Chapter 1: The Chameleon Arch
Rose tumbled through the TARDIS door at top speed, barely catching herself from smashing her face into the grating. She winced as the Doctor landed on top of her legs. A split second later, Jack dashed through the TARDIS threshold and tripped over the Doctor, narrowly avoiding a green blast that zinged over them to slam into the console, sending sparks flying everywhere.
“The door, the door!”
Jack rolled off the Doctor and scrambled to shut the door. A muffled blast slammed into the other side just as it closed.
The Doctor pulled Rose to her feet, snatched her by the shoulders, and shook her. “Did they see you?”
“I don’t know—”
“Did they see you?!”
“No!” she gasped.
The Doctor released her, whirling towards Jack. “Did they—”
“No!” Jack shot back, leaning on his knees as his chest heaved.
The Doctor’s shoulders relaxed as he breathed a sigh of relief. “Good, good, off we go…” He attacked the console in a frenzy, and the TARDIS dematerialised. Then a screeching sort of beep sounded, and the Doctor yanked the monitor to his face and let out a groan of frustration. “They’re following us!”
“One of them had a vortex manipulator!” Jack recalled, straightening.
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair, still staring at the monitor. “They can follow us wherever we go, right across the universe. They’re never going to stop…Unless…”
“Doctor, what were those things?” Rose demanded. The Doctor had a rare look of terror in his eyes, and just seeing the Doctor terrified made her terrified.
“Hunters,” the Doctor rattled off, still messing up his hair. “Related to the Gelth. Gaseous beings. Usually they’re peaceful—bounty hunters, search and rescue types—but these particular ones, the Family of Blood, they’re sort of outlaws. They’re looking for creatures with long lifespans.”
“What, like you and Jack?”
“Not Jack,” the Doctor said quickly, pulling one of the floor panels up and lowering himself into the storage unit below. “They can’t tell about Jack because he smells human. But me being a Time Lord—well, I’m unique.” He thrust a large chest up onto the console room floor and climbed out. “They can track me across the whole of time and space.”
“But why?” asked Jack.
The Doctor rummaged through the chest until he found a silver fob watch. “So they can eat me and live off the regeneration energy for centuries, which they’ll spend spreading destruction all throughout the universe. Rose, hold this.” He pressed the watch into her hand.
“What is it?” She traced the circles on it with her thumb.
“Just this…thing,” the Doctor said distractedly as he shut the chest and kicked it back under the floor. “Don’t lose it.”
“Hold on,” said Jack, “So if this Family is hunting you, what are we supposed to do?”
The Doctor started pushing buttons on the console frantically. “They’ve smelled me, but they haven’t seen me. And they’ve got very short lifespans—three months at most. So, we hide.”
“Where in all of time and space are we supposed to hide?!”
“Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?” said the Doctor, twisting a knob. “I can’t. That’s why I’ve got to stop being a Time Lord.” He looked up at the TARDIS ceiling, from which some sort of helmet was descending.
“Doctor, why am I holding this watch?” Rose asked, voice reaching a near-hysterical pitch.
The Doctor looked nervously from his contraption to Rose and back up, lost in thought. “All those times I thought about telling you…this wasn’t how I thought it would…Well.” He swallowed and grabbed the device. “It’s a Chameleon Arch. I’m going to become human.”
Rose and Jack both gaped at him. “What?!”
“I’m going to rewrite every cell in my body to human.”
Rose’s near hysteria came to fruition. “Rewrite every cell? Like a regeneration? You’re going to die?!”
“No! Yes! Sort of…I’ll still look like this, and the human thing’s only temporary. Open the watch and I’ll change right back…if you want me to.”
This did not make Rose any calmer. “Why wouldn’t I want you to change back?!”
The Doctor looked from the Chameleon Arch to Rose again. “I dunno…Just…Look, everything Time Lord about me is going into that watch. That watch is me, all right? So don’t lose it.” He turned back to the controls and pushed things seemingly at random. “Now, the TARDIS will take care of everything. Invent a life story for me, find me a setting and integrate me. Can't do the same for you...you'll both just have to improvise. I should have just enough residual awareness to let you in. No idea where we’ll end up. And Jack…no dying. No injuries. Don’t get hurt at all.”
Jack crossed his arms in a huff. “It’s not like I try to get hurt, Doc.”
“I know, it’s just—” the Doctor took a deep breath and paused to look at him. “You smell human, but if they ever figure out you’re immortal, they will stop at nothing to catch you. You should be able to blend in with the rest of the humans, but if you’re coming back from the dead and healing fatal wounds instantly, you are going to be more noticeable to them. And if they decide to track you instead, I can’t hide you. So I’m ordering you, no heroics. Live a quiet life for three months, all right?”
Jack nodded, but he looked furious. “So we’re all supposed to just camp out somewhere and pretend to be normal for three months?”
The Doctor waved his sonic screwdriver over the Chameleon Arch. “That’s the plan. Rose, the watch.”
Biting her lip, Rose handed him the watch. He inserted it into the Chameleon Arch and pushed some buttons on the helmet.
“Are you—” Rose took a deep breath. “Are you going to be all right?”
“Course I am,” said the Doctor, staring at the Chameleon Arch. His eyes kept sliding to it, as if wary that it might attack him. “The human thing’s only temporary, like I said. Three months. Just keep the watch safe.”
“But rewriting your cells—won’t that hurt?”
“Oh, yeah. It hurts.” The Doctor tore his gaze away from the Chameleon Arch. “You shouldn’t watch. You could go to the wardrobe; I’m sure the TARDIS has made up some bags for you to fetch.”
Rose shook her head. “I’m not leaving you.”
“We’ll get them after,” decided Jack.
The Doctor gave them both a sad smile. “I didn’t think you would. I’m sorry. So, so sorry.” He straightened. “Right. Take these.” He pulled the sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper out of his pocket, and handed them to Jack. “I probably won’t know what they are.”
“Exactly how much are you going to know?” asked Rose.
The Doctor shrugged. “Dunno. Never done this before.” He looked at the Chameleon Arch again. “Whatever a normal human of whatever time we land in would know, I suppose.” He took another deep breath, reverting to a business-like tone. “Right, so, don’t worry about the TARDIS; it’ll be on emergency power. Just let her hide away. Don’t let me hurt anyone while I’m human. I don’t think I will, but you know what humans are like…”
“Oi,” Rose protested weakly.
“Don’t let me abandon either of you,” the Doctor continued.
“Is that likely?” asked Jack.
“Not entirely sure. Only open the watch if the three months are up or if we’re in terrible danger. If they find us…open it.”
Rose nodded, brain whirring at a dizzying pace. “Anything…anything else?” she said finally.
“Er…don’t let me eat pears? Hate to wake up from being human and find out I’ve done something stupid like eat a pear.” He made a face as if hoping to lighten the tension that had swept over the console room, but neither of his friends so much as cracked a smile.
The Doctor turned and took the Chameleon Arch in his hand. “Take the watch out when…when it’s over. There’s a perception filter so the human me won’t think anything of it. Just…keep it safe. And closed. Unless, you know, there’s an emergency or something.” He ran his thumb over the curve of the Arch. “Well, suppose I can’t delay any longer.” He looked up from the Arch to Rose. “I love you, Rose.”
“Love you too,” she replied shakily. Far from calming her, his words only made the pit in her stomach sink further. She’d found that the only moments the Doctor did say the dreaded phrase tended to be the ones when he saw little but doom on the horizon.
“I just want you to know that before I…right.” The Doctor turned to Jack. “Captain, be careful. And thank you.”
“See you in hell,” Jack offered, wrapping an arm around Rose’s shoulders and pulling her back with him.
The Doctor nodded. “See you.” He shoved the Chameleon Arch over his head, and gave his friends a weak smile. “Here goes.”
He flicked the switch and let out a terrible, agonised scream.
Jack felt Rose jerk in his arms and latched onto her tighter, as much to keep himself from yanking the thing off the Doctor’s head as Rose. The Doctor was twitching and writhing, howling like he had been lit on fire—which, if every cell in his body was being rewritten, probably wasn’t far off.
Rose sobbed and pressed her face into Jack’s chest so she couldn’t see. Jack shut his own eyes, unable to block out the terrible screaming, and rocked Rose back and forth a bit. The words, “It’s okay,” passed his lips once, but the words sounded hollow even to him. Not to mention they were difficult to hear over the Doctor’s screaming.
Minutes passed as the Doctor shouted and seized, and then, finally, he stopped.
Rose tore herself away from Jack, trembling. “Doctor?”
The Doctor stared blankly ahead for another second before his eyes rolled into his head and his knees collapsed under him. The Chameleon Arch slid off, swinging above him in a pendulum. The TARDIS landed with a jolt, and its lights died, leaving only a faint green glow coming from the console.
“Emergency power,” Jack observed as both he and Rose rushed over to the Doctor. He pressed his hands on either side of the Doctor’s chest. “Only one heart’s beating.”
“Well, he’s only got one heart now, yeah?” Rose replied, swiping tears off her face with the back of her hand. She plucked the watch from the helmet and ran her thumb over it again. The watch seemed heavier, warmer.
Carefully, Jack slid his arms under the Doctor’s knees and back and scooped him up. “Come on, let’s see where we are.”
They opened the door. Rose took one look and let out a bitter laugh. “Anywhere in time and space and we end up on the Powell Estate.”
“What’s he done now?” Jackie demanded when she saw on her doorstep the Doctor unconscious in Jack’s arms. Her face softened when she saw Rose’s tear-streaked face. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
Jack laid the Doctor on the sofa. “You got a torch I can borrow, Jackie?”
“In the kitchen,” she waved a hand in the kitchen’s direction. “I’ll make some tea while I’m at it.”
Jackie went to the kitchen and Jack went back to the TARDIS with the torch to fetch the bags of clothes, leaving Rose on the sofa with the Doctor, his head in her lap.
Rose couldn’t bring herself to say anything as she ran her fingers through his hair and stared at his face. He felt warmer. And he looked younger, somehow. Unburdened. Not quite as Doctorish as usual.
Soon, Jack returned with the bags and Jackie returned with tea. “Bit like Christmas, innit?” she said softly as she handed Rose her tea. “Are you going to tell me what happened, sweetheart? Why he’s so sick? His face is still the same.”
Rose told her everything as they dressed the Doctor in the pyjamas from the bags Jack had retrieved from the TARDIS.
“You mean he’s going to be like this for three months?” Jackie said as they tucked him into bed.
Rose nodded, pulling a chair up beside the bed. “He said the TARDIS was going to give him a life story or something. He might not even remember us.”
Jack popped his head in. “I’ve put his suit back in the TARDIS. Has he moved at all?”
“Not a peep, poor thing,” said Jackie, shaking her head at him.
But at that moment, the Doctor groaned. Rose, Jack, and Jackie all scooted in closer as he opened his eyes and blinked.
“Rose? Jack? Jackie?” he said in bewilderment. “Why exactly are you all gathered around my bedside?”
The three of them looked at each other. “What do you remember?” asked Rose tentatively.
The human Doctor’s nose wrinkled. “Well…we were cleaning up after dinner? And…” His eyes widened. “I hit my head.”
“Yep,” Jack said quickly. “Hit your head on the cabinet and clonked right out.”
“And you didn’t take me to a hospital?” the human Doctor asked, scandalised.
“We were just talking about it,” said Jackie, arranging the blankets. “But you’ve woke up, so no need.”
The human Doctor thought about this for a moment. “Well, suppose you’re right. And I feel fine. Brilliant, in fact.” He pushed the covers off himself and stretched with a yawn. “But blimey, you all decided to just stare at me while I’m sleeping? I mean, Rose, I don’t mind you, but as much as I love your family, wouldn’t you agree it’s a bit unsettling to have your mother-in-law and brother-in-law watch you sleep?”
Jack and Jackie both winced. “Mother-in-law?”
“We were all worried, Doc—” Rose cut herself off quickly. She couldn’t very well call him Doctor now, could she?
What did he even think his name was? It wasn’t like she could ask him…
“Right…well, all better now,” the human Doctor said cheerily. “Right as rain, safe as houses. Fresh air’d do me. Rose, up for a walk?”
Rose and Jack looked at each other for a moment. “Sure,” Rose said, pasting on a fake smile. “Allons-y.”
The human Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Is that French?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Yeah.”
The human Doctor reached for the bag full of clothes from which the pyjamas had come and pulled out some jeans. He did not seem to notice that the bag was bigger on the inside as he continued to pull out a wallet, a mobile, a t-shirt, and some trainers. “When did you learn French? Oi, hold on.” He turned to see Jack and Jackie both still staring at him. “Are you going to stay and watch me dress, too? Because sorry, but that—that is where I draw the line. That’s just creepy. Do you mind?”
“Sorry,” Jack said automatically. He grabbed Jackie’s arm and ushered her through the door. He gave Rose a significant look. “Enjoy your walk.” And he shut the door, leaving Rose alone with the husband whose name she didn’t even know.
“Was that rude?” the human Doctor wondered as he pulled off the pyjamas. “Because I want to get along with them, Rose, really, I do. And it was nice for Jackie to let us stay here before our contract starts.”
“Contract?” Rose said blankly.
“The flat, Rose!” the human Doctor explained as he pulled on jeans. “Our flat. The one we’re moving into tomorrow?”
Rose gaped at him for a moment before recovering and nodding. “Right, yeah. Our flat.”
The human Doctor tilted his head as he looked at her. “You all right, Rose? You’re awfully quiet. What’re you thinking about?”
“Oh, um…last week?” Rose fumbled, fishing for some sort of comment about the Doctor’s new backstory.
The human Doctor grinned at her. “Ah, yes. What was your favourite part?”
Rose stuck her tongue out. “You first.”
“Oh, it was all fantastic,” John said with relish as he pulled on the t-shirt. “I think my favourite was in the hotel….or in that photo booth…or the fourth time in the hotel…or in that little off-limits room in the Empire State building when we ditched our tour group.”
Shocked, Rose sputtered. “Oh, yeah, definitely.” She nearly giggled—this entire situation was absurd—but she covered her mouth to stifle the sound.
“And do you remember, the look on that officer’s face when he caught us?” the human Doctor laughed as he laced up his trainers. “I mean, really! Didn’t have to arrest us…did I ever apologise for making us spend part of our honeymoon in jail?”
Rose wanted to cry and laugh hysterically, and settled for fixing her face into a grin that couldn’t quite reach her eyes. “Wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Having finished tying his shoes, the human Doctor stood up, gave a little bow, and reached out his hand. “John Tyler, ready to escort the lovely Rose on her walk.”
Rose took his hand and forced another smile. His hand felt achingly familiar, and she reminded herself with a pang that this wasn’t the Doctor. “After you, then.”
When they returned from their walk, John shuffled off to take a shower, and Rose met Jack and her mother in the kitchen.
“So?” asked Jack, handing her a cuppa and leaning forward.
“He thinks he’s John Tyler,” Rose announced listlessly, “And apparently he and I just got off our honeymoon in New York. We’re moving into a flat tomorrow morning and he’s starting his new job day after.”
“He’s got a job?”
“He’s got a flat?”
Rose shrugged. “Suppose it makes sense. The Doctor never liked mortgages.”
“Where’s he working, then?” Jackie asked, taking another sip of her tea.
“Royal Hope Hospital,” Rose answered dully. “He’s a doctor. Training the med students or something.”
“Right, well that’s not confusing,” said Jackie irritably, “At least he’ll have money.”
“Oh, he’s got some money already. Took me out for chips. Paid with a card he got from the TARDIS bag. He thinks his father worked for UNIT and left him some.”
Jack rubbed his face. “Well, if UNIT did actually pay the Doctor when he worked there, that money would have accrued a lot of interest by now. So John’s father’s dead then?”
Rose sighed. “Apparently his entire family died in a house fire. I think it must have happened when he was a teenager, because he went straight to university after that. He didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” murmured Jackie.
Jack nodded. “Not too far from the truth, though.”
Rose propped up her elbow on the table and let her head rest in her hand. “He talked a lot about you,” she said to Jack, “I’m pretty sure you’re best mates. You just also happen to be my brother.”
Jack sighed. “Probably so he doesn’t get jealous if I spend time with you. Twenty-first-century humans are so sensitive.”
“What are you going to do, go back to Torchwood?”
Jack shook his head. “I miss them, but…It’s almost a year since I left. I want to go back the same day I left, and if I go back now, I can’t.”
“You can stay here,” Jackie said immediately.
“Thanks,” said Jack with a crooked grin, “I’ll take it.”
“You can have Rose’s room,” continued Jackie, “Not like she’ll be using it if she’s got her own flat.”
Rose cringed a bit at the thought of Jack alone with her mum in her room, but nodded. “This is just…weird. Even for us.”
Jack sighed. “It’s going to be a long three months.”
Chapter 2: The Domestic Approach
John was obviously a morning person. He was up and dressed and bouncing before Rose had even thrown off the covers.
“Come on, Rose!” he said, shaking her. “We’ve got a flat to move into! And we’ve got to go shopping! And your mum made breakfast!”
“Mmmmh.” She had just started to sit up when the memory of yesterday flashed through her mind. The Doctor was gone, burnt out of his body and replaced by a character. For a moment she lay there paralyzed and unable to breathe, remembering how the Doctor had screamed and writhed on the TARDIS floor and how some other man had just waltzed in and replaced him.
She swallowed and eased herself out of bed, reaching for the watch where she had left it on the bedside table. If John had noticed it, he hadn’t made any comment on it last night. It still felt warm on her skin. She slipped it onto the chain with her TARDIS key. She wasn’t going to let the watch out of her sight.
“You there?” she murmured tentatively. The watch didn’t respond. Not sure what she had been expecting and feeling very silly, she put on the chain. Three months without him. Three months without him and with...she wasn’t sure what exactly.
When Rose finally did get dressed, she found John at the kitchen table with Jack, talking with his mouth full of toast.
“And of course, they all thought it was a new disease, I mean what else would they think if the man showed up with enlarged pustules on the back of the throat and blisters all over his…Rose, you’re finally up!”
Jack gave her a lazy salute as she entered. “The D—John was just telling us about one of his patients.”
“Patients?” Rose repeated as she sat next to John and helped herself to a piece of toast. “Thought you didn’t start your job until tomorrow?”
John gulped down some tea. “Oh, I don’t. This was back in medical school. Some people infected with several different diseases. They weren’t even my patients, not really, they were Dr. Cassandra’s. But I cured them anyway! It was very impressive.”
Rose nearly choked on her toast. “Where was this?”
“Medical school, in…” Suddenly John got an odd, distant look on his face, like he was trying desperately to remember something that happened years and years ago. “New York,” he said uncertainly. “Internship in New York.” He thought some more. “Yes, internship in New York. On the Applegrass grant. That’s right. Further than I’d ever been before.”
Rose stared at him as he sipped his tea. Jack raised an eyebrow at her, questioning, and she jerked her head silently.
John gulped the last of his tea and set down his cup. “Your mum makes such brilliant tea. Absolutely wonderful, molto bene!”
“Is that French?” Rose asked sharply.
John shook his head. “No, it’s…” He thought. “Italian?”
“Where’d you learn that, then?” Rose’s voice was level, but strained, making the question sound more like an accusation.
“Well…I dunno,” John replied, looking a bit hurt. “Same place you learned your French, I suppose. Must have heard it on telly. Are you ready? Should we go pick up our key?”
Rose kept her gaze focused on her half-eaten toast. “Yeah, almost.”
“I’ll go get our bags!” John beamed. He pushed his chair in and scurried out of the kitchen.
Jackie’s head poked in. “His nibs gone then?”
“All clear,” Jack replied, stuffing another piece of toast in his mouth.
“Oh, good. Gobbing about pustules and who knows what else while we’re eating…” With a shudder, Jackie sat next to them at the table.
“But that happened, Mum,” Rose said, pushing her toast away. “It really happened! On a hospital in New New York on New Earth.”
Jack whistled. “So he remembers?”
“He can’t,” Rose shot back, “Because it’s not the Doctor.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Looks like the Doctor, talks like the Doctor, acts like the Doctor…”
“Bit of an improvement, though,” Jackie remarked as she nibbled on her own toast. “Do you know he volunteered to help make breakfast and clean up?”
“It’s not an improvement!” Rose snapped. “He went and—took over the Doctor’s body or stole his memories or something.”
Jackie sighed. “Far as I can tell, he’s the Doctor, sweetheart. Except…bouncier.”
“Less guilty,” Jack added. He drew out the sonic screwdriver and laid it on the table in front of Rose. “Here, take this. If you’re going to be living with him, you should have it.”
Rose gave him a sad smile and slid the screwdriver into her pocket. “Thanks.”
“And whether he’s the Doctor or not, I’d be happy to switch places with you,” Jack offered.
This time Rose’s smile was genuine. “Can you imagine the look on his face if we tried?” She put her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. We’re off playing house and you’re bunking with my mum.”
“Are you kidding? You’re not going to be able to get rid of me. I’ll come over all the time. I’m not going to miss the Doctor actually doing domestic. Do you know how much fun this is going to be?”
Rose’s smile grew. “Hope that doesn’t mean you’re going to try and get him drunk.”
Jack grinned evilly. “Oh, never.”
Jackie patted Rose’s hand. “But you’ll be all right, Rose, won’t you? I mean, you’re with him. You thought he was going to forget you, but he didn’t. ”
Jack nodded in agreement. “Yeah. Didn’t forget either of us. And we’re stuck here, but hey, it could have been a lot worse. We could have ended up in the Middle Ages. Or in Siberia. Or right before World War I or something.”
Rose sighed. “Yeah, I suppose. I just…I miss him.” She let out a shaky laugh. “It’s been a day and I already miss him, and he’s there but he’s not and I…”
“Hey,” Jack put a hand on her shoulder. “You can do this. Trust me.”
John burst back into the kitchen, bouncing with boundless energy. “Bessie’s all loaded and ready! Off we go?”
Rose tried to smile to match his enthusiasm. Jack was right; she could do this. “Off we go.”
“Brilliant. Thanks for letting us stay, Jackie.”
Jackie waved them off with a yawn. “Take care, come and visit.”
“See you later,” Jack promised, grinning reassuringly at Rose.
“See you,” Rose echoed.
John reached out his hand, and she took it, ignoring the guilt twisting through her stomach as she felt the familiar fingers in hers. Wordlessly, she followed him out the door and down the street, towards where they had left the TARDIS. For one shining moment, Rose thought he was going to walk into the ship, but he stopped just short at a blue car parked right in front of it.
Rose was about to ask what he thought he was doing when he pulled out a key, unlocked the car, and plopped into the driver’s seat.
She gaped at him for a second before John frowned. “Aren’t you coming?”
Rose shook herself slightly. “Right, yeah, sorry.” She hurriedly sat next to him in the front passenger’s seat, then glanced back at the TARDIS suspiciously. The car was nearly the same shade of blue…
“Rose, what’s wrong?” John asked suddenly.
Rose nearly flinched. “Nothing,” she said, fixing on a smile, “I’m fine.”
But John’s forehead was still scrunched with concern. He reached for her arm, and she forced herself not to recoil at his touch. “Something’s bothering you. Really, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Rose said resolutely.
“You can tell me, Rose, really. I know I’m hard to shut up but I will for you. Really, promise. Not a word. Zip my lips. All ears—well, some ears. I’ve only got the two. Strange phrase, isn’t it, ‘all ears.’ It’s not like you say ‘all noses’ or ‘all eyes,’ although I suppose you’ve got ‘four eyes,’ don’t you?”
Rose couldn’t help it—he looked so much like the Doctor, and that was just the sort of thing he would say.
John looked encouraged. “Was that a smile?”
“No.” Rose fought her own treacherous lips. Not the Doctor, she reminded herself. Different man, same face.
“That was a smile...” John said happily.
This only made Rose smile bigger. “No it wasn’t.”
“You smiled!” John declared, triumphant as he started the car.
Her smile faded when she looked behind them to watch the TARDIS slowly shrink as John drove them away from the Powell Estate. The blue box became smaller, smaller, smaller…
The car turned the corner, and the TARDIS disappeared from sight.
The moment John picked up their key from the landlord, he dragged Rose from room to room, gushing about how lovely the carpets were (“Look, those splotches will hide all the marmalade stains!”) and how they’d need to get new curtains (“Ergh, don’t like that. Mauve’s a bad colour. How about blue? Blue like Bessie. Good colour, blue.”)
When they reached the bedroom, John eyed the double bed appreciatively. “Want to break the bed in?”
At which point Rose hastily reminded him that they had better go shopping for food and Bessie-blue (TARDIS-blue, she corrected in her head) curtains, once again reminding herself that this wasn’t the Doctor. Just holding John’s hand felt like enough betrayal for now, ta.
By the time Rose had successfully steered John through shopping for food (“John, do we really need twenty jars of marmalade?”), finding curtains in the exact right shade of blue (“Right, Bessie-blue. Why exactly does your car need a name?”), not buying a puppy (“But Rose, it hasn’t got a nose—who else is going to take him?!”), and clothes shopping (“Do you think I’d look good in pinstripes?” “…Don’t. Just don’t.”), Rose was utterly exhausted. John was at least as hyper as the Doctor, even if it was over things like curtains instead of TARDIS parts.
“Ooh, just in time for EastEnders!” John said happily when they arrived back at their new flat. He plopped onto the sofa and patted the seat next to him. “Want to watch?”
The entire scene—the Doctor, or at least a Doctor-lookalike, eagerly anticipating some soap— on top of everything else was so utterly foreign and wrong that Rose couldn’t bring herself to join it. She needed some time to just think and not worry whether John was convinced of her happiness.
“Er…no, I think I’ll just go for some fresh air.”
John’s smile faltered for a split second.
Ignoring his clear disappointment, Rose pasted on the same smile that she had been wearing all day. She kissed the top of his head. “Enjoy your show.” She hurried past him to the door leading to the flat’s outside balcony.
The chilled evening air bit into her bare arms, but Rose didn’t mind. The sky stretched wide above her, fading to deep purple as the sun tucked itself behind the London skyline. She gazed hopefully at the sky, fixated on the few stars appearing in the inky darkness. London was too bright to see the stars properly, and a fierce wish to see them—all of them—surged through her with such longing that it hurt.
She wondered when exactly the idea of settling down to watch a soap after a day of shopping and picking out curtains had become more bizarre than setting foot on a new planet.
She sat down, the cold cement numbing her bum, and let her feet dangle out from under the horizontal bars of the balcony barrier. She shivered, but didn’t move as the evening deepened into night, as the tiniest pinpricks in the sky fought to compete with the garish city lights.
Rose tore her gaze from the stars only long enough to occasionally look down at the silver fob watch dangling around her neck with her TARDIS key. She ran her thumb over the intricate grooves on the cover over and over, willing for something to happen.
“Doctor?” she finally whispered.
The door behind her opened. “There you are, Rose! I made beans on toast, do you want some? Oi, have you been here this whole time? You must be freezing!”
Rose stuffed the watch back down her shirt as John draped a blanket over her shoulders and sat beside her. He curled an arm around her back, just like the Doctor always did, and Rose felt herself leaning into him out of habit, head resting on his shoulder.
“Lovely view, isn’t it?” John said appreciatively. But his gaze was too low—he was looking at the buildings, the cars zooming noisily on the roads below, the crowds bustling on the sidewalk. “London’s beautiful at night.”
“I was looking at the stars,” Rose said before she could stop herself.
“The stars?” John said in surprise. He tilted his head up to look at the sky, as if finally noticing it was there. “Not very many stars out. This isn’t really a good spot for stargazing.”
“I know. But I wish we could see them.”
John looked utterly bemused. “Whatever for?”
Rose sighed. “Don’t you ever just wanna…see them? Wonder what’s out there?”
“Oh, there’s plenty out there. Trillions upon trillions of miles of space, stretching into infinity, filled with trillions upon trillions of great big balls of exploding gas.” He paused thoughtfully. “I suppose they do sound a bit interesting when you say it like that.”
Rose’s head lifted from his shoulder. “I want to go to one.”
John failed to stifle a laugh. “They’re balls of exploding gas, Rose. You can’t exactly set foot on them.”
“Still, though. Be nice to travel out there. Or anywhere, really.” She looked carefully at him. “Don’t you ever just want to travel? See what’s out there?”
“Welllll…Not really. I mean, change of scenery’s nice now and again, but what kind of life is that, really?”
“I think it’d be brilliant. New ground beneath my feet, new sky…”
“The sky’s the same everywhere, Rose.” He squeezed her shoulder and grinned. “No point in going anywhere else when we’ve got everything we need right here.”
He turned his head and kissed her. Rose stiffened but let him, wondering why this felt so familiar but still so much like a betrayal.
And then she saw John’s eyes, and knew what made the man before her so much not the Doctor. She was surprised her mother and Jack hadn’t noticed it.
The wanderlust was gone from his eyes.
Rose woke the next morning to find the other half of the bed empty. A note lay beside her instead.
You look too beautiful to wake up. Don’t worry that you didn’t see me off for my first day—I know you would have. I made you pancakes. Sorry we’re out of banana marmalade already. I’ll be home at six. Have a fantastic day.
I love you.
Rose clutched the note in her hands as she read it again, then again. She doubted she had ever felt more guilty in her life. She should be happy. A couple years ago, this was everything she ever would have wanted—no job in a shop, just a nice flat with a nice man who loved her and made her breakfast.
But the Doctor wasn’t here, and all Rose could think of was the proud expression on his face when he took her to a new planet.
John didn’t deserve this. Maybe he had replaced the Doctor, but he deserved somebody who loved him back. And Rose couldn’t. Not when she missed the Doctor so much that it felt like half of her was missing.
Carefully, she laid the note back on the bedside table, careful not to crease it. She ran her thumb over the grooves of the fob watch for a moment, not sure what exactly she was expecting. Then she got dressed and nibbled on John’s pancakes (which were utterly delicious) when the doorbell rang.
She opened the door to see Jack standing there and let out a squeal.
“How was your first day, dear?” Jack said in a sing-song.
Rose tackled him in a hug.
“That bad, huh?”
Rose led him into the kitchen and let him eat the rest of the pancakes while she told him everything that had happened yesterday and that morning.
Jack swallowed the last bite of his pancake just as she finished. “You’ve gotta admit though, he sounds wonderful.”
“He is,” Rose agreed, “But…he’s not the Doctor. You should have seen him, he was like…” Her brow scrunched. “Like a normal bloke. Like all he wants is beans on toast and telly and...and he’s not real. He’s not even real.”
“Do you want him to be?”
Rose sighed sadly. “Do you remember, right before he changed, when the Doctor was telling me how to change him back? He said I might not want to. This is what he meant, isn’t it? He still thinks like someday I’m just going want to settle down somewhere and do domestic. And that’s what he’s given me. The happy little domestic life. And it’s perfect, really, it is, but I don’t want that anymore. Not unless he’s here. I miss him. The real him.”
“Are you sure it’s really not him though? I mean, yeah, sure, he’s gone domestic. But some of it…the note-writing is very Doctor.”
“What are you talking about?”
Jack paused. “Wait. You don’t know?”
Rose shook her head. “He doesn’t write me notes.”
“Oh. Well…sometimes, when you’re sleeping and we’re in the console room, and we’re not fixing anything, he has this book he writes in. In Gallifreyan.”
“And you think it’s him writing me notes…why?”
Jack smirked. “Because even though it’s in a language I can’t read, he still tenses up and tries to hide it when he thinks I’m trying to read over his shoulder. One time, I asked if he was writing me love poetry, and he turned red. It was absolutely hilarious. So I figured he must be writing it to you.”
“I can’t read Gallifreyan either.”
“He doesn’t read it to you or translate it or something?”
“No, he hasn’t…I mean sometimes he speaks Gallifreyan, when we…” Rose felt a lump inside her throat as memories clouded her head. “I don’t want to talk about this. Not now, when he’s gone. Because he’s coming back. He’s got to.”
They sat in silence for a moment before Rose cleared her throat. “So what’d you get up to yesterday, then?”
Jack’s eyes lit up as he grinned widely. “Your mum—”
“Nothing involving you and my mum as you and my mum!”
Jack was silent for a moment. “Well, I fixed some of Jackie’s cupboards. Literally. Don’t tell the Doctor or I’ll never live it down. Although seeing as he now enjoys shopping for curtains, I guess he wouldn’t really care much. And then this morning, I went back to the TARDIS, picked up some equipment.”
Rose raised an eyebrow. “What sort of equipment?”
Jack grinned and leaned forward. “The alien-detecting kind. Turns out, it’s already detected something not too far from here. Nothing lethal, not even threatening, but I thought it might be fun to go check it out. How about it?”
Rose’s heart leapt in her chest. That’s what she needed—running. “Oh, yes!”
Later that day, Rose stumbled back into the flat, covered head-to-toe in thick green slime, but feeling happier than she had in the past day. The not lethal, ‘not even threatening’ thing Jack had detected had turned out to be an incredibly lethal Vernoslimboa using an ice cream stand to feed mind-controlling desserts to children. Fortunately, she and Jack had managed to stop it before any harm came to the children, but not before the Vernoslimboa had exploded, coating both of them with thick green slime.
Turning down Jack’s offer to share a shower, Rose headed back for her and John’s flat. She felt like she was walking through a stranger’s house as she made her way to the bathroom.
She was just about to turn on the tap for the shower when she heard the front door of the flat open. Thinking of resurrected Vernoslimboans seeking revenge, she rushed to the kitchen in a panic—
To see John, clad in a lab coat, back from his first day of work.
“I’m home! Brought home bacon! Well, not literally, but—Rose? What are you covered in?!”
Rose thought frantically, trying to come up with an answer that wasn’t “an alien exploded all over me.” The silence seemed to last an age.
“Jelly,” she said finally.
“But—but—where’d it come from?!”
“I…made some. In the kitchen. Botched it and got it all over me.”
A glob of the green slime dripped from her hair and plopped onto the otherwise gleaming floor.
“But…” John frowned, as he took in the perfectly clean kitchen. “…But the kitchen’s spotless.”
“Well…I cleaned it first, didn’t I? And…and now I’m going to clean myself off.”
“…How exactly do you botch up jelly?!”
Rose jutted her chin out, trying to save the remains of her dignity. “It’s not my fault the box had the wrong instructions on it.”
John stared at her, clearly unconvinced but unwilling to press the issue. “…Shall I pick up some pizza then?”
Another glob splotted on the kitchen floor. “Yes, please.”
Chapter 3: Easter Eggs
As days, and finally weeks passed, Rose thought of something the Doctor had once asked of her. Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life.
She took his words to heart. Slowly, she got used to life in her native city in her native time. She started getting up to make breakfast for John before he left for work. She spent the day hunting aliens with Jack or, if no aliens turned up, visiting with her mum. She got better at arriving home before John with enough time to clean herself off and make some dinner. She smiled and nodded in all the right places as she listened to him babble about his job and the people at his job, although as the days went on he did this with decreasing enthusiasm. She let him hold her while they watched telly in the evening for awhile before wandering back out to the balcony to look at the stars, or they went for walks through the city.
“Do you know, Rose, you never say how your day is,” John commented during one such walk.
Rose felt her hand clench slightly in his. “Don’t I?”
“Nope! Just listen to me natter on and on and on and on, and really, you should have told me to shut up ages ago!” He leaned towards her, his shoulder lightly touching hers, his eyes wide with interest. “So, how does Rose Tyler spend her time?”
I saved London from a pack of red lizards that thought the Kensington Roof Gardens would make a nice hatchery.
“Oh, you know…Visited my mum. Cleaned up a bit around the flat.”
John frowned. “All day?”
“Yeah,” she said too quickly.
John’s forehead crinkled with worry. “You know you don’t have to stay in the flat all day, right? I mean, you can do whatever you want. Get some fresh air. You’re allowed to leave.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said distractedly as they approached a chippy. She remembered that chippy; the Doctor had taken her there after her first TARDIS trip, when the Earth had burnt to a crisp. She smiled slightly at the memory, then realised John was still talking.
“…don’t need to stay in the flat or work in a shop or anything, Rose. You can do great things! Make your mark on the world!”
“And do what?”
Rose tried not to feel insulted when John looked stumped. She couldn’t really blame him. She still had no A-levels. Her only job experience was working in a shop, and now she had a pretty big gap in her work history. She wondered if that would have been her life if she’d never met the Doctor: cooped up in a flat with no education, working in a shop or waiting for a husband to come home. She thought again about her A-levels. There wasn’t really time to finish them, with only two months and two weeks left on Earth, especially with all the alien-fighting she’d been doing.
But still, John’s speechlessness hurt.
“I could get you a job,” John finally offered. “At the hospital. We’d see each other more!” He looked delighted at the thought.
“Yeah, but I mean, you’ve gotta have a degree for that.”
“Well there’s always, I dunno, the receptionist or something. You’d get to meet new people every day…or, I dunno, help me with my paperwork?”
Rose’s eyes narrowed. Well, there was one thing John and the Doctor had in common. “So what, is that what I am? Your secretary?”
John’s eyes widened in horror as he realised his mistake. “No, no, I mean—I just meant we’d be able to see each other more, that’s all!”
“Suppose it’s a step up from a dinner lady,” Rose said bitterly, wrenching her hand out of his and walking faster.
“Dinner lady? I didn’t say—but—Rose!” John hurried to run in front of her and took her shoulder. “Rose, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
The hot rush of anger faded as Rose looked up at him. She bit her lip. Of course he didn’t mean it like that. John didn’t remember Deffrey Vale. And she hadn’t really thought about it in ages.
She sighed guiltily. “No, I’m sorry. I just…” She just missed him. “I just think you’re right. I do want to do something worthwhile. Just not…not that.” She hugged him, ear pressed against his chest where a lone heartbeat was audible through his t-shirt, and his arms pressed her in closer.
John seemed reluctant to let go but he finally did, faint confusion still on his face. “Are you okay? Really? Is something bothering you?”
“I’m fine,” Rose said automatically, taking his hand and resuming their walk. The sign of the next building caught her eye, Sparrow and Nightingale: Antiquarian Books and Rare DVDs, and she had a flash of inspiration.
“Rose?” John asked as she pulled him inside. A bell made a faint tinkling noise as the door shut behind them. “What do you want in here?”
She gazed determinedly around at the stacks and shelves of books everywhere. “Help me find some books on astronomy or physics or…I dunno, maths!”
“Astronomy?” John said blankly.
“Yeah.” She spotted a shelf of newer-looking books and moved towards it.
“Er, all right. I’ll go check over here, shall I?”
John wandered over to the other side of the shop, leaving Rose to inspect the shelf’s contents. She scooped up a couple maths and physics books and was just contemplating a book called Introduction to Mathematical Biology when she heard John’s voice.
“Sorry?” Rose asked, still thumbing through the books on the shelf.
“John?” Rose glanced back, but John was well entrenched at another shelf, running his fingers over some of the spines. Shrugging, she turned back to the shelf. That book looked promising—Basic Quantum Theory.
“Thirty-eight!” John said indignantly.
Rose whirled back to face her husband, who had selected a book and was flicking through its pages with interest. He gave no indication of having spoken.
She pulled Basic Quantum Theory off the shelf and reached for Starry Night: Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“People don’t understand time. It’s not what you think it is.”
Rose nearly dropped the books. That wasn’t John.
Rose gazed around for the source of the Doctor’s voice.
Over there! She glanced quickly over to John, now engrossed in an old book with a faded cover. He didn’t seem to have noticed the sound of his own voice. Heart pounding, Rose made her way to the counter at the back of the shop…
“People assume that time is a straight progression of cause to effect…”
A small old black-and-white telly sat on the counter, and Rose barely restrained herself from rushing at it. The Doctor’s face filled the screen. He was wearing his brainy specs, and his hands waved enthusiastically. “But actually from a non-linear, non-subjected viewpoint it's more like a ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...stuff.”
“Doctor,” Rose whispered urgently, touching her fingers to the screen.
“It got away from me, yeah,” the Doctor said forlornly, looking away from her.
Rose had a sudden, horrible thought of a coronation and Magpie Electrics. “Doctor, are you trapped? Can you hear me?”
The Doctor’s gaze snapped back to the camera. “Well, I can hear you.”
Rose’s face was practically pressed against the screen now, panic flooding her thoughts.
“Well, not hear you exactly,” the Doctor amended, “But I know everything you're gonna say.”
Rose heard the door open, but she paid no attention to it. Right. From the look of it, this video was old. So the Doctor had left a message in the past. Why? “Doctor, what am I supposed to do?!”
“Look to your left,” the Doctor answered, leaning his head, and Rose turned to her left.
A blonde woman stood there, her arms full of books and her jaw hanging open. “You’re the girl from the video!” she said in awe. “Rose!”
“Where did you get this?” Rose demanded. “Who are you?”
The woman looked taken aback. “I’m—I’m Sally Sparrow. Don’t you remember me?”
Rose shook her head. “Where did you get this video?”
“The Doctor sent it to me so he could get his box back. From the Weeping Angels?”
“How do you know it was to you, then?” asked Rose, glancing back at the video. The Doctor was nodding in encouragement.
“I've got a copy of the finished transcript. It’s on my autocue,” he continued obliviously.
“It’s his half of a conversation we had last year,” Sally explained, plopping her books on the counter next to the television. “Larry likes to play that thing on a loop, says it gives the place atmosphere. How come you don’t remember?”
“I told you, I'm a time traveler! I got it in the future.”
Sally’s eyes widened. “Oh! That’s right, of course! You’re time travelers! It hasn’t happened for you yet!”
“Guessing not,” Rose said in relief. This meant that they got out of this. The Family didn’t find them, and the Doctor would come back.
“But then…It was me all along. You got it from me!” Sally realised, dashing behind the counter.
“The transcript, the list, everything! You got it from me!” She rummaged through a drawer for a minute and produced a blue folder. “Okay. Listen. One day you're going to get stuck in 1969. Make sure you've got this with you. You're going to need it.”
“Yeah, eh…” On the television, the Doctor waved his hand dismissively. “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.”
“Find anything, Rose?” John said, joining her at the counter with two worn books in hand.
Sally looked like she wanted to squeal. “It’s you! It’s really you!”
John’s eyebrows raised in confusion. “Er, yes. Who are you?”
“Sally Sparrow—It’s okay, you haven’t met me yet. It’s just so great to meet you! Really, just wonderful.”
John tilted his head, edging slightly away from the counter. “Er, yes, well, I’ve met you now, haven’t I? Good to meet you, Sally Sparrow.”
On the video, the Doctor’s voice became urgent. “What matters is we can communicate. We've got big problems now. They have taken the blue box, haven't they? The angels have—”
Rose hurriedly shut the television off.
“Blimey!” said John, looking curiously at the darkened television. “That looked an awful lot like me.”
“Well, it was—” started Sally.
Rose drew her hand across her throat and shook her head in a quick motion.
“—Probably your dad or uncle or something. It’s an old video.”
John frowned, eyebrows scrunched. “Nah, my uncle had a mustache. And it wouldn’t be like him to make a video. He was a military man, he was. Brigadier, in fact. Looked nothing like me… But the man on the video did. Bit weird…”
“I don’t see the resemblance,” Rose said as convincingly as possible. “He had glasses.”
John sniffed. “Ah, well, suppose we all have a twin somewhere.” He put his books on the counter.
“First edition Charles Dickens and an unused journal,” Sally reeled off, beaming widely. “Great choice, Doctor.”
At the name, John froze and his face paled, as if she had just announced the time of his death. “What did you call me?”
“Doctor,” Sally repeated, eyebrows scrunching in confusion.
“I was just telling her that you work as a doctor,” Rose said quickly.
John’s tense shoulders relaxed. “Oh, yes, right. Rose, have you got any books?”
“Yeah.” She piled her books on the counter.
“How much for all these, then?”
Still beaming, Sally waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, just take them. Free of charge.”
Sally nodded enthusiastically.
John eyed her warily for a moment before deciding to just accept her generosity. “Well…thanks very much, Sally Sparrow.” He scooped the books up in his arms, but not before Sally had managed to slip the blue folder in with the books.
“Oh, you’re definitely welcome.”
Rose grinned at her. “Thanks. Be seeing you, yeah?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Sally as she waved them off.
“Did something seem a little off to you in there?” John asked Rose as soon as they were out of the shop. “Is she a friend of yours?”
“Never seen her before in my life,” said Rose, her steps a bit lighter. “Want me to take some of those?”
“If you like.”
She reached over and took a few of the books, making sure to get the ones with the blue folder between them.
“Perfect division of labour,” John quipped. “What are you going to do with them?”
She hugged the books to her chest. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do—I’m going to study.”
“Really?” said John, clearly impressed. “Do you know, if anyone was going to be able to understand this stuff, I think it’d be you?”
“Yeah?” said Rose with a faint smile. “You really think I can do it?”
“Yep.” He shifted the books so he could wrap an arm around her shoulders. “I believe in you.”
John tried not to wiggle as he lay inside the Royal Hope’s MRI machine. If he listened closely, he could hear his students over the sound of the steady, crashing pounds, and he hoped that they would finish quickly. He hated these tight enclosed spaces, and the noise was giving him a headache. Most of all, he hated that lying here meant he was free to worry.
Something was wrong with Rose. John knew that much. While he had always been the talkative one in their relationship, she had never been this quiet or unwilling to come back with a witty retort whenever he tried to banter. She barely smiled nowadays—or at least, genuinely smiled, that tongue-between-lips grin that he absolutely adored. He babbled and joked in an attempt to get her to smile again, and she did—but any laughter in her face faded to sadness far too quickly.
Hormones, John decided. One of those temperamental female hormone things that he had researched extensively in medical school and still baffled him. That, coupled with the return to reality from the high of an utterly fantastic honeymoon. That was all. Things would go back to normal soon enough.
Except they didn’t. Days passed, then weeks, and Rose still had that same far-off look in her eyes that she’d had when looking at the stars their first night in their flat. If anything, she only seemed more withdrawn. He still remembered the evening when they’d visited the bizarre book shop a week ago. She’d seemed positively furious with him, and he still wasn’t sure why. He hadn’t even mentioned dinner ladies.
Now she seemed to have forgiven him, but the only thing she seemed willing to talk about was her studies, so he made sure to ask about them every day. She’d tell him a bit about what she was working on, but John couldn’t make heads or tails out of any of the astronomy or physics terms. The disappointment in her eyes when he couldn't keep up with albedo features or event horizons confused him even further. It wasn’t like he expected her to be able to list all the bones in the hand.
Not only did she seem reluctant to talk to him, but she stiffened slightly whenever he touched her. This alarmed him most of all; he couldn’t remember a time when Rose had not at least offered him her hand.
She was acting like he had betrayed her somehow, but John could not for the life of him think what he must have done. She’d been perfectly happy on their honeymoon. How could he have managed to alienate her so quickly?
Rose was, in fact, acting so un-Rose-like that had he been a less rational man, he would have wondered if she was being possessed, or had been replaced by a clone. That sort of thing had happened before after all…
In his dreams, he reminded himself.
That was another thing. The dreams. They’d started the night before he and Rose moved into their flat, and had come every night since then. Wild and fantastical images that defied all logical possibility, so vivid that he felt his hearts—no, heart, one single, normal, human heart—pounding furiously when he awoke. Which was all well and entertaining at night, but too often the ideas and images bled into his waking thoughts as well.
Maybe he was going mad, and that was why Rose was upset.
Actually, that sort of made sense. He hadn’t had these dreams before Rose had started being upset. Right when they came back from their honeymoon and he had hit his head in Jackie’s kitchen. The nagging possibility of brain trauma, while troublesome, would explain why so much of John’s life seemed to be very, very wrong. Which was why John had volunteered to be scanned for the practice MRI scan scheduled today instead of picking one of the students.
At long last, he felt himself sliding out of the MRI machine. The moment he was out of the tunnel, he jumped off the patient table and tried to hide his anxiety. “Well?”
“Brain’s in perfect order, sir,” answered one of the students, Oliver Morgenstern.
“No signs of trauma, no tumors,” another student, Martha Jones, said brightly.
No signs of trauma. John knew he should be relieved, but somehow he only felt disappointment. While brain damage wasn’t good news, at least it was some sort of solution. And however irrational it was, he felt like if he could solve the problem of his dreams, it would somehow solve his problems with Rose too.
He bit back a groan of frustration. He was a doctor, for crying out loud! He was supposed to be a man who made people better, and his own wife was acting like he’d broken her.
“Excellent work,” he said, voice too bright to be genuine. “Shall we try the x-ray next?” He pretended to check his watch. “Ooh, better not, our time’s about up…Lost track of time again. Another day perhaps. Dismissed!”
It was an hour until dismissal time, but none of the students saw fit to mention it. He waved and beamed at them all as they filed out, but he sagged against the wall once they were gone, his fists clutching at his hair in frustration.
If he wasn’t insane, then what had Rose so upset? And why wouldn’t she tell him about it? She used to tell him everything. She used to laugh and hug him and talk to him, and now she barely even told him about her day. She’d never acted like this before their honeymoon…
Her face swam in front of his eyes, her smile sad and wistful. Maybe…Maybe she was regretting marrying him. His breath caught in his throat at the thought, but it made sense. Oh, he was sure she had had fun with him, loved him even. But he was older than her, after all, and she was still young and had her whole life ahead of her. Maybe she’d come off the honeymoon high and felt trapped. And maybe she resented him for trapping her.
That would explain why she was so distant now, why she spoke vaguely when he asked how she was, why she was so secretive about what she did all day, why she seemed to spend so much of her time reading, why she waited until he was asleep before finally coming to bed…
He rubbed his hands down his face as he pictured the longing in her eyes when she waved him off every morning, like she was missing someone.
He sat bolt upright from the wall as a gut-wrenching thought occurred to him. Another explanation for why Rose never said what she did all day, why she seemed so distant.
She’d found someone else.
He shoved himself away from the wall and hurried through the hospital, suddenly desperate to get home. How could he have been so thick? She’d told him she spent her days reading—who spent all day reading?! Especially textbooks!
He was in a full-blown sprint by the time he reached Bessie. He dropped his keys twice before managing to turn them in the ignition. Anger broiled inside him, making his hands on the steering wheel tremble as he thought of Rose in the arms of someone else, someone tall and well-built and wearing a leather jacket.
He nearly crashed as he drove out into the street, and he took a few deep breaths as the more rational part of his brain kicked in. Rose would never do that to him. She was one of the most selfless people he had ever met, not to mention loyal and patient. She’d told him once that she’d never leave him, and he believed her. And he had no proof. He was tired and frustrated, and was being completely irrational.
He tried to relax as he parked the car outside the flat. All he needed to do was figure out what he had done and fix it, he thought as he made his way to the door. Easy-peasy lemon squeeze-y…and he was never going to even think that phrase again.
As he opened the door to the flat, his heart leapt—the sound of Rose’s laughter was drifting from the kitchen. Real laughter, the kind he hadn’t heard from her in ages.
And then he heard another voice in the kitchen, a distinctly male voice, and something inside him snapped. He stormed to the kitchen with fists clenched and blood pounding in his ears, ready to strike and fight and obliterate whoever had succeeded in getting Rose Tyler to laugh where he had failed.
But he froze as he stepped inside to see not some muscle-y leather-jacket-wearing man, but Jack. The laughter on Rose’s face died the second John entered the kitchen. Both Rose and Jack were gaping at him, near-identical looks of alarm on both their faces.
“John?” Rose said tentatively, reaching out a hand as if she was about to pet a wild animal. “You’re early…is everything all right?”
Deep, hot shame flooded him so thoroughly he could taste it as she enveloped him in a hug. He breathed in the smell of her hair and felt all his anger melt to crushing guilt. What was wrong with him? He was being paranoid and obsessive. Rose deserved better than this. But at the same time he couldn’t bring himself to let go of her, no matter how much he told himself that he didn’t deserve this for being so thick.
“I’m—I’m sorry. I thought—I—” He took a deep, calming breath. “Jack, what are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you,” Jack said with an attempt at joviality to cover the worry etched into his gaze. “Thought we were going to see the game, get some drinks?”
Right. Friday, which meant he and Jack were going out for what Rose had called “male bonding time.” His idea, because he and Jack hadn’t spent much time together since he’d gotten back from his honeymoon.
“Oh. Yes. Right.” The words came out awkwardly, and John could feel both Rose and Jack still staring at him as if he were a bomb about to explode. “Well…off we go then?”
“Sure. Later, Rose.”
Rose bit her lip. “You look…tense. Are you sure you want to—”
“Of course I do!” John said brightly, forcing his face into a grin. “Be good to get out of the flat for once.” At this, Rose had an odd expression on her face. “I mean, not that I don’t enjoy your company and all—” He cut himself off in horror, afraid of saying anything else stupid. But now Rose had the mysteriously wistful look on her face again, and he felt compelled to say something. “Er, don’t wait up?”
He really wanted her to wait up.
“All right,” she said reluctantly.
John and Rose both stared at each other awkwardly for a moment before Jack clapped a hand on John’s shoulder. “Soooo…see ya, Rose.” He prodded John towards the door, and with one forlorn glance back at Rose, John followed.
John, Jack noted, was exceptionally quiet tonight. Not that Jack was exactly sure what to say either. The look in John’s eyes when he had entered the kitchen…Jack had seen that look before, but it hadn’t been aimed at him since he’d first come aboard the TARDIS and been told that the blonde was off-limits.
But now the anger was gone, leaving John’s shoulders in a permanent slump as he gazed blankly at the road. He hadn’t even asked to drive the car after they’d left Rose—just slid into the passenger’s seat without a word.
“So, how are things?” Jack asked finally. John’s complete silence was unnerving.
John’s gaze remained fixed on the road. “Rose. I think…Jack, she’s your sister, but would you tell me if she was…”
“Was…” John swallowed, gaze lowering to his lap.
Whatever it was, he couldn’t bring himself to say it, so Jack said what he’d been thinking ever since John had invited him to go to the game. “Do you even like football?”
John sighed and slunk down further in his seat. “Not really. Cricket’s better.”
Jack jerked the steering wheel into a sharp turn. “Then forget the game. We’re going to buy you a drink.”
“The quest in the question, the best of the rest and…”
“The gems of the wide galaxy!” Jack shouted back with a laugh. He was pretty sure that song wouldn’t exist for another couple hundred years, but John had swapped moping for singing after drink number four, so Jack didn’t care.
“Oh, the giiiiirls of Nebulax Threeeeee!” John finished. Laughing giddily, he crashed into Jack and clung to his shoulder. “Do you know what I like about you, Jack?”
“You’ve got a big…big…” He flailed his hand around.
Seven equally dirty comments came to mind, but before Jack could get a chance to say any of them, John finished, “Big coat! I want one.”
An almighty cheer erupted from the tipsy crowd around them.
“Ooh, did we win?” John asked eagerly.
“Who were you rooting for?”
John managed to steady himself enough to let go of Jack. “Criiiiiicket. Crickedy-crick-crick-cricket! With a dash of celery! Football’s absolutely rubbish.”
“Then yeah, you won.”
“Oi, you, hold on!” John lurched towards the leaping crowd. “You, yes you!”
A rather large man with ginger hair and an enormous beer in his hand turned around. Like John, he too seemed to be a bit unsteady.
John fell forward, catching himself by latching onto the arm holding the beer, causing most of the beer to splash on its drinker.
“I had a dream about you!” John slurred with a grin. “Last night!”
The ginger man, who already looked angry about the loss of his beer, tried to shake John off. “What you on about?”
“Whoa, whoa!” Jack lunged forward to grab John. Ginger didn’t look very happy.
“Are you a Slitheen?” John asked suspiciously, undeterred by Ginger’s vigorous shaking.
“Oi, mate, are you loony?!”
“Sorry,” Jack said hastily, trying to pry John off Ginger’s arm. “Excuse my friend, he’s had way too much, although,” he grinned, “Can’t really blame him. What’s your name?”
“Just get him off me!”
“Jack, help me find the zip!” John insisted, staring avidly at Ginger’s head.
Jack heard something beep in his pocket. “Hold on, hold on…” He pulled out a small device the size of a mobile, which beeped angrily in his hand. “Well, what do you know.” He shoved the detector back in his pocket. “Where are you from, big guy?”
Ginger’s lips pressed together. “Sheffield.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Really. Because I’m getting the impression you’re from somewhere a bit further off. Like Saffroon.”
Ginger gave John a hard shove, sending him falling some distance away on his bum with an indignant “Ow! That was rude!”
“Yeah?” Ginger said menacingly, his accent fading as he stepped closer to Jack. The alien stood a whole head taller than the captain. “What do you care?”
Jack glared up at him, unintimidated. “I care because Saffrons eat humans. So get off this planet and find your snacks somewhere else.”
“Or what?” The Saffron raised a big, beefy fist.
“Oh, I love this song!” John cheerily pushed himself between Jack and the Saffron, swaying on his feet.
Without taking his eyes off the Saffon, Jack pulled John out of the way. “John, go sing karaoke or something,” he ordered, pointing towards a microphone at the back of the bar.
“No,” said John in disbelief, a grin spreading over his face, “They have karaoke? That’s just brilliant.”
“Go.” Jack gave him a shove towards the microphone, still not breaking eye contact with the Saffron.
Beaming, John stumbled through the celebrating football fans up to the stage.
The Saffron and Jack both stared at each other as John seized the microphone and began enthusiastically, “When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next to you!”
Jack smiled widely. Charm had gotten him out of far worse scrapes before. “Your disguise is pretty decent. Puts a new spin on ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’”
The Saffron made a very inhuman growling noise. “I’m not here just for hunting. I’m here on a job from Patrival Regency Nine.”
“What do they want with a human?”
The Saffron snorted in disgust. “Not a human. Plasmavore. The human meals are just a bonus. Job perk, if you will.”
“Well, then, point still stands. You can’t eat humans unless you’d like to go through me first.” Jack moved his hand towards his pocket menacingly.
“You’re bluffing,” the Saffron huffed, taking a step forward. “If you had a weapon, you would have shot me by now.”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “Try me. Last chance. Get off this planet.”
The Saffron swung at him just as John’s voice crescendoed. “But I would walk five hundred miles…”
Jack ducked. “All right, maybe I was bluffing!” He launched himself at the Saffron in a flying tackle. The crowd, who was drunkenly cheering John on, diverted their attention to the fistfight on the floor, swarming around them with raucous cheers.
“Da la da, da la da, da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da-daaaaa!”
If John noticed the fight or the crowd’s attention moving away from him, he didn’t seem to care. He continued singing with gusto, dipping the microphone and weaving like he would fall over any second. “But I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more!” Someone tossed a football onto the stage, narrowly missing John’s head. His hand flew up to catch it perfectly, and John stared at it, blinking stupidly as if he could not believe what his hand had just done. Then he held it triumphantly above his head and continued, “Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your do-o-ooooor!” At the last note, he launched the football back into the crowd.
The ball bounced off a table, then the wall, and slammed into a light fixture, sending sparks flying. As the sparks showered down on a man below, he yelped and leapt backwards, sending a woman sprawling. Her red fruity drink flew out of her hand in a perfect arc to land on the Saffron’s head.
The Saffron, who by now had Jack pinned down by the throat, howled as the drink splashed on his skin. Jack used the distraction to shove the Saffron off, then rolled away as the Saffron’s skin started to bubble like molten wax, melting off a bipedal, dark orange, hairy form.
Jack dipped his finger in a drop of the red drink that had splashed on his cheek and licked it. He grinned. “Strawberry daiquiri?”
At the sight of the alien, the entire pub erupted in hysteria and started shoving for the door, drunkenly stumbling off in all directions.
When the Saffron stopped moving, Jack glanced back up at the stage. The speakers had been smashed, cutting off the music, but John was still swaying in time as if the music was still playing, clinging to the microphone like it was a steady pillar.
“Am I that bad a singer?” he asked, evidently crestfallen.
It was a long time before Jack stopped laughing.
If you've never seen the video where the Doctor Who cast sings "500 Miles," go google it. You're welcome. :)
Chapter 5: The Reckoning
Rose had been less than pleased when Jack returned that night with a near unconscious John, but her face softened when Jack told her how John had managed to save his life.
“So now we’re looking for this plasmavore thing?” she asked as they both hauled John into the bedroom.
“Yeah. Doubt we’ll find it, though. They look like us and they’re good at hiding. Not to mention I wouldn’t trust anything a Saffron says anyway.”
John groaned as his friends lowered him onto the bed. Rose bit back a smile and she ruffled his hair a bit, but withdrew when he leaned into her touch.
“He’s more Doctor than you think, Rose. He figured out there was an alien long before I did. While drunk, no less. Granted, he thought it was a Slitheen, but still—”
“He actually said Slitheen?”
“But John doesn’t believe in aliens. He’s absolutely convinced they don’t exist.”
Jack shrugged. “And yet he not only knew what a Slitheen was, but knew to look for a zip. I’m telling you, the Doctor’s in there somewhere.” He glanced down at John, who was now snoring loudly. “Be interesting to see how much of this he remembers tomorrow.”
John did not remember anything the next morning as far as Rose could tell. He blinked in the sunlight, winced whenever she spoke, and asked for an aspirin. Rose lied and told him it was in his tea. He wasn’t a Time Lord, she kept reminding herself as she watched him sip the tea in front of the telly, but she couldn’t bring herself to give him something that used to be able to kill him.
Since he seemed quite content to gaze blankly at the telly and sip on his tea, Rose settled on the sofa beside him with her physics book, determined to get some study out of what was promising to be a boring weekend.
“What’re you working on?” asked John after a few minutes, voice groggy but slightly more cheerful.
“Physics,” Rose said, brow still scrunched as she studied a chart.
“Ooh! I think I did a GCSE for that!” He thought a moment. “I think I failed it.”
Rose made a non-committal humming noise, then noticed the telly. “Is that show in French? Can you understand that?”
John glanced back at the screen, surprised. “Oh. I didn’t notice. Well, of course I don’t understand it, not really. Just a basic gist. Based off body language. Haven’t a clue what they’re actually saying.”
He looked too embarrassed for Rose to question him further, so she returned her attention to the physics book instead. Her frustration with understanding the material built and built until her concentration was once again broken by John’s arm draping itself around her shoulders.
Before she could figure out exactly how she felt about that, her mobile buzzed. She slid the phone out of her pocket to check it and gave a small grin. Jack had found something, and did she want to help?
“I’m going to pop over and visit Mum for a bit,” she announced, getting up from the sofa.
John’s attention jerked from the screen. “Do you want me to come?”
Rose’s heart gave a little twinge at the eagerness in his eyes. The Doctor would never have looked that excited to visit Jackie. Not that John had done anything wrong, exactly, but it was just one more difference between the man he was and the man he used to be—that he was supposed to be.
“Er, no, I’m going to run a couple errands too. Really boring errands.”
“Well, all the more reason to want some company!”
“No! Um…No need. Really. Just…enjoy your weekend, yeah?”
The cheer drained from his voice immediately. “Right. Course I will. Happy weekend for me.”
By the time Rose had put her shoes on and walked out the door, John’s eyes were once again staring at the telly screen.
By dusk, Rose stumbled back into the flat, utterly exhausted and in need of a shower. Jack had found some giant rat-looking creature, whose name she still couldn’t pronounce, in the sewers beneath London. They’d spent hours traipsing through the sewer before they found it, and of course it attacked the second they did. Jack had pushed her out of the way of its claws, for which she was definitely grateful, but she had landed into a puddle, the contents of which she really didn’t want to think about.
One gloriously clean half hour later, she returned to the living room expecting to see John still in front of the telly. He wasn’t there. Nor was he in the kitchen, the bedroom, or the balcony. He wasn’t in the flat at all.
Ignoring the panicked thudding of her heart, she double-checked the entire flat again, this time looking for a note. He hadn’t left one.
He was so vulnerable now, she realised. He had no idea he was being hunted. And what if Jack hadn’t been there last night? What if John had done that again, walked up to a man-eating alien without knowing the danger he was in?
Rose took a few deep breaths. Right. Just because John wasn’t here was no reason to panic. He could have gone out to buy some marmalade. He could have gone out to meet the neighbours. He could have stepped out for some fresh air.
Or the Family of Blood could have found him and killed him.
Would they have dragged him outside or killed him in here? Had he been the Doctor or John when they killed him?
He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t be dead because there hadn’t been a fight based on the state of the flat, and there wasn’t a body.
Another surge of panic. If they’d killed him, absorbed his life force, whatever, would there even be a body? What if they’d consumed him right here, on the marmalade-stained carpet, and disintegrated him in the process?
She shouldn’t have left him alone. She should have let Jack take care of the stupid rat-thing by himself. How could she have been so thick?
She was about to call Jack when she heard the flat door open. She rushed back into the living room to see John, face downcast, hands in his pockets. He brightened when he saw her. “Hello—”
“Where have you been?!” she demanded. “I’ve been worried sick!”
John’s brows drew together. “I just went for a walk…”
“You should have left a note!”
At this, John bristled. “I should have left a note?! Rose, I was gone for an hour! You were gone all day!”
“Yeah, but I told you where I was going! You could have been kidnapped or lying dead somewhere for all I know!”
“Oh, like you would have cared!”
Rose flinched like she’d been stabbed. John’s eyes widened in horror as soon as the words were out of his mouth. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Yes you did,” she said softly.
He stepped forward and took her hands. “No, I mean I just...”
“Of course I care! How could you say that? How could you even think that?”
His thumbs drew circles on her wrist. “Just…We never talk anymore. We don’t do anything. We used to…we just …”
John stood silently for a long moment before swallowing. “I dunno, just…Never mind. I’ll leave a note from now on.”
Her face flushed with guilt. “Look, you don’t have to. You’re right. I’m sorry I was gone all day…”
John suddenly pulled her into a hug, tight and desperate, as if he was afraid she would be torn from him if he didn’t. “Rose, I love you.”
She froze. The seconds after his announcement stretched, and she knew she ought to say it, that if this was the Doctor she would have said it without hesitation. But she could feel his single heart beating, just the one, and each thud reminded her that this wasn’t him.
She hugged him tighter without answering, feeling his single heart beating and pretending, just for a moment, that she could hear two.
Rose couldn’t sleep that night. The words I love you echoed through her head, and she could no longer tell whether it was John saying them or the Doctor. Same voice, same face, different man.
But was he a different man? She wondered if she would feel this guilty if she had said the words back to John. Or would that have made it worse?
She felt John tense next to her on the bed. His breathing became more ragged; his legs twitched as if he were running…
When she rolled over to face him, her heart sunk at the sight of his face. He looked anguished, even in sleep, with the exact expression the Doctor wore whenever the Time War was mentioned. His lips were moving soundlessly, and she could have sworn he mouthed the word “Dalek.”
Rose didn’t have to think. In an instant, she was scooting closer and shaking him frantically. He woke with a heart-stopping gasp, eyes lit up with terror and grief.
Rose tried not to sound panicked. “John? It’s okay, you’re safe. John? ”
Her voice seemed to calm him down. As he swallowed, she watched him force his features into a bland mask. She could almost see tangible shields erected around him. “Yeah. Course. Just a nightmare. Sorry I woke you up.”
Rose reached over to brush away the hair sticking to his damp forehead. “No, really. Are you all right?”
His mouth was forming the words before she’d even finished. “I’m fine. I’m always fine.” And he rolled to face away from her.
Rose stared at the back of his head and ached to demand he turn around and admit that he was not fine, that he was having flashbacks to the Time War again, that he didn’t have to suffer alone.
“Doc—” she started, then stopped immediately, her outstretched hand halting in midair. She hadn’t called John the Doctor once in three weeks.
This wasn’t the Doctor, she reminded herself. He was John, and he didn’t remember the Time War. And yet…the way his brow had furrowed, the way his jaw clenched, the absolute panic in his eyes when she woke him…The way he’d said he was fine was so Doctor that for a moment, just a moment…
She watched him cautiously until he settled into deep, regular breaths once more, then carefully reached for the fob watch on her bedside table. She still wore it around her neck every day along with her TARDIS key to keep it safe—not that John had noticed.
“Doctor?” she whispered to it, feeling very silly.
The watch, as always, did not answer.
The next day, John acted completely normal, although a bit surprised when she pecked him on the cheek and murmured in his ear. “Are you okay?”
“Well—yeah, yeah, course I am.” He paused for a moment, an almost hopeful expression on his face. “Do you want me to stay? I could skive off work.”
“Oh, no, you don’t need to,” Rose said hastily. “Just…have a good day, yeah?”
Was she imagining the slump in his shoulders? “Yeah, course I will.”
They stood there awkwardly for a moment, not quite looking at each other.
“Well…see you later, then,” Rose said finally.
John hesitated a moment, then leaned forward to give her a quick kiss.
“Not if I see you first,” he said, and walked out the door.
Rose stood there still gazing at the door for half a minute, suddenly wishing that she had asked him to skive off work after all.
She called Jack, only to hear the disappointing news that there was no alien activity today to distract her. Glumly, Rose decided to dedicate the day to studying instead. She’d been surprised by how much she actually enjoyed poring through the thick texts, considering how much she’d hated school. She supposed it was a lot easier to read about black holes when she had actually seen (and nearly died in) one. It helped, too, to picture the Doctor reading the books to her, and picture the way that words like brachistochrone and periastron would roll off his tongue.
Today, however, she was finding it difficult to concentrate on her books. She kept thinking of the expression on John’s face last night, how utterly despondent he’d looked, and then the emptiness when he’d said he was fine. And then the kiss this morning. Her lips tingled, and Rose realised with a pang that they hadn’t done that in ages.
Dinner that evening passed as usual. Rose listened patiently as John told her about his day, although, Rose realised, he didn’t seem very enthusiastic. He sounded like he was reading off a list.
“…new patient came in today. Name’s Florence Finnegan. Got some kind of autoimmune disease, so we’ll have to keep her in observation at least a couple of weeks…”
When had he become so listless? He could barely keep still the first couple of days they’d lived in this flat. Now, he sagged in his chair, his voice speaking in a monotone at his plate as he slowly moved his food around with his fork.
After dinner was no better. Once they’d cleaned up, he’d plopped himself on one end of the sofa with one of the books he’d bought in Sally Sparrow’s shop. Rose settled at the other end of the sofa, an astronomy book nestled in her lap. The space between them seemed to stretch like a chasm.
After a few half-hearted attempts to read the astronomy book, Rose gave up and watched John instead. He had a pencil in his hand, Rose noted. So, not reading then. Nor was he writing—the pencil was moving in long, even strokes too large for letters.
“Are you drawing?” Rose said in surprise. “Didn’t know you could draw. Where’d you learn that?”
John still frowned as he drew another line, not entirely paying attention. “Gallifrey.”
Her book tumbled to the floor. “Where?”
Concentration broken, John looked up. “Oh, it’s just…” He got that faraway, slightly glazed look in his eyes as he thought for a moment. “It must be in Ireland…”
“Oh, right. But you’re not from Ireland.”
“No…” John added more lines to his drawing.
“Can I see?” She scooted over to sit next to him on the couch and nearly gasped. The TARDIS console room almost seemed to glow from the pages.
She swallowed, trying and failing to hide her excitement. “John, that’s beautiful!”
“Do you think?” he said reluctantly.
She leaned against him encouragingly. “Yes! Where did you see this?”
“Well…I dreamed it.” He seemed hesitant at first, but as she beamed at him his explaining started to resemble a babble with a level of excitement Rose suddenly realised she had desperately missed. “I’ve been having these dreams, you know, since we got back from New York. They’re really weird, and I figured, well, Freud recommended writing down dreams to better understand them, but some things don’t really fit into words, so I’ve started drawing, and…well…I made this.”
“But these are amazing!” Rose exclaimed, flipping through the pages. Some of the drawings were unfamiliar, but she saw a child with a World War II gas mask, a cat nun, a Dalek, and things she didn’t even recognise, all reproduced in exquisite detail.
“Those show up a lot,” John explained, tapping the Dalek. “The metal exterminators. Nasty bunch…” Rose turned the page. “Oh, that’s the Doctor’s magic blue box.”
Rose’s breath caught. “Doctor?”
“Yeah,” continued John, buoyed by Rose’s enthusiasm. “In the dreams, I’m this character called the Doctor. The box takes him places, and he stops bad people like…like a superhero!”
Rose grinned. “Definitely like a superhero.” She flipped another page to see several faces crowded together, most of them older, all of them men. “These are brilliant. Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
At this, John rubbed the back of his head. “Well, they’re only dreams. And something’s been bothering you, and you wouldn’t tell me, so…”
Rose looked up from the journal, surprised. “Nothing’s been bothering me.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? Because you’ve barely even talked to me the last couple of weeks, and you just look so sad. Like you’re missing someone. And I can’t figure out who it is, because you see your family and friends all the time. And last night…Well.”
Rose looked down at the journal, at a loss. He was right. She’d carved out a life for herself, but it wasn’t really a life with him, more one that included him. She had distanced herself, because John made her laugh and smile, and every time she felt a gut-wrenching guilt because this man looked like the Doctor and acted like the Doctor but he just wasn’t. No matter how kind and wonderful and loving John was, it didn’t change the fact that he had replaced the man she loved.
But he hadn’t, Rose realised. This journal proved it. The Doctor had said becoming human was a bit like regeneration, but maybe it was exactly like regeneration. Same face, but not a different man. She traced her fingers along the page in front of her to the last face in the lineup on the page. It was her first Doctor, the one with big ears and a bigger grin.
“I might never make sense again! I might have two heads. Or no head!”
Or a love of domestics? Possibly no desire to travel?
Rose felt a stab of shame. She never learned, did she? The Doctor changed. His personality was fluid. How many things had changed between her first and second Doctor? They were different people in so many ways, but it wasn’t like she had betrayed her first Doctor by loving her second—they were the same person.
Didn’t the same logic apply to a Doctor who had regenerated into a human?
And if John really was the Doctor, she’d been treating him like no more than an acquaintance for a long time. She’d promised him forever, but she hadn’t followed through. She’d given up on him. She’d abandoned him when he needed her most.
No wonder he hadn’t wanted to tell her about his dreams.
And after all this, he was still looking at her with love, hope, longing, possibly a bit of desperation. He still wanted her. He still loved her. If everything else had changed, that much had stayed constant.
Seeing the Doctor at last, Rose smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. “You know what? It’s not bothering me anymore.”
“Really?” John looked sceptical, guarded, as if expecting her to withdraw away from him at any second, and a fresh wave of guilt rushed over her. What had she done to him?
Rose pushed herself up to kiss him. “Really.”
“Oh!” said John when she’d finished.
“I love you.”
“Quite right, too. Do you know, Rose, I’ve missed you?”
Rose kissed him again, this time with more ferocity. “Missed you too.”
Chapter 6: And Now for Something a Bit More Lunar
Rose awoke to a sharp kick in her shin. Grimacing, she reached for the lamp on her bedside table and switched it on. John was twitching violently in his sleep, his face twisted in panic.
“John,” she said, shaking him. “John!”
John gasped as his eyes flew open, chest heaving as if he’d been running. “Rose?”
She scooted closer. “You okay?”
John took a few more deep breaths, then nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just a dream.”
“Another Doctor dream?”
John nodded morosely, staring at the ceiling. “Yeah.”
Rose let him think for a moment before asking, “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“It’s mad, though. And it was just a dream.”
“I like hearing about your dreams, though.”
John hesitated. “You were in this one.”
“Yeah?” said Rose, a bit amused. “I would be in one of the bad Doctor dreams.”
“No, no!” stammered John. “I mean, it started out nice. We were laughing at…something. I dunno. You were wearing a poodle skirt, like it was the ’50s or something.”
Rose grinned. “Yeah? Maybe it was.”
“But then those metal creatures showed up again,” John continued with a shudder. “The exterminators.”
Rose nodded solemnly.
“So then we were running from them, but they were shooting at us. So I pushed this button that was supposed to trap them, and it did. But then I turned around and realised you were trapped in there with them.” John swallowed. “So I broke the door down and found you, but your face was gone. Just gone. And that let the metal things out, and they chased me, and…” He stopped. “I woke you up. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Rose insisted, squeezing his shoulder.
John let out a weak laugh. “Look at me, having nightmares. Completely irrational. Silly Doctor dreams.”
“You love them, though.”
“Don’t I just. Hold on, what time is it?” He glanced at the clock on his bedside table. “Oh! Time to get up.”
Rose propped herself up to look at the clock. “You’ve still got an hour before you have to get up.”
“Nope!” said John cheerfully, kicking off the covers. “Today is your birthday, and you are getting breakfast in bed.”
Rose sat up. “Is it? Already?”
John lightly pushed her back down. “Honestly, Rose, you’re the one who ought to be the time traveler. April 27? Your twenty-second birthday?” He looked suddenly aghast. “Or was I supposed to ignore it because you’re sensitive about getting older? Because after seeing your mother, I’d completely understand—”
“Rude,” interjected Rose, but she grinned. She snuggled deeper under the covers. “Breakfast. Go.”
“Back in a tick!” He nearly danced out of the room, still in his jimjams.
Rose rolled over with a tired-but-happy moan. She hadn’t celebrated a birthday since her nineteenth. With all the travelling she had done, she sincerely doubted she was only twenty-two. If it was her birthday, she realised, then it was also the two-month anniversary of the Doctor’s humanhood.
Life was a lot more fantastic now. Gone were the evenings of watching telly and wishing for the stars. Now that both of them were once again giggly and excited, John had seemed to take it upon himself to take Rose to every museum, theater, restaurant, landmark, and event in London. They visited the British Natural History Museum (“Rose, doesn’t that statue look just like you?” “…Nope, not at all, let’s look over here…”) and the London Zoo (“Stupid apes!” “It’s a gorilla, John, it’s not going to quote Shakespeare at you.”). He took her to the countryside for an entire weekend, just to go stargazing (“Rose, what’s that one called?” “Raxacoricofallapatorius.” “…You’re joshing.” “It is!”). Usually, but not always, Jack came along on these outings too, muttering dirty suggestions in Rose’s ear when John wasn’t paying attention.
And Rose had stopped missing the Doctor, because he was right there with her. She had to think before she spoke, to make sure she wouldn’t use one of their many inside jokes that he wouldn’t remember, but she saw more of the Doctor in John every day.
Although the breakfast in bed, she thought wryly as John returned with a full breakfast tray, was more John than Doctor.
“Here we are, then! Happy birthday.”
Rose eyed the food appreciatively. “Thanks. Loads of food, though. No way I can eat all this.”
“Oh, I plan to help.” John grinned and slid back into bed next to her, nearly spilling the juice. He stuck his finger into her marmalade and licked it off. “Delicious,” he said with relish. He lowered his head towards the breakfast tray. “Well, go on, eat up. It’s your birthday breakfast.”
Rose smiled, took a fingerful of marmalade, and smeared it down his nose. “Suppose it is.”
“You’re coming to dinner, right?” asked John as he drove to work. One hand clutched the wheel, the other pressed his mobile to his ear.
On the other end of the phone, Jack sounded cheerful. “Course I am. Unless I’m getting shot at by then. Never know how the day’s going to turn out.”
John swerved into traffic, missing a collision by centimetres. “Oh, right, with your oh-so-secret government stuff.”
“Yeah, with my oh-so-secret government stuff.”
“You know, half the time I think you really just work for a hardware store or something and are too ashamed to tell me.”
“Oh, right, you caught me. It’s a very impressive hardware store, though. We’ve got stuff from Mars. I ought to show you sometime.”
John rolled his eyes even though Jack couldn’t see him. “Right, well, assuming the Martian terrorists don’t show up, we’re having dinner tonight at six—OI, THAT WAS RUDE!” He braked hard, narrowly missing another car.
“You know, Rose will kill you if you crash,” Jack said conversationally.
“I’m not going to crash! My driving’s perfect!”
“Anyway, so dinner’s at six and you’re invited, and Rose wants Jackie to come but if you can at all persuade her to stay home, please do.”
“Like she’d listen to me…Oh, I’ve got another call. Looks like I might be getting shot at today after all!”
“And yet still so cheerful. Have fun getting shot at. Nasty weather for it. Have you seen the sky?”
“Have fun wiping students’ snotty noses. Bye.”
John turned his phone off, parked Bessie crookedly across two parking spaces, and raced inside the Royal Hope. Late again. Why was he always running out of time?
“Bye, Dad, Annalise.”
Martha Jones hung up her mobile in exasperation as she walked to work. She was not looking forward to this party tonight. Juggling brother, sister, Mum, Dad, and Dad’s mistress? Someone was going to snap, and she had a feeling it would be her mum. And then it would be her job to keep Mum away from Annalise, and how was she supposed to do that?
A voice broke into her thoughts. “Martha Jones!”
Martha turned. Standing there, leaning against the side of a shop, was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. He wore a long gray World War II coat and a cocky grin and was swinging a blue paisley tie around his finger.
She hesitated. “Yeah? Who are you?”
His grin only grew, and Martha’s thoughts came to a standstill. “I’ve got a message for you.”
“For me?” Every molecule in her body was concentrating on not blushing. Were her knees buckling?
He reached forward, grabbed her hand, and pressed the tie into it. Tingles shot through her skin at his touch.
“Hold onto this, Martha Jones,” he said, cocking his eyebrow in a way that made her breathless. “The Doctor wants it back.”
Martha nodded blissfully once before realising how bizarre his request was. “Hold on…” She shook herself slightly to regain her senses and looked down at the soft material in her fingers. “But what do I do with it? What doctor? Who are you?”
She looked around, but the man had vanished. The passersby around her continued on through the street, oblivious to what had just occurred.
She ran her finger over the silk tie again in bemusement, then shook her head and shoved it in her pocket. The stress was definitely getting to her.
“The weirdest thing happened to me this morning,” said Martha later in the hospital locker room as she put on her lab coat.
Her fellow student, Julia Swales, opened her locker and reached for her own coat. “What, did you shock yourself in the lift? Because I did.”
“No, this man—”
“Oh, a man, is it?”
Martha laughed. “Oh, shut up. This man walked up to me and handed me a tie.”
“Really? Was it an attractive man?”
“More than Dr. Tyler?”
Martha covered her now-open mouth. “Julia!”
“What? It’s not like you haven’t been looking!”
Martha lowered her hand to reveal a sheepish grin. “Yeah, but he’s my boss. And he’s married.”
“Not impossible, though!”
Martha’s voice took on a sharp tone. “I’m not doing that. I’m not going to be an Annalise.”
“Oh…Martha, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s okay. Really. Sorry to snap.” Martha shut her locker door. “How about you and Oliver, then?”
Julia sputtered, gripping her own locker door for support. “Me—Me and—”
“Has he asked you out yet?”
Julia shut her locker, trying and failing to hide her blush. “He’s not going to.”
Martha smirked. “We’ll see.”
Some tinny notes rang from her pocket, and Martha glanced at her phone. Tish, read the screen.
Martha groaned as she answered, ready to hear a fresh new barrage of complaints about Annalise.
Eight years ago, Mary was half as old as Jane will be when Jane is one year older than Tim will be at that time when Mary will be five times as old as Tim will be two years from now. Ten years from now, Tim will be twice as old as Jane was when Mary was nine times as old as Tim. When Tim was 1 year old, Mary was 3 years older than Tim will be when Jane is three times as old as Mary was 6 years before the time when Jane was 1/2 as old as Tim will be when Mary will be 12 years older than Mary was when Jane was 1/3 as old as Tim will be when Mary will be 3 times as old as she was when Jane was born. How old is Mary?
Rose glanced up from her maths book with a sigh. Even after two months of trying to learn this stuff, she still didn’t have a clue how to solve a problem like this.
The Doctor would have known. Probably would have rambled about how easy it was for a full five minutes before telling her the answer.
She smiled, tapped her pencil on her lips thoughtfully, and returned to the problem, brow scrunched in concentration. Maybe she wasn’t at the Doctor’s level, but she’d certainly come a long way from the girl with no A-levels. She could figure this out.
5(t+2), she wrote.
Her mobile shook and rang on the table. Concentration broken, she shut the book with a yawn and picked up the phone.
“Jack? I’m drowning in numbers here—Please tell me you’ve got something for us to do.”
Jack sounded urgent and out of breath. “Rose, they’re here.”
Rose sat bolt upright, clutching the phone with white knuckles. “You mean the Family? They found us?”
“It’s definitely them. And Rose—they’re headed for the hospital.”
Rose went pale. “No…”
“I’m headed there right now, but you’re closer. I couldn’t get a hold of John—”
“I’ll get him.” Rose shoved herself away from the table, scattering her papers. She yanked a trainer on with one hand.
“Keep that watch shut as long as possible so they don’t smell him.”
“I know, I know, right.” She switched the phone to the other hand and yanked on the remaining trainer. “See you.”
She hung up and hit the speed-dial for John, but all she got was his voicemail. “Oh, pick up the phone!” Rose groaned in frustration as she snatched the sonic screwdriver. “You turned it off, you plonker!”
She hung up and stuck both phone and screwdriver in her pocket. Then she grabbed a wad of emergency cash from a box beneath the bed, dashed down the stairs three at a time, and flew out into the street.
“Taxi!” she hollered, waving the money so vigorously that bills drifted onto the pavement.
A cab screeched to a halt in front of her, and Rose climbed into the backseat. “Royal Hope Hospital, go.” She threw the cash into the front seat. “Drive!”
Five minutes later, Rose bolted from the cab to the doors of the Royal Hope Hospital.
“Oof!” She slammed into a bloke wearing head-toe-toe black leather. “Sorry!” She dashed around him and into the hospital lobby, all thoughts on finding John.
Above her, the dark clouds gathering over the hospital rumbled.
Chapter 7: Judoon Platoon upon the Moon
John tapped the IV bag by a patient’s bed with a flourish. “And that will fix all of Mr. Davies’ problems. Brilliant solution, Martha. Any questions?”
He looked around hopefully, but none of the gathering of students around him spoke.
“Right, well, let’s move on to our next patient, shall we?” He led his students to an elderly woman in bed. “Hello, Miss Finnegan, you’ve been in and out all month, haven’t you? How are you feeling today?”
The elderly woman frowned. “I was all right till this morning, and then, I don't know, I woke up and I felt all dizzy again. It was worse than when I came in.”
“Well, we’ll see if we can fix that.” Beaming, John turned to his students. “Ideas, anyone? Morgenstern?”
Oliver Morgenstern snapped to attention. “Dizziness can be a sign of early onset diabetes.”
“Sure, but really…” John lowered his voice. “Does that look like early onset to you?” He saw the look on Finnegan’s face and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry. Anyone else? Yes, Swales.”
Swales swallowed. “Um…could recommend a CT scan.”
John paused. “Well, yeah, we could. Sure we could. But come on, there’s got to be a better way than that, yeah? Martha Jones, I’ll bet you’ve got an answer, I can see it all over your face!”
Martha blinked. “We could take bloods and check for Meniere's disease.”
“Ooh, that’s good,” said John appreciatively. “I like that. But there’s something you’re all missing. Anyone?” He paused, more for dramatic effect than to provide an opportunity for answers. “Her diet! Fuel for the body, but has she been getting the right kind?” He turned to Finnegan. “What’d you have for dinner last night?”
“Ha!” said John triumphantly. “And the night before that and the night before that, I bet, am I right?”
“Well, yes,” said Finnegan.
“Oh you naughty girl, Miss Finnegan, you weren’t supposed to do that.” John whirled to face his students. “Salt deficiency! Just goes to show you, never underestimate the domestic approach. Talk to people! You never know what little details you might be missing! Now, I think we’ve got time for one more patient before lunch, a Mr. Moffat. I think he’s got a rather interesting problem for us to solve today…”
They all followed him obediently into the hall, as he lectured about all the diseases easily cured by more or less salt in the diet. “…Hippocrates was a huge fan of salt, absolutely loved it. Especially if it was from sea water. He kept wanting to drink it, but fortunately I convinced him inhaling the steam was a much better idea…”
“Sir?” Martha said quizzically. “You’re saying you met Hippocrates?”
John’s babbling confidence slipped for a split second before he recovered. “Right. Right, yes. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. Full marks, Martha Jones!”
He led them to the next patient’s room in silence, his thoughts buzzing. What on Earth had possessed him to say that? Was he losing his grip between dreams and reality again? He’d gotten so much better at it the past few weeks…
He was just tired, he decided. He’d gotten up extra early to make Rose’s breakfast and was running on less sleep than usual. He made a mental note to drink an extra coffee when he released the students for lunch.
And speaking of Rose…was that her, just up ahead? Running towards him down the hall frantically, pushing trolleys and a nurse out of her way in her haste?
“Rose?” he said in bewilderment as his wife reached him, “What are you doing here?”
“Hello,” she said, out of breath. She grabbed his hand and started to tug. “We have to go. Now. Emergency.”
“But Rose, I’m in the middle of a lesson!” said John indignantly, waving a hand towards his students.
Rose peered around him at the medical students, who were ogling her with varying expressions of curiosity and alarm. “Early lunch break!” she declared. “Dr. Tyler’s got an emergency.”
“I’ve got a what?! Rose!”
But Rose was already wrenching him away by the hand, leading him down the hall. John turned to face his students as his wife dragged him in the opposite direction. “Er, yes, early lunch break, go on!” he called. Shrugging, the medical students dispersed.
John dug his heels in and came to a stop as he and Rose reached the lift. “Rose, I can’t just leave in the middle of work! What’s happened?”
Rose bit her lip. “I’ll tell you on the way, but right now, we’ve got to get out of here.”
“What’s wrong, is it Jack?” John asked in concern. “Your mother? Are they all right?”
“Yes, they’re fine, but please, we have to go,” Rose pleaded, tugging on his hand.
The lift opened to reveal two leather-covered figures. John and Rose both moved aside next to the window to let them out of the lift.
“Rose, I’ve got patients,” John insisted. “I’ve got students waiting for me to teach them, and patients to take care of, and I can’t just drop everything and leave, I’ll get sacked!…Rose?”
Rose was staring out the window, and John turned to stare too. “Is the rain going up?!”
Distant screams erupted in a crescendo from down the hall and all over the hospital as the entire building began to tremble.
And then, like a great beast poked with a stick, the hospital jerked violently in all directions.
“Doctor!” Rose shrieked as both she and John were knocked off their feet. The hospital rocked to and fro, sending trolleys rocketing and toppling through the hall. A light fixture fell from the ceiling and shattered on the floor. John managed to crawl over to Rose and press her into his chest, shielding her head as the entire hospital shook and trembled around them.
And then, it was over.
Breathing hard, John sat up and pulled Rose to face him. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” she said breathlessly.
“Earthquake! What? Since when does London get earthquakes?! Rose, are you sure you’re all right? You shouted for a doctor.”
Rose pushed herself up from the wall. “We really, really need to get out of…” She stopped as she saw out the window.
“What? What is it?” John got to his feet and looked out the window. His jaw dropped. “Is that—But that’s—”
“I don’t believe it,” said Rose softly. “We’re on the moon.”
John’s gaze switched between her and the window, from which the Earth was clearly visible. “But we can’t be!”
“Well, better than Pluto, I suppose…”
“That’s physically impossible! That is completely, utterly impossible!”
“Obviously not, because we’re here,” Rose pointed out. Her breath hitched. “Jack.” She whipped out her mobile and hit the call button.
“I don’t really think Jack can help us!” John said, voice tingeing on hysteria. His hand ran through his hair as he gawked at the window again. “How are you even getting a signal? Hold on…” His eyes widened as he registered the screams building throughout the hospital. “The patients! I’ve got to go check on them—Rose, stay here!”
But Rose barely listened, instead straining to hear Jack through the phone. Behind her, John dashed off down the hallway.
“Rose? I’m nearly there! Did you find him?”
“Jack, the hospital’s gone,” she said steadily, staring at the Earth from the window.
“What do you mean, gone—holy—Rose, there’s a crater in the middle of the street!”
“We’re on the moon,” she said slowly.
“It looks like a bomb went off! What happened?! Are you both okay?”
“Jack,” Rose repeated, slower. “We’re fine. We’re inside the hospital. And the hospital. Is on. The moon.”
There was a long pause on Jack’s end of the line. “Well, I will never complain about our lives being boring again.”
“How did the Family get the entire hospital on the moon?!” she asked, her pitch increasing over the panicked screams of the patients and staff around her.
“They couldn’t have,” said Jack. Rose could hear screaming in the background of his end, as well.
She pressed the phone closer to her ear, “So what, somebody else moved the hospital?”
She rubbed her forehead. “Well, then at least up here we’re safe from the Family. I’m telling him to open the watch. If this doesn’t qualify as an emergency, nothing does. The Doctor’ll know how to fix this.”
“How is he?”
Rose blinked and looked around in a panic. “I don’t see him!” she said frantically, “I lost him—I think he wandered off!”
“Rose, calm down!” Jack shouted at her. She clung to the phone tighter. “He can’t have wandered very far.” He paused. “UNIT’s here. You find John, and I’ll see if I can help them figure out how to get the hospital back on this end.”
Rose nodded even though she knew Jack couldn’t see her. “Right. See you.”
She slid the phone back into her pocket, and marched through the throng crowding the hallways.
As Martha gazed upon her planet from the moon, she wondered if all her family’s nagging and arguing had finally driven her truly barking.
“It’s real,” she murmured in awe, oblivious to Julia’s whimpers behind her. “It’s really real. Hold on!”
She reached for the window latch, but Julia snatched her wrist. “Don’t! We’ll lose all the air!”
“But they're not exactly airtight. If the air was going to get sucked out it would have happened straight away, but it didn't. So how come?”
Dr. Tyler dashed inside the patient room, hair a mess and lab coat askew. “How are they? Is everyone all right?”
“Couple of the machines are jostled, but they’re all right,” Martha rattled off. “We’re running off the emergency generators. Mostly, the patients’re just panicking. Sir, have you seen, we’re on the—”
“I know,” Dr. Tyler snapped, “I saw it! Right, Swales!”
Julia swallowed, panic still shining in her eyes. “Yes?”
“Stop panicking,” Dr. Tyler ordered, “We are authority figures. If the patients see us panicking, that’ll make everything worse. Go find the other students, tell them to start passing out the oxygen tanks.”
Swales swallowed again and nodded before hurrying from the room.
“But Dr. Tyler,” Martha interrupted, “We’ve got air.”
Dr. Tyler stopped for a moment. “Full marks, Miss Jones. You’re right, we do. Why do we have air?” He dashed from the room in a spastic frenzy, Martha on his heels.
They reached the patients’ lounge and the balcony beyond, and Dr. Tyler stopped. Martha stopped next to him, hands on her knees as she gasped.
Dr. Tyler paused, then opened the doors. He took a deep breath and stepped out onto the balcony. “We really are,” he murmured, “We’re really on the moon. How is that even possible?”
“And we’ve got air!” Martha said in wonder, joining him on the balcony. “How does that work?”
“No idea…No, wait, hold on, I’ve got a thought.” He reached down to pick up a pebble, and tossed it as far as he could. It hit an invisible wall that flashed blue on impact.
“What was that?” asked Martha. “Some sort of…I dunno, force field?”
“Like a bubble…Impossible,” Dr. Tyler protested. He ruffled the back of his hair, a lost sort of look in his eyes. He looked like a man who had had a rug pulled out from other him. “We can’t possibly be on the moon in the middle of a force field…I mean, this is real life, not some show on the telly!”
“But that’s sealing all our air in…” mused Martha. “We might run out. You’re right—we are going to need oxygen tanks.”
“Well, I am brilliant,” he said, unable to tear his eyes off the Earth. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You know, it’s sort of beautiful.”
“Yeah,” she said wistfully as she stared at the Earth. “It sort of is.” She thought for a moment. “This has got to be extraterrestrial.”
Dr. Tyler scoffed. “Really? Wouldn’t have pegged you for believing in little green men.”
“Well, yeah,” said Martha, trying not to sound a bit hurt. “I mean, a couple years ago, I’d have agreed with you. But these days? Those dummies coming to life? That spaceship flying into Big Ben? Christmas, with all the people on the roof? Those blue ghost things? Hard not to believe, wouldn’t you think?”
“No,” Dr. Tyler said firmly. “There’s no such things as aliens.”
At that moment, several tall, dark ships descended. Both Tyler and Jones watched as helmeted figures disembarked.
Dr. Tyler swallowed. “Right. Well, Martha Jones, I stand corrected.”
They watched in both horror and fascination as the aliens marched towards the hospital like soldiers preparing for war. Martha let out a gasp when a blue light flashed over the lead alien, then the ones behind it. Whatever was keeping the air in apparently did not keep the aliens out.
Dr. Tyler leaned on the balcony for support, unable to tear his gaze away, his mutterings becoming more desperate with every syllable. “Maybe they’re astronauts? Really, really advanced, secret astronauts? Terrorists—they could be terrorists. Space…terrorists…”
The lead alien removed its helmet to reveal the head of a rhinoceros.
“This is impossible. Impossible.” Dr. Tyler recoiled from the balcony and yanked open the door to the patient’s lounge. Martha hurried to follow him inside. “This can’t be happening to me. I’m hallucinating or something. I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.”
“Me too, then,” said Martha shakily.
“I mean, great big space rhinos. I mean rhinos from space. On the moon!” As they passed patients’ rooms, his laugh grew more unhinged. “Great big space rhinos with guns on the moon! I said to my wife, I said this seemed a lovely place to work, but I’ve only been here two months, and nowhere in the interview did they mention giant space rhinos on the moon!”
Martha tentatively placed a hand on his back. “You okay?”
He rubbed a hand through his hair, which now looked positively unkempt. “I’ve got to find Rose.”
Dr. Tyler whirled to face her. “I’m sorry, but I have got to find my wife. Can you get the oxygen tanks out for this section?”
“Oh, Dr. Tyler?”
Dr. Tyler spun on the spot to see Florence Finnegan. “What now?” he groaned. “Miss Finnegan, what do you need?”
“I need your help, Dr. Tyler.”
He fidgeted impatiently. “Yes? And?”
Finnegan leaned in closer. “It’s a bit…personal. May we discuss it in your office? Privately?”
He stared at her incredulously. “Miss Finnegan, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we’re on the moon. Whatever it is, I think it can wait.” He made to step around her, but she scooted to block his path.
“Oh, I know,” Finnegan continued, “But it’s really rather important. Just a talk, that’s all.”
Dr. Tyler rubbed his forehead a moment in frustration. “All right, all right, yes, fine, two minutes. You get two minutes because it’s an emergency.” He looked pleadingly at Martha.
“I’ll get those tanks set up,” she promised. Dr. Tyler nodded gratefully, ushered Finnegan into his office, and shut the door.
Crouching behind a plant, Rose watched from the mezzanine overlooking the lobby as the aliens entered the hospital. Their leader’s helmet was off, revealing the head of a rhino, and her heart sunk as she realised she had never encountered this alien before.
“Bo sco fo do no kro blo co sho ro!”
Rose didn’t understand a word of that. She wondered if the TARDIS translation circuits worked if the Doctor was human. Or it meant John was…No. He was fine. He had to be fine.
One of John’s medical students stepped forward. “We are citizens of planet Earth,” said Oliver Morgenstern, obviously terrified but trying not to appear so. “We welcome you in peace.”
The rhino pushed him against the wall and shined a bright blue light in his face.
Morgenstern held very still and pleaded. “Please don't hurt me, I was just trying to help, I'm sorry, don't hurt me, please don't hurt me…”
Rose slid her phone back in her pocket, trading it for the sonic screwdriver. She had no idea what setting to use, but she had to do something. She had to help him!
But before she could locate the stairs to go down there, she heard the rhino play the words back. “Language assimilated,” he announced. “Designation: Earth English. You will be catalogued.” He shined the light in Morgenstern’s face again. “Human.” He drew a black cross on Morgenstern’s hand.
Morgenstern stared at the mark on his hand as if afraid it would bite him.
“Catalogue all suspects!” the rhino ordered, and the others surged forward towards the nearest humans.
The humans below all began to scream and run, and Rose’s heart pounded. A catalogue. They were making sure everyone in the hospital was human, which meant they were looking for something that wasn’t.
Were they looking for the Doctor? What were they planning to do if they found him? What were they planning to do if they didn’t?
She had to find him, warn him, change him back. The Doctor would know what to do…
But maybe she shouldn’t have him open the watch. If the rhinos were looking for the Doctor, staying human might save him. But how human was he? She was absolutely certain that underneath it all, John was still the same man, still a Time Lord. He was human enough to fool the Family, but would he register as human on the rhino’s scanners?
Either way, she had to find John. Now.
“Now, really,” said John as he shut the door to the office, “Miss Finnegan, what is your problem that is so urgent it can’t wait until after we’re not on the moon?”
“I need your help, Dr. Tyler,” said Finnegan earnestly.
“So I gathered,” John said impatiently, hands waving everywhere as he talked. “But as you’re walking and talking and not writhing on the floor in agony, all I really want to do right now is find my wife. So what, exactly, is this emergency?”
“I need blood.”
John stared at her angrily. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re on the verge of death—which you clearly aren’t—any blood transfusions are going to have to wait until the hospital is located somewhere a bit more terrestrial and a little less lunar. I can’t help you. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
Finnegan took a step closer, too close for comfort. “Oh, I think you can.”
Behind John, the door opened to admit two figures dressed entirely in black leather.
“What now?” demanded John. “Who are these people?”
“Oh, these are my lovely boys,” Finnegan simpered, “I prefer not to get my hands dirty.”
“You see, there are great tests to come, and terrible deeds—some of them my own. But if I am to survive this, I need you.”
“What?!” John said again, this time in a higher pitch.
“Blood,” explained Finnegan. John edged away from the leather figures as they moved closer. “Specifically, yours.”
John gawked between her and the leather men closing in on him. “What?!”
Chapter 8: The End of a Song
Rose ran past patients, nurses, and doctors alike, trying to put as much space between herself and the rhinos as possible. The rhinos didn’t seem to want to hurt anyone as far as she could tell, but she was taking no chances. The Doctor would know what to do, if she could just find him.
She started to yell, “Doctor!” before remembering that she was in a hospital full of doctors. She actually did call, “John!” down a couple of hallways, but none of the men who looked up at the name were her John.
“You couldn’t have picked something more distinctive?” Rose muttered to herself as she peered into a break room.
He had to be here somewhere. He had to…
As she turned the corner she ran bang into an entirely leather-clad man and nearly bounced backwards off him. “Oh, watch it, will you?” she snapped in frustration, dashing around both him and his identical friend.
Neither of the leather men said a word, just let her pass and continued on their way.
Rose paused and frowned as she looked behind her to watch them walk side-by-side, their steps perfectly in sync. Something was off…
She heard a door open and whirled to face it. One of John’s medical students was leaving a supply cupboard, rolling several oxygen tanks on a trolley. Rose brightened when she saw her. “Oh! You’re one of John’s students, yeah? What was your name?”
The student glanced at her quickly, then back to the oxygen tanks she was putting together. “Er…yeah. It’s Martha. Martha Jones.”
“I’m Rose. Have you seen John? I’ve lost him and I really need to find him.”
“Yeah, he was just here.” Martha pointed down the hall. “He’s meeting with a patient in his office just down there. Fourth door on the left.” She motioned to the oxygen tanks. “Sorry, but I really need to get these out…”
“Go ahead, Martha, thank you, thank you!”
Martha hurried away, rolling the cart. Rose turned around to start for John’s office, but stopped. The two leather men she’d run into earlier were stepping inside the fourth door on the left.
Rose’s stomach dropped. Something was wrong. Something was really, really wrong.
John watched as the leather men advanced, blocking the door and trapping him between them and Finnegan.
He looked back to his elderly patient. “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“I’m afraid I’m perfectly serious,” said Finnegan calmly, riffling through her handbag. John watched with wide eyes as she withdrew a coloured bendy straw. “I’ve even got a little straw.”
John shut his eyes for a moment and shook his head in confusion. “But you’re talking like you’re some sort of alien! Perhaps a visit from psychiatric—”
“Oh, but I am an alien,” Finnegan continued, “Which is exactly the problem. You see, I was only salt deficient because I am so very good at absorbing it. I need to assimilate and become human, and for that, I’m going to need your blood.”
John’s eyebrows rose. “You’re an alien.”
“I believe we’ve established that, Dr. Tyler.”
“A blood-sucking alien? I’m talking to a blood-sucking alien on the moon?!”
“You’re quite thick, aren’t you?” said Finnegan in a bored voice. She flicked her straw as if testing for bendiness. “Slabs, hold him.”
But before John could protest or the Slabs could grab him, the door burst open with a crash. There stood Rose, sonic screwdriver held aloft in her hands, her eyes alight with righteous fury.
“Rose?” John said, bewildered. He started to rush towards her, but one of the Slabs held up a hand to block his path.
“And who are you?” Finnegan demanded in exasperation.
Rose leveled the screwdriver at her, voice brimming with anger. “I’m Rose Tyler, and if you don’t step away from him right now, I’m going to have to use this.”
Finnegan eyed the screwdriver suspiciously. “And what exactly is that?”
“It’s sonic,” Rose replied briskly. “Completely sonic. John, get behind me.”
Still wearing an expression of utter bewilderment, John edged around the Slab to Rose’s side. “Rose, she’s an alien. A real, live blood-sucking alien!”
“You don’t say,” Rose said, not taking her eyes off Finnegan. “You’re who the rhinos are looking for, yeah? A plasmavore?”
“Oh, aren’t you a clever one?” Finnegan snapped.
“Rhinos, vampires, what’s next, body-snatchers?” John said, now beyond indignant. “How many aliens are there around here? Has this place got an ET department or something? And what is that?” He pointed at the screwdriver.
Finnegan squinted at it for a moment before her eyes widened. “That’s just a screwdriver! Slabs!”
Rose bit her lip. “Well, worth a shot anyway.” She snatched John’s hand, and at the touch he thought he felt something like electricity shoot up his arm. Her eyes met his, and she grinned a wide, cheeky smile. “Run!”
Before John could even register it, they were running hand-in-hand, with Rose towing him behind her. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d run like this, pumping legs fueled by equal parts thrill and terror, but it felt incredibly familiar and more right than anything else had in a long time.
“After them!” came Finnegan’s cry.
“But what are they?!” John asked incredulously as Rose led him around the corner. “And you never said, what is that thing?”
“They’re aliens from another world,” Rose said between breaths, “And this is your sonic screwdriver.”
Screams erupted behind them as the Slabs chased after them, shoving people aside as they went.
“Hide, hide, hide, got to hide…” Rose muttered as she pulled him down another hall. “Here!” She opened a door marked “Radiology,” pushed John inside to a room with a giant x-ray, and shut the door behind them.
“What are you doing?” John demanded as Rose flicked through the sonic screwdriver’s settings, brow furrowed.
“I think it’s…yeah, this one.” The blue tip flashed, and the door locked with a click. Rose leaned against the wall sectioning off the x-ray controls from the rest of the room and let herself slide down until she was sitting. Her chest heaved with the effort from running. “That should hold for a bit while we change you back.” She reached into her shirt, pulled out the silver fob watch, and yanked it off from around her neck.
John sat next to her. “Rose, what’s going on? Has the world gone completely mad?”
Rose let out a small smile. “Just a bit. Do you remember those dreams you were telling me about? About being the Doctor, and travelling around the universe?”
“Yes, but I hardly see what that has to do with—”
“They were real. All of it. The Doctor’s not a character. He’s real, and you’re him.”
John blinked, then drew a small light from his lab coat pocket and shined it in her eyes.
“What’re you doing?” Rose demanded, swatting the light away in annoyance.
“Checking for concussion. You must have hit your head when the building was transported to the moon…and I cannot believe I just said that.” He put the light away with a frown. “Nothing. You’re fine. I think I’m going mad. Or you’re going mad. Or we’re both going mad. Or the entire world’s gone mad, and Rose, it’s okay, because I know the best psychiatrists in London and we can fix this.”
Rose shook her head. “Nobody’s mad. It’s true. You’re the Doctor. You’ve got to remember! We’re being chased by this—this family, and they’re looking for you, and you said the only way to hide from them was to become human for awhile. And now,” she held up the watch, fingers resting on the clasp to open it. “We’re going to change you back, so you can save the hospital.”
John pressed his hands over Rose’s, sandwiching the watch shut. He stared at her with something akin to fear. She couldn’t possibly be serious, but her face said she definitely was. “You think those dreams are real. You really do.”
“They are,” Rose said solemnly. “We’re on the moon, with giant space rhinos and blood-sucking aliens. Is this really all that unbelievable after that? Just take the watch, Doctor.”
“Don’t call me that. I’m not some alien who travels all over the galaxy. I didn’t even think aliens existed until a few minutes ago!”
“You are him!”
John rubbed his face in frustration. “But I’m not! I can’t be! They’re just dreams!”
“If they’re just dreams, then how do I know this? Ever dreamed about a planet where the waves are frozen in place? Ever had a dream about apple grass?”
And despite the fact that apple grass didn’t exist, he could smell it, sweet and tangy and powerfully real. “But I haven’t written it down—I haven’t told you any of that!”
“You don’t have to, because I lived through it! With you. With the Doctor.” John still looked sceptical, and Rose burst out, “Gallifrey! Ever had a dream about an orange sky? Silver leaves?”
John flinched. He could see it—the glimmer of silver like a forest on fire in the morning, sounding like a song in the warm breeze. “Stop it.”
“A second sun,” she continued, “that rose in the south, you said…”
“That’s your planet. And you know it, don’t you?”
John said nothing for a long moment. He could see Gallifrey, could see the Citadel, its spires dwarfed only by the mountains of Solace and Solitude…
No. This was mad. “But I’m just a normal bloke! I mean…look, Rose, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t…take you to Mars or back in time. But I love you! Shouldn’t that be enough? Aren’t I good enough?”
“Yes!” Rose said immediately. “And it’s not about the travelling. I love the travelling, but I love you more.”
“Me or the Doctor?”
Rose let out a small, frustrated groan. “You—both of you! I can’t love just one; you’re the same person! You’re just not all of yourself right now. You are the Doctor and we need you. I need you.” She wrenched her hands out of his and pressed the watch into his palm. She looked up at him, eyes pleading. “So I’m sorry, I really am, but you’ve got to open it.” She closed his fingers around the watch. “Before those leathery blokes find us.”
“Oh, you mean the Slabs?” John rattled off on instinct as he gripped the watch. “Nasty things, Slabs. Basic slave drones, always travel in pairs. And these ones are made completely out of leather, solid leather all the way through, can you believe? I mean, really—” John covered his own mouth with his hand, eyes wide in terror. His mouth had moved entirely of its own accord.
“See?” Rose beamed, eyes lighting up in recognition.
John looked between the watch in his hand and Rose. There had to be a rational explanation. “But—but this is mad, Rose. I can’t be him. I mean, I’ve got a life! I’ve got a job, a flat, a beautiful, brilliant wife—”
“Thanks,” Rose said sadly.
His hand not holding the watch flailed around as he spoke. “And you just want to…to throw all that away? Everything we’ve got? You want that all to end?” His eyes widened in realisation as his voice dwindled to a flat whisper. “That’s who you missed, wasn’t it? All those weeks ago. When we got back from our honeymoon, you were so sad because you missed him.” He gave a dry, humorless laugh. “I thought you were cheating on me. No, turns out you were in love with a character in my dreams.”
“Until I realised you were him!”
“When I showed you my drawings of my dreams…”
“Memories. They’re memories. Your memories.”
John could see tears forming in Rose’s eyes, and for a moment he was glad. She had no idea what she was asking him to do.
“Right, then. So let’s say I open this watch. I let the Doctor out. Then what happens to me?”
“You remember. You wake up.”
“I die, Rose. That’s what you’re asking me to do. I open that watch and some new man is going to saunter away, and I’m going to be dead.”
“No you won’t!” Rose insisted, tears spilling now. “You’ll be fine, you’re not a character, you’re still him! You’re not dying—you’re waking up!”
John felt his resolve slipping, but he pressed on. “Waking up from what? I’ve got a life; I’ve got memories! I can’t possibly be the Doctor. I mean, I’m real—I know I’m real. I am real.” He ignored the orange sky blazing in his memory and focused instead on names, figures, proof of his existence. “I’m not the Doctor. I’m John, John Tyler né Smith. I had a mother named Verity and a father named Sydney. I went to Coal Hill School in Shoreditch and got my degree at—”
Rose pressed her fingers over his lips. “How did we meet?”
John gaped back at her and she ran her hand over his cheek. “How did we meet?”
“Yeah,” she pleaded. “You say you’ve got memories; tell me how we met.”
“Well, I…” he trailed off for a moment. “You were working in a shop. And I went there to…to buy a new jumper, that’s right. And…you, er…You asked me if I were a student. I told you well done, that made sense.”
Rose pressed her lips together as more tears spilled down her cheeks. Her mascara was running.
“And then…” John swallowed. He thought he remembered it so clearly—it was one of the most important moments in his life, after all—but he felt like he was looking at the memory through a thick glass. He could see the shapes, but the edges were all fuzzy and blurred. “And then we went out together after work. For pizza and chips. And I asked you out, but you said you had a boyfriend. Mickey the Idiot,” he said, proud to have remembered that detail. “But I already knew I needed you, so I asked you again.” Rose’s lips were pressed tight together, and she was shaking with silent sobs. John used his thumb to wipe the tears off her cheek, wondering why his own voice was cracking with emotion. “And you left him and ran away with me and…and…” His head hurt, and he felt a sudden surge of anger. “Why are you doing this to me, Rose?”
Rose sniffed and smiled ever-so-slightly at him. “Because that is exactly how we met. Just some of the details are missing.” She pressed her cheek to his chest, right over his heart. “That’s how I met the Doctor. How I met you.”
“But he’s not real! He’s just a dream! He’s—you want him,” he realised. “You really don’t want me, you want him. You want a fantasy.” He pushed her away. “And you said he was going to be human ‘for awhile.’ Which means you’ve been planning this.” He stared at her, disbelieving, heart breaking with betrayal. “You’re not just asking me to die—you’ve been waiting to kill me.”
“No!” Rose protested again. “Look, I told you, you’re not dying. You’ve got his memories; they’re just—blocked or something. And you’re not just a character. How many times do I have to say it? You are the Doctor, I know it! If you open that watch, you’re not going to die. You’re just going to be…more of yourself.”
John was silent for a long moment, staring at the watch in his hand.
“Do you trust me?” Rose said softly.
He didn’t answer for a long moment. “…Yeah.”
“Then, please. I’m so, so sorry, but you’ve got to open it so you can remember how to save these people.” She tucked the sonic screwdriver in his lab coat pocket, then patted his chest where the pocket lay. “That’s what you do. You save people and fight monsters and this hospital needs that. You’ve got to open it.”
John couldn’t pinpoint exactly when he’d started believing Rose’s story, but he knew now that he did. And every part of him screamed no. “And go back to what? To—to running all over the universe, waiting for you to die? We’ve got a life here. I thought I made you happy—”
“I’ve got a job. We’ve got a flat. We’ve got a future. We can grow old together…He can’t give you that. I can.”
Rose bit her lip. “He—you said I might not want to change you back. This is what you were talking about, yeah?” Her jaw set. “Well, Doctor, if we were stuck, or if you really wanted to settle somewhere, I would do it, no hesitation, because I love you. I said forever, and I meant it. If you can tell me you would want that when you’re all of yourself again, then we can do it, and I’ll be happy. But you’ve been travelling for 900 years—probably more, if you really have been lying about your age—and I’m not going to make you give that up so I can have what you think is the perfect little domestic human life. We’d both go mad.”
John felt his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, and he lowered his head in defeat. “Oh, Rose…” His voice broke. “I don’t want to go.”
Suddenly the door crashed open as a Slab broke down the door, and both John and Rose ducked from the flying splinters.
“There you are,” simpered Finnegan. Her Slabs marched inside towards them as they got to their feet.
John moved in front of Rose like it was a reflex, hands up in surrender. “Look, we don’t want any trouble—”
But one of the Slabs wrenched him away from Rose as the other Slab seized her. They both struggled in the Slabs’ grips, panicked and unable to break free.
“Let her go!”
“Let him go!”
Finnegan giggled. “Oh, you’re both just darling. But I’m afraid I can’t let either of you go, not with you knowing what I am. It’s all right, though. I’ve still got my little straw.” She pulled the straw out from her bag, and both John and Rose twisted and fought in the Slabs’ grasps, gazing at it fearfully. “I’m afraid this is going to hurt,” Finnegan continued, bringing the straw closer to her lips. “But if it’s any consolation, the dead don’t tend to remember.” She looked at the Slab holding Rose. “Hold her steady. I’ll take the one with the brains and the dangerous toy first.”
Rose let out a pained cry as the Slab snatched a fistful of her hair with one hand and yanked her head back to better expose her neck.
Terror flooded John’s veins like he’d never known it before. “NO! Don’t touch her!”
Finnegan plunged the straw in the side of Rose’s neck, and Rose winced. “It’s all right, dear,” Finnegan called to him, “You won’t have to live with the memory of seeing her like this for long.”
But this did nothing to appease John. He thrashed in the Slab’s grip like an injured tiger. “Please, you can’t! Not her, please, not her!”
Rose tried to fight back, but the Slab had her at too awkward an angle to do much more than flail weakly. Finnegan lowered her lips to the straw in Rose’s neck, and began to slurp, like a child enjoying a milkshake.
“Doctor, help…help me…” murmured Rose weakly.
“ROSE! ROSE, NO!” John struggled, begging, “Please, Miss Finnegan, I’ll do anything. I’ll give you anything! I’ve got money; you can have all of it, just stop!” Finnegan ignored him, taking another steady slurp of Rose’s blood. “You can have me! Take me, take me instead, please!”
But Finnegan paid him no mind. Rose’s eyes glazed over as she stared, listless, at the ceiling. Her fists unclenched to hang loosely at her side. Her eyelids drooped shut.
And suddenly, John realised there was nothing he could do to save Rose Tyler.
He had forgotten about the watch, but now it burned scorching hot in his hand, and John could feel stars blazing and planets dying and a cold, absolute fury.
John Tyler couldn’t save Rose. But the Doctor certainly could.
John let the Doctor’s rage sweep over him, and opened the watch.
Outside the radiology room, down flights of stairs and several hallways, a young Indian medical student inhaled and exhaled deeply. Her eyes flashed open as her lips twisted into a horrible, predatory grin.
Chapter 9: The Return of the Doctor
Martha tried to ignore the distant guttural commands from downstairs as she handed out the last oxygen tank. She glanced around. The rest of the patients seemed all right, but she’d better get some more oxygen tanks, just in case. She recalled a cupboard in radiology with spare tanks, and hurried over there to get some. But before she could reach the cupboard, she paused near the x-ray room. Not only was the door blasted off its hinges, but someone was shouting inside the room with a tone of utter desperation.
“Take me, take me instead, please!”
She knew that voice. Setting the cart aside, Martha dashed inside the x-ray room and froze at the bizarre sight before her. “Dr. Tyler?!”
The watch opened with an explosive swirl of golden mist. It swarmed over Dr. Tyler, knocking over the Slab holding him and making the lights overhead flicker.
Finnegan looked up from her straw, old woman eyes wide. “But—but you’re not—Who are you?”
“I’m the Doctor,” seethed the man before her as the glow faded. He stood tall, face twisted with an ancient fury, his voice low and dangerous. “I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am 902 years old, and I’m the man who’s going to stop you and save all thousand-odd people in this hospital. Now get your hands OFF HER.”
The Slab holding Rose loosened its grip enough for her to slip to the floor. Gasping weakly, she crawled away from Finnegan.
In the doorway, Martha’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head. “Dr. Tyler?”
The Doctor glanced her way and his voice softened, although his eyes still blazed. “Martha Jones. Brilliant.”
“What—what just happened?!”
“Later,” the Doctor said briskly, glaring at Finnegan again. “Do me a favour and get Rose behind that wall, will you?”
And then he whipped out his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the x-ray machine.
Martha hurried inside to help Rose to her feet. “No, seriously, what’s going—what the—are you all right?!” She eyed Rose’s neck in horror.
“Oh…on the moon, having my blood sucked out through a straw?” Rose rasped with a smile. “Means life’s back to normal. Finally.”
The Slab that had held the Doctor grabbed him by the ankle. The Doctor paused in his sonicking long enough to deliver a vicious kick to its head.
“Excuse me,” Finnegan said, her voice raised, “But what are you doing?!”
“Increasing the radiation by five thousand percent,” the Doctor said without a trace of pity.
Martha leaned Rose against the wall on the other side of the barricade as the Doctor sonicked something else on the x-ray.
Finnegan tittered nervously. “But why would you do that?”
The Doctor finished his sonicking, stuck the screwdriver back in his lab coat pocket, and aimed the machine at Finnegan. “Because we’re going to wait for the Judoon to arrive, and you’re going to turn yourself in. You get one chance, and if you blow it, my good friend Martha Jones is going to push the button, and you will burn.” He said this last bit with a twisted sort of pleasure.
Martha’s eyes widened in panic. “But I don’t know which—”
“Then find out!” Rose ordered, her face incredibly pale. She’d taken off her hoodie to press it to her neck.
Finnegan stared at the Doctor. “You’ll kill yourself.”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Oh, Time Lord, me. Won’t even leave a scratch. It’s just radiation. We used to play with roentgen bricks in the nursery.”
Finnegan gazed back at him warily, lips in a pout. “They’ll execute me, you know.”
“Not my problem.”
Finnegan smiled and took a step forward. “You’re not going to use that. You don’t want to get your hands dirty.”
The Doctor’s grip tightened. “Trust me, they’re far from clean. You really don’t want to know how much blood is on my hands, and you really don’t want to know exactly how very, very close I am to adding more. Don’t test me. I’m warning you, not another step.”
Finnegan bared her teeth and crouched, ready to leap at him with far faster speed than expected out of an elderly body.
Finnegan froze in her tracks as a rhino’s hulking mass appeared in the doorway.
The Doctor pointed his head towards Finnegan. “There you are! I’ve found your criminal. Plasmavore from the planet—”
But the rhino did not even glance at Finnegan. Instead, it stepped towards the Doctor, inhaling deeply. “Time Lord…”
The Doctor’s eyes bulged from his skull as he whipped the x-ray machine to face the rhino. “NOW! Hit it! Hit the button! Hit it now!”
Rose had already dived for the button the moment the rhino had identified his species. Martha’s hand, which had been poised over the button, hit it at the same time.
Rose and Martha both watched as the Slabs twitched, as the rhino let out a guttural cry, as Finnegan let out a shrill scream. A bright light flashed, illuminating the skeletons of the rhino, Finnegan, and the Doctor.
After a long, terrifying moment, the Slabs, Finnegan, and the rhino collapsed to the floor.
“Was that…” Rose asked tentatively.
“The Family. Yep,” answered the Doctor, looking darkly at the rhino. “They’re here. And they could look like anyone.” He looked up at Rose and Martha. “You can come out now; I’ve absorbed all the radiation.”
Rose left her stained hoodie behind and rushed over to him; Martha stayed at the controls for a moment, frozen in shock.
The Doctor enveloped Rose in a hug. “Hello.”
Rose tried to bite back a smile. “Doctor.”
Rose pulled away to look into his eyes. “Is John…I mean…is he…”
“I’m fine. I mean, he’s fine. He is me. You had it right. Still me, just…less brain. And a few less organs. It wasn’t like dying at all. More like waking up. Everything he was, I am.” He thought a moment, face twisting in slight disgust. “Although I have no idea where the love of soaps came from. Must be your mother’s influence. Bleh.”
Rose’s smile didn’t last long. Her voice wavered. “How…How much do you remember?”
“All of it, I think…It’s a bit blurry though—how do you humans ever cope with that few senses?!” He frowned, and his voice diminished uncertainly. “Oh. Rose Tyler. You gave up on me.”
She swallowed, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. “I know. I’m sorry, I…”
“Shh, shh, no, it’s all right.” He tilted her chin up so she looked at him again. “I forgive you. No, no—” He shushed her as she started to protest. “You thought I left you. And I sort of did, and I’m sorry.”
“But I could have—”
“Look, Rose, I forgive you. Really.” He pulled her closer again. “And we had some good times, didn’t we? Gallivanting all over London? Oh!” He groaned. “Except the honeymoon. Apparently that never happened.”
Rose’s smile returned, and she started to play with his tie. “Shame, that. I’ve never been to the Empire State Building.”
The Doctor looked hopeful for a moment. “When this is all over, do you want to—”
“Brilliant!” He cleared his throat. “And…Rose, you’re right. I’d go mad if we stayed.”
Rose smiled sadly. “I know. And it’s okay.” She hugged him tightly again, burying her face in his chest. “Gosh, I missed you. I mean, you were there, but…”
“Same face, same man, different memories?”
“Yeah. Took me way too long to figure it out, but…yeah.”
“Could someone please tell me what was that?!” Martha half-shrieked, finally recovering from her shock.
The Doctor released Rose from the hug but kept one arm around her shoulders. “Yes, right, Martha Jones, I can explain, I can completely, completely explain—Oh!” He sniffed and sprung away from Rose. “Ah, sorry, never mind, give us a mo, can’t put off expelling this much longer…if you’ll excuse me…”
“Expel?” Rose said fearfully as Martha emerged from behind the wall.
The Doctor started bouncing on the balls of his feet. “If I concentrate I can shake the radiation out of my body and into one spot. If I can just… All right, I’m sending it to my left shoe. Here we go, here we go, easy does it...”
His hopping grew more frantic, and Rose stifled her laughter, while Martha just looked more alarmed. “Ow, ow, itches, itches…” At last, he wrenched his oxford off his foot and tossed it into a bin. “There. Done.”
Martha gaped. “You’re completely mad.”
“You’re right. I look daft with one shoe.” The other oxford followed its pair into the bin. “Barefoot on the moon! Never liked those shoes, anyway. Rose, how could you let me leave the flat wearing such ridiculous shoes?”
“Well, normal humans don’t wear trainers with suits to work, do they?” Rose said in exasperation, wrapping her arms around him again.
“Well they should,” the Doctor whined as he hugged her tightly. “I could have started a trend. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“Will someone please explain what the heck is going on?!” Martha interrupted. “Who was she?” She pointed at Finnegan’s body on the floor. "She was sucking your wife's blood like...like a..."
“Plasmavore,” the Doctor explained ominously. “Blood-sucking shapeshifter. That’s who the Judoon were looking for.”
“Judoons are the rhinos, yeah?” Rose indicated towards the Judoon’s body.
“Yep,” he popped the p. “Galactic police. Well, police for hire. More like interplanetary thugs.”
“But they’re still police, right?” asked Martha, “I mean, we can just tell them that the…plasmavore…they’re looking for is dead, and they’ll return the hospital.”
The Doctor let out his breath slowly. “Well…thing is, as soon as they see the Judoon’s body, they’ll sentence the hospital to death.”
“Then why’d you kill it?!” Martha demanded.
“It wanted to eat me! Well, not me so much as my life force, and not really the Judoon. The Judoon was already dead the moment one of the Family of Blood possessed it.”
“And the Family of Blood want to eat your—whatever—because…”
“Because I’m a Time Lord, and practically immortal barring accidents.”
“Right…” Martha took a step back. “You said you didn’t believe in aliens.”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I didn’t a few minutes ago. Then I remembered I was one, and that whole theory sort of went to pieces.”
Martha took another step back. “Right. I think you’ve gone mad, Dr. Tyler.”
“It’s just the Doctor, actually.”
Rose laid a sympathetic hand on Martha’s shoulder. “You all right? It’s a bit much, I know.”
Martha considered for a moment, took a deep breath, and nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I mean, these days seems like there’s plenty of extraterrestrial stuff going on. I just never thought I’d meet two of them.”
“Oh, just me,” the Doctor added, “Rose Tyler here’s human. From London, even.”
Martha took another deep breath. “Right…Never thought I’d meet one of them then. Never thought my boss would be one of them. I mean this is all mad and I’m not sure I quite believe it, but…yeah.”
“Good,” the Doctor said approvingly.
Rose bit her lip and turned back to the Doctor. “What do we do now? Is the Family in the hospital?”
“Probably, yes. Three more of them. And they’ll be tracking me.”
“I didn’t know they were here,” Rose said, obviously distressed, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” replied the Doctor. “If you hadn’t given me that watch, we’d both be dead. You saved my life, Rose Tyler, for probably the millionth time, and don’t you forget it.”
“Martha helped,” Rose said with a small smile.
“That she did!” he turned to Martha. “Thank you from the bottom of my hearts.”
“Wait, hearts? As in plural?!”
Ignoring her, the Doctor continued, “Right, then! New plan. Step one: You know how really good friends will help you hide the body?”
Between the three of them, they managed to drag the Judoon’s body behind the barrier Rose and Martha had hid behind earlier.
“Oh-ho! Yes!” The Doctor removed a wrist strap from the Judoon’s body, ushered Rose and Martha out of the room, and sealed the door behind them with the sonic screwdriver. “Might buy us a bit more time before they find the body. Step two, move before the rest of the Family tracks me here.” He grabbed Rose’s hand. “Allons-y!”
They hurried down the hallway for a few moments before the Doctor paused. “Rose?”
“Yeah?” she murmured, out of breath. Her face was deathly pale.
The Doctor pressed his lips together and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. “I’m thick. Stupid brain’s not altogether yet. You shouldn’t be running or lifting; you just lost a lot of blood.” He moved his fingers to her throat. “Neck’s not bleeding—that’ll be the plasmavore saliva congealing…Your heartbeat’s up. Are you dizzy? Light-headed?”
“Not a lot,” Rose insisted. “I’m fine.”
“Any nausea?” Martha asked, concerned. She turned to the Doctor. “Could she have lost more than fifteen percent blood volume?”
The Doctor glanced worriedly at Rose. “Maybe.”
“Not our biggest problem right now,” Rose snapped. “Hospital, running out of air, body-snatching aliens out to eat you, remember?”
The Doctor squeezed her hand a little tighter and pressed on towards the stairs, slower this time. “I know. Just no more running for you, all right? I don’t want you going into hypovolemic shock.”
“Good to see you do have a medical degree after all,” Martha muttered.
“Anyway…” the Doctor launched back into a babble. “Right, so, I need to avoid the Judoon because they’re still looking for nonhumans, and I need to avoid the Family of Blood, and I need to get everyone in this hospital back to Earth before the Judoon discover one of them is dead or we run out of air….We need the TARDIS.”
“His spaceship,” Rose explained as Martha opened her mouth to ask.
“But I’ll be all right, because now I’ve got this!” the Doctor waved the Judoon’s wrist strap around. “The Family of Blood’s vortex manipulator.”
“Can we use that to transport everyone out?” Rose asked excitedly as they reached the stairs.
“Looks like the radiation’s melted quite a bit of it…I wouldn’t trust this thing to transport anyone. But I might be able to cannibalise it, build something to bring the TARDIS over here.”
“But you won’t be able to transport everyone,” Martha pointed out. “Unless your ship’s massive. How big’s your ship?”
“Oh…what would you say, Rose?” the Doctor asked with a grin as they went down another flight of stairs. “About the size of a police box, maybe?”
“You’re kidding,” Martha said in disbelief.
“Oi, don’t knock the TARDIS,” the Doctor objected as they reached the bottom of the stairs on the ground floor. “It’s bigger on the…” He froze. Down the hallway, Judoon were issuing commands and scanning panicked humans.
“…Inside. Right.” The Doctor turned to Rose and Martha. “I need time to work. Martha, take this.” He pressed the watch into her hand.
“I’m doing a bit of olfactory misdirection—bit like ventriloquism of the nose. The watch smells like me, so the Family of Blood should follow it. Get that watch as far away from the MRI room as possible, because that’s where I’ll be.”
“What do they look like?” Martha asked, trying to hide the fear in her voice.
“Don’t know. They could look like anyone. But whoever they are, they’ll be very interested in that watch. As soon as they find you, give it to them and run. They shouldn’t care about you; you’re only human. Can you do it?”
Martha nodded determinedly, tightening her grip on the watch. “Got it.”
“Are you sure? No guarantees, you know. You might die.”
“And I might not.”
The Doctor nodded back, pride in his eyes. “Martha Jones, you are brilliant. Really. Thank you.”
Martha smiled, then spun on her heel and took off running, watch in hand.
“I like her,” said Rose appreciatively.
The Doctor nodded absent-mindedly, his attention now focused on the Judoon, who were moving closer. He gripped Rose’s shoulders. “Rose, I’m so, so sorry. But you need to stay here.”
“What, where it’s safe?” Rose demanded. “Because we’ve been over this—How many times do I have to tell you I’m not leaving you?”
The Doctor’s eyes flashed between her and the Judoon. “It’s not that. Really, it’s not. It’s just I can’t have you running with Martha, and I need someone to hold up the Judoon so they don’t find me or the body upstairs.” He took her face in his hands, eyes pleading. “So…distract the Judoon for me?”
“All right, fine, but how am I supposed to do that?”
In response, the Doctor crashed his lips onto hers. Rose stumbled back a bit in surprise, but quickly kissed him back. He was snogging her more thoroughly than he had in months, and Rose forgot about the Judoon and the dizziness in her head and the sounds of other patients shouting as they were scanned….
And then the Doctor was gone. Rose opened her eyes just in time to see his bare foot and the tip of his lab coat vanish up the stairs. She licked her lips. That was…odd. Nice, but odd.
“Find the non-human! Execute!”
Rose spun on the spot to see the Judoon advancing, snarling for an execution. She took a deep breath, and stepped into the centre of the hallway, spreading her arms out to block the path. Stop the Judoon. Right. How?!
Well, talking worked for the Doctor often enough. “Listen,” she said, trying to sound authoritative and not sway on the spot, “There’s no non-human here.” One of the Judoon flashed a blue light in her face, but she plowed on. “You’re looking in the wrong place. You need to put the hospital back—”
The Judoon ignored her. “Human…Wait, non-human trace suspected.”
“What?” Rose’s eyes widened. “But I’m definitely human— ”
The other Judoon aimed their weapons at her as the first Judoon declared, “Non-human element confirmed. Authorise full scan.”
Rose tensed as the Judoon pushed her up against the wall. Its wrinkled, fleshy face was centimetres away from her own, and she could feel as well as hear its words. “What are you? What are you?”
“Just have to find out, won’t you?” Rose shot back.
The Judoon started scanning her, focusing on her face, and Rose suddenly realised how she was supposed to distract the Judoon. She choked back a laugh.
Only the Doctor could save the world by snogging her silly.
Chapter 10: Swooning
The Doctor locked the door to the MRI room behind him and whipped out John Tyler’s—well, his—mobile and sonicked it. That done, he scrolled quickly through his very short list of contacts and dialed.
He spoke into the phone as he inspected the MRI machine. “Jack?”
“John? Are you okay?”
“Hello to you too, you impossible fact of nature.”
“Doctor!” Jack replied, overjoyed. “You’re back!”
“Never left, just forgot for a bit.” He cradled the phone between his head and his shoulders and wrenched a wire out of the MRI machine. “Do you call that living a quiet life?”
“For me? That was positively silent. I didn’t see you complaining when a Saffron was getting ready to smash in your head.”
“Oh, fine, point taken.”
“Rose called a bit ago, by the way, said you were on the moon. Jackie’s not happy.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Jackie’s never happy.”
“Distracting the Judoon.” The Doctor grinned as he sonicked a part out of the vortex manipulator. “Judoon platoon upon the moon…”
“Intergalactic police? Is that who moved the moon?”
“What are they doing there?”
“They were looking for a plasmavore.”
“It sort of…died when I killed one of the Family of Blood.”
Jack swore. “You mean they’re up there with you?!”
“And so will you be, in a few minutes, if you get into the TARDIS. Now, Captain.”
“On my way.”
“When you get here, I’m going to need you to start loading all the people in this hospital into the TARDIS.”
“All of them?”
“The Family member was in a Judoon when it died. It’s only a matter of time before the Judoon finds the body and sentences the hospital to death. Also, we’re running out of air.”
Jack swore again. “Great. Just great. How many of the Family are up there?”
“My guess? Three more. I’ve got another friend distracting them, but that’s not much of a delay. I’ll deal with it later. Just get in the TARDIS and hope I can build this transporter out of an MRI machine and a half-melted vortex manipulator—which, by the way, is about as difficult as building a rocket with a teakettle, some petrol, and a lot of string.”
“I’ll praise your genius when I get there,” Jack promised.
The Doctor ripped out yet another chunk of the MRI machine and stuck the sonic screwdriver between his teeth.
Martha hurried down a corridor on the ground floor of the hospital, watch clutched in her hand. Her head buzzed with a giddiness that the studious part of her brain identified as an adrenaline rush, and the rest of her identified as the most fun she’d had in months. She loved it, this running, this sheer exhilaration racing through her veins.
But when she reached the ground floor of the hospital, the excitement started to wear off as her breath grew short. Patients lined the walls of the hallway, crosses marked on their hands, faces pale and gasping.
Martha paused as she reached another medical student, Oliver Morgenstern, helping a young man with an oxygen mask.
“How’re we doing?” she asked, crouching down beside Oliver.
He shook his head. “Not good, Martha. The oxygen’s running low. Do you know if there’s any upstairs?”
“Might be a few more tanks, but not nearly enough for everyone.”
Oliver’s eyebrows scrunched together. “What are we going to do when the air runs out? I mean, we’re on the moon.” He let out a bitter laugh. “The moon!”
“We’re going to be all right,” Martha said, summoning all the confidence she could muster. “Dr. Tyler’s upstairs working on getting us some more air.”
Oliver’s gave her a sad little smile. “We’re never going to see the Earth again, are we?”
Martha bit her lip. “Of course we are. Dr. Tyler’s working on that too.”
Oliver looked up. “Oh there you are, Julia, help me out with this, will you?”
“Listen, Julia,” Martha started, “Do you know if there’s any more oxygen tanks upstairs?”
Julia breathed in deeply, then let her breath out in a long whoosh. Her eyes drifted down from Martha’s face to the hand holding the watch. Her mouth twisted into an inhuman grin. “Martha,” she said slowly. “I need to ask you some questions.”
Martha glanced up at her, confused. “You all right, Julia?”
Julia pointed at Martha’s hand. “What’s that in your hand? Can I see what you’re holding?”
Martha took a step back, breath hitching. “Oh, Julia, no…”
“Give it to me, Martha.”
Martha turned and bolted down the hall.
“What the—” Oliver yelled as Julia’s eyes closed and her face glowed with an unearthly green glow.
“Father of Mine, Brother of Mine, I have tracked him!”
Martha ran, chest heaving and legs aching, but she did not stop. As she spun around another corner, she slammed into a balding middle-aged man.
“Sorry—” Martha gasped, scooting around her to run into a younger man with a boyish face who grabbed her arms.
He sniffed deeply, then smiled. “At last.”
Martha wrenched her arms from his grip and backed away, but the balding man blocked her on the right, and now Julia had arrived to block her left. Martha’s back touched the wall as the young man advanced towards her, a growing hunger in his eyes.
“Mother of Mine is gone, but she did not die in vain. The Time Lord is ours.”
Martha looked between them frantically, remembering her instructions. “You want him?” she cried, holding up the watch, “Take him!”
She tossed the watch as far as she could down the hall. As one, all three of the Family of Blood’s heads swerved to follow it, and Martha darted between them in the opposite direction from the watch. This time her running was powered by as much terror as adrenaline as she clomped up the nearest stairwell, putting as much distance between herself and the Family as possible.
Rose breathed a sigh of relief as the Judoon lowered their scanners. “Confirmed, human. Traces of facial contact with non-human.” The lead Judoon marked her hand with a giant cross.
Rose licked her lips and smirked. “I wouldn’t have called that ‘traces.’”
“Continue the search,” the Judoon commanded the others. It pressed some tickets into Rose’s hand. “You will need this.”
“What for?” Rose wondered, looking at them in bewilderment.
“Compensation,” it answered as it stalked away. The other Judoon filed after it, heading for the stairs.
Rose let the tickets drift to the floor and darted in front of them, ignoring the spots dancing in front of her eyes. She spread her arms out to block the hallway. “Wait,” she said, blurting out the first thing that came to mind. “You can’t go up there. That’s the contagious diseases unit!”
The lead Judoon's only response was to lower its helmet and continue marching up the stairs. Rose tried to follow them, but their dense bulk allowed no room for her to squeeze through. Just as well, she thought miserably, they’d probably execute her for obstructing justice if she blocked them any further.
“Rose!” Martha nearly barreled into her.
“Martha! You all right?”
Martha nodded, still gasping. “They found me. I gave them the watch.”
Rose bit her lip and tried to not sway on the spot. “Guess we’re done distracting then. Where’s the MRI room?”
“Upstairs…” She frowned at the Judoon blocking the stairs. “There’s another flight over this way, come on.” She nudged Rose in the right direction. Rose gasped as they hurried down the hallway, and sweat glistened on her pale forehead.
“You feeling any better?” Martha asked, grimacing as she noted Rose’s state. “You look a bit…”
“I’m fine.” The answer came back a bit harsher than Rose had meant to, and she quickly backtracked. “Sorry. Just a bit light-headed, that’s all. Lack of air’s not really helping…Oh!” Her face lit up as a faint grind sounded. “He did it!” She ran, or at least tried to run, towards the sound, and Martha followed behind her.
They hadn’t gone far when Rose halted in the middle of the stairs, arms extended uncertainly.
Martha took her arm and looked at her eyes. “I think you should sit down. Are you feeling dizzy?”
Rose blinked and shook her head. “No, I’m just…my vision went a bit blurry for a second. I’m fine, really. Just…”
“Right,” Martha said slowly, keeping a grip on her arm. “You should really lie down.”
“But the TARDIS…”
Martha sighed. “Just not as fast then.”
Rose kept hurrying towards the sound of the TARDIS’ engine, Martha following warily.
The Doctor ran a hand behind his head, fluffing his hair as he surveyed the machine he’d just built. He sucked in a breath through his teeth, then reached for his mobile again. “Jack? Have you made it to the TARDIS?”
Jack sounded out of breath from running. “Made it.”
“Brilliant. Now, the rectifiers should all be disabled, so all you’ve got to do is pull down the spacioduction lever and she’ll be ready to tow.”
“Um…where is it again?”
“Right next to the helmic orientators.”
There was a pause on Jack’s end.
The Doctor sighed. “The blue doohickey next to the whooshy levers.”
“See you in a tick,” the Doctor said cheerily. He stuck the phone back in his pocket, grabbed two wires, and thrust them together.
The glorious sound of temporal engines filled the room, and the Doctor laughed. Oh, he’d had no idea how much he’d missed that sound!
Jack stepped out the second the TARDIS had fully materialised, wearing his long gray coat. He beamed widely at the Doctor. “Hello, beautiful.”
“I believe you promised to praise my brains, not my face,” the Doctor replied with a grin.
“I was talking about your butt. Is it just me, or is the air a bit thin in here?”
The Doctor’s grin faded. “We’re running out of oxygen.”
The door opened as Rose and Martha burst in. Martha froze as she spotted Jack, but Rose’s face lit up. “Jack!” She threw her arms around him.
“Hey, Rose—what’s wrong?” Jack pulled her away, smile dropping when he saw how pale she was.
Rose winced as Jack released her. “Is it that obvious? I mean, it’s not that bad, really…”
“Rose!” The Doctor surged forward just as she started to sway and took her by the arm. “Martha, what happened?”
Martha tore her gaze from Jack. “I think she’s going into shock. She said her vision went blurry. I say she needs a blood transfusion,” Martha suggested.
The Doctor nodded distractedly. “Rose, how are you feeling?”
“Just sort of…dizzy.”
“What happened?” Jack demanded.
The Doctor’s expression darkened. “Had a run-in with a plasmavore.”
Jack sucked a breath in through his teeth. “Ooh, nasty. Is that where it ended up then? You know, I met one at a bar once, and—”
“You ended up naked,” the Doctor and Rose both finished in unison.
“Aww…have I told that one before?”
“Jack, all of your stories end that way,” Rose pointed out airily.
Martha raised an eyebrow.
“Only the good ones,” Jack assured her with a grin. He extended a hand. “Nice to meet you…?”
“Captain Jack Harkness. Hello, Martha Jones.”
“Oh, don’t start,” the Doctor whined.
“I was just saying hello!”
Martha blinked. “Oh, I don’t mind. And we’ve met before, haven’t we?”
“Can’t say we have. I’m sure I would have remembered you.”
“But we did!” Martha insisted, “This morning, on my way to work, you came up to me and gave me…Wait…” Her eyes widened as she jabbed her finger at the Doctor. “You gave me his tie! But he’s still wearing it?”
Rose poked the Doctor’s chest and grinned faintly. “Naughty Doctor…”
Martha dug through her pocket. “I’ve still got it, look!” She started to pull the piece of fabric from her pocket.
The Doctor released Rose to take Martha’s wrist before she could bring out the tie. “I believe you. Best not let it get out quite yet…Rose!”
Rose’s eyes were rolling into her head as her knees buckled, and the Doctor dived to catch her. “Now you’re definitely going to the medbay.”
Her eyes opened woozily and she shook her head in disbelief. “Did I just…”
The Doctor scooped her off her feet. “Yes, Rose Tyler, you just swooned. And while I know you probably have to fight the urge to swoon whenever I’m in the room—”
“—I’d rather you not do it again. Martha, can you get me some O positive?”
“Um yeah, sure. Be right back. Which room should I bring it to?”
As his arms were full, the Doctor tilted his head towards the TARDIS. “Just bring it to the medbay on the TARDIS.”
“Hold on, in there?” Martha asked, confused. “That really is your ship? When you said the size of a police box, I didn’t think you meant—!”
“Blood first, criticisms later!” called the Doctor as Jack opened the TARDIS door for him. Martha caught a brief glimpse of the glowing console before Jack shut the door.
“Come on, I’ll give you a hand with that blood,” the captain said, rushing past her to get the exit door.
Martha desperately hoped the heat in her cheeks wasn’t visible. “Oh…if you insist.”
“Honestly, I can walk…” Rose insisted as the Doctor carried her into the medbay.
The Doctor laid her on the medbay table. “I know you can.”
“I feel useless.”
“You know you’re not. You got me this far, didn’t you? Just humour me, all right?”
The desperation in his voice made Rose push herself up slightly. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
The Doctor gently pushed her back down. “I’m fine.”
She grabbed his hands on her shoulders. “Yeah, and I’m ready to run a marathon. Really, what’s wrong?”
The Doctor sighed. “I almost lost you. You nearly died because I was thick and didn’t listen to you about opening the watch. I was rubbish as a human.”
“And I ignored you for three weeks,” Rose said exasperatedly. “I think we’re even. And you really weren’t rubbish.”
“Wasn’t I? I was so scared—more than that, I was terrified, and then…” He trailed off, then pulled his hands out of Rose’s. “Transfusion, right.” He whirled around and rummaged through a cabinet for a moment before pulling out a sophisticated-looking type of IV. When he turned back to her, his voice was all business. “Arm, please.”
Rose gave up with a sigh and held out her arm for him to insert a tube into a vein. “So, you never really said why we had to hide in the first place.”
“I did say—the Family of Blood’s hunting me.”
“Yeah, but what exactly does that mean?”
The Doctor helped her sit up so he could prop some pillows behind her back. “They’re renegades from an otherwise peaceful species. If they succeed in capturing me, they will extract and consume my remaining life force and leave me a dried husk. I expect they’ll go for the TARDIS next. They’ll have absorbed enough of my psyche to get inside her at least. Then it’s on across the universe, spreading war and destruction and so on…Now where is Martha with that blood?”
Rose’s eyes, which had drifted shut, flew back open. “But then we’ve got to hide you, don’t we? If they’re going to kill—”
He smiled thinly. “Oh, but that’s all if they succeed in capturing me. And unfortunately for them, I am very, very clever.”
Rose frowned. “But what if…” She trailed off as her eyes unfocused. Her head started to drift back to rest on the pillows.
The Doctor’s voice sharpened as he patted her face. “Rose? Rose, stay with me.”
She blinked slowly. “Sorry…”
“How’re you feeling?”
“…Bit blurry. My head sort of went blurry for a second. Could you do me a favour?”
“It’s like when two orbiting stars—”
“I know what it means! Why do you want me to say it?”
“Been wanting you to for awhile. Just like it when you get all…” She waved a hand around aimlessly.
He grabbed the wrist she was waving, his thumb over her pulse point. “Periastron.”
“Your pulse is getting slower. Where’s Martha?”
“Has she got a mobile?”
The Doctor stroked her clammy forehead. “I’ll be right back. Stay awake for me, okay?”
His brows scrunched together as he watched her nod for a moment. “Are you going to stay awake?”
Her voice was quiet but exasperated. “Yeah. I’m fine, just go.”
His lips pressed together, but he turned and hurried from the medbay all the same.
Martha and Jack hurried from the MRI room, passing scores of people in various stages of panic as they went.
“Is there supposed to be this many people on this floor?” asked Jack.
“No…Mrs. Kingston!” Martha grabbed the arms of a middle-aged woman with flyaway hair who had just reached the top of the stairs, panting. “Mrs. Kingston, what’s wrong?”
“Those—things are done with the second floor, and they’re coming up! I’m getting away!”
“Just stay calm, Mrs. Kingston, all right?”
Jack touched Martha’s shoulder. “The Judoon are on the second floor. We’ve got to move.”
“Right,” agreed Martha, leaving Mrs. Kingston to sob hysterically into her hands.
“Where’s that blood?”
“It’s close—there!” She opened the door to the blood bank room. “Miss Sladen?” There was no one behind the counter. “Guess she’s gone then.”
“Here.” Jack planted a hand on the counter and vaulted over it. He scanned the crimson bags through the glass of the cabinets keeping them cool. “Which one’s O positive?”
“Should be that one right there.”
Jack took out one of the bags she pointed to. “This enough?”
Jack vaulted back over the counter, handed her the bag, and opened the door for her.
“So captain of what, exactly?” Martha asked as they hurried back past another wave of people coming up the stairs.
“Well…a lot of things. Model for Captain America, for starters.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Have you seen my jawline?” Martha blushed, so Jack continued. “Captain of a really nice ship, a World War II squadron…”
“World War II? No way.”
“I’ve been around a bit.”
“Right…so you said ship. Does that mean you’re a sailor?”
“Nah, it was a spaceship.” He sighed wistfully. “Really nice one, like I said. Too bad the Doctor had to go and blow it up.”
“Sure you weren’t captain of the loony bin?”
Jack grinned. “Says the woman who’s in a hospital on the moon.”
“Don’t get me started, mister. I’m still not entirely convinced I’m not hallucinating.”
“So you’re saying we can be loony together?”
Martha stifled a giggle. “If you like.”
When they reached the MRI room, the Doctor was just stepping out of the TARDIS. His relief at the sight of them was obvious as he waved them inside. “Oh, good. Come on then! In you get! Chop chop, allons-y, hurry hurry hurry—”
“The Judoon are scanning the second floor,” Jack informed him as he and Martha hurried towards the ship. “They’ll be done with it pretty soon. How’s Rose?”
“Conscious but woozy,” the Doctor reported as they crossed the threshold. Martha stopped dead as she stepped inside the console room, but the Doctor continued without noticing.
“Keeps insisting she’s fine when it’s absolutely obvious she’s not—”
“Gee, wonder where she learned that from?”
“Are you suggesting something?”
“I am very suggestive.”
“But—wait, Martha?” Both the Doctor and Jack stopped when they noticed Martha’s open mouth.
“It’s—it’s—” She stumbled out of the TARDIS and out of sight for a moment. The Doctor and Jack both shared a look as Martha continued, “But it’s just a box. But it's huge! How does it do that? It's wood.” She knocked on it before coming back inside. “It's—it’s—”
Smirking at each other, the Doctor and Jack both mouthed “bigger on the inside” along with Martha.
The Doctor reached forward and plucked the bag of blood out of her hands. “Is it really? I hadn’t noticed.” He squeezed the bag, cried, “Molto bene!” and dashed from the console room. Martha and Jack followed him through the door to the medbay, where Rose lay on a stretcher, propped up with pillows. A sophisticated-looking tube stuck out from her arm. Her eyes were closed.
“No, Rose, no,” the Doctor said in a slightly panicky tone. He shook her firmly until she opened her eyes. “That’s it, wake-y, wake-y…”
“What’re you doing here?” Rose asked groggily.
The Doctor stuck the bag of blood in a machine that looked like a rather advanced microwave. “Do you want them to leave?”
Rose sighed in exasperation and sat up slightly. “No, I mean what’re you doing in here? Thought you went to go stop the Judoon. Hospital of panicking people and trigger-happy Judoon, remember? Shouldn’t you be saving the hospital?”
Jack frowned. “She’s got a point, Doc. They’ll be done with the third floor soon, and the body’s on the fifth. We’ve got a whole hospital to load in here.”
The Doctor’s jaw stiffened. “I’m not leaving Rose like this! She needs medical care.”
Rose stared at him like he’d something incredibly thick. “Martha’s a doctor, isn’t she?”
Recovering from her overall culture shock, Martha stepped forward and nodded. “Yeah, good as. I can give her the transfusion while you…do whatever.”
The microwave-ish machine beeped, and the Doctor popped it out and shook it. “Sorry, Martha, but don’t think you can handle this—this technology’s way beyond your time—”
Martha raised an eyebrow and put a hand on her hip. “Oh yeah? Way beyond me?” She pointed at each of the machines around the medbay in turn. “Ultrasound, MRI, surgical laser, ventilator, skin grafter, x-ray, centrifuge, endoscope, infusion pump. I’m sure that’s not what they’re called, but they do the same basic things, right?”
The Doctor gaped at her for a moment before breaking into an ear-splitting grin. “Oh, Martha Jones, you’re a star.”
Martha smiled ever-so-slightly and took the bag of blood from him. “Well, Dr. Tyler, you heard the patient. Go…do something.”
The Doctor recovered quickly from his indignation at losing the blood bag. “Yes. Yes, course I will. Jack and I will start loading people in.”
“What about the Family?” Jack asked as Martha attached the blood bag to Rose’s IV.
The Doctor tilted his head back. “Well, they’ll still be looking for me. But they’ll need to hide from the Judoon, same as I will…Hold on, Martha, you saw them, what’d they look like?”
“Oh, here!” Jack rummaged in his pocket for the psychic paper and handed it to Martha. “Think about what they look like and we’ll see.”
The Doctor, Rose, and Jack all gazed around the psychic paper and the faces that appeared on it.
“Swales,” the Doctor said sadly when he saw Sister of Mine, “Shame. She was bright.”
“She was my friend,” said Martha, trying not to sound as if she were about to cry.
The Doctor nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He took the psychic paper out of Martha’s hand and stuck it in his pocket, then turned to Jack. “Right, don’t let those people onboard the TARDIS. Everyone else goes in.” He thought a moment. “Try not to let them touch anything. And no drinks. Last thing I need is fizz all over the console. Martha, you can help us as soon as Rose is stable. And thank you.” He bent to kiss Rose quickly. “Back in a tick.”
“Come back to me in one piece and the same face, yeah?” Rose said with a weak smile.
“Always do,” the Doctor said cheerfully. “Well, I say always—almost always. Nearly every time. Except for that one time with the hand. But I mean really, that’s a pretty good success rate—”
Jack snagged the Doctor’s arm and dragged him from Rose’s bedside, to Rose’s amusement and the Doctor’s indignation.
Once they were out of the TARDIS, the Doctor batted Jack away. “Oi, I was just—”
“Babbling,” Jack finished, unable to keep from grinning. “She’s going to be fine.”
The Doctor sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “I know, I just…well. We should split up, cover more ground.”
Jack nodded. “What about the Family?”
“I’ll deal with them when they find me.”
Jack did not miss the ‘when’ in the Doctor’s sentence, nor the dark look in his eyes as he spoke. Jack was suddenly reminded once again of how very glad he was that he and the Doctor were on the same side.
“Well,” the Doctor clapped a hand on Jack’s shoulder, tone much lighter, “You start on the ground floor and work your way up; I’ll take upstairs. Good luck, captain.”
Jack frowned as he watched the Doctor stride purposefully away, lab coat swishing behind him.
Chapter 11: Switcheroo
Once the Doctor and Jack had left the medbay, Rose leaned back into her pillows with a sigh. “That’s them gone, then.”
Martha checked the tubes leading from her new friend’s arm, letting out a shaky laugh. “Leaving us on a spaceship. I still can’t believe this is real. I mean, how many people want to go to the moon, and here we are? My job’s landed on it!” Her face fell. “Except I’m going to have to find a new one, aren’t I?”
Rose smiled. “Yeah. I think the Doctor’s got a thing with jobs—he blew my job up when I met him.”
“Well, suppose I got lucky then, since the hospital’s still in one piece…” Martha sighed. “I’ve got a party tonight. My brother’s twenty-first. Well…I had a party, anyway. My mother’s going to be really…really…”
Rose nodded, eyes closing. “Yeah, I know the feeling. My mum’s probably going mental right now…”
“Whoa there, keep your eyes open.” Martha shook her gently as she inspected the stream of crimson slowly making its way through the tube to Rose’s arm. “Keep talking.”
“I dunno…er, got any family besides your mum?”
“Nah, just my mum. She’s still in London. Like I said, probably going mental right about now.”
“Does she know about…well…”
“About me travelling with an alien?” Rose grinned. “Oh, yeah. Mind, she was trying to put me off him for the longest time. She’s gotten used to him though—suppose it helps he’s a bit younger and prettier now…”
Martha laughed. “Younger? What, do aliens age backwards or something?”
Rose laughed too. “Something.”
“So then…if you don’t mind me asking…what is he?”
Rose’s grin faded. “He’s…a Time Lord.”
“Not pretentious at all, then. Are all Time Lords that…” She trailed off and waved her hand over her head like she was running her fingers through tall hair.
Rose’s lips twitched. “Pretty? Dunno. Never met any others. He…He’s sort of the last. His planet’s gone.”
Martha covered her mouth. “Oh!”
“But he’s fine now,” Rose said hastily, “Mostly. Just…don’t ask him about it, yeah?”
“Er, yeah. Okay.”
There was a long silence where Martha seemed completely unsure of what to say. Finally, she mustered up the courage to ask: “That Captain Jack, is he…well, single?”
Rose grinned. “Sort of. He’s kind of in a relationship with everything in the entire universe.”
“He once hit on these things that look like slugs.”
Martha paused to digest this information. “…I don’t think I actually mind.”
Rose giggled. “Nobody does.”
John Tyler had spent over two months in this hospital. He knew every room and everything in every room, and the Doctor was going to use that to his advantage.
His first stop was to the nearest available anesthesia machine, in a surgical patient’s room.
“Dr. Tyler?” said the doctor tending to the elderly patient. “What are you doing?”
“Dr. Darvill!” The Doctor greeted him as he grabbed the spare anesthesia machine. “How is Mrs. Aldred?”
“Made it out of surgery before the hospital was moved,” Dr. Darvill said with a frown.
“Lovely.” The Doctor snatched the anesthesia machine next to Mrs. Aldred’s bedside. “She done with this then?”
Darvill’s eyebrows raised in confusion. “Yes, should be waking up any minute, but Dr. Tyler, you’ve already got one.”
“I need at least two.”
“Field trip.” The Doctor answered cheerfully as he disconnected the hoses. “Have you got a marker? Big, black one?”
“Er…yes.” Darvill handed him a thick permanent marker from his lab coat pocket.
The Doctor drew a big fat cross on the back of his own right hand, capped the marker, and handed it back to Darvill. “Ta. Listen, Dr. Darvill, we’re evacuating. I need you to help get everyone downstairs. There’s a man called Captain Jack down there, and he’ll tell you where to lead them. Just do whatever he says, and tell everyone else to do the same. You got that?”
But the Doctor had already wheeled both machines out into the hallway, sonicking one of them as he hurried along. He paused to spit on the wall, then pressed onward. He needed to leave as much of a trail as possible. They wanted a Time Lord? He’d give them a Time Lord.
“…So then, Jack asked if it was single,” Rose giggled. “And it sort of wobbled its little eyestalks and clicked its mantis jaw-things, which apparently meant yes.”
“No!” Martha gasped, shaking with laughter. “And he didn’t even think about normal mantises?”
“What, that the females bite their bloke’s head off? Didn’t even occur to him.”
“Do you always talk about me behind my back?” Jack asked as he entered the medbay. He looked worn-out, but cheerful. “How’re you doing, Rose?”
“Loads better. Martha’s been brilliant.”
Jack sent Martha a dazzling smile. “I bet she is. Which is why I was actually going to ask you…the Judoon have made it to this floor and I don’t have half the people loaded into the console room yet.”
“Yeah, I’ll lend a hand,” said Martha.
Rose pushed herself up onto her elbows. “I should—”
“You should still rest,” Martha insisted, giving her shoulder a gentle nudge.
“We’ve got it covered,” Jack told her, “Don’t worry.”
Rose fell back to the pillow with a groan. “Where’s the Doctor?”
“Upstairs. He’s been sending people down.”
Rose frowned. “But you haven’t actually seen him?”
“Well, no, but some of them did.”
“And the Family—”
“He said he’s got a plan. He can take of himself, Rose.”
Rose sighed. “I know, I just…” She let out a groan of frustration. “I hate just sitting here.”
“But you look so gorgeous doing it.” Jack squeezed her hand with a grin, then hurried out of the medbay with Martha.
Rose watched the slow, steady drip of her blood in the machine at her bedside and willed it to go faster.
The Doctor wove his way through the hospital, sonicking the anesthesia machines he’d grabbed and leaving a clear Time-Lordy trail, until he reached a drug supply room. He was about to open the door when it crashed open, letting a Judoon out.
The Doctor halted, craning his neck to look up at the hulking Judoon before him. The Judoon growled back at him, “You will be catalogued.”
“Hold on, hold on!” The Doctor waved his hands up in surrender, then turned his hand to show the big fat cross he’d drawn on. “Already been catalogued. Human as they come, that’s me. Name’s Tyler, John Tyler—”
But the Judoon lost interest the moment the Doctor showed the mark on his hand. It marched right past him.
The Doctor watched it go with a shake of his hand. Judoon were thick. Dragging the anesthesia machines, he entered the drug supply room the Judoon had just left. Inside, one of the nurses was huddled behind the counter in the corner, face in her hands as she sobbed. She looked up as the Doctor entered.
“Hello, Ms. Gillan,” he greeted her, pausing to hold a hand out to her. She took it, and he boosted her to her feet. He squeezed her hand. “No need for tears, all right? It’s going to be fine. We’re evacuating.”
“H-how?” Ms. Gillan sobbed. “Those rhino things are everywhere and we’re on the moon!”
“Now, now, none of that,” the Doctor soothed, “Out you get, into the hall.” He nudged her outside. “That’s right. Listen, Ms. Gillan, I need you to be strong now. Can you do that?”
Ms. Gillan sniffed and nodded.
“I need you to help get everyone downstairs to the MRI room on the third floor. Tell them all to get inside the blue box. There’s a man named Captain Jack down there and he’ll tell you where to go. Do whatever he says. Can you do that?”
She nodded again, shuddering as she wiped her eyes.
“That’s a good girl,” the Doctor praised. “Go and be brilliant.”
Resolutely, she shuffled off in the direction he pointed. The moment she had left, the Doctor whirled back to the shelves stocked with bottles, tossing dose after dose of certain pills into the machine and shoving others into his pockets. As many as would fit anyway.
“Pockets,” the Doctor muttered to himself in frustration. “Need bigger pockets.”
Rose had sung almost every verse the Doctor had ever taught her of “99 Planets in the Grolian System” when Jack returned to the medbay looking utterly haggard.
She sat up. “What’s going on? Is the Doctor—?”
“Still haven’t seen him. I sent Martha upstairs to help him.”
“How’s the hospital?”
“We’re falling behind. We’ve got the bottom floors, but there’s still some people on this floor, and the Judoon are almost done with the fourth.”
“And the body’s on the fifth. Right. Not much time, then. Need some help?”
“You definitely feeling better?”
Jack sighed. “Then the Doctor’s going to kill me, but…yeah.” He helped her take the needle out of her arm and wrap on a bandage. Cautiously, she swung her legs off the table and stood up. No light-headedness, no dizziness, not a trace of wooziness. If anything, her legs were itching to run.
“Allons-y, then!” she said brightly.
The Doctor left the supply room as quickly as he’d entered it, pausing to spit one more time on the wall. His mouth was dry, but set in a grim line. The Family would definitely be able to find him now. No way they could miss him.
The throngs of hospital patients and staff dwindled as he continued through the hospital. Dr. Darvill and Ms. Gillan were evidently doing a good job evacuating everyone. Now, if he could just find a suitable room to lay out his trap—
But the Doctor froze as he turned the next corner. “Oh, no.”
There, in a crumpled heap on the floor, lay Julia Swales and a middle-aged balding man.
He dropped to his knees next to Swales, pressing two fingers to her throat in a hopeless gesture. Just as he’d expected, no pulse beat there. Both she and the man were cold, and quite clearly dead, which meant...
The Family of Blood had moved to different bodies.
Jack cupped his hands around his mouth. “Anyone else down here?”
There was no answer, only a babble of voices from the floor above. Jack breathed a sigh of relief. The air was getting quite thin, and he could feel his lungs expanding more than usual to compensate. The evacuation had gone much faster with Rose to help. And since it looked like the Doctor had sent most of the fourth floor down, all they needed now was to evacuate the top floor. Hopefully the Judoon hadn’t reached that floor quite yet…
He heard a wail, and stopped. It sounded like a child, very small and very frightened, and just around the corner. He hurried towards it to see a little girl, no more than five or six years old, sobbing on the ground in a crumpled heap.
“I’m scared,” the little girl wailed. “Where’s Mummy and the nurses?”
“Hey, hey,” Jack said soothingly as he reached her. “It’s okay. Your mummy’s probably with the others. Come on.”
The little girl sniffed and held her arms out. Jack picked her up in a bear hug. “Up you go—”
Something hard slammed into the back of his head, and he staggered forward before losing his balance. Instinctively he twisted as he fell to avoid crushing the girl in his arms, landing with a jolt of pain through his right shoulder.
He sat up quickly, ignoring the explosion in his head, and pushed the little girl behind him. A surgeon in his forties stood over him, a heavy walking stick in hand. With a guttural cry, he brought it swinging down on Jack’s head again. The captain ducked, and the walking stick missed him by centimetres. As the surgeon’s body turned for another swing, Jack hooked a leg around the surgeon’s and yanked, sending the surgeon tumbling to the floor. Taking advantage of the seconds he had until the other man recovered, Jack scrambled to his feet and reached for his blaster…
But it was gone.
“Looking for this?” the little girl said sweetly.
Jack spun to face her. There was his blaster, clutched in her hands. Her childish face lit up with malicious glee.
The girl expertly aimed his blaster at his chest. “Don’t move,” she ordered.
The last couple of centuries had driven Jack’s fear of the wrong end of a weapon out of him, but this time his heart pounded, suddenly very aware of who he was facing. The Doctor’s words echoed in his head: No dying. No injuries. Don’t get hurt at all.
A young man stepped out of the room behind the little girl. Jack recognised him from Martha’s image on the psychic paper. “Excellent, Sister of Mine,” the young man crooned, patting her on the head. “He’ll do marvelously.”
Jack’s stomach dropped. Not good not good not good…
“Jack? Jack, I think this floor’s finished. Where are you?”
Jack’s and all three Family members’ heads swiveled towards the sound of the approaching Rose’s voice for a brief moment, and then back to each other.
Jack leapt at Son of Mine as he yelled, “Rose, RUN!”
Rose whirled around the corner, hair flying behind her. She froze at the sight in the hallway: Jack, tackling Son of Mine; Sister of Mine, aiming a blaster at Jack; Father of Mine, walking stick clutched tightly in his hands and ready to swing at Jack’s head—
“No!” Rose dived at Father of Mine just as the walking stick came swinging down. Daughter of Mine fired; the blast slammed into the wall under Rose’s arm as she knocked the walking stick to hit the floor next to Jack’s head instead. Jack and Son of Mine rolled haphazardly, punching and kicking.
“It’s the Family!” Jack warned as he wrenched Son of Mine’s hands off his throat. “You’ve got to warn the—”
A blast hit the floor centimetres from his head as Daughter of Mine shrieked, “Stop moving, will you?!” in her childish voice.
Father of Mine swung the walking stick again, this time at Rose, but Rose caught it and held on. Neither of them released their grip on the walking stick as they both tried to wrench it from the other’s grasp.
Meanwhile, Jack had managed to pin Son of Mine down. He spared a brief glance at Rose. “Rose, go, it’s the Family, you’ve got to warn the Doc—”
But he let out a scream as Son of Mine glowed green beneath his hands. Green gaseous substance leaked from Son of Mine’s mouth and swarmed over Jack’s face.
Rose turned from her own struggle in time to see Jack collapse. Her distraction gave Father of Mine just enough opportunity to smash the walking stick into the back of her head.
With a cry, Rose sunk against the wall, dazed, and Father of Mine yanked her upright and wrapped an arm tightly around her throat.
Rose’s hands went to Father of Mine’s arm out of instinct, pulling desperately to free her airway. The air was already thin and she could barely breathe…
“Jack,” she choked, gasping for air.
Jack slowly rose to his feet, then turned to face her. The body at his feet did not so much as twitch.
An inhuman grin spread over Jack’s features as he nodded at both the man holding Rose and the little girl in turn. “Father of Mine, Sister of Mine. The switch was successful.”
Chapter 12: Confusing the Scent
The Doctor backtracked down the hallway at a run, still wheeling both anesthesia machines. His mind positively buzzed, so much that he nearly failed to notice when Martha stepped in front of him.
“Doctor?” She seemed out of breath, likely due to the thinner air supply as much as running.
“Martha! There you are!” His grin quickly faded. “How is everyone, how’s Rose? No, no, hold that thought. Where’s Jack? The Family of Blood’s moved.”
He spoke so quickly that Martha had to pause a moment before responding. “What do you mean, moved?”
“They’ve switched bodies,” the Doctor explained, grabbing her shoulders. “I need to warn Jack. Where is he?”
“Third floor still, I think. We could…I don’t know, call him or something? No signal, though…maybe the intercom is working?”
The Doctor released her. “Call! Phone! I’ve got a mobile!” He patted himself down, fishing out John Tyler’s mobile from his inside lab coat pocket and kissing it. “I’ve got a mobile! Brilliant! Oh, you humans and your silly little phones! Thank you!”
Downstairs, Rose wriggled in Father of Mine’s grip as she watched what used to be Jack sniff the air with a frown.
“This body feels…off,” Son of Mine said with Jack’s voice, flexing his hand in front of his eyes. “But powerful. Not like the other humans.”
“He’s only half-human,” Rose lied quickly. If the Family found out about Jack’s immortality…
Son of Mine looked her up and down thoughtfully. “I can’t access much surface memory…He must have had psychic training. However…” He grinned, eyes lighting up with triumph. “She’s Rose. She loves the Doctor. Or…” He thought a moment. “Or the Doctor loves her…”
Rose swallowed her panic. “Definitely one-sided. He only likes French girls. Wouldn’t look at me twice. Ask anyone.”
Son of Mine frowned. “No. No, I don’t think so.” He closed his eyes and leaned in closer, his nose almost touching hers as he inhaled deeply. Rose nearly lashed out at him, but stopped herself. If she injured Jack, he’d heal, and the Family of Blood would know they’d found themselves someone much more appetising than the Doctor.
Son of Mine smiled as he moved back. “She certainly smells like him. He’s left his mark all over her.”
Rose settled for spitting in his face.
Son of Mine glared at her and she flinched as he raised his arm—
Jack’s mobile rang, and the Family of Blood all froze for a moment.
Rose fought with a new fervour as Son of Mine reached into Jack’s pocket and pulled out the mobile.
“Keep her quiet,” he ordered, and answered the phone.
“DOC—” Rose started, but Father of Mine’s headlock tightened like a vise while his other hand covered her mouth and nose. Rose scrambled desperately to yell, to get free, but she couldn’t breathe. She could only listen helplessly as Son of Mine flashed her a malicious smile and spoke into the phone.
The Doctor’s knuckles were white as he clutched the phone, listening to the maddening drone at the other end.
“Doctor?” Jack’s voice came on the other side of the line.
“Jack,” the Doctor said in relief, “The Family of Blood, they’ve switched bodies!”
“They’ve switched bodies?” Jack repeated, tone even.
“Yes. So stop loading people into the TARDIS; we can’t let them get in.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll do that.”
The Doctor frowned. He couldn’t detect even a hint of sarcasm in Jack’s voice. The ‘sir’ was genuine. “Be careful, Jack. Don’t get anywhere near them. I meant what I said.”
“Believe me, Doctor, I’m staying far away.”
The Doctor’s frown deepened. “Good. Where are you?”
A split-second hesitation. “Third floor.”
“Molto bene. I’ll meet you by the fourth-floor examination room then. See you.”
The Doctor hung up and stared grimly at the phone for a moment, then returned it to his pocket.
“Well?” Martha said anxiously.
The Doctor rubbed both hands through his hair with a frustrated groan. “They’ve taken Jack.”
Martha covered her mouth. “You mean he’s dead?”
The Doctor’s hands slid down his face. “Yes. Which is possibly the worst thing that could have happened. Well…not quite the worst. But we’re getting there.”
Martha watched warily as the Doctor’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. In his eyes flashed a thunderous anger that gave her chills. “They took Jack. They really, really shouldn’t have done that.”
He snatched one of the anesthesia machines and rolled it towards Martha. “Help me.” He grabbed the machine behind the first and wheeled it down the hall at a run, sonicking it with his other hand.
Martha broke into a run behind him, dragging her machine. “What are we going to do?”
“As much as I hate saying this, we’ve got to kill Jack,” the Doctor called back before sticking the screwdriver in his teeth a moment and sticking his hand into the wiring.
“I thought you said he was already dead!”
The Doctor yanked the screwdriver back out and ran it over his machine. “Jack’s a bit special. He can’t exactly die. To the Family, I might be a ten-course dinner, but Jack’s an all-you-can-eat-buffet. The good news is, they haven’t realised it yet.”
“Hold on, how can someone not ‘exactly die?’ You mean he’s an alien too?” Martha asked in alarm as they rounded a corner.
“Immortal human—I’ll explain later—”
The Doctor screeched to a stop as he reached the fourth-floor examination room. He wheeled his anesthesia machine inside, then ushered Martha and her machine in. “Point is, the minute Jack’s body is injured, the Family will realise what he is and what he can be to them. So we’ll have to kill him instantly. Jack himself should come back if we can just get the Family out of him.”
He yanked a hose off of the anesthesia machine.
Martha backed up. “What are you doing?! You’re letting the gas out!”
“Nitrous oxide!” the Doctor said grimly, yanking the hose off Martha’s machine. “Better known as laughing gas. With a nice drug cocktail of my own mixed in. High enough dosage should do the trick. The air’s already thin, so oxygen levels are low, and I’ve concentrated the dosage.” He dumped some more pills down each hose and sonicked the machines a bit more. “Was supposed to just keep them unconscious for extended periods of time, but if they’ve got Jack I need it a bit stronger. I’m super-infusing the dosage enough to be fatal.” He rubbed his back against the door vigorously, like he was scratching an itch, then licked his palm and wiped it all over the inside of the doorframe. “Let them follow my scent in, lock them inside, wait a bit, use my respiratory bypass to go in and grab Jack, wait for him to wake up. Then we can deal with the Judoon.”
Martha, who still couldn’t believe she was not only listening, but following, nodded. “There’s a room across the hall we can hide in.”
“Brilliant, Martha Jones. Er…” The Doctor rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “This is just to hide my scent a bit, understand? So they’ll follow the smell into the room and not realise I’m hiding across the hall. Doesn’t mean anything. Honestly.”
“Um…what?” Martha asked, utterly bewildered.
“Sorry, so sorry,” the Doctor said hastily as he started to tug Martha’s lab coat off her shoulders. “I’ll give it right back, promise.”
“It’s just a coat,” Martha said as she shrugged it off, still a bit confused.
“Well,” the Doctor said as he put Martha’s lab coat on over his own, “It was really more about this.”
He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. Very tightly. So tightly that Martha could feel two hearts pounding against her chest and every one of his ribs pressing against hers and his jaw nuzzling her cheek. Her eyes widened. “You’ve got—”
“Two hearts, yep. Told you so. Walk towards the door,” he murmured into her ear.
Walking awkwardly they scooted through the door.
For a moment, Martha stood there stupidly, mind completely unable to focus. She wondered if her knees were going to give out.
“The door, Martha,” the Doctor said impatiently.
Martha shook herself a bit. “Right, right.” She couldn’t really see pressed up against him as she was, but she managed to slide an arm free to pull the door shut behind her.
“And across the hall…”
They shuffled through the door opposite, and the Doctor pulled it shut behind him and released her immediately. “There we are! Ta.” He tossed her lab coat back at her and nudged the blinds covering the window next to the door aside. “Good view of the hall,” he said appreciatively.
Martha scooted next to him to peer out the hall. “Now what?” she asked, praying he couldn’t hear the breathlessness in her voice.
“Now, Martha Jones? We wait.”
Spots danced in front of Rose’s eyes. Her muffled screams had become desperate attempts to gasp by the time the phone call finished. Father of Mine’s hand still enveloped her mouth and nose, cutting off air.
“Goodbye.” Son of Mine slid the phone back into his pocket. He glanced briefly at the weakly struggling Rose, then turned to Father of Mine behind her. “He’s on the fourth floor.”
“Then kill the woman and let’s go,” Sister of Mine whined, her young arms folded in front of her and her foot tapping impatiently.
“Patience, Daughter of Mine,” Father of Mine droned. “I say we bring her. Revenge for your mother. Make the Time Lord watch her suffer before he is consumed.”
Son of Mine nodded coldly. “If that is the case, then I suggest you loosen your grip, Father of Mine, or else she won’t make it to the lift.”
“Take this,” Sister of Mine offered, holding out the blaster to him.
Rose gasped for air as Father of Mine’s hand moved from her face to the blaster. He jammed it against her skull as he dragged her towards the lift. “Move, human.”
“There they are,” the Doctor murmured, “That’s right, follow the scent…”
Martha peered at the group approaching. “You sure that’s them? They look normal.”
“So did the plasmavore. No, they’ve killed the human and took the shell,” the Doctor explained quietly as he too watched them approach. “See, there’s Jack in the front, and…” Every muscle in the Doctor’s body tensed beside her as he choked. “Rose…”
Martha gasped as she picked Rose out from the group. The Doctor had gone completely rigid. She put a hand on his arm comfortingly, but he yanked away.
“What is she doing out here?!”
“I heard her asking Jack if we needed any help, and she was doing fine when I left.” Martha reached for his hand and squeezed it. “Look, that one’s got a gun on her, right? So she’s still her. They haven’t taken her over or anything.”
The Doctor relaxed, but only slightly. Then he ran a hand through his hair in frustration as the Family and Rose moved closer. “But they’re going to follow the scent—they’re going to bring her in there with them...” With his hair an utter mess, he stared at the approaching Family resolutely. “Right, plan B.”
“What’s plan B?”
“No plan B.” He gazed around, spotted a fire extinguisher, and seized it.
“But—but you must have some sort of plan or something.”
“Working on it!” He grabbed a roll of gauze, tore off a long strip, and looped it around the fire extinguisher’s handle so he could sling it around his shoulder.
“…So, what’s the plan?” Martha asked, completely at a loss.
The Doctor flashed her a smile that contrasted with his previous distress so greatly it caught Martha off guard. “Oh, the usual. Save Rose and think of something clever. Stay here.” And before she could protest, the Doctor jumped out from their hiding room and in front of the Family, arms up in surrender.
Chapter 13: Lethal Fashion Accessories
The Family and Rose halted as the Doctor sprang out into the hall.
The Doctor’s arms were up in surrender, but widely spread so as to block the door behind him. “Hello, I’m the Doctor.”
Rose jerked in Father of Mine’s grip. “Doctor, run, they took Jack—”
“Noticed, thanks. And I’m not leaving you.”
Son of Mine stepped forward and sniffed deeply. A smile crept onto his face. “At last.”
“At last,” the Doctor agreed, lowering his arms.
Inside the room the Doctor had just left, Martha tore her attention away from the standoff outside and gazed around frantically. She couldn’t just sit here and watch the Doctor or Rose be murdered. There had to be something in here she could use to help…
Outside, Son of Mine looked at the fire extinguisher slung over the Doctor’s shoulder. “What’s that?”
“Fashion accessory,” the Doctor said without missing a beat. “I think it makes me look dashing. Rose, don’t you think it makes me look dashing?”
“Dunno,” she replied, smiling despite the slight shakiness in her voice. “Red’s not really your color.” She winced as Father of Mine’s grip tightened.
The Doctor tensed and returned his attention to Son of Mine. “How did you find me? And I mean in this time and place—not exactly hard to follow a spit trail through a hospital.”
“Oh, the signal was confused, sure enough,” Son of Mine said, taking a step closer to the Doctor, “But we worked it out in the end.”
The Doctor tilted his head back slightly, eyebrows raising. “Quite a gift, that. Smelling one single person through not only the entire vortex, but through a species change. Sure you don’t want to go into perfume testing? You’ve certainly got the nose for it. Get out of Jack and I might even find you a job.”
Son of Mine took another step. “And miss out on such a feast?”
The Doctor stepped back and raised his arms again. “Hold on, there are several very, very good reasons why you shouldn’t eat me just yet. One…” He paused for a moment. “You lost your vortex manipulator. Which means my ship is the only way off the moon, and I’m the only one who can fly her.”
“Oh, I think the Judoon ships will do nicely,” Son of Mine said dismissively, stepping closer. “Slip into the crew and we’re out of here. And now, we dine—”
“Don’t!” Rose protested.
Son of Mine gave a frustrated groan. “Kill her already!” His eyes lit up maliciously at the Doctor. “For Mother of Mine.”
What little joviality in the Doctor’s voice evaporated instantly. “If you hurt her, I will make you regret it with every cell of your being.”
Son of Mine let out a very un-Jack-ish laugh. “You’re dead, Time Lord. All those centuries…ours.” He took another step closer to the Doctor, now merely a few steps away.
The Doctor’s lips curled up in a snarl. “Centuries? Forget that; you killed Jack and who knows how many others. For just what you’ve already done I will make sure each one of you lives an eternity.”
Son of Mine raised an eyebrow. “Hardly a decent threat.”
“It’s the best threat there is.” The steeliness in his tone was enough that Son of Mine actually took the tiniest of steps back. “Because it’s not an empty one. If you want to live forever, I can make it happen.”
Back in the room across the hall, Martha’s heart soared when she realised what machine she had found. But would the cords stretch far enough?
Outside, Son of Mine spoke again with less of Jack’s smugness in his voice. “Fine, we’ll let your precious little girlfriend go if you give yourself over without a fight.”
The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “Not good enough.”
Son of Mine tilted his head to the side. “Not—”
The Time Lord’s voice trembled with barely controlled rage. “You’ve got two of my friends. Get out of Jack.”
Son of Mine raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I don’t think so.” He stepped forward, crouching, ready to strike—
“Ah, well, worth a shot. Two—” The Doctor whipped the fire extinguisher around to aim the nozzle straight at Son of Mine’s face. “This isn’t just a fashion accessory.”
The contents of the fire extinguisher gushed out in a powerful stream straight into Son of Mine’s eyes with enough force to make his head snap backward. Blinded, Son of Mine howled and clutched at his face. The Doctor side-stepped him and lifted the nozzle towards Father of Mine.
Snarling, Father of Mine shielded his face behind Rose. The Doctor switched his aim to Sister of Mine, who cowered in fear.
“Drop her now!”
Rose screamed, “Doctor, behind you!”
The Doctor whirled around just in time to see Son of Mine leap towards him—
Martha sprang between them, live electrical paddles from a defibrillator clutched in her fists. Son of Mine’s body twisted like a gymnast in an attempt to dodge the paddles, but his course was already set. He slammed into them with a scream, body dancing like it was under a strobe light as it jerked wildly.
His remains thumped to the ground, accompanied by a grief-ridden howl from Father of Mine and a shriek of rage from Sister of Mine.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Rose hooked a foot around the back of Father of Mine’s knee and yanked, sending them both sprawling to the ground. The blaster crashed on the floor and slid a bit further down the hall, and Sister of Mine dived for it. Rolling off Father of Mine, Rose scrambled for the blaster, snatching it from under Sister of Mine’s fingertips.
Sister of Mine stomped her foot a moment as if in a tantrum, but then she raced down the hall away from Rose as fast as her little legs could carry her, Father of Mine just a second behind her.
The Doctor dropped the fire extinguisher, turned the electrical paddles off with his sonic screwdriver, and grabbed Martha’s shaking hands. “Martha? Hey, shhh, look at me, look at me, it’s fine, you can put them down now.”
Martha dropped them, but her eyes didn’t budge from Jack’s slightly smoking body.
“Rose? Did they hurt you? Are you okay?”
The blaster slipped from Rose’s hands as she turned to face the Doctor. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m—I’m okay.”
Martha fell to her knees. “I’ve killed him…” Her hands planted on Jack’s chest and pumped frantically.
The Doctor’s voice sounded pained. “Martha, really, you don’t need to…”
“You said he couldn’t die!” accused Martha, not stopping her pumping. “You said he couldn’t die and I’ve killed him!” She pressed her lips to Jack’s and breathed.
The Doctor sighed, “Oh, you’ll find out,” and moved over to Rose. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“Did that kill him?” she asked, “I mean, it killed Jack, but did it kill…?”
“Yep,” the Doctor said joylessly, watching as Martha did more chest compressions. “Only two of them left now.”
She bit her lip. “You sound like you’re checking them off. You’re not going to…are you?”
“No,” the Doctor answered honestly. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to do to them if they crossed his path again, but he did know it did not involve either of their deaths.
It was going to be so much worse.
He held Rose a little tighter, trying to push thoughts of event horizons and chains forged in dwarf stars out of his mind.
“Martha?” Rose said softly as Martha pressed her lips to Jack’s again, “Martha, really, there’s nothing you can do but wait—”
Martha pulled back with a shriek as Jack suddenly began kissing her back.
“And that is the best way to wake up!” Jack said with a grin, sitting up. He turned to the Doctor and Rose. “Miss me?”
The Doctor let go of Rose and extended a hand for Jack to take, a faint smile returning to his face. “Oh, I dunno. Your replacement didn’t tell near as many naked stories.” He pulled Jack up.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“You—you—” Martha stammered.
Jack winked. “Martha Jones, my personal guardian angel.”
The Doctor snorted. “Really? That’s just—”
Rose elbowed him with an eye roll and a laugh. “Says the man who told me I had to fight the urge to swoon whenever he was in the room.”
“Oh, I thought that one was clever!”
Jack picked his blaster up off the floor, stuck it in his pocket, and turned back to the Doctor. “What happened to the Family?”
“Two left, moving on. More importantly, how many humans are left in the hospital and where are the Judoon?”
“Should be just the top floor now. We were finishing up the third floor when…you know.”
The Doctor nodded. “And the Judoon?”
Before Jack could reply, the door to the stairs at the end of the hall burst open, letting a line of marching Judoon out. Immediately, Rose seized the Doctor’s arm and yanked him behind her.
“Er, Rose, what are you doing?” the Doctor asked in befuddlement.
“I’m not going to let them find out you’re not human,” Rose replied without letting go of him or taking her eyes off the advancing Judoon.
“But I’ve got the little mark on my hand, look…”
“Are they going to stop?” asked Martha.
The Judoon were mere metres away, and Jack ushered them all to the side of the hallway. “Don’t think so, everybody shift!”
The four of them pressed themselves into the wall as the Judoon stomped past them. The Doctor made the tiniest of steps forward and opened his mouth to speak, and Rose jerked him back.
“What?” asked the Doctor, indignant.
“What part of ‘I’m not going to let them find out you’re not human’ didn’t you understand?! Don’t draw attention to yourself!”
“Oh, fine then. You ask them to tell us what they’re doing.”
Rose took a deep breath and stepped forward from the wall as much as she could without being crushed. “Judoon! Um, I hereby demand—”
“Request,” the Doctor whispered.
“—Request you tell me what your plans for this hospital are under the Shadow Proclamation…”
“Statute four two six five eight.”
“Statute four two six five eight!”
The Judoon kept marching, so Rose yelled louder. “Oi! Don’t ignore me! I just asked you a question!”
As one, the Judoon paused and spun to face her. The nearest one raised its helmet. “Charge: assault and murder of officer. Plea: Guilty. Sentence: Execution. Earth building and inhabitants designated for immediate destruction. Justice is swift.”
“What, the whole hospital?” Martha asked in alarm as the Judoon lowered its helmet and the entire troop resumed marching.
“Got to be,” said Jack, “But then why aren’t they executing us?”
“Not worth the energy,” murmured the Doctor, watching the Judoon pass. “Easier to just polish the whole building off once they’ve returned to their ship. Give them time to get back to the ship and charge up their weapons, and I’d say we’ve got twenty minutes before a rather big boom.”
The last Judoon finally passed, and all four of them hurried to the stairs.
“But we’ve still got the top floor!” Martha protested as the Doctor headed down.
“I know, but it’ll be easier if we bring the TARDIS to them!”
“You mean that box?! How’re we supposed to lift that box up the stairs in the next twenty minutes?!”
Martha’s question went unanswered as they reached the third floor and ran through the deserted hallways. The hospital was like a ghost town. They didn’t meet a soul until they reached the MRI room where the TARDIS was. The Doctor charged in through the door—
And slammed into the floor as Father of Mine tackled him.
Martha shrieked and Rose reached for him as the Doctor screamed, his skin just starting to show a faint glimmer of gold as Father of Mine closed his eyes and started to sniff deeply…
Jack whipped his blaster out and shot straight at Father of Mine’s back once, twice, three times. Father of Mine dropped like a brick. Then Jack whirled around and aimed his blaster at Daughter of Mine, who had been crouching behind the door and waiting to strike. Her little girl eyes were wide with disbelief, then hunger.
“Alive?” she murmured.
Jack fired, and she ducked. The blast missed her by a split second. Before Jack could fire again, she had hurled herself to the back of the room and shut herself into a cupboard.
Gasping, the Doctor lurched towards the cupboard door and sonicked it shut before sagging against its side.
“One left,” Jack said coldly, shoving his blaster back into his pocket. “Doctor? You okay?”
“Yeah, thanks,” the Doctor wheezed as Rose and Martha helped him back to his feet. He brushed himself off and reached for the TARDIS door. “Deal with her later. Sixteen minutes and counting then! Hurry up!”
Chapter 14: Mercy and Mayhem
The TARDIS console room had swelled to ten times its usual size to accommodate the mass of people pressed together. The crowd was chaotic. Patients and visitors alike clung to each other, some sobbing hysterically. Two women helped a third whose crutch had gotten stuck in the grating. A couple nurses, doctors, and medical students barked orders at the patients. Stretchers were scattered throughout the crowd, most bearing unconscious patients wired to hefty machines, watched over and guarded by a doctor or nurse. Some children laughed as they climbed on top of the console, daring each other to press buttons.
“Oi, get away from there!” the Doctor called, shoving his way through the crowd to the console. The children scattered at his approach.
“Martha?” Oliver Morgenstern seized her by the arm. “Martha, what’s going on?! Have we all gone mad?!”
“Just a bit, yeah.”
“Hello,” Jack said brightly, extending a hand to Oliver. “Captain Jack Harkness.”
Before Oliver could respond with much more than a squeak, the TARDIS gave a huge jolt that almost sent half the crowd to their knees.
“There we are!” The Doctor shoved his way back through the crowd to his friends near the door.
Oliver jumped at the Doctor’s approach. “Dr. Tyler, what are we—”
“Ah! Morgenstern!” the Doctor clapped a hand on Oliver’s shoulder. “You’re in charge, got that? Keep everybody calm, don’t let anyone leave, and I’ll be back in a tick.”
“But, sir, I can’t!”
The Doctor paused to look Oliver straight in the eye. “Of course you can, Morgenstern, you’re brilliant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And this is your moment, got that? Now keep them calm!”
Morgenstern’s spine straightened even if his expression still looked slightly terrified. “O—okay.”
“Good man. And try to keep the kids off the console, will you?”
“Next you’ll be telling the kids to get off your lawn,” Rose said dryly.
The Doctor shook his fist at her with a grin, then took her hand and pulled her out the door. “Come on, then, fifteen minutes left!”
“But we’ve moved!” Martha said in amazement as she and Jack followed them into the x-ray room. The Judoon’s body was gone, but the Slabs’ and plasmavore’s remained there, limbs splayed haphazardly.
“Told you it was a ship, didn’t I? What good’s a ship that doesn’t move?”
The fifth floor contained more machines than patients, but the next thirteen minutes were still frantic as they wheeled stretchers and ushered people through the TARDIS doors, most of whom were utterly hysterical.
“That’s everybody,” said Martha as she wheeled one last patient on a stretcher past them.
“Good, good,” said the Doctor. He opened the door to let Martha and the stretcher through, then ushered Jack in. “Martha, Jack—” Jack helped Martha wheel the stretcher into the TARDIS.
“Come on, come on,” the Doctor muttered, knuckles white as they gripped the door. “Two minutes, Rose…”
Rose whirled around the corner at a sprint, and the Doctor soon saw why. Daughter of Mine was right on her heels, girlish face screwed up in outrage.
The Doctor slammed the door shut the instant Rose had passed through it, forcing Daughter of Mine to crash into the other side.
“All right?” he asked Rose.
“Y—yeah.” Rose leaned on her knees for support.
Daughter of Mine banged on the glass embedded in the door with her tiny fists, wailing. Her voice was muffled, but still legible: “Let me in! Let me in, please!”
The Doctor glared at her through the glass, his voice dark. “Give me one good reason why.”
“They’re going to destroy the hospital. Take me with you!”
The Doctor watched her for a moment. “No.”
“Doctor?” Rose wheezed.
Daughter of Mine whimpered, her young lips trembling. “Please. You killed my whole family.”
The Doctor stared down her, his hearts beating like war drums. His eyes blazed as he thought of Swales and the trail of bodies the Family had left to reach him. He thought of Jack and Rose, pain and loneliness, event horizons and black holes, and the endless, inescapable eternity. He thought of dozens, hundreds, thousands of ways to make the suffering of the creature cowering on the other side of the door linger until long after the TARDIS had groaned its last.
Rose put a hand on his shoulder, her breath returned. “Doctor, it’s a little girl.”
“No,” the Doctor replied tonelessly, still watching Daughter of Mine, “She killed a little girl.”
“One minute!” Jack yelled from within the TARDIS. “Doctor, Rose, get in here!”
“You’re better than that,” Rose said softly. “You could still show mercy.”
The Doctor stared at Daughter of Mine long and hard for a few more seconds before turning back to his ship. “You’re right. I could. Come on.” He took her hand and started back to the TARDIS.
Rose followed, but looked back at Daughter of Mine, who was now sobbing, crumpling in front of the door in despair. “I thought you said…you said you were going to show mercy.”
The Doctor’s eyes met hers. “Believe me, Rose—I am.” He pulled the TARDIS door shut behind Rose. “She will go after Jack the moment she steps through those doors. And if I don’t walk away now I’ll…she’ll end up…just trust me, it’s better this way.”
Rose looked at him carefully. “I do trust you.”
He squeezed her hand and gave her a small smile. “Thank you.”
“Doctor, twenty seconds!” Martha yelled from somewhere near the console.
The Doctor took a deep breath. “Yes, right!” He elbowed his way through the packed console room. “Budge over, I need room to drive this thing, you know!”
“But, it’s bigger on the inside!” one of the patients stammered as the Doctor reached the console.
“Pfft, no it’s not,” said the Doctor, starting to flick some switches. “The terrorists drugged you all and you’re hallucinating. I’m actually a member of the Scotland Yard that’s come to save you. You’re riding in a helicopter right now.”
“Really?” called a woman in the back.
“Nope!” said the Doctor cheerfully as the TARDIS dematerialised, “I’m a 900-plus-year-old Time Lord, and you’re on my spaceship that looks like a police box and is bigger on the inside. But, you know, UNIT always told me those stories make people feel better, so I thought I’d give it a try!”
Jack laughed. “You’re full of it, old man!”
“Old man?! I’ll show you an ‘old man!’”
“Oh, Doctor, will you, pretty please?”
“Harkness, I’m trying to drive!”
This time the TARDIS, for once, landed smoothly without knocking all its passengers over. Rose tossed the doors open. They were parked across the street from the huge crowd milling around the crater.
“Out you go! Chop chop, allons-y, off my magnificent ship if you please!”
The next few minutes were filled with jostling and shoving as the Doctor, Rose, Jack, and Martha shooed the confused crowd outside. The console room gradually shrunk as it emptied until it had returned to its usual dimensions. When the last patient had left, the Doctor shut the doors and leaned his back against them, eyes closed in an expression of pure bliss. After a moment, his eyes snapped open. “Right, then, now that that lot’s gone…”
“The hospital’s still on the moon,” Martha pointed out.
“Nah, the Judoon’ll have blown it up by now, yeah?” said Rose.
The Doctor tugged on his ear. “Yeah, sorry about that…”
Martha sighed. “Out of a job, then.”
“We’ll put good words in for you,” Jack promised.
Martha arched an eyebrow. “With who?”
“Oh, never mind that,” the Doctor waved a hand dismissively and leaned against the console casually. “The real question is, Martha Jones, where would you like to go first?”
“Go?” Martha asked blankly.
“Thank-you trip!” Jack wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Anywhere you want.”
Martha’s eyes filled with excitement, with hope and wonder and utter joy...but then she frowned. “But I can’t. I’ve got exams in the morning…I’ve got things to do!”
The Doctor cocked an eyebrow. “If it helps, it also travels in time. We can pop you back a minute after you’ve left.”
“Or a year,” Rose commented nonchalantly.
The Doctor pointed an accusatory finger at her. “That was one time. It’ll never happen again.”
“Or a couple of centuries,” Jack mentioned.
“I said I was sorry!”
Jack smirked. “Yeah, I know.”
Martha still looked doubtfully between the three of them. “You mean, you can take me through time and space and drop me off right here, a minute from now?”
“But time travel—I mean, aliens, I’ll believe, sure to be something else out there, but time travel? That’s just too much.”
The Doctor grinned. “I’ll prove it.” He yanked a lever down, and the console whined a moment as the TARDIS moved.
Martha folded her arms. “Seen that bit. I got it, it’s a ship, it moves.”
“Oh, but wait until you see this.” He leapt towards the doors and tossed them open. “London—this morning!”
Martha moved next to the Doctor and peered out the door. “Yeah, we’ve moved, but—hold on, is that me?”
Sure enough, an hours-younger Martha Jones was hurrying past the mouth of the alley where the TARDIS had landed.
Grinning inanely, the Doctor yanked his tie off and tossed it to Jack, who seemed to catch it effortlessly. “Off you go, Captain. Work your magic. And tell her I want that tie back! Albert Einstein gave me that tie!”
“Aye, aye,” Jack replied with a mock salute, sliding past Martha and out the door.
“Einstein?” Rose said with a touch of skepticism. “Don’t tell me you told him about relativity?”
“Of course not,” the Doctor scoffed. “He came up with that all on his own. I just…may have stopped by for tea and biscuits and saved him from a giant psychevore intent on consuming all his neural matter.”
“Anyway, I’d like my tie back, if you don’t mind.”
Martha handed him back the tie, her mouth still open in astonishment.
The Doctor had just finished retying it when Jack reentered.
“It’s all waiting, Martha,” the Doctor said wistfully, “The waving mountains of Felspoon, the birth of Plovak 6. New horizons. You could be the first human to set foot on Mars. You could meet King Arthur, Confucius—”
“Or Shakespeare?” Martha said excitedly.
The Doctor grinned. “Off we go then.”
“Never much cared for Shakespeare,” Rose said flippantly.
“Oh, that’s just because you’ve never met the man!” He quirked an eyebrow as his hands found some levers. “‘For nothing this wide universe I call, save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.’”
He yanked a lever and the TARDIS jolted violently, sending Martha screaming off to the side. Jack snagged her around the waist before she hit the wall, keeping himself steady by holding onto one of the coral struts.
The Doctor and Rose both tumbled to the floor, laughing hysterically at who knew what.
One month or one minute later, Martha Jones tucked her superphone containing the mobile numbers of a Time Lord, an immortal, and a blonde into her pocket, and stepped out of a police box that disappeared immediately behind her. She beamed and waved as the box faded, then took a deep breath and moved to join the crowd surrounding the crater where the Royal Hope Hospital once stood.
“Martha Jones. Good to see you.”
Martha whirled to see Jack Harkness, hands in the pockets of his gray overcoat. “Jack? I just saw you!”
Jack smiled crookedly at her. “Been a bit longer for me.”
Martha’s eyes widened. “Oh! This is what the Doctor was talking about, crossed timelines!”
“Right in one,” Jack replied, glancing wistfully at where the TARDIS had stood a moment before. He turned back to Martha. “Might have been a long time, but I seem to remember telling you that the Doctor and I would put a good word in for you. You still looking for a job?”
She jabbed her thumb back to point at the crater. “What do you think?”
Jack cocked an eyebrow. “How would you like to work for me?”
Martha grinned. “I think I’d love it.”
The morning was crisp as Larry Nightingale and Sally Sparrow walked hand-in-hand to the used book shop they managed.
“Do you want pizza or Chinese for lunch?” asked Larry.
Sally shook her head. “Neither. We’re going to have start cutting back, you know. Eat lunch from home or something.”
Larry sighed. “Why bother? We can’t make this month’s rent on this place either way.” They reached the door to their book shop, and he put his key in the door. “Might as well have some decent food.”
Sally squeezed his hand. “I’m going to miss this old place…”
“Me too.” He opened the door, and they entered into their darkened shop. “I had so many dreams for this place. I was going to expand…Suppose we’ll have to go get jobs. I could be a postman.” He flicked the lights on.
“Oh, don’t be a postman,” the Doctor advised. He leaned back against the counter, arms casually crossed in front of him, Rose and Jack on either side. “They get terrible bunions.”
Larry jumped into the air. “Sally! It’s him! It’s the Doctor! It’s those people!” He looked ready to hyperventilate as he noticed the police box next to the counter. “It’s the phone box!”
The Doctor waved cheekily. “Yep, that’s me.” He pushed off from the counter, hands in his pockets. “See, I was a bit preoccupied last time I was in here.”
“A species change will do that to you,” said Jack.
“Yes, well, anyway, Rose tells me I was rather rude.”
Rose nudged him with a grin. “Not the word I used. ‘S not like you knew what was going on.”
“Yes, well, anyway, point is, I was adding to my Agatha Christie collection from a Sparrow and Nightingale on Mars—”
“A what?!” Larry said. His expression of shock had not changed since entering the shop.
“—And it occurred to me, timelines and all that, you might need a bit of capital.” He took out an envelope from his inside chest pocket and held it out to Sally grandly.
Sally took it, brow wrinkled in confusion. “But…what is it?”
“Gift from a Kathy Nightingale, 2006,” Jack explained.
Rose grinned. “Popped back and asked for a pound.”
Sally ripped the envelope open and took out… “A lottery ticket?”
The Doctor leaned forward, eyebrows waggling. “Who knows? You might get lucky.”
Larry’s gaze switched between the ticket in Sally’s hand and the Doctor, mouth moving silently.
The Doctor beamed. “Bye, then. Thanks for the books!” He started walking back to the TARDIS.
Rose waved. “Thanks for 1969. Take care!” She followed the Doctor.
Jack looked furtively to make sure the Doctor had already entered the TARDIS. “Holovids,” he said conspiratorially. “One word: holovids. Catch you some other time.”
Sally and Larry both watched as Jack winked and made his own way back to the TARDIS. Larry’s arm went around Sally’s shoulders as the TARDIS faded.
When the breeze died away, Larry gaped at the ticket in Sally’s hand. “Is that…Does that mean?”
Sally grinned and kissed him. “I think it means you definitely don’t need to be a postman after all.”
Above their heads and centuries ago, a blue box wheezed with the sound of the universe.