jackie’s shout caused them both to pull away from each other, rather quickly in the Doctor’s case. ‘Oh, Jackie… I... er… I actually forgot you were there for a second,’ he stammered.

He started to pull at his ear nervously and Jackie’s scowl turned into an amused smile. ‘Oh, don’t look so guilty, you daft alien. Not like I didn’t know this would happen eventually.’ And then she hugged him, much to the Doctor’s surprise and discomfort. He looked at Rose over Jackie’s shoulder, eyes begging for help, but Rose was too busy giggling at the situation to do anything to get him out of it.

Eventually Jackie let the Doctor go and gave Rose a hug instead. Rose held on for a bit longer than she had with any of the others. She had never thought she would get to hug her Mum again and she was going to make the most of it while she still could.

Chapter Text

Sadly, the celebrations couldn’t last forever and all too soon it was time for everybody to say goodbye. The TARDIS landed and the Doctor announced that they were in a park not too far from Sarah Jane’s home.

‘Guess it’s me first, then,’ said Sarah and, after giving everyone else a quick goodbye, she and the Doctor (the original one) left the TARDIS.

Rose knew that the Doctor would want to say goodbye to her on his own so she decided to take this chance to spend a little more time with her Mum before she too had to leave. They chatted for a couple of minutes, interrupted once by Jack and Martha saying goodbye (they had decided that Bannerman Road was close enough for them and they would make the rest of the journey home the old-fashioned way), and Rose smiled at the confirmation that her Mum was having a wonderful life. Her and Pete had gotten married (though, to the rest of that world, it just looked like they were renewing they’re vows) and she had given birth to a boy, who they had named Tony.

Rose was just asking about how Pete was dealing with Jackie’s habit of throwing extravagant birthday parties (now even more extravagant now that she had money) when Mickey came up to join them.

‘Time for me to head off too,’ he said.

Rose frowned. ‘You’re not going back to Pete’s World?’

Mickey shook his head, a sombre expression on his face. ‘My Gran died a few months back. Time for a fresh start.’

And then, surprising Rose even further, he leaned in and gave Jackie a tight hug. They must have grown much closer during their time in the parallel world. He pulled away from Jackie, telling her that he would miss her, and then gave Rose a quick hug too. ‘Maybe I’ll see you around sometime,’ he said.

It wasn’t a question but Rose answered anyway. ‘Of course. Call me any time you want. I don’t even need to beg the Doctor to let us visit anymore, I can fly the TARDIS myself.’

Mickey’s lips twitched up into a small smile at that and he gave her and Jackie one last nod before walking out of the TARDIS.

A couple of minutes later, the Doctor walked back inside. There were only the five of them left now so it wasn’t any mystery whose turn it was to go home next. Rose put her hand on her Mum’s shoulder as the Doctor flew them through the walls of the universes and landed them in Pete’s World.

All five of them walked out of the TARDIS and stepped onto a familiar beach. ‘Oh, fat lot of good this is,’ said Jackie. ‘Back of beyond. Bloody Norway? I'm going to have to phone Pete to pick me up. He’s not gonna be happy, mind. He’s looking after Tony and I didn’t exactly tell him I was joining Mickey on this little trip.’

Rose laughed a little at that, not surprised in the slightest. ‘I’m sure he’ll forgive you. And if he doesn’t, tell him he’ll have me to deal with.’

Jackie chuckled and gave Rose another hug.

After she had pulled away, Rose turned to face the Doctor. 'How long do we have? Can we stay until Pete gets here?’

The Doctor shook his head, sadly. ‘We’ve only got a few minutes, sorry.’

‘The walls are closing again,’ explained Donna, ‘now that the Reality Bomb never happened. It's dimensional retroclosure. See, I really get that stuff now.’

Rose’s shoulders slumped in disappointment and the Doctor looked down at the sand, lost in thought. Rose knew that look. It was the one he had whenever he lost something. But he hadn't lost anything this time... had he?

‘What is it?’ she asked him, walking up so she was right in front of him.

He looked back up at her. Rose wasn’t surprised to see the guilt in his eyes – he always had felt guilty for taking her away from her mother – but what she hadn’t expected to see was fear. ‘Did you want to stay here?’ he asked.

Rose backed up a step at his question. The TARDIS wouldn’t work in this universe and she knew that there was no way the Doctor would willingly stay in one spot so, if she stayed, she would be staying without him. Was he really asking her to leave? After everything?

‘Do you want me to?’ she asked, her voice cracking a little bit.

‘No,’ his answer came at once. He winced at how loudly he had said the word. He gave her Mum an apologetic look before continuing. ‘Of course I don’t. It’s just… this is you’re only chance to get back to your family. Mum, Dad, little brother. You deserve a chance at that life.’

‘But I love the life I have,’ said Rose. Now it was her turn to give her Mum an apologetic look. But Jackie just nodded in understanding and gave her a reassuring smile. Rose turned back to the Doctor. ‘Yes, I’m going to miss Mum and yes I wish I could have seen my baby brother, but I’m not giving up the life I love. Or the man I love.’

The Doctor’s eyes twinkled with relief and unshed tears at her words. Rose was a little surprised at how emotional he was right now but didn’t question it. He had said goodbye to a lot of friends today and, even though they were all happy farewells, she knew how he hated goodbyes.

Jackie broke the moment between the pair but Rose was far from annoyed by it. She could spend all of eternity looking into the Doctor’s eyes but she only had a minute or two left with her Mum. ‘I got this,’ said Jackie, holding out a photograph she had taken out of her wallet. It was a photo of her, Pete and a small bundle of blankets. Just sticking out of the top of the bundle, was the head of a beautiful baby.

‘Oh he’s brilliant,’ said Rose, wiping away a stray tear. ‘I really am so happy for you, Mum.’

‘Keep it,’ insisted Jackie, shoving the photo into Rose’s hand. ‘I got heaps of pictures of him at home.’ He shoulders fell. ‘Only got one of you though. The one from your first day at school. It was in my wallet when I came here.’

Rose didn’t know what to say to that. She was more than a bit heartbroken that the only thing her Mum had to remember her by was a faded photo from nearly twenty years ago.

The Doctor stepped forward, hand in his pocket, searching for something. ‘Ah, there it is,’ he said as he pulled out the wallet that held the psychic paper. But it wasn’t the psychic paper he was after. He reached behind it and pulled out a photograph that Rose had never even realised was there. It was one that Rose had taken of the two of them when they had gotten all dressed up to see Elvis in the fifties. The Doctor handed it to Jackie. ‘It’s the only one I have on me,’ he said, apologetically, as if he thought Jackie would be disappointed that he was in the photo too.

But Jackie was as far from disappointed as you could get. ‘Oh, come here, you plum,’ she said and she wrapped her arms around the Doctor. This time he didn’t try to get away.

‘How long you been keeping that in there?’ asked Rose, nodding at the photo that was now in Jackie’s hand.

The Doctor gave an ambiguous shrug but Rose didn’t miss the way he wouldn’t make eye contact with her. He must have put that photo in his wallet long before they started their relationship. Rose smiled at the thought.

‘Oh, look at you pair,’ said Jackie, fondly, and Rose blushed.

The TARDIS gave a loud groaning sound and they all turned to face it. Rose’s face fell at the reminder that time was running out. ‘We've got to go,’ said the Doctor. At least this time there was a proper reason behind his apologetic tone.

Rose nodded and gave her Mum one last hug. ‘Be good,’ she said.

‘Oh, where’s the fun in that?’ chuckled Jackie.

Rose forced herself to pull away from her Mum and walked back over to the Doctor, who immediately took her hand in his. Slowly, she followed the two Doctors and Donna back into the TARDIS. She paused before the door and gave her Mum a little wave. Her Mum waved back and Rose stepped into the TARDIS, closing the door behind her.

‘You all right?’ asked the Metacrisis Doctor as the other Doctor piloted them away from Bad Wolf Bay and away from her Mum forever.

Rose wiped the last of her tears away. ‘I’ll be fine,’ she said. ‘It’s good to know she’s having a good life.’

He gave her a comforting smile and they both walked up the ramp to join the Doctor and Donna at the console.

It only took a minute to make sure the walls of the universe were sealed and then Donna immediately started planning their next trip. ‘I thought we could try the planet Felspoon,’ she said. ‘Just because. What a good name, Felspoon. Apparently, it's got mountains that sway in the breeze. Mountains that move. Can you imagine?’

‘And how do you know that?’ asked the Doctor but he didn’t share her enthusiasm. Instead, he looked… haunted. Like he had done when Davros had been taunting him in the vault.

‘Because it's in your head. And if it's in your head, it's in mine,’ said Donna, happily.

‘And how does that feel?’

‘Brilliant! Fantastic! Molto bene! Great big universe, packed into my brain. You know you could fix that chameleon circuit if you just tried hotbinding the fragment links and superseding the binary, binary, binary…’ Donna’s eyes grew wide in fear as she kept repeating the same word over and over like a broken record. Finally she let out a big gasp and could speak properly again. ‘I'm fine,’ she said, ignoring the way both Doctors were looking at her. ‘Nah, never mind Felspoon. You know who I'd like to meet? Charlie Chaplin. I bet he's great, Charlie Chaplin. Shall we do that? Shall we go and see Charlie Chaplin? Shall we? Charlie Chaplin? Charlie Chester. Charlie Brown. No, he's fiction. Friction, fiction, fixing, mixing, Rickston, Brixton.’ She let out another gasp, this one of pain, and slumped forwards a little, gripping the edge of the console with her fingers.

‘Donna!’ shouted Rose, rushing to her side. ‘Donna, what wrong?’

But Donna just looked up at her sadly.

‘Do you know what's happening?’ the Doctor asked her, walking up to stand on her other side.

Donna slowly straightened up, a different type of pain on her face now. ‘Yeah.’

‘Well, I don’t,’ said Rose, angrily. ‘What's happening to her?’

The Metacrisis Doctor walked around the console and took Rose by the shoulders. ‘Come with me,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you in the library.’

‘No, I’m not leaving her,’ said Rose, shrugging him off.

‘Rose please,’ begged the other Doctor and Rose faltered at the look in his eyes. He looked almost broken. She couldn’t deny him when he looked like that.

‘You might want to give Donna a hug,’ whispered the Metacrisis Doctor, recognising her silent surrender.

Now even more worried than before, Rose wrapped her arms around Donna’s shoulders. ‘I don’t know what going on, but I’m gonna find out,’ she promised. ‘And whatever’s happening, I know the Doctor will fix it.’

Donna just gave her another one of those sad smiles and Rose let the Metacrisis Doctor pull her out of the room and towards the library. Once they were there, Rose rounded on him. ‘What going on? And why do I have to be here for you to tell me?’

‘Maybe we should sit down,’ he said but Rose wasn’t moving an inch.

‘No. Not until you tell me what’s wrong with Donna.’

The Metacrisis Doctor sighed and Rose knew she had won. ‘A Time Lord Metacirsis has never happened before,’ he explained, softly. ‘It’s not something that's supposed to happen. Donna won’t be able to handle the change for long. A human mind doesn’t have the same capacity as a Time Lord one.’

‘What about you?’ asked Rose, not quite understanding what he was saying. ‘You seem fine.’

‘I’m different. I grew from a Time Lord and my DNA is only partly human. But Donna…’

The look on his face told Rose all she needed to know. This biological metacrisis was going to kill her. ‘But the Doctor, the other Doctor, he’s going to fix her, yeah That’s what he’s doing right now?’

The Metacrisis Doctor took a moment to answer. ‘Yeah.’

But Rose didn’t like the way he had said it. ‘Then why do you sound so sad?’ she asked. ‘And why did I have to give Donna a hug?’

‘There’s only one way to stop her mind from burning,’ he said, moving forward and placing his hands on her shoulders. Rose looked at them unsurely for a moment before returning her gaze to his face. ‘She’s going to have to forget us. Everything we did. She can’t remember any of it.’

Rose opened and closed her mouth a couple of times as she tried to process what he had just told her. Donna wouldn’t remember her time in the TARDIS. She wouldn’t remember the woman she had become. ‘But we’ve helped her so much,’ she finally said. ‘She won’t want to go back.’

‘Probably not.’

And suddenly Rose realised why she had to be in the library for this conversation. The Doctor was going to wipe Donna’s memories whether Donna wanted him to or not. Breaking out of the Metacrisis Doctor’s grasp, Rose rushed out of the library. She ran as fast as she could to the console room, not quite sure if she intended to stop the Doctor or not (he was saving Donna’s life after all), but whatever happened, she wanted to be there for Donna.

But she was too late. Rose skidded to a halt when she reached to console room only to find that Donna was already lying asleep in the Doctor’s arms. And when she woke, she wouldn’t remember any of the past few months.

Rose wanted to shout at the Doctor - to yell and scream at him for denying her a proper goodbye - but one look into his eyes and she knew that he was punishing himself enough already. He had saved Donna’s life but, in doing so, he had taken away his best friend.

----

Rose squeezed the Doctor’s hand in comfort and consolation as they both looked down at Donna’s sleeping form. She was back in her bed at her home in Chiswick. ‘They’re waiting for us,’ said Rose, softly, reminding him that Wilf and Sylvia were waiting for them to explain everything.

The Doctor didn’t speak, he just nodded, and Rose gently led him out of the room.

They made their way into the living room and sat down on the couch opposite Sylvia and Wilf. The Metacrisis Doctor was leaning on the wall next to them, wearing a similar resigned expression to the Time Lord Doctor. When they had turned up on their doorstep, Wilf and Sylvia had obviously been confused as to why there were two of them but they kept their questions to themselves, more focussed on what was wrong with Donna.

‘Well?’ asked Sylvia, anxious and angry. ‘Are any of you going to explain what happened to Donna?’

The Doctor leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. Rose rubbed his shoulder soothingly. ‘She took my mind into her own head,’ he explained. ‘But that's a Time Lord consciousness. All that knowledge, it was killing her.’

‘But she'll get better now?’ asked Wilf, clearly worried for his only grandchild.

‘I had to wipe her mind completely. Every trace of me, or Rose, or the TARDIS, anything we did together, anywhere we went, had to go.’

Wilf was having the exact same reaction that Rose had had when she had found out that Donna would no longer know how brilliant she had been. ‘All those wonderful things she did,’ he said, his voice cracking.

‘I know,’ said the Doctor. ‘But that version of Donna is dead.’ Rose choked back a sob at those words and continued to rub circles on the Doctor’s shoulder, though more for her own benefit now. ‘Because if she remembers, just for a second, she'll burn up. You can never tell her. You can't mention me or Rose or any of it… for the rest of her life.’

‘But the whole world's talking about it,’ said Sylvia. ‘We travelled across space.’

‘It'll just be a story. One of those Donna Noble stories, where she missed it all again.’

This time Rose did let out a sob, but it was mixed with a sad laugh as she remembered when she and the Doctor had first met Donna. She had been so oblivious to all the alien activity that had happened around her.

‘But she was better with you,’ said Wilf and Rose’s smile faded.

‘Don't say that,’ snapped Sylvia.

‘No, she was!’

‘Just because she doesn’t remember, doesn’t mean that potential isn’t still there,’ said Rose, trying to comfort Wilf. ‘She can still be brilliant.’

The Doctor nodded. ‘You should know there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her,’ he told Wilf and Sylvia. ‘There are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember. And for one moment, one shining moment,’ his voice cracked and Rose held back a tear, ‘she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.’

‘She still is,’ said Sylvia with a fierce protectiveness that Rose had never seen from her before. ‘She's my daughter.’

‘Then maybe you should tell her that once in a while,’ said the Doctor, matching Sylvia’s tone.

Sylvia didn’t get the chance to reply. The living room door swung open and Donna barged into the room. ‘I was asleep on my bed in my clothes, like a flipping kid!’ she exclaimed. ‘What do you let me do that for?’ She turned to the Doctor and Rose. ‘Don't mind me. Donna,’ she introduced herself but then went straight to checking her mobile phone.

‘John Smith,’ said the Doctor, getting to his feet. He nodded to the Metacrisis Doctor. ‘And my brother James.’

‘And I’m…’ Rose faltered as she tried to think of a name to tell Donna. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She couldn’t lie about who she was to her friend. ‘It doesn’t matter who I am,’ she said, softly.

‘They were just leaving,’ said Sylvia, glaring at the Doctor. Rose thought that Sylvia's anger was a little unfair but didn’t blame her for it. After everything that had happened, it wasn’t surprising that she wanted someone to blame.

‘My phone's gone mad,’ said Donna with a laugh, oblivious to the tension in the room. ‘Thirty two texts. Veena's gone barmy. She's saying planets in the sky. What have I missed now?’ She nodded to the Doctors and Rose. ‘Nice to meet ya.’

And those were the last words that the Doctor and Rose would ever hear Donna Noble say to them. With barely a backwards glance, she left the room, leaving a heavy silence in her wake.

After a moment, Sylvia turned back to the Doctors and Rose. ‘As I said, I think you should go.’ Her tone was less angry than before but it was still final.

Gripping the Doctor’s hand tightly in hers, Rose led the way out of the living room and out of Donna's life forever. She didn’t even realise that Wilf was following them until they stopped at the door to stare at the sky outside. It was raining. Typical.

‘That came in quick,’ said Wilf.

‘You'll have quite a bit of this,’ said the Doctor. ‘Atmospheric disturbance. Still, it'll pass… Everything does.’ He turned to face Wilf and held out his hand. ‘Bye then, Wilfred.’

Wilf shook his hand, and then the Metacrisis Doctor’s. He held out his hand for Rose to shake too but she sidestepped it and gave him a hug instead. ‘Look after her,’ she whispered in his ear before pulling away.

The Doctor took her hand again and the three of them walked out into the rain.

‘I'll watch out for you,’ said Wilf and they paused to look back at him.

‘You can't ever tell her,’ said the Doctor.

‘No, no, no,’ agreed Wilf. ‘But every night, when it gets dark, and the stars come out, I'll look up,’ he nodded to the house behind him, ‘on her behalf. I'll look up at the sky, and think of you.’

Rose was thankful for the rain at that moment. It disguised the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

‘Thank you,’ said the two Doctors together.

Rose just nodded. She didn’t think she could find the words to express her gratitude for Wilf’s promise. “Thank you” didn’t even cover it.

Wilf gave them a salute and then went back inside, closing the door behind him. The Doctor let out a big sigh and then he, Rose, and the Metacrisis continued back towards the TARDIS.

Just before they reached the doors, the Metacrisis stopped them. ‘I’m staying here,’ he said. ‘To watch over Donna. For a little while at least. I know she can’t ever see me,’ he added as the Doctor opened his mouth, no doubt intending to warn him about the danger of what he was proposing to do. ‘I just want to make sure there’s no lingering effects. It’s my fault this happened to her. I should make sure she’s okay.’

The Doctor closed his mouth and gave his twin a nod in understanding.

Rose understood too… but that didn’t mean she agreed on his reasoning. ‘It’s not your fault,’ she said, softly. ‘Don’t torture yourself because of it. You don’t have to stay.’

The Metacrisis gave her a small smile of gratitude. But it was a sad smile just the same. ‘Yes I do,’ he said. ‘The three of us in the TARDIS… it wouldn’t work.’

Rose wanted to argue further but she knew he was right. As fun as Jack had made that sort of relationship sound, it wasn’t something that she was entirely comfortable with and she didn’t want to have to choose between them (even though she knew without a doubt what that choice would be). She felt awful for thinking it, but she was glad that the Metacrisis had taken that decision out of her hands.

She let go of the Doctor’s hand and leaned up to kiss the Metacrisis Doctor on the cheek. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered.

‘Don’t be,’ he said as he gave her a quick hug. Once he had pulled away from Rose, he held his hand out to the Doctor. ‘Look after her,’ he told him, nodding at Rose. ‘Don’t screw it up.’

The Doctor’s lips twitched up into the closest thing to a smile that Rose had seen on his face since Bad Wolf Bay. ‘I’ll try not to,’ he said, shaking his twin’s hand. The Metacrisis began to walk away but the Doctor called out to him before he could get too far. ‘You know, UNIT probably owes us a small fortune in back pay. You should give them a bell.’

The Metacrisis thought for a moment before smiling. ‘I might do that.’

And then he was gone, becoming nothing but a retreating shadow in the rain.

Rose turned back to the TARDIS and, using her key that she kept on a chain around her neck, unlocked the door. She led the way out of the rain and into the warmth of the console room.

Once at the console, she pressed the buttons she knew would send them into the vortex as the Doctor slumped down onto the jump seat, head in his hands. ‘Do you think she’ll be all right?’ he asked, his voice slightly muffled by his fingers.

‘Of course she will,’ said Rose with forced optimism as she completed the dematerialisation sequence. ‘She’s brilliant.’ The TARDIS made a wheezing sound as they left Earth and the Doctor sat back in the jump seat. He gave Rose a smile but she could see that it was just as forced as her own. Abandoning her attempts at pretending she was okay, Rose let her smile fall. ‘She just has to realise it again.'

The Doctor’s smile slowly fell too. ‘I’m going to miss her,’ he whispered.

Now that the TARDIS was safely in the vortex, Rose walked away from the controls and sat beside him on the seat. She grasped his hand in hers and leaned against his shoulder. It was only a second before she felt him rest his head on hers.

‘I’m going to miss her too.’