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Finding Home

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The newly regenerated Tenth Doctor wasted no time in dashing to the console and inputting the new coordinates he hadn’t gotten to before regenerating. It was a bit rude of him right out of the gate, considering Rose was fearfully clinging to a coral strut and I was still standing by the door, sniffling the last of my tears away.

 

“6 PM... Tuesday…” he started. I managed to get my feet to work and walked over to Rose, trying to provide some semblance of normality in her now upside down world. “October... 5006... On the way to Barcelona!” The Doctor straightened up from the console and turned to face us, grinning and looking absurdly pleased that he’d managed to remember how to input coordinates into his TARDIS. The console room hadn’t even changed this time, for God’s sake.

 

“Now then…what do I look like?” he asked. Rose opened her mouth to say something, but Ten’s uncontrollable mouth beat her to it. “No, no no, no no no no no no no.” He held up his hand to stop us talking, still smiling like a lunatic. “No. Don't tell me.”

 

Rose crept out from behind the strut slowly, never taking her shocked eyes off the Doctor, and fumbled around for my hand. I gently laced my fingers through hers and squeezed, although that didn’t seem to help either of us relax much.

 

“Let's see... two legs, two arms, two hands…”

 

“You can come back without those?” I said, my voice much weaker than I’d intended. The Doctor continued, completely unaware of anything or anyone else in the TARDIS.

 

“Slight weakness in the dorsal tubercle,” he muttered to himself, sounding disappointed as he felt around his wrist for the weakness. Roses expression slowly shifted from shaken and confused to just confused as she seemed to realize this man was not a threat to us. For my part, the guilt was still practically drowning me, and I couldn’t take much humor in what I’d always thought was a funny scene.

 

The Doctor’s hands flew to his head, as he carded his fingers through his new hair. “Hair!” he cheered, delighted. “I'm not bald!” He kept running his hands through his hair gleefully, which sort of explained to me why that became a tick in this body. “Oo, big hair.” His hand trailed down the sides of his head, and his eyes lit up again. “Sideburns, I've got sideburns!” Rose swallowed hard next to me, finally closing her mouth. I squeezed her hand again. “Or really bad skin.

 

“Little bit thinner…” The Doctor slapped his stomach a few times, and I squeaked out a laugh more from shock than anything else. At least that meant the guilt was fading. “That's weird. Give me time, I'll get used to it,” the Doctor said, addressing Rose and I for the first time since he’d started talking.

 

The Doctor started to turn back to the console, for whatever reason, then immediately straightened back up. “I... have got... a mole,” he said slowly, turning to make eye contact with Rose. I looked too, and found the fear had returned full force. The Doctor didn’t seem to notice. “I can feel it. Between my shoulder blades, there's a mole.” He smiled that manic grin again. “That's all right. Love the mole.”

 

Rose was projecting so much fear, it was almost seeping past my mental defenses to affect my mood. I forced my face into a smile for the both the Doctor and Rose’s sakes. One of us had to be ok right now, and it wasn’t about to be either of them.

 

“The real question is,” I managed before needing to take a deep breath. “Which of us has more freckles now?” I gestured between the Doctor and I. His smile only widened.

 

“Go on then, tell me,” he said to Rose

 

“Well, it’ll take awhile to count,” I joked weakly.

 

“Who are you?” Rose asked, voice quiet and scared. The Doctor’s smile vanished.

 

“I'm the Doctor,” he said simply. Rose shook her head, unbelieving,

 

“No…” Rose whispered so quietly she probably didn’t even hear herself. “Where is he? Where's the Doctor?” Oh, I knew that tone. That was a defensive tone. That was a ‘if I’m not under attack, you’re about to be’ tone. “What have you done to him?” The Doctor looked just as surprised as Rose had a few moments ago.

 

“You saw me, I, I changed…” He sounded so… small it scared me . The Doctor was not small, and he never acted like he was. He pointed over his shoulder, to the spot where he regenerated. “Right in front of you.”

 

“I saw him sort of explode,” Rose insisted. “And then you replaced him, like a... a teleport or a transmat or a body swap or something.” The Doctor expression was slowly shifting to something more heartbroken, as he was realizing it was more than shock affecting Rose. It was denial. It was the first stage of grief.

 

“No, Rose-” I tried. I couldn’t say much before she dropped my hand and advanced on the Doctor. At arm’s length, she pushed him in the chest. Anger, the second stage.

 

“You're not fooling me,” Rose said. The Doctor rocked back on his heels, seemingly not in control of his body right now, so in disbelief was he. “I've seen all sorts of things. Nanogenes... Gelth…” Rose narrowed her eyes. “Slitheen.” The Doctor raised his eyebrows.” Oh, my God, are you a Slitheen?” she asked with slowly returning fear. I snapped out of my reprieve and stepped in between the Doctor and Rose Tyler, a place I would normally never go.

 

“I’ve also seen Slitheen,” I reminded Rose. “He’s a twig. How could he be a Slitheen?” The Doctor nodded in a ‘see, there’ way.

 

“I'm not a Slitheen,” he said. Rose took a second to process that, and seemed to agree with us.

 

“Send him back,” she ordered anyway. Her voice rose in volume with every word. “I'm warning you, send the Doctor back right now!”

 

“Rose, it's me,” the Doctor pleaded. He was starting to look desperate. “Honestly, it's me.

Rose just kept staring, breathing hard. “I was dying. To save my own life I changed my body. Every single cell, but... it's still me.” Rose didn’t look anymore convinced. I turned around to the Doctor, to let him know I was on his side. “Katelyn, please…” I wasn’t really sure what I could say that would convince her any more.

 

“Rose,” I said gently. “Have I ever lied to you?” It almost hurt to ask, because I had. Well, I had if you considered a lie of omission a lie. “I promise you-” I stepped to the side and pointed. “-that is the Doctor.”

 

Rose followed me instead of where I was pointing. “He can’t be.” I nodded. She turned to the Doctor. “You can't be.” Like she wanted to believe it, but she just couldn’t.

 

“It’s a Time Lord thing,” I explained weakly. Rose still looked unconvinced. The Doctor gave me a ‘oh, very helpful’ look. I took another step back in shame and sat on the railing.

 

The Doctor took a few steps closer to Rose, looking straight down into her eyes, probably deciding in the direct approach was the best one.

 

“If I’m not the Doctor, then how could I remember this?” he asked. “Very first word I ever said to you. Trapped in that cellar. Surrounded by shop window dummies.... oh... “ He looked away for just a moment, reminiscing, then looked back into Rose’s eyes. “Such a long time ago. I took your hand-” He did now, too.

 

Rose glanced briefly down at their hands and then back up at his face. The tiniest spark of hope blazed to life in Rose’s expression. “-I said one word,” the Doctor continued. “Just one word, I said... ‘Run’.”  The Doctor held her gaze, waiting. Rose looked back, her eyes full of tears.

 

“Doctor,” she whispered, like even now she could hardly dare to believe it.

 

The Doctor grinned. “Hello,” he said absurdly gently. I suddenly felt dirty watching. This was a private, pivotal moment in their relationship, and here I was, keeping myself balanced on the railing and watching it like a Rom-Com. I forced my vision down to the grating, refusing to watch anymore than I already had.

 

Not that it helped really. I could still hear Rose let out a tense breath and stumbles backwards on the grating. I could still picture her face as the impact of what had just happened hit her. Since glaring the grating into submission didn’t help me at all, I looked up like normal and watched events play out.

 

The Doctor took off as soon as he was sure Rose Tyler knew he was himself, dashing around the console in that way that he did.

 

“And we never stopped, did we?” he asked. “All across the universe. Running, running, running…” He paused to flick a few random switches on the console. “And that one time we had to hop,” the Doctor said, pointing at Rose and starting to hop. “Do you remember? Hopping for our lives.” He pointed at me, still hopping in place.

 

“Doctor, maybe not the best time,” I suggested. The manic grin faded slightly, but the Doctor did not stop hopping. He turned back to Rose.

 

“Yeah?” he tried. “All that hopping? Remember hopping for your life? Yeah?! Hop? With the…” When Rose still wasn’t responding, the wild enthusiasm was fading from his voice. The Doctor stopped hopping. “No?”

 

Hopping for your life on a planet made mostly of bounce house material is not the thing one can easily forget. Obviously, we both remembered. But really, was it the regeneration energy that destroyed the Doctor’s ability to read a room, or was he just really that dense this time?

 

The silence may have only lasted for a few seconds, but it was heavy and that made it feel like it lasted so much longer. It didn’t feel much better when Rose broke it.

 

“Can you change back?” she asked quietly.

 

“Do you want me to?” the Doctor asked before Rose had even finished talking.

 

“Yeah,” Rose answered with certainty.

 

“Oh.” The Doctor shot me a fearful look.

 

“Can you?” Rose repeated. The Doctor turned back to her.

 

“No,” the Doctor said simply. Oh, I thought. Does he think I tried to prevent his regeneration because Rose would want to leave him now? It wasn’t the reason. I hadn’t even really remembered she rejected him this strongly.

 

I’m not sure my surprised expression was the reassurance the Doctor had been seeking.

 

“Do you want to leave?” he asked like it hurt him to do so.

 

It took a second for that to sink in for Rose. “Do you want me to leave?”

 

“No!” the Doctor said immediately. He swallowed. “ But… your choice... if you want to go home…” Rose said nothing. She looked stricken at the thought of leaving, but also afraid and confused where she stood with this new, new Doctor. I was sure, as someone who knew Rose Tyler, that given time to actually think about it, she’d have chosen to stay on the TARDIS. She’d always choose the Doctor.

 

She didn’t get time to think. The Doctor took her short silence as rejection and turned to the console again.

 

“Cancel Barcelona,” he decided. “Change to London” He flipped a switch, “The Powell Estate” He spun a knob. “Ah... let's say the 24th of December.” The Doctor looked over a Rose, face the picture of cheerfulness. It didn’t fool me and I doubt it fooled Rose. “Consider it a Christmas present.”

 

Throughout the Doctor’s ramble, Rose had been slowly stepping slowly closer to the console. She was standing exactly next to him, when the Doctor pronounced “there” and stepped back. He tucked his hands into his armpits in a very Nine-like way. Rose looked at him, shocked and slightly scared, then looked at me, then back at the console. The TARDIS shook as it changed direction.

 

“I'm going home?” Rose asked. Funny, how a few minutes ago, she had been pretty insistent this was home. I almost, almost , turned to make a sarcastic comment as such to Jack. I remembered he wasn’t there, and promptly decided this wasn’t at all funny.

 

I sniffled and looked down at the floor again. Rose and the Doctor each had enough to worry about without knowing I was crying again.

 

“Up to you,” the Doctor answered. “Back to your mum. It's all waiting.” She just gave Mickey a rousing speech about how she doesn’t want that. Ironic that the life Rose was so happy to run away from was the very kind of life the Doctor had always secretly wanted. “Fish and chips, sausage and mash, beans on toast- no, Christmas! Turkey! Although, having met your mother-” The Doctor grimaced slightly. “-nut loaf would be more appropriate.”

 

Rose looked down quickly, to hide a smile that could only be described as fond. The Doctor latched onto that immediately.

 

“Was that a smile?” he asked.

 

“No,” Rose denied, but the smile was still there. I wiped my eyes and forced a smile myself.

 

“That was a smile,” the Doctor said knowingly.

 

“A bit of a smile,” I agreed. Rose didn’t look up from the console.

 

“No, it wasn't.” The smile was gone. The Doctor didn’t seem to see this as a set-back.

 

“You smiled,” he teased, drawing out the word.

 

“No, I didn't,” Rose snapped at us. When my flinch almost knocked me off the railing, I decided to get down. A good idea on my part, considering what was about to happen.

 

“Oh, come on, all I did was change,” the Doctor complained. “I didn't-” He gagged suddenly. The TARDIS shuddered in solidarity. Rose looked afraid again. This time, I think I did too.

 

“What?” we both asked.

 

“I said I didn't-” The Doctor was cut off with a gag again, except this time it was a full body reaction. I spared a thought to running down to my room to get the nanogenes, but I couldn’t imagine they’d do much more than regeneration energy could. “Uh oh.”

 

Rose started stepped cautiously around the console. I walked up behind the Doctor. “Are you alright?” Rose asked the now very panicked looking Doctor. He panted for a moment before breathing in deeply and breathing out excess regeneration energy. “What's that?”

 

“The change is going a bit wrong,” the Doctor tried to explain. “I’m all-” He gagged again, this time hard enough to fall to his knees, his face contorted in pain,

 

“Look,” Rose started, eyes desperately flicking back and forth between the Doctor and I. “Maybe we should go back. Let's go and find Captain Jack, he'd know what to do.”

 

“Rose-” I started.

 

“Gah, he's busy!” the Doctor interrupted, lying. “He's got plenty to do rebuilding the Earth!” Bent over as he was, a lever on the side of the console caught his eye. “I haven't used this one in years.”

 

“Probably a reason!” I shouted, taking faster steps toward him. He flicked it anyway, before I could stop him. The TARDIS shuddered violently. Rose got thrown into the console. The Doctor fell on his back on the ground. I’d managed to snag the console and stay upright.

 

I stretched over and flipped the switch back down. The TARDIS shuddered again, but I could tell she had slowed down, more from the relief now buzzing at the base of my skull than anything else. Excellent, I’d been really hoping that worked.

 

“What're you doing?” Rose asked, incredulous and not nearly as afraid as I was expecting.

 

“Putting on a bit of speed!” the Doctor said as casually as he was currently capable of being. “That's it!”

 

“Putting off a bit of speed!” I said in a bit of a panic. The Doctor moved so fast over the console, it was hard to even see which controls he was using. I scrambled around the console, trying to undo whatever the Doctor had done. I, however, was but a simply human woman who only knew to unturn all the knobs he turned and such. I’m not sure it really helped.

 

“My beautiful ship! Come on, faster there, girl!” The TARDIS shuddered, a sure sign that my counter efforts were doing exactly nill. I locked panicked eyes with Rose across the console. “Faster!” the Doctor shouted, sounding as crazed as he looked. “Wanna to break the time limit?”

 

“That’s a thing?” I asked at the same time Rose demanded “Stop it!”

 

“Ah, don't be so dull,” the Doctor said rudely. “Let's have a bit of fun! Let's rip through that Vortex!” In a breath between rambled sentences, the Doctor caught Rose’s eye. For just that moment, he calmed down

 

“The regeneration's going wrong,” he explained. “I can't stop myself.” That was all he could get out before he grimaced in pain, dipping his head to rest on the console. “Ah, my head…”

 

The Doctor sprung back to standing, looking somehow more manic than he had moments ago. “Faster!” he shouted. “Let's open those engines!”

 

The cloister bell tolled, the TARDIS’s most extreme alarm.

 

Fuck.

 

Rose looked around at the sound, and was probably not comforted at all by my expression. “What's that?”

 

“Alarm,” I shouted, just to be heard over the bell. The Doctor popped up next to her.

 

“We're gonna crash land!” he declared, delighted, laughing insanely.

 

“Well then, do something!” Rose shouted at him, barely loud enough to be heard over the increasingly loud bell.

 

“Too late!” the Doctor shouted back. “Out of control!” He ran around the console, giggling, but didn’t touch anything. Much as there was nothing that could be done to help, there was no more damage he could do. “Oh, I love it! Hot dawg!” The Doctor jumped up like a hyperactive toddler.

 

A button on the console lit up, and in my panic, I pressed it.

 

“You're gonna kill us!” Rose shouted. I’m not entirely sure what, precisely, that button did, but it must have been good, because the TARDIS buzzed pride in my head.

 

The cloisters kept ringing anyway.

 

“Hold on tight,” the Doctor commanded, as if Rose and I were not already clinging to the console for dear life. “Here we go!” The Doctor meet Rose’s eyes across the console, grinning madly, Rose looking scared. He turned to me with that grin, and I offered a nervous one in return, on instinct. “Christmas Eve!”

 

<...>

 

I won’t lie and say the TARDIS landed elegantly outside the Tyler flat, but I will say, quite proudly, that it did not crash out of the vortex and into two buildings, thank you very much. I still wasn’t sure exactly how I’d made that happen, but one should never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.

 

I slammed the lever that I’d learned from observation was the handbrake down as soon as I was sure we were on solid ground. The Doctor wasted no time in running to the doors. “Here we are then, London. Earth. The Solar System. We did it!” he cheered. Then he was gone outside, the doors swinging closed behind him. Rose was still standing, stock still, clinging to one of the coral struts.

 

“Hey,” I said quietly. I walked over slowly, like one would approach a very scared kitten. “You ok?” She let out a shaky breath and finally moved, ignoring me and running for the doors. I followed, only slightly hurt by that. It was a weird day for her; I’d let it slide.

 

We got outside just as Mickey was lowering a very unconscious Doctor to the ground.

 

“What happened? Is he all right?” Rose asked with significantly less worry than I had expected.

 

“I don't know, he just keeled over,” Mickey explained. I pushed past them all and checked the Doctor’s pulse. It was really hard to tell, but he seemed ok. Maybe? How many beats per minute was healthy for a binary vascular system? Why had I never asked that question before? “But who is he? Where's the Doctor?” Mickey demanded.

 

“That's him, right in front of you,” Rose said numbly. “That's the Doctor.”

 

“What do you mean, that's the Doctor?” Jackie asked. “Doctor who? And who are you?” It took me a minute to look up. She was staring at me. I pointed to myself.

 

“Oh, you mean me.” I looked around. “Yeah, I’m Katelyn. Katelyn Laurin. I was on the TARDIS when we pulled the console open.” Jackie Tyler was looking at me like I’d just sprouted wings, and only then did I remember that was months ago for her, and I had hidden in the hallways most of the time. “Anyway, we should probably get him inside.”

 

<...>

 

After extended assurance from both Rose and, to my slight surprise, Mickey, Jackie had let me into her flat. Then we’d all had an extremely awkward debate over who should change the Doctor into pajamas. Rose and I both won, which did not make the situation any less awkward. Especially with Rose making sad eyes at him the whole time. It was so weird, and I would have dropped dead from embarrassment if Nine’s choice of underwear had been anything but boxers. And that was something I’d never wanted to know about the Doctor.

 

“Here we go.” Jackie Tyler, to the rescue. She came in and sat on the bed with Rose, passing her daughter a stethoscope. “Tina the cleaner's got this lodger, a medical student, and she was fast asleep, so I just took it.” Rose was not listening to what her mother was saying. “Though I still say we should take him to hospital.”

 

“We can't.” Rose finally looked up at her mother. “They'd lock him up. They'd dissect him. One bottle of his blood could change the future of the human race.” Jackie opened her mouth to keep arguing, but Rose was just not having it today. “No! Shush!”

 

“Besides,” I said quietly while Rose listened to the Doctor’s hearts. “What he’s doing right now is better for him than anything any hospital could do.” That seemed to placate Jackie a bit, although I have no idea why she believed me.

 

“Both working,” Rose sighed in relief.

 

“What do you mean, both?” Jackie asked.

 

“He's got two hearts,” I told her.

 

“Oh, don't be stupid.”

 

“He has,” Rose defended.

 

“Anything else he's got two of?” I tried not to gag, I swear.

 

“Leave him alone,” Rose growled on the way out. Jackie followed her daughter with only a short backward glance at the Doctor.

 

I lingered in the room for a minute after the Tyler woman left. The Doctor almost looked peaceful, but there something on his face that told an onlooker he wasn’t. It was like the look children wear when they’re having a nightmare or sleeping off a heavy cold. I’d seen the look on my little brother often enough to recognize it.

 

I pulled the blankets higher, just to give my twitching hands something to do, when the Doctor took a sudden breath. I watched him breath out the excess regeneration energy with a pain in my chest.

 

“I wish I could help you,” I whispered. I reached out to brush his hair out of his face, but snapped my hand back before I touched him. He may not be conscious to remember, but I doubt he’d appreciate the contact. “I hate that I know there’s nothing I can do for you.” I looked over to the room’s open door, suddenly determined. I would not be useless today. “So I’ll do the next best thing.”

 

I found the Tyler women in the kitchen. “How can he go changing his face?” Jackie asked. “Is that a different face or is he a different person?” I opened my mouth to answer, but Rose beat me to it.

 

“How should I know?” Rose snapped. Then, she sighed. “Sorry. The thing is I thought I knew him, Mum.” I wanted to hug her, but I knew she needed to get this out, and I had a feeling she’d stop if I touched her. “I thought me and him were- And then he goes and does this.” Rose sniffled, wiping her eyes with her hoodie sleeve. “I keep forgetting he's not human.” Unable to wait any longer, I walked forward and put a hand on Rose’s back. She leaned into me, so I hugged her then.

 

“It’s an easy mistake to make,” I assured lightly, hoping to make a joke. “He looks human.” Rose laughed a bit.

 

“This is the bit where he says we look Time Lord, yeah?” she said. I laughed back, and Rose pulled away. “How are you ok right now?”

 

“I’m…” I wanted to tell her. God , did I want to tell her what I was, but now was probably not the time for another big shock. “I’m just better at hiding it than you,” I half-lied instead. “I’ve had a lot of practice.” Rose very nearly laughed again. I considered that quite the victory.

 

“The big question-” She turned back to her mother, wiping her sleeve under her eyes. “-is where'd you get a pair of men's pyjamas from?”

 

“Howard's been staying over,” Jackie said in a tone that told us both this conversation was not over, but she’d let it go for now. I almost winced. Mothers . I’d forgotten.

 

“What, Howard from the market? How long's that been going on?” Rose pulled away from me to seek comfort in her mother.

 

“A month or so,” Jackie dismissed. “First of all, he starts delivering to the door-” I left the two woman in the kitchen to go sit in the living room. I had no desire to hear about Jackie Tyler’s romantic escapades.

 

The Tyler’s couches were surprisingly comfortable. I flipped the TV on to a news channel and smiled ever so slightly at Harriet Jones’ face on the screen. I really did like her, even if she made one truly terrible decision.

 

“Is that Harriet Jones?” I heard Rose ask. “Why's she on the telly?”

 

“She's Prime Minister now,” Jackie explained. “I'm eighteen quid a week better off. They're calling it Britain's Golden Age. I keep on saying my Rose has met her.” Rose plopped down onto the arm of the couch next to me.

 

“Did more than that.” The blond elbowed me, so I looked at her. “Stopped World War Three with her.”

 

“That was the first thing with the Slitheen, yeah?” I asked, pretending I hadn’t seen series 1 about seven times.

 

“Yeah. Harriet Jones,” Rose said fondly. We both turned our attention back to the TV.

 

“Prime Minister, what about those calling the Guinevere One Space Probe a waste of money?” a reporter asked.

 

“Now, that's where you're wrong,” Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, answered with conviction. “I completely disagree if you don't mind.” Rose chuckled, which got a smile out of me. “The Guinevere One Space Probe represents this country's limitless ambition. British workmanship sailing up there among the stars.”

 

“About time someone else got up there,” I teased. “I was starting to think Americans would be 21st century Earth’s sole ambassadors to the stars.” Rose scoffed at me, even rolled her eyes, but she was smiling again, so mission fully accomplished.

 

<...>

 

After watching an hour or so of the Guinivere One news conference, Rose decided to go shopping with Mickey. She’d asked me along, but I didn’t have money or an excuse to borrow any from anyone, so I had just stayed in the flat and told her to go have fun.

 

Like any mother, as I was starting to remember, it had only taken Jackie Tyler a minute of not worrying about her own child to notice that I, a child, was just about as bad off.

 

“How d’you take your tea?” she asked from the kitchen.

 

“Uh, just straight. Nothing in it, thanks.” Jackie gave me a weird look when she passed me the mug, but didn’t comment out loud, which was much better than the first time Rose had made me tea. She just sat next to me on the couch. We sat in silence for a minute, watching more of the news conference, before Jackie sighed dramatically to get my attention.

 

“It’s Christmas eve,” she commented.

 

“T’is,” I agreed, taking a sip from my mug.

 

“You should be with your family.” Well, she certainly got straight to the point. I could see where Rose got it from. I took a long sip from my mug to avoid talking. Jackie, however, said nothing more, and I knew there was no getting out of this conversation.

 

“I’m as close as I can get,” I told her honestly, shrugging around the heartbreak. “It’s fine, really.”

 

“Come off it. I’m not an idiot,” Jackie protested. “You can’t be a minute older than my Rose. You’re just a kid and you should be with your family.”

 

“I’m 19, so yeah,” I deflected easily. That was a trick I had picked up from the Doctor. “Well, technically Rose is actually about 13 years older than me, cause I was actually born-” Jackie stood up with a sigh.

 

“Alright, when you want to talk about it properly, I’ll come back,” she said with that voice only mother’s can do that would make you feel guilty about damn near anything.

 

“Jackie.” My voice cracked, so I took a deep breath before turning to look at Jackie. She had stopped two steps from the entrance to the kitchen and was watching with a gentle expression. Mothers. God, I really had forgotten. “Really, I don’t have a family to go to. Even with a time machine, they’re gone. My only friends are your daughter and, on a good day, the Doctor. I wasn’t lying when I said this is the closest I have to family.”

 

“Oh, sweetheart-”

 

“I think I’ll go check on the Doctor again,” I whispered. Jackie, surprisingly, let me go without a fight.

 

He was fine, like I knew he would be, but I couldn’t be in the same room as Jackie Tyler and her damn sympathy. I’d had quite enough of that from her daughter, Jack, and, on very, rare and only recent occasions, the Doctor. I just wanted to be done grieving.

 

When I heard the phone ring and Jackie pick it up, I decided I needed to get out of the Tyler flat in general. It wasn’t cold outside, not for someone raised in the American Midwest, so I didn’t even grab my coat on the way out. I wandered around until I found the staircase to the roof, walked up, and perched myself probably a little too close to the edge.

 

It was probably a bad idea, but I let myself think about home. It was Christmas Eve today, or maybe never, which meant round one of opening presents at my Grandma’s house. It meant snacks for dinner and Cousin Missa’s macaroni salad. It meant my Dad talking to my uncles about football (the American kind), and my brother trying to explain Pokemon to the older men. It meant cold toes and hot chocolate and fellowship and I didn’t even realize I was crying until I went to brush my hair out of my face and felt wet cheeks.

 

Tomorrow, or maybe never, I would be the last one to wake up. My family would be so excited to start presents that we all nearly choked on our breakfast, but we took the time to make a mug of hot chocolate for each of us. I’d used the same mug every year for the last two years. It was the one my Aunt had bought me on what would now be my last family trip to Walt Disney World. We always emptied our stockings first, before working on the presents that were wrapped.

 

In those minutes or maybe hours or maybe days I spent on the rooftop of the Powell Estate, I was achingly aware of how far away from home I was. I had already given up on ever trying to get home, so it shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did. I had a life here now, however the hell here had happened.

 

I had a life, if not a home, but that was fine, I lied to myself. I’d always had an advanced case of wanderlust. When I was little, a TARDIS would have been a dream come true. It still was, mostly, but if only I’d thought harder about how much it would hurt to not have anything familiar to hold on to or return to.

 

What did they think had happened to me in the old world? Was I dead? Was I just missing? I’d rather be dead than missing. At least my loved ones would know to mourn and move on. But then again, here I was, still in my body. Either way, it would completely crush my little brother. He was bad enough when I left for college. How would he-

 

I’d never been more glad to get a phone call in my life.

 

“Rose?” My voice was somehow steady. Guess I’d passed into the broken stage of grief.

 

“Thank God. You have to get Mum and the Doctor. You have to get out of the flat now-”

 

“I’m not in the flat,” I whispered. This reality started filtering back into my mind.

 

The Christmas Invasion.

 

“I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas tree!”

 

“Oh God, I’m not in the flat!” I slammed my thumb on the hang up button and bolted off the roof. Rose, Mickey, and I got to the door at the same time. We didn’t even acknowledge each other, just burst through.

 

“Get off the phone!” Rose shouted to her mother.

 

“It's only Bev,” Jackie defended when Rose tore the phone from her mother’s hand. “She says hello.” Mickey rolled his eyes in a clear gesture of ‘we don’t have time for this’.

 

“Bev? Yeah. Look, it'll have to wait.” Rose hung up and slammed the phone down onto the nearest flat surface. “Right, it's not safe. We've gotta get out. Where can we go?”

 

“My mate Stan, he'll put us up,” Mickey answered immediately.  

 

“That's only two streets away,” Rose dismissed. “What about Mo? Where's she living now?”

 

“I don't know. Peak District,” Jackie answered.

 

“Well, we'll go to cousin Mo's then,” Rose decided. Jackie scoffed.

 

“Ah, it's Christmas Eve! We're not going anywhere! What're you babbling about?”

 

“Mum-” Then I saw it.

 

“That’s a different tree,” I interrupted. I should have been here. I should have warned her.

 

“That’s a new tree,” Rose agreed. “Where'd you get it?”

 

“I thought it was you,” Jackie said to her daughter.

 

“How can it be me?” Rose asked, worry rising in her voice.  

 

“Well, you went shopping. There was a ring at the door, and there it was!” Jackie defended.

 

“No, that wasn't me.”

 

“Then who was it?” Jackie was starting to understand why we were all scared.

 

Rose pulled her mom slowly away from the tree and stepped to the front of our group. My mind was racing. Lights started turning on on the tree. “Oh, you're kidding me,” Rose sighed. Sections of the tree slowly started rotating in different directions. How could I fix the fact that I hadn’t fixed this? The tree advanced, the momentum of the spinning carrying it forward. It chopped through the coffee table before any of us could shake the shock enough to run.

 

Rose and I peeled off into the bedroom with the Doctor. Rose ran right over to him, but I had a different goal. I started digging around in the Ninth Doctor’s leather jacket, because I needed to keep him asleep. Then he’d heal faster. Then he could get up there faster. Then we could save more lives. Once Jackie had run in, she and Mickey started moving a dresser in front of the door.

 

“Doctor, wake up!” Rose shouted.

 

“No, I can do this!” I shouted back, pulling what I needed from the Doctor’s old leather jacket. I positioned myself on the far side of the bed. “Point and think. Point and think.”

 

The tree burst through the door and tore up the dresser like it was nothing.

 

“I'm going to get killed by a Christmas tree!” Jackie whined. I took a deep breathed, aimed, and pressed the button on the sonic screwdriver. To my shock, delight, and amazement, it ground slowly to a halt.

 

“Ha!” I lowered the sonic, which was a bad idea, because the tree started spinning again. I lifted and pressed again. The tree stopped again.

 

“What are you doing!” Rose shouted.

 

“Well, I thought, ‘hey it’s spinning, which probably means they’re gears in there somewhere’, and I know the sonic can turn gears, so there’s probably a setting that stops gears from turning. And that worked.” I couldn’t look away from the tree. “Slight problem: ‘stop’ doesn’t appear to be ‘off’, so as soon as I lift my thumb off this screwdriver button, we are, for lack of a better word, fucked.”

 

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Rose lean down and whisper something in the Doctor’s ear. I didn’t even have time to try and stop her. The Doctor shot up to a sitting position and snatched the sonic from my hand. He pointed for only a second, and the tree burst into a million pieces around the room.

 

“Remote control.” The Doctor almost sounded impressed. Everyone in the room was staring at him in shock, except me. I just felt my heart sinking to join my stomach at the bottom of my torso. “But who's controlling it?” He practically flew out of bed, somehow snagging a robe on the way. The others followed him immediately, but it took me a minute to make my legs to work. God, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it right.

 

“What kind of rubbish were they?” I heard Mickey laugh when I finally joined the others. “I mean, no offence, but they're not much cop if a sonic screwdriver's going to scare them off.”

 

“Pilot fish,” the Doctor said ominously.

 

“What?” Rose asked.

 

“They were just pilot fish.” The Doctor’s voice caught on the last word. He collapsed back against the wall. I could only imagine the pain he was in.

 

“What's wrong?” Rose asked, worried. The Doctor panted, trying to think of words.

 

“This is why I didn’t want you to wake him up,” I said numbly, unable to conjure emotions anymore. The Doctor managed to lift his head enough to look at me, and I could almost convince myself I saw worry in his eyes.

 

“I'm still regenerating,” he explained. “I'm bursting with energy.” He exhaled, and breathed out more excess regeneration energy. “You see? The pilot fish could smell it a million miles away. So they eliminate the defence, that's you lot, and they carry me off. They could run their batteries on me for a couple of ye-” The Doctor cried out and pushed himself off one wall to the other. “My head! I'm having a neuron implosion. I need-”

 

“What do you need?” Jackie interrupted.

 

“I need-”

 

“Say it. Tell me, tell me.”

 

“I need-”

 

“Painkillers?”

 

“I need-”

 

“Do you need aspirin?”

 

“I need-”

 

“Codeine? Paracetamol? Oh, I don't know, Pepto-Bismol?”

 

“Shut up, Jackie!” I shouted, annoyed.

 

Why that was what got the Doctor’s attention, I will never know, but it was after I said it that the Doctor pushed himself off the wall and toward me. He clung to my arms in some attempt to keep himself upright. “You can’t accelerate the regeneration.”

 

“I know, I-” He yanked the watch he was still wearing off his wrist and pressed both it and the sonic screwdriver into my hand. “Wh-what are you-”

 

“Setting 14-C cuts off-” He cried out again and collapsed against the wall. “We haven't got much time,” he said to the group. “If there's pilot fish, then - why's there an apple in my dressing gown?”

 

“Oh, that's Howard. Sorry,” Jackie apologized.

 

“He keeps apples in his dressing gown?” The Doctor almost sounded normal.

 

“He gets hungry,” Jackie defended.

 

“What, he gets hungry in his sleep?”

 

“Sometimes.” The Doctor looked very ready to comment on this, but just shouted, face contorted in pain, and slid down the wall.

 

“Argh! Brain collapsing.” The Doctor fumbled around, eyes closed, until he found Rose’s hand. He looked at her like a man dying of thirst looked at water. “The pilot fish- The pilot fish-” He could barely talk.

 

“The pilot fish mean something is coming,” I said. The Doctor just managed to tear his eyes away from Rose to look at me before passing out.

 

<...>

 

I left Rose alone to take care of the Doctor. Instead, I curled up on what was left of Tyler’s couch (which was most of it by some miracle) put the watch on, and watched the hands tick away the last few seconds of Christmas Eve. Why the watch? Did he think I knew how long it would take for his body to be done healing? Because I did not. I played with the sonic in my hoodie pocket.

 

“Jackie, I'm using the phone line. Is that alright?” Mickey asked. Ah, the 00s. When you couldn’t have Internet and phone. So glad I was a little kid for most of them.

 

“Yeah. Keep a count of it.” Jackie came over and handed me a mug. It hurt my heart to realize it was hot chocolate, not tea. Well, at least I was feeling, I guess.

 

The clock on the wall chimed. “It's midnight,” Jackie observed. “Christmas day.” Rose walked in, twisting her hair.

 

“Merry Christmas,” I muttered.

 

“Any change?” Jackie asked Rose.

 

“He's worse. Just one heart beating,” Rose admitted, sitting on the arm of the couch next to me. “Do you still have those nanogenes?”

 

“In my room,” I said. “They’re only programmed for humans though. Well, and I guess Chula.” Rose sighed, then we all fell silent, which let us focus on the report coming from the television.

 

“Scientists in charge of Britain's mission to Mars have re-established contact with the Guinevere One space probe. They're expecting the first transmission from the planet's surface in the next few minutes,” a reporter, well, reported.

 

“Yes, we are. We're, we're back on schedule,” the scientist, Daniel Llewellyn explained. I managed to smile a little bit.

 

“Have I ever told you how much I love how British people say ‘schedule’,” I said to Rose. She huffed out an almost laugh.

 

“Yeah, just about every time you hear it,” she shot back. She bumped my shoulder with her hip, and for a second, everything felt normal again.

 

“But is it true that you completely lost contact earlier tonight?” a reporter asked. That put the frowns back on our faces.

 

“Yes, we had a bit of a scare,” Llewellyn explained nervously. “G-Guinevere seemed to fall off the scope, but it, it was just a blip. Only disappeared for a few seconds. S-She is fine now, absolutely fine. We're getting the first pictures transmitted live any minute now. I'd better get back to it, thanks.” He rushed off, clearly glad for any excuse to get off stage.

 

Mickey’s computer dinged. “Here we go, pilot fish.” Rose rushed over, but I really wasn’t in the mood for shark CGI from 2006ish, so I stayed on the couch. “Scavengers, like the Doctor said. Harmless. They're tiny. But the point is, the little fish swim alongside the big fish.”

 

“Do you mean like sharks?” Rose asked.

 

“Great big sharks,” Mickey clarified. I looked back at the TV, but the image had changed to a stand by message. “So, what the Doctor means is, we had them, now we get that.” The shark on the screen roared, actually roared, like a tiger, and ate the camera.

 

“Something is coming,” Rose repeated. “Katelyn, how did you know?” I looked back to Rose, but there was no accusation in her eyes. Of course there wasn’t. What would make her think I could possibly be what I was?

 

“I had a marine biology phase,” I answered semi-honestly. I mean, I had, but that’s not why I knew. “Mickey, how close?”

 

“There's no way of telling, but the pilot fish don't swim far from their daddy.”

 

“Now, that’s just not even close to a biologically accurate thing to say,” I said.

 

“So, it's close?” Rose asked, starting to chew her thumb.

 

“Funny sort of rocks,” Jackie commented. Rose and I swung back toward the TV to see what was certainly not the martian landscape. It was distinctly more red than that. We’d seen the martian landscape. Rose had been insistent after I’d told her humans had discovered flowing water on Mars in 2015.

 

“That's not rocks,” we both said.

 

“This image is being transmitted via mission control,” some newscaster explained. “Coming live from the depths of space on Christmas morning.” The image finally cleared of all the static to show an red-eyed alien with a head a bit like a deformed goat's skull. It growled at the screen, and we all jumped back. Damn real life jumpscares.

 

“What was that?” Jackie screeched.

 

“The shark,” I said.

 

<...>

 

Mickey had been hacking away for nearly an hour now. I’d given up trying to watch him. It had only given me a headache. I’d never been good with computers.

 

Collectively, we gone through about 15 mugs of tea, 10 checks on the Doctor’s condition (six of which were Rose’s), and a few sandwiches. I was trying very hard to think of a way to convince the others to let me leave. Maybe I could get to UNIT HQ and get sent up to the ship early. Maybe I could-

 

“Rose, Katelyn.” We both shot up off the couch and ran to Mickey. “Take a look. I've got access to the military. They're tracking a spaceship. It's big, it's fast, and it's coming this way.”

 

“Coming for what, though? The Doctor?” Rose wondered.

 

“I have this sinking feeling he’s just an added bonus,” I muttered. Mickey typed a few more times and got us a very clear image of the Sycorax. They were speaking in that spitting language of theirs. I shouldn’t have been shocked that it didn’t translate, but it still felt like a punch in my already twisted guts.

 

“Have you seen them before?” Mickey asked hopefully.

 

“No,” Rose said quietly.

 

Yes, I didn’t say. If I tried really hard, I might even be able to remember what they were saying right now.

 

I shook my head instead.

 

The Sycorax talked for a long time, before repeating their name a few times and cheering. I wasn’t paying attention. I was trying to reach for the thread of the TARDIS consciousness in my mind. It was hard so far away, but I could just barely feel her, which gave me some hope. I just barely knew the Sycorax language, but maybe it was enough.

 

“I don't understand what they're saying,” Rose admitted in defeat. “The TARDIS translates alien languages inside my head, all the time, wherever I am.” The TARDIS was almost reaching back, but it was like something was blocking her. My hopes flew a little higher.

 

“So, why isn't it doing it now?” Mickey asked no one in particular.

 

“I don't know,” Rose admitted softly. “Must be the Doctor. Like he's part of the circuit, and he's, he's broken.”

 

“Too far away,” I mumbled, accidently out loud. “I-I just need-” I ran out of the flat before anyone could stop me. I took the steps down two at a time, and tore across the cement toward the TARDIS. I crashed into the doors with my momentum, and I was pretty sure I was going to have bruises in some awkward places later, but I didn’t care. I pounded my hands on the doors that wouldn’t open.

 

“Come on. I know you don’t need a key to open.” The doors stubbornly remained closed, even when I backed up and tried snapping, so I decided to plead my case.

“The TARDIS translation circuit is telepathic,” I said to no one, since no one had followed me. “It’s not working because there’s a tear in the pathway for the current. Now, I’m not a Time Lord, and I’m certainly not the Doctor.” I pulled the sonic screwdriver out of my hoodie pocket, more to have something to hold than for any useful purpose. Not like I knew the ‘unlock’ setting, which to be fair was something I probably should have asked about a long time ago. “But I am a telepath. Powerful too, based on the sheer amount of people who have tried to take advantage of that. Just ask the Sernox. Can you use me instead?”

 

The TARDIS was silent. I reached for her in my head, but she stayed frustratingly out of reach, like she was backing away every time I tried to reach for her.

 

I sagged and rested my forehead against the doors. “Oh, come on. You’re already in my head in a different way from other humans. That has to mean something.” That pathetic attempt also changed nothing. She stayed silent. I punched the door in frustration, and all the fight drained out of me with that punch.

 

“Can’t help the Doctor, can’t fix the TARDIS, can’t save Llewellyn.” I turned my back to the doors, leaned on them, and slid down to the pavement. “I’m useless,” I whispered to no one, since no one was there to care.

Chapter Text

To say Rose Tyler was having a bad day would have been the understatement of the millenium (And she should know; she’d seen a good amount of the next few). The day had started nice enough, waking up to a brilliant sunrise at Camp Willow Brook. But then it was all getting pulled onto the Game Station and nearly losing Katelyn and Daleks and being sent home and losing Jack and whatever had happened to the Doctor. She thought she would be entitled to a day off, ta very much. Then, this.

 

Katelyn had run off at some point in the night, and when she’d come back, she’d been so despondent it was like she'd completely regressed back to the person she had been four months ago, like she hadn’t healed at all. On any other day, the sight would have and had broken her heart, but she was just so tired now.

 

For what felt like the millionth time in as many days, Rose went to check on the man who had replaced the Doctor. He was asleep now, at least, finally looking almost peaceful again. Her mum had fallen asleep at his bedside. Any other day, she would have smiled at that, teased her mum about actually caring about the Time Lord.

 

Rose felt more than heard someone walk up behind her. “The Doctor wouldn't do this,” she said, thinking it was Katelyn. “The old Doctor, the proper Doctor, he'd wake up. He'd save us.” Her voice was shaking more than she wanted it to.

 

“You really love him, don't you?” Mickey said sadly. Oh, so it hadn’t been Katelyn. Any other time, Rose would have flinched, apologized, and denied. She just didn’t have the strength today. 

 

She leaned her head on Mickey’s shoulder for a moment, before turning to lean into him for a hug. Any other day, she would have cared how unfair this was to him. But then again, any other day, Mickey would have mentioned it.

 

Eventually, Rose broke away and went to shower and change her clothes. Then she found Katelyn, who was sitting on the same spot on the couch she’d been sitting on since they’d gotten here. If Rose had lost the Doctor and was separated from Jack, at least the two of them still had each other. “You could probably borrow some of mine or Mum’s clothes, if you want to change,” Rose offered. “Or I could go unlock the TARDIS for you.”

 

Katelyn made no move to get up. “No, thanks.” She sounded broken and, again, on any other day, Rose would want to and had helped her.

 

“What is wrong with you?” Rose suddenly heard from outside. “Jason?” She ran to the door and threw it open, Mickey close behind. “Jason?” Rose saw two of her Mum’s neighbors, a nice couple, newly married when she’d met the Doctor, walking toward the stairs to the roof.

 

“Sandra?” she called. The woman turned around to Rose. She was still in her pajamas, her face a picture of distress.

 

“He won't listen. He's just walking,” the woman explained. “He won't stop walking! There's this sort of light thing.” She turned back around to follow her husband. “Jason? Stop it right now!” Rose looked around and down off the balcony and saw the entire estate flooded with people walking mindlessly around. No, not mindlessly. They were all walking toward- With a quick glance at Mickey, she took off toward the roof. 

 

Rose stopped next to Sandra and Jason, right on the edge of the roof, and looked around quickly. There were tens, if not hundreds, of people just standing and staring off at nothing. Other people were begging their loved ones to step back, but no one was listening. They just kept staring.

 

“What do we do?” Mickey asked, desperate and sure Rose had an answer.

 

“Nothing,” Rose said, completely defeated. “There's no one to save us. Not anymore.” 

 

The pair slunk back to the flat. Mum was awake now, fussing about the flat with nothing to do. The TV was on again, tuned to a news station. Rose briefly wondered if Katelyn had turned it on, and went to check.

 

In reality, Katelyn had not shifted an inch from where she’d been before. Rose needed to talk to her, she decided. Her mind was near as quick as the Doctor’s. And sometimes she just knew things, knew things even the Doctor didn’t. Katelyn Laurin must know something .

 

The signal on the TV cut off suddenly, before Rose could say anything, and there was Harriet Jones, sitting at a desk.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I may take a moment during this terrible time. It's hardly the Queen's speech. I'm afraid that's been cancelled.” Harriet looked off screen. “Did we ask about the royal family?” Someone off to the side must have replied, because she glanced quickly up. “Oh. They're on the roof.

 

“But, ladies and gentlemen, this crisis is unique, and I'm afraid to say, it might get much worse. I would ask you all to remain calm. But I have one request.” Rose had a terrible feeling she knew what the Prime Minister was about to say. “Doctor, if you're out there, we need you. I don't know what to do. If you can hear me, Doctor.” Rose had to turn away. “If anyone knows the Doctor, if anyone can find him,” She walked in a sort of blank state to the bedroom. “The situation has never been more desperate. Help us. Please, Doctor. Help us.”

 

When Rose saw him still unconscious on the bed, she burst into tears. She’d only been crying for a second when she felt someone hug her from behind. She turned immediately and nearly crushed Katelyn in her hug back.

 

“He's gone,” she sobbed into her friend’s shoulder. “The Doctor's gone.” 

 

“He’s not,” Katelyn said with more conviction than Rose thought the young woman could have in her today. “I promise you, Rose Tyler, no power in this universe could make him leave you.” Rose wanted to believe her, she really did. Mum came up behind the two girls and wrapped them both in a hug.

 

“It's all right. I'm sorry.” Without preamble, every window in the flat suddenly shattered. Mickey ran by and out the door. Katelyn pulled away from the hug and stood up tall and squared her shoulders, the determination Rose had always admired in her friend returning full force.

 

“That was the spaceship entering the atmosphere,” she warned. Rose noticed that her eyes weren’t red, that she hadn’t been crying. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. “You can go outside and check, or you can trust me, stay, and pack.” Rose just nodded, understanding. Mickey came running back in a few minutes later, mouth open to probably tell them exactly what Katelyn just said.

 

“Mickey, we're going to carry him. Mum, get your stuff, and get some food,” Rose ordered.

 

“Just pack your stuff, Jackie, I’ll get the food.” Then Katelyn was gone toward the kitchen.

 

“Are we leaving?” Mickey asked, already moving to help Rose. “Where to?”

 

“The TARDIS,” Rose said immediately. “It's the only safe place on Earth.”

 

“What're we going to do in there?” Mum demand, making no move to listen to her daughter. Rose grabbed the robe and threw the blankets off the man who had been the Doctor.

 

“Hide,” she said simply, pulling the man’s arm into one of the sleeves.

 

“Is that it?” Mum asked, incredulous. Rose stopped her movements.

 

“Mum, look in the sky. There's a great, big, alien invasion and I don't know what to do. Katelyn doesn’t know what to do. We've travelled with him, and we’ve seen all that stuff, but when I'm stuck at home, I'm useless. Now, all we can do is run and hide, and I'm sorry. Now, move!” No one could deny the conviction in her voice, so Mum made to move and pack.

 

<...>

 

While Rose and Mickey ran back and forth, bringing bag after unnecessary bag onto the TARDIS, I went to work making the Doctor about as comfortable as one could be on metal grating. I pulled out a few of the blankets I’d hidden in the console room, draped one across his body, and wedged another under his head. It was the least I could do since he’d carried me to my bed twice now.

 

“No chance you could fly this thing?” Mickey asked, dropping the last bag he carried.

 

“Not anymore, no,” Rose snapped.

 

“I can take the handbrake off,” I offered uselessly. “80% sure that lever takes off, but I can’t program coordinates, so God only knows where we might end up.” Rose snorted.

 

“Well, Rose did it before,” Mickey said, ignoring us.

 

“I know, but it's sort of been wiped out of my head, like it's forbidden.” She shot me a look, like she knew I knew why, but didn’t ask. “Try that again and I think the Universe rips in half.”

 

“Ah, better not, then,” Mickey agreed lightly.

 

“Maybe not,” Rose snapped again.

 

“So, what do we do? Just sit here?” Mickey argued.

 

“Well, it’s here or wherever the hell the time vortex spits us. Your choice,” I offered. Rose looked ready to add on to that, but Jackie interrupted. 

 

“Right, here we go. Nice cup of tea.” She opened a thermos she’d brought and poured into the lid. 

 

“Mmm, the solution to everything,” Rose complained.

 

“Now, stop your moaning.” Jackie passed the thermos to Mickey. “I'll get the rest of the food.” Then she left. I twisted the sonic around in my hands, trying to figure out what to do. Somehow, just being back on the TARDIS was making me feel better. Less pointless, less useless. Here, I could do something. Here, I was powerful.

 

“Tea. Like we're having a picnic while the world comes to an end,” Mickey joked. “Very British.” I pulled a an exaggerated face, scrunching my nose and fake gagging.

 

“That’s disgusting. Get your constitutional monarchy away from me,” I joked back. I backed toward the doors. Maybe, I could-

 

Mickey stopped pacing in front of the scanner. “How does this thing work? If it picks up TV, maybe we could see what's going on out there. Maybe we've surrendered. What do you do to it?” He started pushing random buttons on the scanner, which luckily did nothing. 

 

“I don't know. It sort of tunes itself.” Rose flipped a few nobs, which made the scanner beep, but that was about it. 

 

“Maybe it's a distress signal,” Mickey offered.

 

“A fat lot of good that's going to do,” Rose gripped.

 

“Are you going to be a misery all the time?” Mickey teased.

 

“Yes,” Rose said, like she’d just made the decision now. Mickey smiled.

 

“You should look at it from my point of view, stuck in here with your mum's cooking.”

 

“Hey!” I said, trying to hide how nervous I was right now. Rose would probably have noticed if she’s been paying attention. I was tapping the sonic screwdriver incessantly against the palm of my hand. Never a good sign. “I made some of that.”

 

“Where is she?” Rose suddenly realized. “I'd better give her a hand. It might start raining missiles out there.” She walked around the console toward me.

 

“Tell her anything from a tin, that's fine,” Mickey joked again.

 

“Why don't you tell her yourself?” Rose teased.

 

“I'm not that brave,” Mickey answered honestly.

 

I didn’t wait any longer, didn’t wait for Rose to go first. I simply threw the door open and just stepped out into what I damn well knew to be an ambush. I didn’t say anything as a Sycorax grabbed me roughly by the arm and started walking me forward. I heard Rose exit and yelp behind me, and Mickey come running out after her.

 

“The door, Mickey!” I shouted over my shoulder. “Close the door!” He scrambled and just managed to slam the TARDIS door shut before a Sycorax could get in. Said alien roared and yanked Mickey to join the rest of us. I glared at the two piles of bones that no one had had a chance to do anything about, hoping I looked a little like the Oncoming Storm.

 

“Rose,” Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, called as soon as she saw us. She ran forward and pulled Rose into a hug. “Rose! I've got you. My Lord. Oh, my precious thing.” She pulled back to look Rose in the eyes. “The Doctor, is he with you?” Rose backed away slowly.

 

“No. We're on our own,” Rose said in defeat. The Sycorax leader growled and spit in his language. I glared harder. 

 

“The yellow girl,” Harriet’s aide translated. “She has the clever blue box. Therefore, she speaks for your planet.” Before Rose could move, I pulled the sonic out of my pocket and pointed it at the leader’s side. The whip on his belt sparked, and he ripped it off and threw it away. I smirked when he pointed at me and growled

 

“That child has a sonic stick. Therefore, the clever blue box is hers. She will speak for your planet,” the man translated. Every other human on the ship screamed their protest, but I just made a show of cracking my knuckles and walked forward.

 

“They’ll kill you!” Harriet yelled, distressed. 

 

“Not if I’m clever,” I dismissed. When I walked forward, the colosseum of Sycorax cheered. I swallowed the rest of my nervousness and checked the watch. I just had to stall probably only for a miute, but maybe if I talked some sense, I could avoid this ship being blown up.

 

I clapped my hands together than threw my arms wide in a gesture that would make the eleventh Doctor proud. “Hellooooo Sycorax!” I paused to let my voice echo around the room. When it faded, there was absolute silence. “I am here to address you on behalf of the human race according to Article 15 of the Shadow Proclamation. This Earth-” I started pacing in a move that would make Ten proud. “-is a level 5 planet, of which invading, annexing, or seeding is strictly forbidden.” I counted the list off on my fingers. “Which leaves you with exactly three options. 

 

“One!” I held my hand with one finger pointed in the air, a bit more dramatically then was, perhaps, necessary. “You release the humans on the surface from your control, allow me and my friends here to return to the blue box, put us back on Earth, and leave in peace.” I paused, but that option got no reactions.

 

“Alright then, two!” I held up two fingers, because let it never be said I half-ass shenanigans. “ I release the humans on the surface, step back into the blue box, call the Shadow Proclamation, and you are all arrested and likely sentenced to execution.” More silence. I turned back to Rose and the others, who were all staring at me in shock. “Geez, tough crowd,” I joked. “Alright.” I looked at my new watch, Nine’s watch.

 

“Oops, well, would you look at the time. Option three is the one your going with, sorry guys.” I shrugged in mock disillusion, even though my stomach was about 75% excited butterflies at that point. “You seem confused,” I said even though I couldn’t really tell. “Allow me to explain.” I stopped pacing. “First mistake: you let me talk.” I stuck my hands in my pockets. “Second mistake: you didn’t leave when I offered.” I took a few steps backward, toward the TARDIS. “Third mistake, much as I would love her to be-” I heard the TARDIS doors creak open behind me, and I grinned . “-she’s not really my box.”

 

<...>

 

“Did you miss me?” the Doctor asked simply, lips quirking up into a smile with no real input from him. Everyone, Sycorax and humans alike, spun quickly to look at him. A grin slowly made its way onto Rose’s face and grew until it matched the one on Katelyn’s. The Doctor walked forward, and was immediately charged by the Sycorax that had taken his mask off earlier. The Doctor caught the club swung at him, tore it out of the alien’s hand, and snapped it over his knee. “You just can't get the staff. Now, you, just wait. I'm busy.” He pointed, then turned around. Katelyn was standing next to Rose and-.

 

“Mickey, hello!” The Doctor looked around and found- “And Harriet Jones MP for Flydale North. Blimey, it's like This Is Your Life.” He turned back to the people who’d been taking care of him. “Tea! That's all I needed, a good cup of tea! Superheated infusion of free radicals and tannin. Just the thing for healing the synapses.”

 

“You’re so British,” Katelyn teased. The Doctor beamed at her, feeling something like pride in his chest. She was such a quick thinker, and so very brave. He hadn’t gotten to choose her as a companion, but he certainly should have. “Just once, would it kill you to be from the States?”

 

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. Katelyn scoffed and rolled her eyes, still smiling, but he ignored her and turned to Rose. “Now, first thing's first. Be honest, how do I look?”

 

“Um-” Rose had clearly not been expecting that question. She really should have, since that was the first thing this body had ever asked her. “-different.”

 

“Good different or bad different?” the Doctor pressed. This was absurdly important to him. Guess vanity was a thing this go-around. Or it was Rose-centric vanity. That was always a possibility.

 

“Just different,” Rose insisted.

 

“Am I... ginger?” he asked. Katelyn snorted. He continued to ignore her.

 

Rose looked up at his hair. “No, you're just sort of brown.”

 

“Oh, I wanted to be ginger. I've never been ginger,” he complained. He turned and walked away a few steps before he spun back around and pointed. “And you, Rose Tyler, fat lot of good you were. You gave up on me. Oh, that's rude.” He dropped his arm, forwning. “Is that the sort of man I am now. Am I rude? Rude and not ginger.”

 

“In your defense it is great hair,” Katelyn offered. The Doctor turned and beamed at her again. 

 

“You, Katelyn Laurin, were brilliant, by the way.” Did she just blush? No. Katelyn didn’t blush. “Have you actually read Article 15 of the Shadow Proclamation?” Maybe she had blushed, because she wasn’t looking at him anymore either.

 

“Well, I figured one of us should,” she answered. Oo, good subtly there. To anyone else, that would mean exactly what she said. To him, it meant ‘I knew this was coming and prepared more than a day in advance’. That little kernel of pride grew, just a little.

 

“I'm sorry. Who is this?” Harriet asked Rose, as if the Doctor weren’t standing right there. Well, who was being rude now?

 

“I'm the Doctor,” he informed her.

 

“He's the Doctor.” Rose didn’t sound as sure as her would have liked.

 

“W-what happened to my Doctor?” Harriet demanded with all the strength of a person used to power. Dangerous, that. He should know.  “Or is it a title that's just passed on?”

 

“I'm him. I'm literally him.” The Doctor was getting tired of explaining this. Maybe he should make pamphlets. Oh, some kind of video! “Same man, new face. Well, new everything.” He felt himself smirking, without meaning to, again. Alright, two things to add to the list.

 

“But you can't be.”

 

“Harriet Jones-” Oh, his voice echoed when he talked like that. “-we were trapped in Downing Street and the one thing that scared you wasn't the aliens, it wasn't the war, it was the thought of your mother being on her own.”

 

“Oh, my God.” She looked him up and down.

 

“Did you win the election?” he asked, knowing the answer. Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, smiled.

 

“Landslide majority.”

 

“If I might interrupt,” the Sycorax leader said. The Doctor turned, having actually forgotten for a moment they were all in danger.

 

“Yes, sorry.” He couldn’t seem to stop smiling. Not that that was really new. “Hello, big fella.”

 

“Who exactly are you?” the leader tried again.

 

“Well, that's the question-” the Doctor started.

 

“I demand to know who you are!” the leader shouted. 

 

“I don't know!” the Doctor shouted back, imitating the leader’s tone. “See, there's the thing. I'm the Doctor, but beyond that, I just don't know. I literally do not know who I am. It's all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy?” He winked at Rose, seemingly on instinct. She smiled; Katelyn gagged. “Right old misery? Life and soul? Right handed? Left handed?”

 

“God, I hope so,” Katelyn interrupted. The Doctor started pacing, looking like he was just wandering, but really aiming for some kind of control panel. There was always a control panel

 

“A gambler? A fighter? A coward? A traitor? A liar? A nervous wreck? I mean, judging by the evidence, I've certainly got a gob.” The Doctor caught something out of the corner of his eye and knew exactly what he had to do. “And how am I going to react when I see this, a great big threatening button.” He ran over to said button, and heard the crowd following him. “A great big threatening button which must not be pressed under any circumstances, am I right? Let me guess. It's some sort of control matrix, hmm? Hold on, what's feeding it?” 

 

The Doctor squatted down next to the pillar, but the sonic went off and the door swung open before he could reach for it. He had the distinct urge to turn and banter with the young woman currently holding said screwdriver, but he really was on a roll right now and didn’t want to lose that momentum.

 

“And what've we got here?” He stuck his finger in it and licked his finger before he could really stop himself. “Blood? Yeah, definitely blood. Human blood. A Positive, with just a dash of iron. Ah.” Even the Sycorax looked disgusted. Well, there were right there. That was gross. “But that means…blood control. Blood control! Oh, I haven't seen blood control for years,” he said, almost fondly. “You're controlling all the A Positives.” The Sycorax leader growled, which let the Doctor know he was on the right track. 

 

“Which leaves us with a great big stinking problem,” the Doctor continued. “Because I really don't know who I am. I don't know when to stop. So, if I see a great big threatening button which should never, ever, ever be pressed-” He raised his arm in the air. “Then I just want to do this.”

 

The Doctor reached over and slammed his hand down on the button, much to the dismay of all the humans. Well, all the humans bar one. Katelyn was grinning like a mad woman, having, maybe, too much fun. Well, she knew the outcome, same as him, and he was grinning too.

 

“You killed them!” the one human whose name the Doctor didn’t know shouted.

 

“What do you think, big fella?” the Doctor taunted the Sycrorax. “Are they dead?”

 

“We allow them to live,” the leader responded through gritted teeth.

 

“Allow?” The Doctor almost laughed. “You've no choice.” He started pacing again. These new legs just did not want to stay still. “I mean, that's all blood control is. Cheap bit of voodoo. Scares the pants off you, but that's as far as it goes. It's like hypnosis.” He found a ledge to lean on, and did. “You can hypnotise someone to walk like a chicken or sing like Elvis. You can't hypnotise them to death. Survival instinct's too strong.”

 

“Blood control was just one form of conquest,” the leader announced. The Doctor had really been hoping he didn’t say that. “I can summon the armada and take this world by force.”

 

“Well, yeah, you could, yeah, you could do that, of course you could. But why?” the Doctor asked. “Look at these people. These human beings. Consider their potential. From the day they arrive on the planet and blinking step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen. More to do than-”

 

“Doc,” Katelyn interrupted. He frowned at her.

 

“I was-”

 

“That's The Lion King,” she informed him. 

 

“Oh.” Maybe his brain was still a bit scrambled. Really, an invasion was the last thing he needed right after a regeneration. “Yeah, right, sorry, but the point still stands.” He pushed up off the wall and marched back over to the crowd. “Leave them alone!”

 

“Or what?” the Sycorax leader challenged.

 

“Or-” The Doctor looked around for a bit, before catching sight of the sword each Sycorax wore at their hip. Blimey, they were really very armed. He snagged the sword and ran back toward the TARDIS. “-I challenge you!” The Sycorax seemed to find this hilarious. “Oh, that struck a chord. Am I right that the sanctified rules of combat still apply?”

 

“You stand as this world's champion?” The leader drew his sword and advanced. 

 

“Thank you,” the Doctor said genuinely. He shrugged off the dressing gown he was wearing and threw it in the general direction of the humans. Surely one of them would catch it. “I've no idea who I am, but you just summed me up. So, you accept my challenge? Or are you just a cranak pel casacree salvak?” That insult also struck a chord, and the leader hissed. Both combatants held their swords high, then dropped to their knees.

 

“For the planet?” the Sycorax asked.

 

“For the planet,” the Time Lord answered.

 

The Doctor very nearly regretted his decision with the first swing. The sword wasn’t all that heavy, but this body was new and wasn’t responding as quickly as he needed. Well, and he hadn’t dueled in quite some time. Probably not since before the war. He was almost disarmed by his opponent’s first swing. He had to stumble away to keep his balance. 

 

That move may have been a blessing in disguise, because the Doctor took one look at Rose’s ‘if you die, I will kill you’ expression and Katelyn’s determination and maybe even a little bit Mickey’s fear, and he was reminded all over again what he was fighting for. 

 

This time, he just raised the sword in defense, and waited. The Sycorax swung. His opponent was sloppy. There was little finesse to how he handled the weapon. It was all power. Maybe he didn’t need to remember how to duel, so much as remember how to block to win this fight.

 

The Doctor managed to catch it and deflect, and then get a good swing at the humanoids ankles. He missed though, and through himself off balance in the process. Really, this body was rubbish right now. So much more lanky than he was used to.

 

“Look out!” Rose shouted just as the Doctor pulled his legs away from being cut off. 

 

“Oh, yeah, that helps. Wouldn't have thought of that otherwise, thanks,” he snarked, trying not to think about all the wrong ways this could go.

 

The two combatants clashed evenly for a little while. Then, the Sycorax leader got a good hit from the hilt of his sword into the Doctor’s stomach. Ow. He thanked the stars for his respiratory bypass, since it meant the wind wasn’t knocked out of him by that move.

 

Still, the Doctor stumbled back a few steps and did what he always did when the going got tough. He picked a direction and ran. The tunnel he choose wasn’t that long, but there was a door at the end, which meant- “Bit of fresh air?” He punched the button so hard it hurt and ran out into the atmosphere.

 

The Sycorax leader came running out after him, clashing blades again. To the Doctor’s dismay, the humans had also followed. 

 

The Sycorwas and the Time Lord kept clashing blade, the Doctor finally matching his opponent swing for swing. The Sycorax got a lucky hit right into the Doctor’s face. He cried out.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rose take a take a step forward. “Stay back!” He held his hand out as if to stop her himself. “Invalidate the challenge and he wins the planet.” Whether that was true or not was irrelevant. The further the people he cared about were from the swinging swords, the better.

 

A few more good swings and more hits from the Sycorax and the Doctor was on his back on the ground. His opponent swung before he could react, and the Doctor watched his hand, and the sword it’d been holding, fall to the Earth below.

 

“You cut my hand off,” he said, almost in disbelief. The leader turned around and cheered, which was perhaps the last bit of motivation the Doctor needed. He stood back up. “And now I know what sort of man I am. I'm lucky. Because quite by chance I'm still within the first fifteen hours of my regeneration cycle, which means I've got just enough residual cellular energy to do this.” He raised his arms and focused, using the last bit of regeneration energy buzzing in his veins to rebuild his hand.

 

“Witchcraft,” the Sycorax hissed.

 

“Time Lord,” the Doctor corrected. The Sycrax looked afraid suddenly. Interesting, what had they heard of his people?

 

“Doctor!” Rose shouted. He turned in time to catch the sword Rose had thrown to him, and for just the second when she smiled at him, the world felt right again. He spun the sword with his new wrist. Oh! His dorsal tubercle was perfectly normal now. This day just kept getting better.

 

“Oh, so I'm still the Doctor, then?” he has to ask.

 

“No arguments from me!” Rose called.

 

“Never doubted it!” Katelyn agreed. But of course she hadn’t. He hadn’t been worried about her.

 

“Want to know the best bit? This new hand? It's a fighting hand!” the Doctor announced. Katelyn cheered.

 

He only had to fight a few more moments, when the Sycorax let down his guard just a bit. The Doctor hooked his arms around his opponent's sword and pulled. Now both swords were his. He thumped both hilts into his opponent’s abdomen, twice. The Sycorax fell, right on the edge, overlooking London. He held his sword to the defeated humanoids neck.

 

“I win,” the Doctor growled.

 

“Then kill me.”

 

“I'll spare your life if you'll take this Champion's command. Leave this planet, and never return. What do you say?” He didn’t have high hopes, given how they’d reacted to Katelyn’s peace offering earlier, but he had to try.

 

“Yes,” the Sycorax all but spit. The Doctor narrowed his eyes and pressed the blade down harder.

 

“Swear on the blood of your species,” he growled.

 

“I swear,” the defeated Sycorax said, like it physically pained him to say. The Doctor raised an eyebrow, but he had to give them a chance.

 

“There we are, then. Thanks for that.” He turned and stuck the sword into the ground, happy to be rid of the weapon. Always happy to unarmed, him. “Cheers, big fella.”

 

“Bravo!” Harriet Jones cheered. He smiled at the humans. Rose and Katelyn ran toward him, both smiling just as wide as he was.

 

“That says it all. Bravo!” Rose agreed. He really, really wanted to hug her, now that she didn’t seem to be afraid of him anymore. Rose held open the dressing gown like it was a coat, and helped him put it on.

 

“Ah, not bad for a man in his jim-jams,” the Doctor joked. Katelyn snorted. He finally stopped ignoring her. “What?”

 

“S’just been a while since I heard you call them that.” She held out the sonic screwdriver to him. “The tool of your trade, Champion Doctor. I’m keeping the watch.” He took the sonic happily, flipped it in the air, and slipped it in his pocket.

 

“Fair enou- Hold on, what have I got in here?” The Doctor pulled another fruit from the dressing gown pocket. “A satsuma.”

 

“They’re called clementines, get it right,” Katelyn snarked. Team TARDIS started walking away, back into the ship.

 

“A satsuma,” the Doctor repeated, mostly to hear the exaggerated sigh he knew Katelyn would make. “Ah, that friend of Rose’s mother’s. He does like his snacks doesn't he? But doesn't that just sum up Christmas? You go through all those presents and right at the end, tucked away at the bottom, there's always one stupid old satsuma. Who wants a satsuma?”

 

The Doctor heard the defeated Sycorax get up, heard him charge, and made a decision. He launched the fruit at an exposed button on the ship, and heard the creature screaming as it fell. “No second chances. I'm that sort of a man.”

 

<...>

 

“By the ancient rites of combat, I forbid you to scavenge here for the rest of time,” the Doctor boomed. His voice really carried well here. Made the whole scene much more dramatic. “And when you go back to the stars and tell others of this planet, when you tell them of it's riches, it's people, it's potential. When you talk of the Earth, then make sure that you tell them this.” The Doctor turned in a circle while he spoke, just to make sure everyone heard him. “It is defended.”

 

The Sycorax decided they’d had enough of us then, and in a flash of blue, we were back on the surface of the Earth.

 

“Where are we?” Rose asked as soon as our feet were back on solid ground.

 

“We're just off Bloxom Road,” Mickey realized. “We're just round the corner, we did it!” He laughed and started jumping up and down, but the Doctor held up a hand.

 

“Wait a minute, wait a minute.” It was silent between us, as we watched the ship turn and start leaving. Then, the Doctor smiled, full and true, and we knew we really had won.

 

“Go on, my son!” Mickey shouted, for some reason. “Oh, yeah!” Rose ran and jumped on his back. They were both grinning like mad.

 

“Yeah! Don't come back!” she shouted at the sky. I laughed.

 

“It is defended!” Mickey added. Rose dropped off Mickey’s back and nearly knocked me over with the force of her hug. 

 

“You were right,” she said as she pulled back, beaming.

 

“Usually am,” I responded. I wondered how the rest of the world was reacting right now, if they even knew.



“Are there many more out there?” Harriet Jones, Prime Minister, asked the Doctor. 

 

But they were leaving! My smile dropped right as Rose turned to go hug the rest of the group. Right, work to be done. No rest for the weary and all that. 

 

“Oo, not just Sycorax,” I heard the Doctor respond. “Hundreds of species. Thousands of them. And the human race is drawing attention to itself.” I could see the wheels already turning in Harriet’s head, and damn it, I was too late again. Not that that meant I wouldn’t try. Wasn’t it worth the heartbreak? “Every day you're sending out probes and messages and signals. This planet's so noisy. You're getting noticed more and more. You'd better get used to it.”

 

“Rose!” came Jackie’s voice.

 

“Mum!” Rose ran over and hugged her mom too.

 

“Oh, talking of trouble,” the Doctor mumbled walking over.. 

 

Someone’s phone rang. For a moment, I prayed it was Rose’s, but no such luck. Harriet’s aid pressed a button on his headpiece.

 

“You did it too!” Rose said. I snapped my head back around to the main characters. Oh god. It had been a while since I’d thought that. “It was the tea. Fixed his head.” 

 

“That was all I needed,” the Doctor agreed. “Cup of tea.” I couldn’t even find it in me to make a joke at that. Rose’s smile faltered, so I plastered on a fake one. I’m only 50% sure it convinced her.

 

“Is it him, though? Is it really the Doctor?” Jackie asked. Harriet Jones turned around. Jackie’s smile was quickly replaced by amazement. “Oh, my God, it's the bleeding Prime Minister!” And wasn’t that just Jackie Tyler for you. She was standing next to a Time Machine, talking to her daughter in no uncertain terms about an alien man that went around changing his body when he was dying, and she was still more astonished to see the Prime Minister.

 

The Doctor smiled fondly and held out his arms. “Come here, you.” Rose, Jackie, and Mickey came forward for a group hug. I didn’t move. This was their story, I was just a mistake, here by accident. This was their happy ending, not mine.

 

As if sensing my train of thought, the Doctor grabbed my arm before I could react, and pulled me into the hug too. Smug bastard knew exactly what I needed, because all my thoughts about not belonging disappeared.

 

When we all pulled back to talk, I ducked out of the circle and over to Hariet Jones and her aide.

 

“It's a message from Torchwood,” the aide reported grimly. “They say they're ready.” I walked over to the two, took a deep breath, and made a decision.

 

“Harriet Jones.” Both the other humans turned to me, looking slightly shocked. “If you say what you’re about to, you will regret it for the rest of your life.” She looked me over, sized me up, trying to figure out exactly why I knew that.

 

“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” She reached for her ID. I rolled my eyes.

 

“I’m not a child Prime Minister, and I know a diversion tactic when I see one-”

 

“You’re American, aren’t you?” she asked in a tone that was a little too condescending for my taste. “I don’t believe I was elected to represent you.”

 

“The decision to shoot that retreating ship down is a decision made for the entire human race, as well you know. In this moment, you represent all of humanity.” She looked over me to where the others were talking, and I knew that look in her eyes. There was nothing I could have done to change her mind.

 

“Tell them to fire,” she ordered.

 

The aide walked away and gave the command. It took almost 10 seconds for five green beams to streak up into the sky, meet and fire out into space. Even from the ground, we could hear the Sycorax ship explode.

 

“What is that? What's happening?” Rose asked innocently. The Doctor looked over at us slowly, the Oncoming Storm in full effect. 

 

I almost tried to stop him. Let her make one mistake, I almost pleaded. You let me make one. But what would stopping him entail? If Harriet Jones didn’t step down, what happened with the Daleks, and the stolen Earth? What happened with Harold Saxon, the Master? What happened with Torchwood? 

 

Would it even matter? It’s not like the Doctor had a tendency to listen to me, and I’d already failed once. I ducked my head and turned my back on it all. Just another failure to add to my ever growing list.

 

“That was murder,” the Doctor nearly growled.

 

“That was defence,” Harriet Jones, former prime minister, defended. “It's adapted from alien technology. A ship that fell to Earth ten years ago.”

 

“But they were leaving,” the Doctor argued.

 

“You said yourself, Doctor, they'd go back to the stars and tell others about the Earth,” Harriet Jones said, with the ease of someone who knew she was in the right. “I'm sorry, Doctor, but you're not here all the time. You come and go. It happened today. Mr. Llewellyn and the Major, they were murdered. They died right in front of me while you were sleeping. In which case, we have to defend ourselves.”

 

“Then defend yourself before your enemy is retreating!” I screamed, spinning back around. This had always, always, bothered me, and nearly a decade of holding it in was all coming out at once. All I could do was glare at Harriet Jones. “The Doctor gave those people the wrong warning. He should have told them to run, run and hide because this is a planet of people who will hunt you down and shoot you in the back and not care what that looks like. What you did was wrong!”

 

“And who are you to decide that?” Harriet asked.

 

“The person who knows exactly how long it will take you to regret the decision and how long you will live to it. I warned you, Harriet Jones, and I will not be held responsible for the future.” I closed the distance keeping me from the group of people I actually liked, but refused to look at any of them. I didn’t want to know what they’d think of that outburst.

 

“I should have stopped you,” the Doctor said.

 

“What does that make you, Doctor? Another alien threat?” Harriet challenged.

 

That was definitely the wrong thing to say. “Don't challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I'm a completely new man.” The Doctor advanced until he was standing toe to toe with the woman. “I could bring down your Government with a single word.”

 

“You're the most remarkable man I've ever met,” Harriet admitted. “But I don't think you're quite capable of that.”

 

“No, you're right. Not a single word.” The Doctor paused, probably to find the words. “Just six.” 

 

“I don't think so.” 

 

“Six words.”

 

“Stop it!”

 

“Six.”

 

The Doctor walked around Harriet and over to her aide. He whispered the six words, staring at Harriet the whole time. Then, without another word to either of them, walked back over to our group and started leading us down the street.

 

“What did he say?” she demanded of her aide.

 

“Oh, well, nothing, really,” he didn’t lie.

 

“What did he say?”

 

“Nothing. I don't know.”

 

“Doctor!” she called at us. The Doctor didn’t look back. I checked my watch. “Doctor, what did you? What was that? What did he say? What did you say, Doctor? Doctor!”

 

“Two minutes, 45 seconds,” I whispered.

 

<...>

 

The Doctor had left the humans to go have some semblance of an actual Christmas, while he moved the TARDIS back into the general area of the Powell Estates and picked out a new outfit. That’s why the Doctor was surprised to find Katelyn, not in the Tyler flat, but just outside the door, leaning on the railing and staring at the TARDIS below. 

 

“How come you’re not-”

 

“Jackie kicked me out of the kitchen,” she said simply. “Said I was, quote ‘too distracting, puttering about like that’.” Katelyn shivered, and the Doctor was a little confused to find he had an instinct to shrug of the long trench coat he was wearing and drape it over her shoulders. Ok, he could definitely add ‘protective’ to the list of things he knew about this new regeneration. “Besides, they’re doing presents right now.”

 

“Ah,” the Doctor agreed. “Actually, if it’s time for presents…” He dug around in his pocket for the tiny box he’d wrapped with his last body’s hands, and held it out to the young woman. 

 

She gave him a quizzical look and took the box. “I didn’t get you anything,” she protested. He just shrugged. Neither of them had been expecting Christmas so soon.

 

She pulled the ribbon holding the lid to the box delicately, so as not to break it, and slid it over her hand to make a bracelet. The Doctor smiled fondly at the action, wishing he’d payed more attention to those little things before. Well, plenty of time now.

 

When Katelyn pulled the lid off, she gasped and nearly dropped the box. “Doctor,” she breathed.

 

“Thought it was about time you had one,” he said through a smile. Katelyn pulled the TARDIS key from the box with reverence. She ran her fingers over it, as if she really couldn’t believe what she was holding.

 

“Really?” she whispered after a few moments. The Doctor reached over and closed her fingers tightly around the key. 

 

“Really.” Katelyn all but squealed and nearly tackled the Doctor in a hug. He laughed at her enthusiasm and hugged her back tightly. “You deserve it.” 

 

“This isn’t just because I did a good stalling job today?” she asked. He was fairly sure she was just being cheeky, but he wanted to be honest anyway.

 

“Well, that certainly helped, but I meant to give it to you in Willow Brook,” the Doctor admitted, backing off from the hug. “Then you said it was your birthday, and I know how humans can get about traditions, like wrapping presents and so I stalled and then… Well, you know.” 

 

The moment was interrupted, or perhaps, no definitely, enhanced by Rose Tyler bursting out of her flat. 

 

“There you are, I was-” She stopped talking when she saw the Doctor, and for a very brief, hearts stopping moment, he thought she was going to say something about changing again, but she just gave him a once over, then she smiled a full Rose Tyler grin, and all was right with the world. 

 

“Oh, Rose, look!” Katelyn skipped over to the door and showed Rose the TARDIS key in her hand. Rose barked a laugh of pure joy and shoved her own small box into Katelyn’s hand.

 

“It’s almost like we planned something,” she teased the Doctor while Katelyn unwrapped her other gift. 

 

He was ready to banter (flirt) back, but stopped, eyes wide, when he saw Rose’s gift. “Can I?” he asked. Katelyn handed him the glittering chain. All it took was a long look and tug on the clasp to confirm his suspicions. “This is Andraxion steel. Just about the toughest material you can make a necklace out of.” He undid the clasp so Katelyn could slide the TARDIS key on the chain. He dropped the chain back in Katelyn’s hands, and she wasted no time in pulling the piece of jewelry over her head. “Nothing can break that.”

 

<...>

 

“If you put any number of brussel sprouts on my plate, Rose Tyler, I will kill you,” I warned through a smile. So jovial was the mood in the Tyler flat that not one person told me off for the threat to Rose’s life, not even as a joke. 

 

“First you only want the dark meat, now you’re complaining about the vegetable!” Jackie griped, but she was smiling too.

 

“Hey, not my fault you managed to find two of the, like, seven foods I don’t like,” I defended, as Rose spooned brussel sprouts onto the Doctor's plate. “I’m not a picky eater, I swear.”

 

“She’s not,” the Doctor agreed. “I’ve never traveled with anyone quite as willing to get food poisoning-” I threw a roll at him, which effectively shut him up. 

 

“Right. Well, maybe I will let you cook next year!” Jackie had just meant to banter, but honestly the thought both warmed and broke my heart. I would love that, but next Christmas probably wouldn’t involve any members of the Tyler family. 

 

I shoved another whole roll in my mouth to hide my sudden frown.

 

Amazingly, I managed not to think about the daunting future for the rest of dinner. I spilt a Christmas cracker with Jackie, which she won. I pouted for a bit after that, so Mickey also split a cracker with me. I won that one, though I suspect Mickey let me win.

 

It wasn’t until Rose and the Doctor had split a Christmas cracker and Rose was shoving the pink crown down on her head that the world’s lack of perfection made itself known again.

 

“Look, it's Harriet Jones,” Rose said, gesturing to the TV.

 

“Prime Minister, is it true you are no longer fit to be in position?” a reporter asked.

 

“No,” Harriet said, unconvincingly. “Now, can we talk about other things?” The Doctor stood up slowly, reaching in his pocket for something.

 

“Is it true you're unfit for office?” another reporter asked. The Doctor put on the goddamn glasses that I was 99% convinced he wore only because Rose had once said she liked a man in glasses. I pushed my own up my nose in solidarity.

 

“Look, there is nothing wrong with my health,” Harriet insisted. “I don't know where these stories are coming from. And a vote of no confidence is completely unjustified.”

 

“Are you going to resign?”

 

“On today of all days, I'm fine. Look at me, I'm fine. I look fine, I feel fine.”  

 

“It's Bev,” Jackie said, breaking me out a trance I didn’t realize I’d fallen into. “She says go and look outside.”

 

“Why?” Rose asked, but she was already reaching for her jacket. 

 

“I don't know, just go outside and look. Come on, shift!”

 

Outside only looked like a winter wonderland. What could easily pass for snow was falling, and had already settled in a thin layer on the ground. When I looked up, I could see streaking lights criss-crossing in the sky. My fault, kept playing on loop in my mind 

 

The Doctor seemed to share my foul mood. “Stop that,” he scolded as he passed me, but gave the statement no context at my confused expression. 

 

Everyone else was laughing and throwing the not-snow around. I almost didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to ruin their joyful Christmas night.

 

“Oh, it's beautiful,” Rose breathed. “What are they, meteors?”

 

“It's the spaceship breaking up in the atmosphere,” the Doctor said bluntly. 

 

“This isn't snow, it's ash,” I added, despite my reservations. “Real snow’s heavier.”

 

“Okay, not so beautiful,” Rose decided.

 

“This is a brand new planet Earth,” the Doctor mused. “No denying the existence of aliens now. Everyone saw it. Everything's new.”

 

“And what about you? What are you going to do next?” Rose asked quietly. As if the answer to that question would ever not include her. 

 

“Well, back to the TARDIS. Same old life,” the Doctor said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

 

“On your own?” I decided not to mention that we both still had our TARDIS keys, a sure sign he would not be leaving without us. 

 

“Why, don't you want to come?” he asked Rose, sounding confused and worried.

 

“Well, yeah.”

 

“Do you, though?”

 

“Yeah!” Rose answered with enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but smile at them. Those dorks, honestly.

 

“I just thought, because I changed.”

 

“Yeah, I thought, because you changed you might not want me anymore.” I didn’t need to be a telepath to know the next thought the Doctor had was ‘I never want to be without you’.

 

“Oh, I'd love you to come.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“You're never going to stay, are you?” Mickey asked quietly. I could see Rose trying to come up with the gentlest way to put him down.

 

“There's just so much out there. So much to see. I've got to,” Rose said.

 

“Yeah,” Mickey conceded, not sounding one iota like he agreed with her.

 

“Well, I reckon you're mad, the pair of you,” Jackie said, clearly sad to see her daughter leave her again. “It's like you go looking for trouble.”

 

“Trouble's just the bits in-between!” the Doctor enthused, practically bouncing over to Jackie. He threw an arm quickly over her shoulders. “It's all waiting out there, Jackie, and it's brand new to me. All those planets and creatures and horizons. I haven't seen them yet! Not with these eyes.” He strolled back over to where Rose was, nudging me with him when he passed. “New adventures for all three of us. And it is going to be-” He looked over at Rose, smiling like the smitten old man he was. “-fantastic.” 

 

The Doctor held his hands out to us to Rose and I. I took the Doctor’s left hand and tried, I really did, to not feel the steady push of positive things he was feeling. Maybe it was a good thing I felt his emotions though, because they really helped soothe my own guilt ridden mind. 

 

“That hand of yours still gives me the creeps,” Rose admitted. 

 

“Stand on his left side next time, then,” I teased. Rose leaned forward to see around the Doctor and stuck her tongue out at me, like a toddler, which I of course mirrored. She took the Doctor’s other hand. We all took a moment to just be like that.

 

Then, Rose stepped closer, essentially pressing herself against the Doctor’s arm. “So, where're we going to go first?”

 

“Um-” The Doctor looked at both his hands, apparently unwilling to let go of either of us. Laughing, I pointed in a random direction, vaguely up, toward the stars. “Thank you,” the Doctor said. “That way.” His mouth twitched up into a cheeky smile. “No, hold on.” I moved my arm, rolling my eyes. “That way.”

 

“That way?” Rose clarified, pointing in generally the same direction as me.

 

“You think?” the Doctor asked, turning to look at Rose like she’d hung the stars.

 

“Yeah, that way,” Rose decided, turning and giving him the same look back..

 

“Seems perfect,” I agreed, looking at the night sky. “Allons-y.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Let’s go’ was not the best choice of words, as it turned out. After Christmas Day, Rose wanted to stay on Earth for a little while. I understood that. We humans needed some down time after watching our friend burst into flames and then emerge a different person AND THEN stopping an alien invasion. 

 

The Doctor tried not to show how much this worried him, and failed, generally. He spent most of this Earthbound vacation in the TARDIS, and most of that time under the console. It wasn’t a lie, we learned, that he needed to repair the TARDIS. After all, she had to fly into a Dalek fleet under heavy fire, then make a pilotless flight, then had her console ripped open. We had put a lot of strain on the old girl. I suspected, although never bothered asking, that the damage was the reason the TARDIS had shied away from my attempts at a stronger mental connection. She was probably in pain.

 

As it was, the TARDIS couldn’t even manifest the back rooms for a while. Christmas night, I slept on the Tyler’s surprisingly comfortable couch burritoed in as many blankets as the Tylers were willing to spare. Rose had teased me pretty thoroughly about the fact that I still wanted more. What can I say? I like comfort, fight me.

 

I slept alright, as it were, but nightmare after nightmare kept waking me up. Not the memory kind of nightmare, just the ‘oh, God. I had almost died’ kind of nightmare. I hardly survived the exhaustion the next day (Boxing Day, as Rose, and then Jackie, and then Mickey called it). 

 

I also barely endured the day after Boxing Day being mothered by Jackie Tyler. 

 

She was constantly hovering, doting on me. The fact that I didn’t sleep well probably didn’t help my case that I was ‘fine. Really. I’m ok’. Jackie meant well, but it was suffocating and annoying. As nice as sympathy felt usually, I’d had enough of it, thanks very much. Not that I felt I could actually tell her to stop. Mothers were just like that sometimes.

 

On the day after the day after Christmas, I ate breakfast in the flat, then disappeared out the door while Rose and Jackie were cleaning up.

 

I used my new key to open the TARDIS doors, and slammed the doors behind me like I was being chased by a giant monster. The Doctor popped up from the grating immediately, eyes wide in panic.

 

“Katelyn? What happened?” he asked.

 

“The world’s not in danger, sorry,” I said sheepishly. Stupid Katelyn. He wasn’t Jack. He didn’t know how overdramatic I could be. “It’s just me suffering.” The Doctor calmed down and raised a curious eyebrow.

 

“Oh, and why is that?”

“Jackie Tyler will be the death of me,” I said. My grim tone was probably a little overdone, but if it kept being overdone, maybe the Doctor would realize I was acting.

 

“With her cooking or something more targeted?” the Doctor asked. I opened my mouth and then snapped it shut again, torn between my natural instinct to defend someone who didn’t really deserve that attack, and my desire to keep pretending I was a victim.

 

“Let’s just say, if I have to go back into that flat, I will throw myself out the window,” is what I decided to say. I let my tone go even more exaggerated, just in case the Doctor didn’t understand that I was joking.

 

“The flat’s on the fourth floor,” the Doctor said slowly.

 

“Bold of you to assume that would stop me,” I said. The Doctor laughed. “I just… she keeps trying to-to coddle me,” I complained. “I just want to be treated like a normal human being, thank you very much. I’ve already had time-” I only realized I was about to go on a rant when I noticed how amused the Doctor looked. “Oh, shut up and give me a job so I have an  excuse not to go back up there. I don’t care if it’s useless. Tell me to...” I waved my hands around. “I don’t know, rearrange the Library or something.”

 

“You just want Jackie to be mad at me instead of you,” the Doctor accused. I almost flinched back and denied. A few days ago, that would have been a real accusation, something he said to get a rise out of me. But today…

 

Today he said it tentatively, like he was worried I would actually still take it that way. Oh, I see. The Doctor was toeing the line of what our (I hesitate to say) friendship was, trying to see if it was too fragile for teasing. Well, in my mind, banter should never be off the table in a friendship that was meant to last more than a conversation.

 

“Honestly hadn’t crossed my mind,” I said with as much innocence as I could muster, which was quite a lot, as it turned out. Because it actually hadn’t crossed my mind. “But since you mention it, yeah.” The Doctor rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “Not that Jackie needs any help coming up with a reason to be mad at you.” The Doctor scoffed his agreement, and dove back under the grating. 

 

Before either of us could say anything else, like the Doctor actually giving me a job, the TARDIS flashed me an image of what I assumed was the galley, although it looked a bit different. More properly a 21st century kitchen. One with granite countertops and light colored wood instead of just 21st century appliances wedged in between dark paneling. With the image, the TARDIS sent a push to go there, and something like excitement.

 

The Doctor’s head popped out from the grating again. “The galley?” he asked.

 

“Apparently,” I answered, equally confused. I wracked my brain for any possible reason the TARDIS would be excited to get me into the galley. Unless she could remember something about me that I couldn’t at the moment, which I thought pretty unlikely. I mean, I enjoyed cooking as much as the next person, but I didn’t really want to just cook for the sake of cooking, you know? Although, it’s not like cooking was the only thing one could do in a kitchen.

 

“Holy shit,” I whispered when the memory came to me. “How could I just forget that?”

 

“Forget what?” the Doctor asked, apparently able to hear my whispering. 

 

“I love to bake,” I confessed. “I have, like, seven recipies completely memorized, including the changes I made.” I paused, just opening and closing my mouth for a minute, unable to say more. “How could I just forget that.”

 

“Katelyn,” the Doctor said cautiously. “Four months ago it took effort for you to remember your own name.”

 

“Yeah,” I dismissed. “But that was four months ago. I thought I’d gotten better.” Before I had the chance to slip into and then wallow in self pity, the TARDIS shoved the image of the galley in my head again. “OK!” I threw my arms up in the air. “I’m going!” I started walking toward the hall, ignoring the Doctor’s chuckles. “Lord in heaven above, your consciousness exist across the entire Vortex, have some patience once in a while!”

 

<...>

 

There was a bunch of bananas at the back of the fridge. They were overripe and browning, which is probably why they were back there. I wouldn’t put it past Rose to have hidden them. The bananas were absolutely too ripe to eat, but that would not stop the Doctor. But they were perfect for baking, and banana bread happened to be one of my memorized recipes. It was simple, quick, and I got to stab bananas with a fork. 

 

Would this look like I was trying too hard? I thought to myself as I gathered ingredients. Cause I don’t mean to be trying much at all. I took a step back and looked at the ingredients I’d laid out, and decided I didn’t really care. I wanted to make banana bread, damn it, and I didn’t give a single shit if the Last of the Time Lords thought I was making it for him. 

 

I pushed my sleeves up my arms and went to work.

 

<...>

 

Precisely, 38 minutes and 10 seconds after Katelyn had run into the TARDIS to hide from Jackie, a delightful smell drifted into the console room. Since the Doctor was currently between repair jobs, he ventured down the corridor toward the galley.

 

Katelyn was pulling a pan that the Doctor was pretty sure was a bread pan out of the oven. Whatever was in the pan smelled really good . Although, fresh baked goods almost always smelled good, he supposed. Oh, maybe this body liked baked goods again? It had been a few bodied since he’s had a fondness for sugar stuffed carbs. He should take Rose and Katelyn to the Andorra system. Not first, but eventually. That system was famous for its baked goods, and maybe Katelyn could even get a recipe book while she was there. After all, if she liked to bake-

 

Woah. This body had a gob even in his own head, apparently.

 

“What’d you make then?” the Doctor asked, walking across the galley toward Katelyn. She set the pan down and pulled the oven gloves off her hands before she spoke.

 

“Banana bread.” At the mention of his favorite and the best (Really, Rose they’re very versatile as berries go) fruit, the Doctor reached for the pan, eager for a piece.

 

Katelyn’s hand slapped his away before he could reach very far.

 

She looked as shocked as he felt, staring at her hand like it had betrayed her in a life threatening situation. “T-too hot,” she said lamely. “The bread, I mean. The pan hasn’t cooled yet. You’ll burn your hands.”

 

They were silent for a few moments before Katelyn burst into laughter. Her laughing first allowed the Doctor to analyze how ridiculous this situation was, and then he was laughing to.

 

Precisely, 2 minutes and 4 seconds later, that was where Rose found them. They were still laughing, although now Katelyn seemed to be gasping in breath whenever she could and looked increasingly frustrated that everytime she and the Doctor made eye contact, she burst out laughing again. The Doctor wasn’t out of breath, but he was having similar trouble stopping his laughter.

 

Rose didn’t know what they were laughing about, but that was the moment when she knew the tension, for lack of a better word, that had been ever present in the Doctor and Katelyn’s friendship was gone again. Hopefully for good this time.

 

<...>

 

Three days, 8 hours, and 13 minutes later, while Jackie was at work, the three remaining members of Team TARDIS, as the Doctor had occasionally heard Katelyn refer to them, were still stuck on Earth. While the TARDIS was technically fixed up enough to fly, she had shocked the Doctor hands when he’s so much a thought in the general direction of the dematerialization lever. He was starting to get antsy, started to feel the need to run again, but he couldn’t leave. Not with Rose wanting to stay until New Years and the TARDIS refusing to let him take off. So now he was in the Tyler flat hanging out (read: pouting).

 

Technically, he, Rose, and Katelyn were playing a card game Katelyn had taught them (One he’d never learned before, and was quietly informed by Rose it was a game Katelyn’s own grandfather had invented. It had never gotten outside of the family), but there were so many breaks between turns that they had to keep starting over (Which was good for the Doctor’s pride, since Katelyn somehow kept winning).

 

On what had turned into such a break before Katelyn’s turn, the Doctor noticed she had been staring out the window for a full minute and 23 seconds, apparently completely forgetting it was her turn next. 

 

“Penny for ‘em?” he asked. Katelyn startled and turned around, like she’d been in her own world. What with them playing a game so closely tied to her family, the Doctor was worried she might have been.

 

“I…” She shrugged. “Just trying to wrap my head around time travel, is all.”

 

On her side of the table, Rose laughed. “Oh, is that all?” Katelyn smiled.

 

“I mean, generally, I get it,” Katelyn said. She started fiddling with the cards in her hands. She did that, the Doctor had noticed now that he was paying attention. When she was having trouble articulating her thoughts, she played with whatever was closest to her hands. “It’s just, sometimes there are weird things. Anachronisms. Like, it’s been…” She scrunched her face, thinking. “...four days since I turned 19. My birthday is in May.” She gestured out the window. “It’s December.”

 

“I wasn’t even on Earth for my birthday,” Rose dismissed. It took her two shuffles of her own hand for Katelyn’s words to sink in. “Hold on. When was your birthday?”

 

“When we were at Willow Brook,” Katelyn said. She finally fanned her cards back out in her hands, ready to pick the game back up. “I didn’t realize until you a-” Her voice cut off.

 

The Doctor looked away guiltily, although tried to keep his expression neutral. Katelyn and Jack had been much closer with each other than either of them had been with himself or with Rose. She’d lost her best friend on the Game Station, and he hadn’t even considered how that would affect her. A few months ago, Katelyn had lost everything and everyone she’d ever known and now she’d lost Jack too. Because of him. Because she’d found his TARDIS.

 

“I didn’t realize until after you were asleep,” Katelyn finished with far less enthusiasm than she started with. 

 

No one really knew how to respond to the reminder that Team TARDIS was permanently down one member. The Doctor considered telling the women why he’d left Jack behind in the year 200,100. They clearly both already knew he wasn’t dead. He’d said that much already. And if he told the truth, Rose might be mad at him, but only for a bit. They might make him go back to say goodbye, but he was sure they’d understand. Brilliant, the both of them. 

 

Before the Doctor had a chance to maybe tell them, Katelyn sniffed (an excellent way to seem like she wasn’t about to cry) and looked up from her cards again. “How did that story end anyway?” Katelyn asked.

 

“What story?” Rose asked. Katelyn smiled, but it only mostly made it to her eyes.

 

“I couldn’t sleep, so the Doctor was telling me about one of his adventures.” Katelyn smile grew every so slightly as she spoke. The last of the sadness started to fade from her eyes. The Doctor felt a bit like he’d been exposed as soft, but really, who was here to see it? Rose? As if she didn’t already know. “But I fell asleep before he finished.” She turned back to him, setting her cards down again. Clearly, she was expecting a long end to the story.

 

“Oh, I defeated him,” the Doctor said simply. “Problem solved.” 

 

Of course, he didn’t want to and never would admit that he didn’t really remember what had happened. It had been a long time since he’d had curls and worn a long scarf and a hat and traveled with Sarah Jane Smith. Several centuries, at least. His memories were all a bit vague, that far back.

 

Katelyn did not look happy with that. “Oh, you - you don’t say?” she sputtered, indignant that he’d given such a dismissive answer. “Ho- Wha- You should write that shit down.” Rose was starting to giggle, so he couldn’t really be that mad. “‘I defeated him’. Fucking New York Times bestseller ending, right there. Truly, you are a master of storytelling, Doctor.” Honestly, he was having a hard time trying not to smile himself. It was a good thing to see Katelyn expressing an emotion that wasn’t loss. “I mean, ‘I defeated him’. Pretty sure that’s the ending of at least three of my favorite novels.”

 

“Are you done?” the Doctor asked, finally falling in his attempts to hide a smile. 

 

“Not remotely ,” Katelyn said, swinging her arms open. “I can probably go for…” She checked his - Well, hers now - watch. “Oh, about another ten minutes or so.” 

 

The Doctor didn’t doubt that she’d have enough material to go on for, oh, another minute at most, but she never got a chance, because that was when Jackie got home from work. Since it was nearly sunset, that also meant it was time for the humans to get dinner ready (the Doctor had not yet to learn this new body conformed to a human eating schedule), which meant Katelyn and Rose disappeared into the kitchen to do ‘damage control’ as literally only the Doctor called it.

 

He should go, he thought. He’d have been gone already had it been a few days ago, and he hadn’t regenerated yet. Leave the domestics to the humans, and all that. He should really dash back down to the TARDIS and pretend he was making himself useful with the repairs he’d already told Rose and Katelyn he’d finished. 

 

If he were being honest with himself, however, he really wanted to stay in this tiny flat in the Powell Estates and share a homemade dinner with his friends (And one of his friend’s mothers, but there really wasn’t anything he could do about that). 

 

This Doctor found he didn’t mind domestics anymore. If he were honest, his last body’s chagrin for things like human attachment, and family dinners, and visiting his companion’s friends and family (because he’d only ever sent Rose to visit hers) was mostly just a remnant of the Time War. He hadn’t really cared for the rules of his people before the war, had frequently flaunted how little he cared for laws of non-involvement and the like. But then he was the Last, and suddenly it mattered. He’d never stop helping people. He never could, even if he tried. But he could pretend he was as high and mighty as he was supposed to be.

 

But for what? Who was he trying to impress? His obsession with avoiding knowledge of his own future had caused him to abandon one of his companions. He’d left Katelyn Laurin alone, without help, without a goodbye, just to get her away from him. 

 

His need to be a good Time Lord had caused him to be terrible to Rose too, although on much rarer occasions. Yelling at her for not understanding the implications of saving her father, even though he hadn’t properly explained them. Always pushing her away when she tried to understand him, or when he’d gone further than was ‘allowed’. For a human, honestly.

 

No. The Time Lords were gone. There was no one to tell him what he was doing was wrong. He could do whatever he wanted now.

 

So the Doctor didn’t move. He stayed sitting on the floor where he was. He cleaned up the deck of cards (Good thing they’d never finished that last round. Somehow, Katelyn had a winning hand again), and waited. 

 

The look of surprised delight on Rose Tyler’s face when she came back in to set the table was well worth any punishment the High Council could have come up with anyway.

 

<...>

 

Dinner was nice, as far as dinners went. It wasn’t anything fancy, but then, what could really live up to all the exotic places the three of us not confined to London had eaten. It didn’t need to be fancy, like Willow Brook wasn’t fancy.

 

It was unusual that the Doctor had stayed. Well, it was unusual for Nine. Maybe Ten just did domestics.

 

Well, apparently, not all domestics, since as soon as Jackie had stacked up the plates and handed them to me, the Doctor was trying to sneak out the front door. 

 

“Now, don’t give me any of that,” Jackie said before the Doctor could even get a word out of his open mouth or a hand on the door handle. “You ate with us, you’re gonna help with clean up.” I giggled, although hid it behind my hand as the Oncoming Storm, the Last of the Time Lords, the Destroyer of Worlds, the Bringer of Darkness, the Beast of Trenzalore, the Imp of the Pandorica, the Predator of the Daleks, the Shadow of the Valeyard (even if he hadn’t earned some of those epithets yet) followed me wordlessly into the Tyler’s kitchen. He was, apparently, unwilling to argue with the force of nature that was Jacqueline Andrea Suzette Tyler, Mother.

 

Jackie’s dishwasher had broken the day before, and I’d volunteered to be on dish washing duty until she could get a plumber to come out and fix it. (The Doctor had offered to fix it himself, and gotten a firm, long winded, and rather rude no from Jackie. Although, after his shenanigans with her toaster, I really couldn’t blame her.)

 

I went to work like I’d been doing the whole time, only really acknowledging the Doctor next to me when I passed him the dish towel and a washed plate to dry with said dish towel. It was life as usual, so I didn’t even realize I was humming until the Doctor asked me what song I was humming.

 

“Oh, um…” I passed him another plate to dry and checked the little window into the kitchen. Jackie and Rose had already finished clearing the table and were now arguing about what to watch on the TV. “Why do you ask?”

 

“Because you’ve been humming that same song for four days,” the Doctor said.

 

“It’s been stuck in my head,” I mumbled. “And I don’t even know all the words, which is the worst. ” 

 

“Couldn’t you just… listen to it?” the Doctor asked, reasonably.

 

“No,” I said quietly. I was sure the Tylers weren’t listening, but I still didn’t want to risk it. “The song doesn’t exist in this universe.”

 

“Oh,” the Doctor said, equally quietly. “Out of curiosity, what was it called?” I snapped my eyes back to the plates to avoid looking at the Doctor, pretending there was a stubborn spot on the bowl I was cleaning. 

 

“‘Song for Ten’,” I answered. “Bit of a theme song for you, I guess. It’s annoyingly catchy and playing on loop in my brain.”

 

The Doctor’s face twitched like he was fighting down a smile. “What was it about?” he asked, cheeky. Well fine then. Two could play at that game.

 

“Oh,” I said casually. “It’s a love song for Rose.” The Doctor sighed, but he probably knew there was no point in denying to me. He’d asked me about it before, after all. “It’s really sappy now that I think about it. Calls her your guiding star and-” I snapped my mouth shut immediately when I saw the Doctor’s face. He wasn’t blushing, exactly, but he looked well on his way and very unhappy with that reality. 

 

Shit. I had to keep reminding myself how fragile this… friendship? I guess friendship was the right word. But whatever you wanted to call my relationship with the Doctor, it was undeniably fragile. Casually referencing the fact that I knew some of his inner thoughts like they were my own? Teasing him with the very thing that had kept up from being friends in the first place? Dangling his love for Rose over his head? A decision of pure, unfiltered stupidity, not to mention cruel. 

 

“Sorry,” I whispered. Suddenly the dishes were very interesting again. “It’s… I’m just not sure where to stop. And I mean that, honestly.” I took a deep breath to steel myself and meet the Doctor’s eyes again. “You have to tell me when I go too far. I’ll stop,” I promised.

 

The Doctor’s eyes were searching, like he was staring into my very soul. I held his gaze, so he could see the promise that I really did mean.

 

Friendship with Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness had been easy. They didn’t hold back from me, and I didn’t hold back from them. But they were human, like me, so we had some base to work on. They knew when to call me out, or when to let me stew and realize I’d done something wrong on my own time. I knew when to tell them to stop, when to leave them alone. I hadn’t had to work on earning their friendship, and I hadn’t had to work to maintain it.

 

Friendship with the Doctor was not going to be easy. It would take work, from both of us. I’d have to reign myself in from banter and jokes, more than I was today, but less than I had before. We’d need to talk about so many things. We’d need to work, and it couldn’t all come from my side.

 

“I will,” the Doctor promised. I nodded, and that was the end of the conversation. We went back to washing the dishes, and I made a conscious effort to hum a different song.

 

<...>

 

The day after our conversation in the kitchen, the Doctor found me on the roof on Jackie’s building, curled in on myself, crying as silently as I could. I had no idea what had possessed him to come looking for me on a roof at 2 AM, but there he was. 

 

The Doctor sat down next to me, blocking the wind that had been trying to freeze my tears to my face. I didn’t acknowledge him, just kept pretending I was stargazing. My vision was a bit too blurry for that, and I’d left my glasses on my bedside table.

 

“I can tell when you’re crying,” he offered, unprompted. He paused for me to answer, but my throat was still too tight to really get any words out, so I said nothing. “The TARDIS doesn’t let me get where I want to go. I’m aiming for the music room to see if this body has any particular proclivity for an instrument, and all I can find is the console room,” he explained. I huffed out the closest thing to laughter I could make.

 

“Doesn’t explain how you knew I was on the roof,” I said. The stars were looking a little less wet, but they remained too far away for me to see without my glasses.

 

“It would seem,” the Doctor said on an exhale, like he was unsure he should tell me what he was about to. “This body is a bit more telepathic than my last one. And you have a very unique mental signature.”

 

“So you can find me wherever I am?” I asked. As a fellow touch telepath, I knew the ‘touch’ part of the name was a bit of a misnomer. You had to touch to read, but you could browse from any distance, as long as it wasn’t the other side of the world, or something else too far away from you.

 

“Within reason,” the Doctor answered. “I don’t really know what my limits are yet.”

 

“Bigger than mine, probably,” I offered. I was enjoying the fact that the Doctor hadn’t called me out on my crying yet. “Time Lord superiority and all that.”

 

“What happened?” he asked softly. Ah. Not letting the conversation drift anymore than. Fine. I guess I was ready to talk. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the guilt off my chest, but I didn’t want the Doctor to know I felt guilty. He’d try to get me to stop, try to take my guilt for his own. I didn’t want that. He didn’t deserve it.

 

But it’s not like I could talk about this with Rose Tyler. She didn’t, couldn’t know I knew the future. Not yet.

 

“I just… Jackie’s stopped watching me like a hawk ‘cause I’ve been sleeping on the TARDIS again and…” The breath I took shuddered it’s way into my lungs before shaking its way back out. It barely helped steady me. “I had another nightmare, and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I came up here to remember,” I explained, brushing may hands across my face. “To mourn. The people who died on the Game Station.”

 

“Katelyn-” the Doctor started, warning. Amazing how after only paying attention for these last few days, he could read me like a book. Well, I guess I had been expecting he’d fight back against the guilt anyway. It’s not like I was doing my best to hide it right now.

 

“Their deaths are on my hands,” I insisted. “I deserve to know, and they deserve to be remembered.”

 

“No part of that was your fault,” the Doctor said firmly. It was nice that he was being kind to me now, but I really didn’t want to hear it at that precise moment.

 

“Even the people in my game?” I asked. I’d been looping their names over and over in my head. Quentin Matthews. Aringod Rockefeller. Quentin Matthews. Aringod Rockefeller. Quentin Matthews. Aringod Rockefeller. 

 

The Doctor didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I kept going.

 

“And beyond them.” I took another shaky breath, and it helped only as much as it had helped the first time. “Tell me, Doctor, was any part of that a fixed point in Time?”

 

“No, but-”

 

“So I knew all of that would happen and could have changed any part of it and didn’t.” I didn’t snap at the Doctor. This was an explanation. I had to make him understand. “That makes it my fault.”

 

“Katelyn-”

 

“You’re not gonna convince me otherwise, Doctor,” I snapped this time. “So don’t bother trying.” The air was heavy with silence for a few moments after that. I let go of my legs, forcing my posture to relax. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have - I’m not mad at you.”

 

“You should be,” the Doctor said. “I should have listened to you, or wasted less time getting out of my game, but...” I opened my mouth to tell him ‘let it go’ in a few more words, but didn’t get the chance. “Daleks,” he hissed, like the word was poison on his tongue. “I couldn’t leave you, I couldn’t leave anyone with Daleks.”

 

“I know, I knew that. I…” Did I dare tell him I knew protecting Rose was probably suicide? But surely, he must know already, right? No real harm confirming what he already knew. “I wasn’t expecting to be alive for you to find me,” I admitted. “I was sure I’d be shot on sight, and I’d made my peace with that. Cause then you’d have no one to go get, and the Delta Wave could be… refined or whatever.”

 

The Doctor took a deep breath. I could almost picture the pained expression I didn’t dare turn to see on his face. “But they didn’t shoot you,” he prompted. 

 

“No,” I breathed, still not quite sure, despite the fact that I was currently breathing, that I could believe it. “They said I wasn’t a human shield, emphasis on human, and called me the ‘Time Lord Reborn’.” I made air quotes around the title. “Whatever the hell that means.”

 

“You really don’t know?” the Doctor asked. I finally looked away from the stars and at him. He looked… dare I say hopeful? Oh, it wasn’t fair of the universe, any universe, to string him along like this. To make him think he wasn’t the last of his people.

 

“I really don’t,” I said. I wished I could give him a clearer answer. To definitively tell him those Dalek’s were just insane, that I was sure they were wrong, but I couldn’t. Or even to tell him yes, I’d secretly been a Time Lord this whole time, just so he wouldn’t be alone anymore. “This is a mystery for me too.” 

 

The heavy silence came back, because for once in his life, the Tenth Doctor was doing his thinking in his head. It made me suddenly very nervous. 

 

“It’s not just that it makes no sense,” I started again. Ah, deflection. One of my favorite defense mechanisms. The very one I’d been clinging to at the beginning of this conversation. “But it’s a bit of a shit title, ‘Time Lord Reborn’.”

 

“What makes you say that?” the Doctor said, sounding much more insulted than he looked. Ah, so he was leaning into the deflection. Good. It was too early for this conversation, both in the day and in our lives.

 

“Well it’s true of any Time Lord that’s not on their first body, isn’t it?” I reasoned. The Doctor hummed, thinking for a moment.

 

“Well, yes, I suppose, but wouldn’t that imply that in this case, ‘Reborn’ doesn't refer to regeneration in the first place?” he countered. I blinked a few times.

 

“Huh, hadn’t thought about it like that,” I admitted. Somehow, somewhere in the depths of my mind, I had an extremely vague, far away memory of an episode I had liked. The harder I tried to grab at the memory, the more it slipped away. Oh, well. Couldn’t have been that important if I couldn’t think of it now.

 

“Either way, I can’t figure out how any title involving the words ‘Time’ and ‘Lord’ together, in that order, could possibly apply to me,” I dismissed. “I mean Time Lords didn’t exist in my universe. Gallifrey didn’t exist.” I gestured widely. “The Kasterborous constellation didn’t even exist, for God’s sake.” 

 

“How do you know?” the Doctor countered, far more calmly than I would have, or had,  expected. But that infernal spark of hope was still there in his eyes.

 

“I-” I stopped. I was dead certain they didn’t, but it’s not like I actually had any proof. “I guess I don’t. I was a history major, not an astrophysics major.” I paused, as an old memory made itself known to me again. “Huh, it was my mom’s first Doctorate though.” The Doctor looked distinctly impressed with that.

 

“She had more than one?” the Doctor asked. “Isn’t that unusual for humans in the 21st century?”

 

“Oh, my mother was not a common woman,” I answered. “She had a Bachelor’s in general mathematics, minor in Astronomy, Doctorates in astrophysics and communications. Then, when she was done with that, she went and got herself a Masters in Early Childhood Education, and taught fifth graders.”

 

“Fifth graders are…?”

 

I laughed. “Sorry, guess I forgot you were an alien for a second. Fifth graders are around 9 or 10 years old.”

 

The Doctor blew out a whistle. “I think I would have liked your mum.”

 

And the grief was back full force. The Doctor must have been able to sense it, because his face immediately shifted to regret and guilt.

 

No. I was done with the circular conversation.

 

“I’ll make you a deal,” I offered. “Completely unrelated to that conversation about my mom,” I added at his confused look. “Or this ‘Time Lord Reborn’ business.”

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“If I’m not allowed to blame myself for what happened on the Game Station, then I won’t.” I locked eyes with that Doctor again. “On one condition: you’re not allowed to blame yourself either.” The Doctor sucked in a breath, not quite a gasp, but definitely a noise of surprise. 

 

“Katelyn-” he protested.

 

“Eoup.” I held up my hand and snapped my fingers shut. “Not one word. That’s my final offer.”

 

“Time Lords have-”

 

“If you say anything even resembling ‘a duty to Time’, I’m gonna throw you off this roof,” I deadpanned. “Doctor one of us knew exactly how each and every person on that station was going to be killed. One of us went onto that station knowing there would be Daleks. One of us-”

 

“Didn’t know she was going to be called ‘Time Lord Reborn’,” the Doctor countered before I was even done with that sentence. “You’re not infallible, Katelyn. You don’t know everything.”

 

“Neither are you and neither do you,” I shot back. I didn’t raise my voice though. This wasn’t meant to be an argument, so I wasn’t going to make it one. “If I’m not allowed to blame myself, than neither are you,” I insisted. The Doctor was silent, eyes searching my face for something other then the relentless determination I was giving him. He must not have found it, because he sighed and dragged a hand down his face.

 

“Fine,” the Doctor conceded. 

 

I think we both knew, in all reality, that we would still both blame ourselves for what happened on the Game Station. But it would only be done in the privacy of our own thoughts, and that wasn’t the point anyway. The point was the principle of the thing. The point was that we were looking out for each other, and here was the proof. This was each of us trying to protect the other, like friends did.

 

It occured to me, suddenly, I could have said the same thing to him four months ago, could have better explained myself right after WWII or right before instead of letting him run. Then, he would have understood that I knew what I was doing. He - we - could have beat that fear early and come up with a plan, together, to stop the Daleks. To save the people on the Game Station. To save Jack Harkness.

 

I exhaled a long winded, pained noise. “What this time?” the Doctor asked.

 

“It’s just… four months of us avoiding each other to the point of fear and hate, and if we had just sat down and had this one conversation it could have always been like this.” I turned to him and gave him a tiny smile that wasn’t as forced as I had been expecting. “We could have always been friends.” The smile snapped away. “A-assuming that’s what we are now,” I rushed to say.

 

The Doctor offered me his own small smile in return. “I’d like to be,” he said gently. My smile was bigger this time, and entirely genuine, which was a definite bonus.

 

“Good,” I declared. “I’d like to be too.”

 

“Good,” the Doctor parroted. I yawned suddenly. “Now, back to the TARDIS with you. It’s late, you’re tired, and I’m not carrying you again.” I chuckled and stood up. The wind picked up slightly without a Time Lord blocking it, and I shivered. It really was cold up here. I had to stop trying to prove my dominance over London’s winter by not wearing a coat.

 

Quite abruptly after having that thought, I found myself wearing a coat. It was much too long, and the sleeves hung nearly half a foot off the ends of my arms, but it was warm and really helped cut the wind.

 

“I’m gonna drag it,” I yawned.

 

“It’s just to the TARDIS,” the Doctor dismissed. He looked so much smaller in just his suit, so much less ‘Lonely God’, so much more human. “I’m pretty sure the coat will survive.”

 

<...>

 

New Year’s Eve crept up on all of us except the Doctor. He was so clearly ready to get out and off into the stars again. Jackie was not ready for her daughter to leave. So not ready, in fact, that she had forgotten to worry about me for several hours. I was liberating.

 

Rose and I were ready to hit the road (hit the Vortex?) again, but we were equally ready to spend this one last day on Earth getting tipsy and celebrating the start of a new year. We collectively elected not to mention to anyone that it was really halfway through May for both of us. After all, what was a calendar to a time traveler other than a way to tell where you’d landed?

 

Jackie invited a few friends over to count down to the New Year. That, of course, meant the Doctor and I seriously considering hiding in the TARDIS, and both being forced to stay by the power of Rose Tyler asking nicely, because the Doctor can never say no to her and I live in constant fear of disappointing my friends. 

 

This did not stop us from both hiding in Jackie’s kitchen for most of the night however. The Doctor had learned, from stealing my wine glass, that this him didn’t mind the taste of alcohol. “New Year, new skill,” I’d declared, and started raiding Jackie’s cabinets for the ingredients to some of the mixed drinks Jack had made for Rose and I before. 

 

“It’s like Jack couldn’t have fun without engaging in at least one human vice at a time,” the Doctor said. I didn’t say anything back. The Doctor didn’t mention Jack again.

 

About five hours before midnight, Rose finally came in and tried to drag us out. Well, that’s what she said she was trying to do, but she seemed perfectly content to hang out in the kitchen with us. 

 

“Won’t you get too drunk?” she asked as I passed the Doctor a Rum and Coke.

“Nah,” I dismissed. “I’m only having a sip, and he metabolizes it too quick to get drunk.”

 

“Unless there's ginger,” the Doctor provided, making a face that told me he did not like Rum and Coke. I held up the bottle I’d been about to pour.

 

“Is there ginger in spiced rum?” I asked, trying to read the tiny font on the back. This must not have been Earth rum, because they were definitely not english letters on the label.

 

“Usually,” Rose said. I poured the rum anyway, and turned to offer the drink to Rose. She, however, was already holding the Doctor’s rejected Rum and Coke. I jumped up to sit on the counter and picked the spiced rum drink up.

 

“This one’s all mine then,” I announced, taking a sip. I felt the buzz immediately, which was weird. Maybe I’d had more to drink than I’d thought. 

 

Rose took a moment to look around the kitchen. I was never one to clean up after myself when I might still need things, so the contents of all the drinks I’d tried to make were scattered across the available counterspace. 

 

“Mum didn’t have all of this, did she?” Rose asked. I shook my head.

 

“Nicked most of it from the TARDIS,” I admitted. The Doctor gave me a weird look. “What? It was your idea.”

 

“You said ‘nicked’,” the Doctor informed me. He was smiling this cheeky grin that meant I just had to respond with more than the ‘yes, and?’ that I would have.

 

“I most certainly did not,” I said, hiding my smile behind my drink.

 

“No, you did,” Rose argued. “We both heard you.”

 

“So what if I did?” I argued back primly. The Doctor snorted a laugh. “I’ve been living in London for a week now. I’ll kick it as soon as we’re off again.”

 

“Hmm,” Rose hummed. “I’m gonna hold you to that.”

 

“Consider yourself at strike one,” the Doctor agreed. I rolled my eyes, because that was what was expected of me, and we went back to talking about whatever passed into our heads.

 

<...>

 

“Rose, I think your friend lost something,” Bev said, pulling a very drunk and very confused Katelyn behind her. The young woman had disappeared from the kitchen somewhere into her fourth glass of the spice rum mixed drink. Now, Katelyn had been dragged back to the kitchen and was tapping her chest absently.

 

“Where’d the other one go?” Katelyn was muttering. 

 

“The other…?” Rose said, thinking. Rose and Jack had known about the locket Katelyn wore, but Rose didn’t know what was in it. She’d always been a bit afraid to ask, knowing how Katelyn was about her past. Another thing for Rose to add to her ever growing list of similarities between the Doctor and Katelyn Laurin. “Did you lose your key?” Rose asked.

 

“My...? No,” Katelyn said as firmly as someone so drunk they were leaning on a wall could. “No, I got my key.” Katelyn patted her chest again, and Rose could see the impression of both the key and her locket through her shirt. Katelyn’s face scrunched in confusion. “Oh, guess they’re both there. Thanks, Rosie. You’re a wonderful friend and a delight to be around.” Then, Katelyn smiled and disappeared again to go be drunk in another room.

 

“Now what was that all about?” Bev asked. Rose opened her mouth to simply joke that Katelyn had a low tolerance, when something occurred to her. 

 

The only ‘other’ Rose Tyler could think of in the chest area was the Doctor’s second heart. But… Surely, Katelyn couldn’t… Katelyn had always been adamant that she was human, and so was the Doctor. On one hand, she was the same kind of telepathic he was (Rose knew because it was hard to forget his reaction to realizing Katelyn had been captured by the Sernox). But on the other hand, the Doctor had always said he’d know if there were any more of his people in the universe. But those Daleks, they had called Katelyn a Time Lord. They’d said she’d named herself to them. Katelyn said they’d been lying. But those Dalek’s had also known the Doctor on sight. Was that just because it was him, or did they know all Time Lords on sight?

 

Rose’s head was starting to spin from all the circular thinking. And possibly a bit from the fancy French wine that had been among what Katelyn nicked from the TARDIS. Rose had been enjoying it all night. She put her glass down on the kitchen counter, just as people in the other room started counting down. Rose went to join them, pushing the ‘Time Lord Reborn’ business to the back of her mind.

 

Plenty of time to talk about it when they were all completely sober again.

 

<...>

 

At 5:59 AM, London time, New Years day, 2007, I sat myself in front of the muted TV (I didn’t want to wake up the sleeping Tylers) in Jackie Tyler’s living room, and watched the New Year’s ball drop in Times Square. 

 

It was something my family did, had done, every year, something I’d always taken so much for granted it had never even occurred to me to miss it. I was lucky sober, 5:00pm yesterday evening Katelyn Laurin had remembered to set an alarm, or I actually would have missed it. 

 

Jackie’s friends had gone home shortly after we’d rung in the New Year, and those of us that stayed had passed out shortly after. I hadn’t made it down to the TARDIS, instead spending one more night on Jackie’s couch.

 

Now, I sat on the floor, watching the celebrations on the TV. I watched complete strangers make out, because they needed their New Year’s kiss, for good luck. I watched the same announcers I’d watched my whole life predict what might be coming in the new year. I watched, and I remembered myself, six years old, insisting I could stay up a little longer despite my heavy eyelids and noodle-like appendages. 

 

I smiled at the memory, and went to brush the tears from my cheek on instinct. There weren’t any. That made me so happy that I ended up crying anyway. A bit counter productive, if you ask me.

 

I only cried for a few seconds before pulling myself together. I washed the remains of the tears off my face and brushed the taste of last night’s drinking out of my mouth before making my way into Jackie’s kitchen. If I was going to be awake this early, it was only fair I make breakfast.

 

We’d be leaving today, and then it was the rest of Series 2. I’d learn from my mistakes on the Game Station, and on Christmas. Maybe, if I prepared more than ten minutes in advance, I could do some good.

 

I started planning.

Chapter Text

Later that morning, I helped Rose carry her bags down to the TARDIS. I had to, because Jackie wasn’t going to help. She may have accepted that Rose was leaving, but that didn’t mean she had to be happy about it.

 

“Are you sure you won’t wait a day for little miss to get over her hangover?” Jackie asked, gesturing to me. I huffed (in exasperation, not because of the bag and four flights of stairs).

 

“Jackie,” I sighed. “I’m fine. I’m good to go.”

 

“That’s not fair,” MIckey complained from across the way. I shrugged in his general direction. Honestly, I also had no idea how I was fine, but I wasn’t about to complain. 

 

“Have you got everything?” Jackie asked as soon as we got to the TARDIS doors.

 

“I've got everything, don't worry,” Rose insisted for maybe the millionth time.

 

“Be careful,” Jackie said, hugging her daughter. “Both of you.” She gave me a look over Ros’s shoulder.

 

“Rose, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say your mom was trying to adopt me,” I teased, slipping inside the TARDIS before Jackie could respond. 

 

The Doctor was moving about the console with less manic energy than usual, which would have been a bad sign if I couldn’t feel his grin from the door. I dropped Rose’s bag behind a coral strut.

 

“So,” the Doctor drawled, not looking up from what he was doing. “Onward and upward?”

“All of time and space,” Rose added, climbing into the TARDIS and closing the doors behind her.

 

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” I finished, walking to the middle of the console room. Quoting Shakespeare might have been a little over dramatic, but with the promise of adventure on the horizon, I was feeling a little over dramatic.

 

“So where are we going?” Rose asked. The TARDIS began to shake, like she did when taking off.

 

“Further than we've ever gone before,” the Doctor answered, proof that he never got less enigmatic, regardless of which regeneration he was on.

 

“Is that distance-wise or time-wise?” I asked, physically incapable of not being cheeky. 

 

“Both,” the Doctor said confidently. “I think.”

 

We landed with a thunk, and I ran outside before the others had even moved. The TARDIS had materialised across the river from a massive city. Flying cars zoomed by, looking like some strange combination between a flat Hotwheels car and a helicopter drone. The city itself gleamed silver in the sunlight, all curving designs they probably called ‘ultra-modern’ or some other nonsense.

 

The TARDIS doors creaked open behind me. I turned to see Rose walk out, running her hand through her hair and looking amazed. I wondered if she’d thought she wouldn’t get to see something like this again. The Doctor walked out behind her, looking mildly annoyed at the wind, but otherwise just as happy as Rose and I were. 

 

“It's the year five billion and twenty-three,” the Doctor explained. “We're in the galaxy M87, and this?” He looked around for a bit. “This is New Earth.”

 

“That's just-” Rose started. “That's just-” 

 

“Not bad,” the Doctor agreed. “Not bad at all.” I laughed, giddy with new air my lungs, and collapsed onto the grass.

 

“That's amazing,” Rose breathed. “I'll never get used to this. Never. Different ground beneath my feet-” Rose jumped a few times to emphasis her point. The Doctor watched her fondly. “-different sky. What's that smell?” The Doctor bent down and plucked a few blades of grass.

 

“Apple grass,” he informed us.

 

“Apple grass,” Rose said slowly, like it was an obvious answer we had missed.

 

“Apple grass!” I cheered, rolling over and burying my face in the grass. It smelled exactly like I’d always expected, crisp and sweet.

 

“Having fun down there?” the Doctor asked. As an answer, I rolled a little way down the hill we were on. Just because I was legally a human adult didn’t mean I had to act like one.

 

“It's beautiful,” Rose observed. I hummed my agreement and stood back up. “Oh, I love this,” she continued. Rose grabbed the Doctor’s arm, smiling. “Can I just say, travelling with you, I love it.”

 

“Me too,” the Doctor said, smiling back. God, those two were going to be the death of me. “Come on.” The Doctor grabbed Rose’s hand and started running. With an eye roll only the TARDIS could see, I followed them. 

 

When I caught up with them, the Doctor was laying his coat out. He and Rose both laid down on it. I tumbled to the ground next to the Doctor, perfectly content to lay on the sun-warmed grass. If it wasn’t so windy, and a bit cloudy, I’d have called it idyllic. I took a deep breath. We’d only been still for eight days and I’d missed this so much. 18 years and 8 months on the slow path, you’d think it would take longer for TARDIS life to become normal.

 

“So,” the Doctor started. “The year five billion, the sun expands, the Earth gets roasted.” 

 

“That was our first date,” Rose said in my general direction, although I’m sure the line had been more to flirt with the Doctor than inform me.

 

“We had chips,” the Doctor said fondly. Rose giggled. “So anyway,” the Doctor continued. “Planet gone, all rocks and dust, but the human race lives on, spread out across the stars. Soon as the Earth burns up, oh yeah, they get all nostalgic, big revival movement, but then find this place.” He sat up. “Same size as the Earth, same air, same orbit. Lovely. Call goes out, the humans move in.”

 

“What's the city called?” Rose asked, gesturing.

 

“New New York,” the Doctor answered.

 

“Oh, come on,” Rose dismissed.

 

“It is!” the Doctor insisted, laughing. “It's the city of New New York. Strictly speaking, it's the fifteenth New York since the original, so that makes it New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York.” Rose just stared at him, smiling. “What?”

 

“You're so different,” she said.

 

“New New Doctor,” he said plainly. Rose accepted that with a smile.

 

“Well-” I snapped my mouth shut, as soon as I’d said it, entirely too uncertain with the Doctor’s and my new friendship to make the joke. 

 

Too late, it seemed, since Rose propped herself higher up on her elbow to look over the Doctor at me. The Doctor turned to look as well, and gave me a tiny nod. “St-strictly speaking,” I said, still nervous this would be going too far. “He’s the ninth Doctor since the original, which makes him a new new new new new new new new new Doctor.” I had to count the nine ‘news’ on my fingers, which made the Doctor chuckle. I stuck my tongue out at him.

 

Rose smacked the Doctor’s shoulder, which made him pout and turn to her. “What was that for?” he asked.

“You’ve changed like that nine times and didn’t tell me.” Rose sat straight up. “Hold on, how do you know?” I sat up too.

 

“The TARDIS,” I lied easily and instantly. Oh, my words to Rose were really coming back to haunt me. So much lying. “She has exactly two telepaths to communicate with, and she can’t very well brag about her pilot to her pilot.” I smirked. “I mean, imagine the ego he’d have.” Rose turned her head quickly to hide her laugh in her hand.

 

“Oi!” the Doctor protested, on principle.

 

“Can we go and visit New New York,” Rose asked through her laughter. “So good they named it twice?”

 

“Well,” the Doctor said, standing. Rose and I stood with him. “I thought we might go there first.” He nodded at two curved skyscrapers standing apart from the city and on our side of the river. My good mood faded quickly. Right, I had Plans™ for today.

 

“Why, what is it?” Rose asked before I could remember I wasn’t supposed to know.

 

“Some sort of hospital,” the Doctor answered. “Green moon on the side. That's the universal symbol for hospitals. I got this.” He pulled the physic paper out of the pocket of his redonned coat. “A message on the psychic paper.” Ward 26 Please Come flashed across twice before the Doctor snapped the wallet shut again. “Someone wants to see me.”

 

“And I thought we were just sightseeing,” Rose said, trying and failing to sound annoyed. “Come on, then. Let's go and buy some grapes.”

 

“I don’t get the joke,” I mumbled to myself. Luckily the wind was loud enough that the Doctor didn’t hear me say that, or I’m sure the walk to the hospital would have included a long lecture on English idioms.

 

<...>

 

“Bit rich coming from you,” Rose teased as we walked in the doors.

 

“I can't help it,” the Doctor protested. “I don't like hospitals. They give me the creeps.” The reception area was big and well lit, which just made it seem bigger. It was white and sterile and I hated it too.

 

“I agree with the Doctor,” I admitted. “It's too much like there’s nothing. Like they’re trying to pretend people were never here and never will be.” We walked right by the check in desks. No one questioned us. The Doctor didn’t even need to get the Physic paper out. 

 

“I think it looks smart,” Rose argued. “Not exactly NHS.” 

 

“Our privatized hospital’s over in the states have more plants,” I said. I spun to take in the whole room. Really, it was colorless in here. I would never send a loved one to this place.

 

“No shop,” the Doctor announced. “I like the little shop.”

 

“Especially this far from the city. How are people supposed to bring their loved ones dollar store chocolates?” I asked.

 

“I thought this far in the future, they'd have cured everything,” Rose said, ignoring both of us. 

 

“The human race moves on, but so do the viruses,” the Doctor explained. “It's an ongoing war.”

 

“And constantly discovering new places, there’d always be new diseases,” I remarked. The Doctor turned, walking backwards toward the elevators and smiled. “Right?” I asked, suddenly flustered. I was not used to this whole ‘the Last of the Time Lords is being nice to me’ situation.

 

A nun passed with her face exposed. Rose stared, following the woman as she walked away. “They're cats,” Rose said, pointing.

 

“Now, don't stare,” the Doctor scolded. “Think what you look like to them, all pink and yellow.” I glanced back simply for the joy of seeing Rose’s ‘exCUSE ME!’ expression. The Doctor didn't seem to notice, lending some credence to my ‘Ten is the densest dumbass alive’ theory.

 

“That's where I'd put the shop,” the Doctor said, pointing behind Rose to the disturbingly white wall. “Right there.” The Doctor walked toward the elevators without waiting for either of us. 

 

I’d thought about this. Yes, I could prevent Rose getting possessed by Cassandra, but there wasn’t really a point. Rose got a headache from it, but she would be fine in the long run. And I was certain Cassandra needed to be in Rose’s head to understand it was her time. If I didn’t just let Rose go, it wasn’t that none of us would end up possessed, it was that one of us would end up possessed at the worst possible time . Better to face the problem head on that have it chase after us.

 

At least, that’s what I made myself think as I jogged after the Doctor and let Rose stew in her shock.

 

“Ward 26, thanks!” the Doctor said as soon as we were past the elevator doors

 

“Hold on!” Rose called, running toward the elevator. The doors closed on her face.

 

“We’re already moving!” I shouted back through the doors.

 

“It's all right, there's another lift!” we heard Rose shout back.

 

“Ward 26,” the Doctor said. “And watch out for the disinfectant.”

 

“Watch out for what?” Rose asked. Already we could barely hear her. Clearly, by the year 5 Billion and 23, human being had perfected express elevators.

 

“The disinfectant!” the Doctor tried again.

 

“The wh-?” 

 

“The disi- Oh, you'll find out,” the Doctor muttered. I giggled. “What?”

 

“Just imagining the look on Rose’s face,” I said.

 

“Commence stage one disinfection,” the overhead voice said. That was out only warning before the spray turned on. I shrieked, because that water was freezing. The Doctor laughed, then started coughing when that got water in his mouth. Stage two shot us with what felt like Talcum powder, but dissolved immediately in the water. When the dryers turned on, the Doctor tried talking again.

 

“You deserved that,” he said. He lifted his coat to make sure it got dry. I started wringing out the bottom of my shirt.

 

“That’s fair,” I agreed.

 

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open, and the Doctor and I strolled out, both with our hands in our pockets. With a start, I wondered if I’d picked that little tick up from Ten in the first place. I’d been doing it since I was little… When had this episode aired?

 

While I contemplated just how much of my personality was based in this show (Did I get my cheeky attitude from Jack? From Donna? AMY??) my legs turned themselves on autopilot and I followed the Doctor to a smaller reception desk. I sort of paid attention to the Doctor asking for help finding Ward 26, and the receptionist calling one of the Sisters over to help us.

 

“Nice place,” the Doctor said casually. I blinked. Oh, we were in the ward already. “No shop, downstairs. I'd have a shop. Not a big one. Just a shop, so people can…”

 

“Shop?” I offered. The Doctor looked slightly sheepish.

 

“I didn’t want to say ‘shop’ again,” he said. The nurse who was helping us removed her veil. 

 

“The hospital is a place of healing,” she said as if we were very stupid.

 

“A shop does some people the world of good,” the Doctor argued. I raised an eyebrow at him. Maybe it had changed with Ten, but to say Nine had not been a fan of shopping would have been a grave understatement. 

 

“Not me,” the Doctor corrected. “Other people.” We started walking again, the Doctor taking note of each patient, looking for whoever might have called us here. It was taking a significant amount of my willpower not to just run to the end of the room.

 

“The Sisters of Plentitude take a lifelong vow to help and to mend,” the Sister guiding us said. This time, she sounded like we had offended her, instead of just being stupid.

 

The Doctor stopped at one of the patients, staring. 

 

“Excuse me!” a woman said, stepping to block the man. “Members of the public may only gaze upon the Duke of Manhattan with written permission from the Senate of New New York.”

 

“That's Petrifold Regression, right?” the Doctor asked, ignoring the woman.

 

“I'm dying, sir,” the Duke answered. “A lifetime of charity and abstinence, and it ends like this.” The Doctor shot me a look, asking. I didn’t answer.

 

“Any statements made by the Duke of Manhattan may not be made public without official clearance,” the woman hissed.

 

“Frau Clovis!” the Duke cried. The woman dashed over and clutched his hand. “I'm so weak.”

 

“Sister Jatt,” the woman hissed again, this time addressing the Sister. “A little privacy, please.” With a nod, Jatt started to lead us away again.

 

“He'll be up and about in no time,” she assured.

 

“I doubt it,” the Doctor said bluntly. “Petrifold Regression? He's turning to stone. There won't be a cure for oh...” He ran a  hand through his hair, thinking. “A thousand years? He might be up and about, but only as a statue.”

 

“Have faith in the Sisterhood,” Jatt said as gently as she could while in attack mode. I shivered, remembering how little regard for life the Sister actually had. It was a wonder she wasn’t more angry with us.

 

“But is there no one here you recognise?” Jatt asked. “It's rather unusual to visit without knowing the patient.” The Doctor’s eyes drifted over to where mine had been focused since entering the room, a slow smile making its way onto his face.

 

“No,” he said. “I think I've found him.”

 

We walked over to the corner, by a huge window. The view was amazing, I’m sure, but I couldn’t take my eyes of the face in a container by the  window. The Face of Boe carried none of Jack Harkness’s defining physical features, except, perhaps, his chin. Yet it was so easy for me to see my friend in the Face. Maybe it was telepathy, that I could just feel his familiar presence buzzing on the edge of my conscious. How could the Doctor not feel it?

 

“Novice Hame, if I can leave these two in your care?” Jatt asked. Hame nodded, and Jatt turned to leave.

 

“Oh, I think our friend got lost,” the Doctor said. “Rose Tyler. Could you ask at reception?” 

 

“Certainly, sir,” Jatt said as she left.

 

“I'm afraid the Face of Boe's asleep,” Sister Hame said, apropos of nothing. “That's all he tends to do these days. Are you a friend, or?” 

 

Yes, I didn’t say. I’m the friend that couldn’t save him. A few tears welled in my eyes before I could think to stop them.

 

The Doctor shook his head. “We met just the once, on Platform One…Katelyn?”

 

I schooled my face to neutrality, even though I knew it was too late. The Doctor had noticed, but he didn’t have to know why. He didn’t have to know this was Captain Jack Harkness. He didn’t have to know I knew one of my best friends was dying in front of me. He didn’t have to know I was worried Jack would hate me when he woke up. He could just think I knew something in the future, something the Face of Boe would do. 

 

I was so bad at this. I would have made a terrible secret agent.

 

“What's wrong with him?” I asked. The Doctor looked away from me, knowing that was my way of saying I wasn’t going to answer him.

“I'm so sorry,” Hame said, genuine in her grief. “I thought you knew. The Face of Boe is dying.”

 

“Of what?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Old age. The one thing we can't cure,” Hame said sadly. “He's thousands of years old. Some people say millions, although that's impossible.” She finished speaking quickly and looked away, as if afraid we might judge her for believing stories.

 

“Oh, I don't know,” the Doctor said. “I like impossible.” We both crouched down. The Doctor placed one hand on the glass, but I placed both of mine and rested my forehead. It was warm. “I'm here,” the Doctor said. “I look a bit different, but it's me, It's the Doctor.”

 

I’m here, I projected. I'm here and I’m so, so sorry.

 

The Face of Boe stirred slightly, before settling into a deeper sleep.

 

<...>

 

After waiting for the Face of Boe to wake up for a few minutes, the Doctor left to get some water. I could almost hear him thinking, all that waiting to leave London, and I’m just standing here in our first adventure. I only heard him leave, because I kept my forehead resting against the glass. 



“That's very kind,” I heard Hame say. I turned to see the Doctor was back, handing the Sister a cup of water. “There's no need.” By the time he came back, I’d pulled a stool over to the window and was curled up it, staring out at the city.

 

“You're the one working,” he said, handing me the other cup. I smile as a thank you.

 

“There's not much to do,” Hame protested. “Just maintain his smoke. And I suppose I'm company.” Hame smiled softly. “I can hear him singing, sometimes, in my mind. Such ancient songs.” My own face twitched toward a smile. Ancient didn’t mean elegant, and if he hadn’t sung ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ at least once, then it wasn’t really Jack Harkness in there.

 

“Are we the only visitors?” the Doctor asked. 

 

No,” Hame answered gently. I startled and looked at her. That was new. “A woman used to come to see him quite frequently.” The only new woman here was me, unless Thirteen had come to visit for some new reason. But, if it was me, why didn’t Hame recognize me? “It’s been a while since her last visit, however.” Oh, maybe I was old, wrinkled and gray. Maybe I’d died, and that’s why I hadn’t come back. “She was wonderful company,” Hame continued, still wearing a soft smile. “It cheered him up immensely whenever she came, but-” 

 

The Sister’s smile vanished. “The rest of Boe-kind became extinct long ago,” she said. “He's the only one left. Legend says that the Face of Boe has watched the universe grow old.” The Doctor smiled to himself. 

 

“There's all sorts of superstitions around him,” Hame continued, growing more excited with each word. “One story says that just before his death, the Face of Boe will impart his great secret, that he will speak those words only to one like himself.”

 

“What does that mean?” the Doctor asked.  

 

“It's just a story,” Hame dismissed.

 

“Tell me the rest,” the Doctor insisted.

 

“It's said he'll talk to a wanderer,” Hame said. The Doctor stood taller. It was a movement so minute, I’m sure only Rose or I could have noticed it. “To the man without a home. The lonely God.” Ah, and there was the switch in his eyes, the switch from ‘just the Doctor’ to ‘the Last of the Time Lords’.

 

He hesitated, just staring at the Face for a few moments, before gesturing to me. “Come on. It’s been too long. We need to find a phone.” The Doctor walked away without waiting for me.

 

“I have a phone,” I reminded him, digging in my pocket for the properly 2018 Smartphone I’d found on my desk the morning after our refuel in Cardiff. I clicked Rose’s name and handed the phone to the Doctor, who put the call on speaker phone and held it between us. It rang for a few moments, before the line clicked a connection.

 

“Rose, where are you?” the Doctor asked. There was a pause on the other end of the line while Cassandra-Rose tried to figure out her accent.

 

Fuck. And there was that guilt again. I’d made the decision to let this happen, and here I was, blaming myself for not stopping it. Wonder who I got that from, I thought sarcastically.

 

“Ah,” Cassandra tried, not sounding a bit like Rose Tyler. “Wotcha.”

 

“Where've you been? How long does it take to get to Ward 26?” the Doctor asked, apparently not noticing anything out of the ordinary. I sighed quietly. Some more fuel to the ‘Ten is a dumbass’ fire.

 

“I'm on my way, governor,” Cassandra-Rose answered. Dear god, this is how my friend and I did cockney accents in Elementary School , and we were American. “ I shall proceed up the apples and pears.”

 

“You'll never guess. I'm with the Face of Boe,” the Doctor said, sounding more delighted than the situation really called for. “Remember him?”

 

Cassandra-Rose chuckled, a grating, forced laugh. “Of course I do,” she lied. “That big old…boat race.” I heard the top pop off a bottle of champagne, and exchanged a confused look with the Doctor. He looked over my shoulder to where the Duke of Manhattan had been dying. 

 

“We'd better go. See you in a minute.” The Doctor handed me my phone back, and we walked over to the Duke’s bed. He was beaming and laughing, like he just won the lottery… or survived a debilitating disease.

 

“Those two!” the Duke declared as soon as he saw us. “They’re my good luck charms. Come in! Don’t be shy.” 

 

“Any friendship expressed by the Duke of Manhattan does not constitute a form of legal contract,” Clovis said. We nodded like that was a perfectly normal thing to think we were going to assume.

 

“Winch me up,” the Duke said. Clovis pushed a button, and the Duke was upright. “Look at me. No sign of infection.”

 

“Champagne, sir, ma’am?” a waiter asked.

 

“No, thanks,” we said at the same time. 

 

“You had Petrifold Regression, right?” the Doctor asked. 

 

“‘Had’ being the operative word,” the Duke said. “Past tense. Completely cured.”

 

“But that's impossible,” the Doctor said, staring like he might find some sign of stone if he looked hard enough.

 

“It’s not possible to fight it off naturally?” I asked, since Rose wasn’t here to ask the questions. 

 

“Primitive species would accuse us of magic,” a sudden cat-nun said behind us. “But it's merely the tender application of science.” I didn’t like the look in her eyes. 

 

“How on Earth did you cure him?” the Doctor asked.

 

“How on New Earth, you might say,” the Sister deflected.

 

“What's in that solution?” the Doctor asked again.

 

“A simple remedy,” the Sister deflected again.

 

“Shouldn’t be a trade secret then,” I pressed. 

 

“I'm sorry,” she said, not sounding very sorry. “Patient confidentiality. I don't believe we've met. My name is Matron Casp.”

 

“Katelyn Laurin,” I introduced. “This is the Doctor.”

 

“I think you'll find that we're the doctors here,” Casp said, almost like a threat. 

 

“Matron Casp,” said a suddenly appearing Sister Jatt. “You're needed in Intensive Care.”

 

“If you would excuse me.” The Sisters walked away; the Doctor and I watched them go.

 

“It’s happened again,” Jatt whispered. “One of the patients is conscious.”

 

“Well, we can’t have that,” Casp whispered back.

 

<...>

 

I’d been no use to the Doctor as he paced around, so I positioned myself outside of the door and waited for Cassandra. She walked out of the elevator and breezed right past me, not even sparing me a glance. If I hadn’t already known she wasn’t Rose, that would have told me.

 

“There you are,” I heard the Doctor say. I took a deep breath and followed Cassandra. “Come and look at this patient.” We walked over to red-skinned humanoid, suspended in the air. “Marconi's Disease. Should take years to recover. Two days. I've never seen anything like it. They've invented a cell washing cascade. It's amazing. Their medical science is way advanced,” the Doctor said in a tone Rose and I recognized easily. The ‘this is in the wrong time’ tone. 

 

“And this one,” the Doctor continued. We walked over to a man as white as his hospital gown. The man did not look amused. “Pallidome Pancrosis. Kills you in ten minutes, and he's fine. “I need to find a terminal,” the Doctor whispered. We left the room.

 

“I saw one by the drinking fountain,” I said, leading the way.

 

“Good job,” the Doctor praised. “I've got to see how they do this. Because if they've got the best medicine in the world, then why is it such a secret?”

 

“I can't Adam and Eve it,” Cassandra said in a poor imitation of confusion. The Doctor blinked like he’d been smacked, looking back and forth between Rose and me. I gave him a ‘finally’ look, and kept walking toward the terminal.

 

“What's, what's. what's with the voice?” the Doctor stuttered.

 

“Oh, I don't know,” Cassandra-Rose said primply. “Just larking about. New Earth, new me.” Cassandra-Rose looked the Doctor up and down in a way I would have encouraged if she were Rose, and felt a bit sick watching since she was Cassadnra.

 

“Well, I can talk,” the Doctor said nervously. “New New Doctor.

 

“Mmm,” Cassandra hummed. “Aren't you just.”

 

I turned away. It was all fine and good to watch that kiss on repeat and giggle when those two were fictional characters, but now they were real, and they were my friends. You can root for people to get into a relationship, but watching them makeout was another thing entirely. Another, very creepy thing.

 

<...>

 

“Nope, nothing odd,” the Doctor said casually, having recovered from Not-Rose’s kiss with speed and grace. “Surgery, post-op, nano-dentistry. No sign of a shop. They should have a shop.”

 

“It’s missing something,” I said, just to take the wind out of Cassandra’s sails. “Earlier, Sister Jatt said something about Intensive Care.” I gestured to the screen and pointedly didn’t look at Cassandra-Rose's scowl.

 

“Oo, good catch,” the Doctor praised. His praise was genuine, and that’s when I remembered he didn’t know I knew the outcome to this specific adventure. Oh, he was NOT going to be happy when he found out.

 

“Why would they hide a whole department?” Cassandra-Rose said, loudly. “It's got to be there somewhere. Search the sub-frame.” The Doctor gave me a look to tell me he’d finally caught on. I nodded toward the computer screen.

 

“What if the sub-frame's locked?” the Doctor tried. 

 

“Try the installation protocol,” Cassandra said like he was stupid for even asking.

 

“Yeah. ‘Course. Sorry,” the Doctor said as calmly as he could. He shot me another look and, oh, there was the Oncoming Storm. “Hold on.” He scanned the sonic over the terminal’s screen for a few moments, and then the whole wall slid down to reveal a corridor. Cassandra looked unbearably smug, and stroud forward into the hallway. 

 

“Intensive Care,” the Doctor said slowly. “Certainly looks intensive.” He fell into step with me, Cassandra marching ahead of us. “That’s not Rose,” the Doctor whispered. 

 

“It’s Rose’s body,” I whispered back. The Doctor tensed even more next to me.

 

“So, you know what’s going on,” he pressed as we kept walking.

 

“She’ll be fine, Doctor,” I promised. “I would have done something otherwise.” The Doctor said nothing to that, simply pushed ahead, walking in front of me. 

 

Did he not believe me? Hadn’t I proved I would protect them? What more could I do?

 

Casandra lead us down a few flights of stairs, and into a huge octogonal room. The whole place was a sickly green, so different from the facade upstairs. Every pathway was lined with nine cells, and there were more floors than I could count at a glance. There must have been thousands. 

 

The Doctor opened a random cell on along our path. The man inside had more boils than skin and looked so in pain. If it was this horrible to look at, how much more was it to live it? 

 

“That's disgusting,” Cassandra hissed. I glared at her. “What's wrong with him?”

 

“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry,” the Doctor whispered. He shook his head, closed the door, and moved to the next cell. There was a young woman in that one, probably only a few years older than I was. Atleast, she looked a little older than me, but who knew. Maybe she was only a day old. My heart ached for her, for everyone in this room.

 

“What disease is that?” Cassandra asked, sounding and looking disgusted.

 

“All of them,” the Doctor growled. “Every single disease in the galaxy. They've been infected with everything.”

 

“What about us? Are we safe?” Cassandra asked. 

 

“The air's sterile,” the Doctor said. He grabbed the hand I hadn't even realized I’d been reaching toward the woman. “Just don't touch them.” He closed the door, and, still holding my hand, walked over to the railing on the other side of where we were standing.

 

“How many patients are there?” Cassandra asked, her tone more condescending than anything. 

 

“They're not patients,” the Doctor corrected.

 

“But they're sick,” Cassandra reminded us, as if we could possibly forget.

 

“They were born sick. They're meant to be sick. They exist to be sick. Lab rats,” the Doctor spit. He was getting angrier with each word and I had half a mind to follow him. Anger felt better then pity right now, and it would accomplish more. “No wonder the Sisters have got a cure for everything. They've built the ultimate research laboratory. A human farm.” The Doctor pushed off the railing and started walking toward where we’d come in again.

 

“Why don't they just die?” Cassandra asked with so little compassion I had to stop looking at her. The Doctor stopped walking, scowling at the cell that held the woman from earlier.

 

“Plague carriers,” he said. “The last to go.”

 

“It's for the greater cause,” said Novice Hame. We all turned to look at her.

 

“The greater cause?” I snapped. “How much pain have you caused in the name of the ‘greater cause’?”

 

“When you took your vows, did you agree to this?” the Doctor added.

 

“The Sisterhood has sworn to help,” Hame said, not sounding very convinced by her own words.

 

“What, by killing?” the Doctor shouted.

 

“But they're not real people.” Hame said with an air of relief. That’s when I realized she had simply been fed those lies. I doubt she’d ever seen the flesh before. “They're specially grown. They have no proper existence.”

 

“How do you know?” I challenged. Hame closed her eyes.

 

“What's the turnover, hmm?” the Doctor pressed. “Thousand a day? Thousand the next? Thousand the next? How many thousands? For how many years? How many!” The Doctor was nearly shaking with rage, but whether it was for the people around him or the increasingly un-Rose-like Rose, I couldn’t say.

 

“Mankind needed us,” Hame defended. “They came to this planet with so many illnesses. We couldn't cope. We did try. We tried everything. We tried using clone-meat and bio-cattle, but the results were too slow, so the Sisterhood grew its own flesh. That's all they are.” A ghost of a smile drifted onto Hame’s face. “Flesh.”

 

“These people are alive,” the Doctor insisted, pointing to the young woman.

 

“But think of those Humans out there, healthy and happy, because of us,” Hame said.

 

“Are you trading lives now, Hame?” I asked. “What makes those people more alive than the people in here?

 

“If they live because of this, then life is worthless,” the Doctor agreed.

 

The ghost smile vanished off Hame’s face. “But who are you to decide that?” she asked.

 

“I'm the Doctor,” he answered, advancing a few steps. “And if you don't like it, if you want to take it to a higher authority, then there isn't one. It stops with me.” 

 

Very ‘Lonely God’ of you, I would have said if I hated the Doctor.

 

“Just to confirm,” Cassandra said, stepping forward. The Doctor turned and only very nearly didn’t glare at her. I didn’t stop myself. “None of the humans in the city actually know about this?”

 

Hame spoke slowly. “We thought it best not-”

 

“Hold on,” the Doctor interrupted, unable to deal with not-Rose any longer. “I can understand the bodies.” His voice cracked slightly. “I can understand your vows. One thing I can't understand: What have you done to Rose?”

 

Cassandra’s face said ‘oh shit’ rather clearly. Hame was confused. “I don't know what you mean,” she said honestly.

 

“And I'm being very, very calm,” the Doctor said. Hame almost looked frightened. “You want to be aware of that. Very, very calm. And the only reason I'm being so very, very calm is that the brain is a delicate thing. Whatever you've done to Rose's head, I want it reversed.”

 

“We haven't done anything,” Hame insisted.

 

“I'm perfectly fine,” Cassandra lied.

 

“These people are dying,” the Doctor said. “And Rose would care.”

 

Cassandra scoffed, giving up on her ruse. “All right, clever clogs.” She spun the Doctor around. No one seemed more shocked than him at that. “Smarty pants.” Cassandra pulled the Doctor’s tie out of his jacket. “Lady-killer.” She pulled him down, closer to her face.

 

My hands twitched to pull Cassandra away from the Doctor. He refused to meet her eyes, looking over her shoulder to me.

 

“What's happened to her?” the Doctor asked. I opened my mouth, but Cassanadrs answered.

 

“I knew something was going on in this hospital,” Cassandra explained, still fiddling with the Doctor’s tie. “But I needed this body and your mind to find it out.”

 

“Who are you?” the Doctor asked, looking down at Cassandra. She pulled him down and leaned up to whisper in his ear. I couldn’t hear her, but I knew what she said. The last human. 

 

“Cassandra?” the Doctor asked out loud.

 

“Wake up and smell the perfume.” Cassandra spritzed a vial of something in his face, and the Doctor passed out. I ran forward and only just managed to keep his head from hitting the wall.

 

“Hame, get the Matron,” I said calmly. A shaken Hame wasted no time in running off.

Cassandra made a frustrated noise, pulled on a power cable, and set off the alarms. 

 

Cassandra turned to me next. I held up my hands. “You just ruin all the fun, don’t you?”

 

“Wait!” I cried. “Wait. There’s something-” I paused. My natural instinct to protect my friends at all costs reared up before I could remember my plan for the day. I was supposed to just leave it . But I hadn’t taken into account how hard it would be to watch Cassandra pilot Rose’s body. I hadn’t taken into account the Doctors anger. I hadn’t taken into account how much it hurt to see these people suffering.

 

I hadn’t wanted Cassandra in my head, because of the other things in my head. My memories, for example. Oh well. I guess I’d just have to trust my shields. I usually did.

 

“Get out of Rose. Take me instead.”

 

Cassandra scoffed. “And why would I do that?”

 

“Because...I’m volunteering,” I offered. “I won’t be fighting against you. And, trust me, the Doctor will not fight for me as hard as he’ll fight for Rose.” I did not mention that he’d still fight hard enough, because that was not the sort of thing one said when negotiating.

 

Cassandra considered this. “Well, when you put it that way.” Rose’s body exhaled pink mist in my direction, and I passed out.

 

<...>

 

Rose woke up to a splitting headache and the Doctor yelling “let me out!” They were in a…cell of some kind? That wasn’t too unusual, but the fact that the Doctor was forced to stand and she was shoved in by his feet was unusual. And why was everything green?

 

“Aren't you lucky there was a spare?” Katelyn said on the other side of the door. What was she doing out there?

 

“Katelyn?” the Doctor asked. He looked down to where Rose was and groaned. 

 

“Doctor, what’s going on?” Rose asked.

 

“Over the years, I've thought of a thousand ways to kill you two,” Katelyn said. “And now, that's exactly what I've got. One thousand diseases. They pump the patients with a top-up every ten minutes. You've got about…” Katelyn checked her watch. “Three minutes left. Enjoy.” 

 

“Just let Katelyn go, Cassandra,” the Doctor said.

 

“Cassandra?” Rose asked. Oh, that’s what that had been going on with the pink mist. 

 

“I will,” Cassandra said cheerily. “As soon as I've found someone younger, and less common, then I'll junk her with the waste. Now hushabye. It's showtime.”

 

Someone must have spoken on the other side of the door, because Katelyn-Cassandra turned away. 

 

“Rose,” the Doctor whispered. “Can you stand up?”

 

“I think so.” It took some maneuvering and a fair bit of awkward bumping, but Rose got to her feet. She tried leaning on the cell door to see what was happening on the other side, but all she could see was Katelyn-Cassandra talking.

 

“Rose,” the Doctor said. Rose turned back around. “I need you to get the sonic. Inside breast pocket.” Rose didn’t get a chance to try.

 

“Chip?”  Katelyn-Cassandra shouted suddenly. “Plan B.”

 

Rose could just see Chip pull a lever, and then all the door flew open. Rose ran out immediately, the Doctor right behind her. All along the hallway, dazed, diseased people were emerging from the other cells and advancing on two of the cat nuns.  

 

“What've you done?” the Doctor yelled.

 

“Gave the system a shot of adrenaline, just to wake them up,” Cassandra dismissed. ‘See you!” Then she was running.

 

“Don't touch them!” the Doctor commanded. He grabbed Rose’s hand. “Whatever you do, don't touch!” He ran after Cassandra, pulling Rose along behind him. Halfway down the next hallway, the doors started sparking and flying open. Ahead, Cassandra screamed as she ran.

 

“Oh, my God,” Cassandra breathed, stopping and staring over the rails. Rose turned. Every cell was opening, more of those people coming out.

 

“What the hell have you done?” the Doctor demanded.

 

“It wasn't me,” Cassandra whined.

 

“One touch and you get every disease in the world,” the Doctor said. “And I want that body safe, Cassandra.” He looked around. “We've got to go down.” He started moving, pulling Rose by her hand. 

 

“But there's thousands of them!” Cassandra whined again.

 

“Run!” the Doctor shouted. “Down!”

 

“This building is under quarantine,” an overhead voice announced.

 

They kept running down and down, until they reached a door. Cassandra burst through first, and Rose recognized this as the basement Cassandra had been hiding in. Cassandra ran over and tried to call a lift. Rose couldn’t blame her. She also didn’t much fancy running up all the stairs they’d just run down.

 

“No, the lifts have closed down,” the Doctor said, looking around to find another way to go. “That's the quarantine. Nothing's moving.”

 

“This way!” Cassandra shouted, running with confidence down a second corridor. Rose and the Doctor followed closely on her heels, but Chip was starting to slow down.

 

They ran by a corner and Chip got cut off. The Doctor stopped running.

 

“Don’t let them touch you!” he shouted. 

 

Cassandra came back and grabbed Rose’s and the Doctor’s arms. “Leave him!” she said. “He's just a clone thing. He's only got a half life. Come on!”

 

“Mistress!” Chip called.

 

“I'm sorry,” the Doctor said. “I can't let her escape.” Rose hesitated a moment longer, but there was nothing she could do.

 

They ran until the Doctor found a door to slam and lock behind them. Cassandra ran across the room, opened a door, screamed, and slammed it shut again. 

 

“We're trapped!” she squeaked. “What am I going to do?”

 

“Well, for starters, you're going to leave that body,” the Doctor commanded. “That psychograft-” He pointed at the thing Rose remembered Cassandra calling a physcograft earlier. “is banned on every civilised planet. You're compressing Katelyn to death.”

 

“But I've got nowhere to go,” Cassandra growled. “And she volunteered!” The Doctor made a frustrated noise. Oh, Rose was going to smack her when they saved her. Righteous little self-sacrificing-

 

“Not my problem,” the Doctor said. Rose nodded her agreement. “You can float as atoms in the air. Now, get out.” Cassandra did not get out, instead straightening her posture and looking rather smug, a look that didn’t really work on Katelyn’s face. The Doctor raised the sonic, like it was a weapon. “Give her back.”

 

Cassandra sighed. “God, she must be stupid. She said you didn’t care about her. Fine. You asked for it.” Cassandra take a deep breath and blew pink mist toward the Doctor.

 

“Cassandra, you bitch, get back here!” Katelyn screamed before Cassandra had even made it to the Doctor. Rose walked over and smacked Katelyn.

 

“OW! Rose, what the fuck?” Katelyn rubbed her cheek.

 

“Stop throwing yourself into danger!” Rose demanded.

 

“Oh, your really one to talk miss jeopardy fri-”

 

“Oh, my,” said the Doctor’s voice. Boht girls turned to look at him. “This is different.” 

 

“Cassandra?” Rose asked. She (he?) was holding herself wrong, standing too primly and holding her hands in front of her chest. 

 

“Goodness me, I'm a man,” Cassandra said, sounding delighted. “Yum. So many parts. And hardly used.” Rose tried not to think about ‘hardly’. Cassandra’s face contorted and she started shimmying weirdly. “Oh, oh, two hearts! Oh, baby, I'm beating out a samba!”

 

“Get out of him,” Rose demanded.

 

“Go back into me,” Katelyn offered. Rose almost slapped her again.

 

“Oo, he's slim,” Cassandra observed. “And a little bit foxy.” Cassadra raised the Doctor’s eyebrows “You've thought so too, Rose. I've been inside your head. And you, poor dear.” Cassandra turned the Doctor’s eyes on Katelyn. “I could look,” she offered. “See if he really fears you as much as you think.”

 

The back door that Cassandra had checked burst open. A crowd of diseased people shambled in. “What do we do? What would he do?” Cassandra demanded, in a panic. “The Doctor, what the hell would he do?”

 

“Ladder,” Rose whispered. She’d seen one earlier… there! “We've got to get up.” She started making  a break for it, but Cassandra pushed her back.

 

“Out of the way, blondie!”

 

Cassandra practically jumped onto the ladder and started climbing. Rose hesitated just long enough to make sure Katelyn got on behind her, then started climbing.

 

They were about half-way up before Rose even tried to speak. “If you get out of the Doctor's body, he can think of something.”

 

“Yap, yap, yap,” Cassandra complained. “God, it was tedious inside your head. Hormone city.”

 

“We're going to die if-” Rose was cut off by Katelyn screaming. She turned and looked down. One of the nuns had grabbed Katelyn’s ankle.

 

“Get off!” Katelyn shouted, adjusting her hands to get a better grip, since one of her legs was airborne.

 

“All our good work,” the nun hissed. “All that healing. The good name of the Sisterhood. You have destroyed everything.”

 

“Go and play with a ball of string,” Cassandra sighed.

 

“Everywhere, disease,” the nun continued. “This is the human world. Sickness!” Suddenly, the nun gasped then groaned. Katelyn swung her foot down. With a crunch, the nun released her leg and fell, screaming. 

 

“Move!” Katelyn shouted. Rose could just see some sick people on the ladder below her. 

They all scrambled to climb higher as quickly as possible. Rose’s arms were starting to get tired.

 

The door at the top of the ladder wouldn’t open.

 

“Now what do we do?” Cassandra whined. Katelyn groaned under Rose.

 

“Use the sonic screwdriver!” Rose yelled.

 

Cassandra dug in the Doctor’s breast pocket and pulled the sonic out, holding it like it would burn her. “You mean this thing?”

 

“Yes, I mean that thing,” Rose sighed. Cassandra scowled at the sonic.

 

“Well, I don't know how,” Cassandra whined. Rose wanted to smack her now. The Doctor would forgive her. “That Doctor's hidden away all his thoughts.”

 

“Cassandra, go back into me,” Katelyn called. Rose opened her mouth to argue, and Katelyn shouted over her. “The Doctor knows what to do!” 

 

“Hold on tight,” Cassandra sneered. The mist flew right past Rose and into Katelyn.

 

“Oh, my least favorite,” Cassandra mumbled. “Open it!” Rose looked up. The Doctor was pointing the sonic again.

 

“Not ‘til you get out of her,” the Doctor growled. In most cases, Rose would be with him. But right now, clinging to the rungs of a shaky ladder being chased by one-touch-kills, she thought this could wait for the other side of the door. 

 

“Open the door!” Rose shouted.

 

“Katelyn could die!” the Doctor shouted. As if Rose hadn’t already figured that out.

 

“Oh, I am so going to regret that,” Cassandra whispered. Rose turned her head to look, and watched the pink mist go from Katelyn to the diseased woman on her heels.

 

“Oh, sweet Lord,” Cassandra said. “I look disgusting.”

 

The Doctor opened the doors immediately and jumped in. When Rose got to the top, he helped her off the ladder and reached for Katelyn.

 

“We’re going to have a talk about volunteering,” The Doctor said. Katelyn rolled her eyes.

 

“Rose already slapped me for it,” was all Katelyn got to say before pink mist surrounded her head and she slid forward and down the wall.

 

<...>

 

The Doctor soniced the door locked again, seething. “That was your last warning, Cassandra!”

 

“Inside her head,” Cassandra breathed, and for a second she sounded so like Katelyn he thought he’d hallucinated Cassandra getting through the door. “They're so alone. They keep reaching out, just to hold us. All their lives and they've never been touched.” She paused, breathing hard. “Is that what you wanted me to see?” Cassandra said to no one

 

Had Katelyn managed to communicate with Cassandra? While maintaining her shields? Her telepathy amazed him. He’d only ever known one other telepath like her, and-

 

Nope. No brain. Not now. Other things to focus on.

 

Rose had already helped Cassandra to her feet (or to Katelyn’s feet, rather), when there was a bang on the door they’d come through.

 

“Come on.”

 

The Doctor soniced the other door open and walked right back into Ward 26. He spared the Face of Boe only a glance to see he was still sleeping. Then Frau Clovis was lunging at them with a metal stool. The Doctor threw his arms in front of him and stood in front of the girls.

 

“We're safe! We're safe!” the Doctor shouted, still working on reflex. “We're clean! We're clean!”

 

“Show me your skin,” Clovis demanded.

 

“Look, clean,” he repeated.

 

“Definitely clean,” Rose agreed.

 

“If we'd been touched, we'd be dead,” the Doctor said, just in case these people hadn’t figured that out already. Clovis put the stool down. “So how's it going up here? What's the status?”

 

“There's nothing but silence from the other wards,” Clovis explained. “I think we're the only ones left.”

 

“Would the quarantine block communications?” Rose asked. The Doctor relaxed slightly. Rose Tyler, always seeing what he missed.

 

“It should,” he answered. 

 

“It must be,” Clovis said. “Because I've been trying to override the quarantine. If I can trip a signal over to New New York, they can send a private executive squad.” The Doctor shook his head. 

 

“You can't do that,” he said. “If they forced entry, they'd break quarantine.”

 

“I am not dying in here,” Clovis growled. 

 

“You can’t let those sick people out!” Rose argued. “How many people are in the city?”

 

“Rose is right,” the Doctor said. “Turn that off!” 

 

“Not if it gets me out,” Clovis spit. 

 

“All right, fine,” the Doctor sighed. “So we have to stop you lot as well. Suits me. Rose, Novice Hame, everyone! Excuse me, your Grace. Get me intravenous solutions for every single disease. Move it!”

 

The humans all scrambled to obey, which was a nice change. Everyone grabbed a few IV bags. The Doctor found a long piece of rope, which he wrapped around his neck and started hooking the bags to. He ran over to the cascade and grabbed one of the gears.

 

“How's that?” the Doctor asked, hooking the last bag on. “Will that do?”

 

“Yes?” Rose said with the manic kind of hopefulness the Doctor was feeling himself.

 

“Cassandra, stay here,” the Doctor command as he walked over to the lifts. She followed, because of course she did. 

 

The Doctor opened the lift. 

 

“You said the lifts aren't working,” Rose reminded him.

 

“Not moving,” he said, sticking his head in. “Different thing.” The Doctor backed up to the end of the hallway. “Here we go.” He took a running start, ignoring Cassadnra’s indignation, and jumped onto the lift cable. 

 

“Doctor!” Rose cried, running almost in the doors.

 

“We’re going down!” he mumbled around the sonic in his teeth. He snapped the gear on the cable and turned as best he could to Rose. “Come on!” With a wild laugh, Rose launched herself into the lift shaft, grabbing onto the Doctor and holding tight.

 

The Doctor turned one last time to see Cassandra retreating back into Ward 26. Good. 

 

“‘S been a while since it was just the two of us,” Rose teased. The Doctor smiled, even if she couldn’t see it.

 

“Going down!” The Doctor loosened the gear ever-so-slightly, and they were falling. Rose screamed, and he screamed with her.

 

When they were about a floor from the actual lift, the Doctor started closing the gear again. They slowed to a stop and jumped off onto the roof of the lift. 

 

“That was fun,” Rose said. 

 

“We should do it again,” the Doctor agreed. “When I say so, take hold of that lever.”

 

“OK,” Rose said, already with her hands on it. “What are you doing?”

 

“I'm cooking up a cocktail,” the Doctor said. “I know a bit about medicine myself.” He ripped open the drip bags with his teeth and poured the contents of each into the tank on top of the lift.

 

“Is that the tank for the disinfectant?” Rose asked.

 

“Yup!” The Doctor poured the last bag in. The solution was starting to bubble. “Now, that lever's going to resist. But keep it in position. Hold onto it with everything you've got.” The Doctor swung the emergency access door open. Rose nodded. “I've got an appointment. The Doctor is in.” 

 

He dropped down into the lift proper and soniced the doors open. As if drawn by the sound, all the people in the lobby started shuffling toward the lift.

 

“I'm in here! Come on!” the Doctor called.

 

“Be careful!” Rose shouted.

 

“Come and get me,” the Doctor repeated. “Come on!” Now that Cassandra had said it, the Doctor could see the lost look in these people’s eyes. They’d never meant anyone any harm.

 

“Commence stage one disinfection,” the lift announced. The new cure came pouring out into the lift. The Doctor was soaked immediately, but he couldn’t care less. The first of the new humans joined him, and also got soaked. “All they want to do is pass it on,” the Doctor said to himself. “Pass it on!” He heard Rose’s giddy laugh above him, as she figured out what he’d done.

 

The disinfected and soaking wet humans went out and touched the others. 

 

Rose’s face appeared in the emergency door, and was quickly replaced with her legs. The Doctor helped Rose down, and they walked hand in hand out of the lift.

 

“Was that enough for all of them?” Rose asked. The Doctor nodded.

 

A random one of the woman came up and hugged him. The Doctor hugged her back, because these people needed to learn love. “That's right. Hey, there we go, sweetheart.” He spotted a random man, and pushed to woman in his direction “Go to him. Go on, that's it. 

 

“It's a new subspecies, Rose,” the Doctor cheered. “A brand new form of life. New humans! Look at them. Look! Grown by cats, kept in the dark, fed by tubes, but completely, completely alive. The human race just keeps on going, keeps on changing. Life will out!”

 

<...>

 

The Doctor and Rose made their way back up to Ward 26 via a staircase even the Doctor thought was a bit excessive. What with all the Sister’s being arrested, and everyone else booking it as soon as they could. There were only two people left (Well, one person and one… face.)

 

Cassandra was sitting on the ground, her head in her hands.

 

“Cassandra?” the Doctor asked. She looked up, grimacing, and the Doctor realized Cassandra was not in control right now.

 

“Oh, thank god,” Katelyn sighed. Her posture relaxed, then snapped back to completely stiff.

 

“You bitch!” Cassandra cried. She caught sight of the Doctor and Rose and groaned. “Great. There goes that escape plan.” Cassandra glared at the Doctor. “I don’t know why you keep her. She much more trouble than she’s worth.”

 

Neither the Doctor nor Rose was willing to grace that with a response, so they walked past Cassandra.

 

“Is that?” Rose gasped

 

“You were supposed to be dying,” the Doctor said to the now awake Face of Boe.

 

There are better things to do today , the Face of Boe thought at them. Dying can wait . Cassandra groaned, but Rose shushed her before she could say anything. I had grown tired with the universe, Doctor, but you have taught me to look at it anew. 

 

“There are legends, you know,” the Doctor prompted, crouching down. “Saying that you're millions of years old.” And that was old . Not even a Time Lord had lived to that age.

 

There are? The Face of Boe laughed. That would be impossible. 

 

“Wouldn't it just,” the Doctor laughed back. “I got the impression there was something you wanted to tell me.”

 

A great secret, the Face agreed.

 

“So the legend says,” the Doctor pressed.

 

It can wait, the Face said casually.

 

“Oh, does it have to?” the Doctor didn’t whine.

 

We shall meet again, Doctor , the Face of Boe promised. For the third time, for the last time, and the truth shall be told. Until that day. He disappeared in a beam.

 

“What?” Rose asked.

 

“That is enigmatic,” the Doctor said, impressed. “That, that is, that is textbook enigmatic.” With a sigh, he stood up and faced Cassandra. “And now for you.”

 

“But everything's happy,” she protested, backing toward the door. “Everything's fine. Can't you just leave me?”

 

“You've lived long enough, Cassandra,” Rose argued. “Leave Katelyn alone.” Cassadnra let out an unconvincing sob.

 

“I don't want to die.”

 

“No one does,” the Doctor said.

 

“Help me,” Cassandra begged.

 

“We can't,” the Doctor refused.

 

“Mistress!” Chip cried, running into the room. The Doctor’s eyes widened. He was a bit shocked to see the man had survived.

 

“Oh, you're alive!” Cassandra gasped, sounding actually, selflessly glad. What was Katelyn doing in there?

 

“I kept myself safe for you, mistress,” Chip said, grinning. Cassandra narrowed Katelyn’s eyes.

 

“A body,” she realized. “And not just that, a volunteer. A proper one, who won’t try to undermine me every minute.”

 

“Don't you dare,” the Doctor said. “He's got a life of his own!”

 

“But I worship the mistress,” Chip shouted, raising his voice for the first time, possibly in his life. “I welcome her.”

 

“You can't, Cassandra, you-” The Doctor didn’t even get to finish speaking before the pink mist that was Cassandra floated from Katelyn to Chip. 

 

Katelyn collapsed instantly, and the Doctor only just managed to catch her. She was out cold, probably from all the strain she’d been putting on herself. The Doctor lowered her the rest of the way to the ground.

 

“Oh, sweet Lord,” Cassandra said. “I'm a walking doodle.”

 

“You can't stay in there. I'm sorry, Cassandra, but that's not fair,” the Doctor said. “I can take you to the city. They can build you a skin tank and you can stand trial for what you've done.” 

 

“Well, that would be rather dramatic,” Cassandra drawled. “Possibly my finest hour, and certainly my finest hat, but I'm afraid we don't have time. Poor little Chip is only a half-life, and he's been through so much. His heart is racing so. He's failing. I don't think he's going to last-” Cassnadra fell to her knees, the Doctor and Rose only barely keeping her even there.

 

“Are you all right?” the Doctor asked redundantly.

 

“I'm fine. I'm dying, but that's fine,” Cassandra laughed. What had Katelyn done ?

 

“I can take you to the city,” the Doctor started again.

 

“No, you won't,” Cassandra refused. “Everything's new on this planet. There's no place for Chip and me any more. You're right, Doctor. It's time to die-” Cassandra’s voice cut off. The Doctor understood. Facing your own death was terrifying, He should know. He’d done it nine times now. “And that's good,” Cassandra breathed.

 

“Come on,” the Doctor offered. “There's one last thing I can do.”

 

<...>

 

I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, I was back in my bedroom on the TARDIS. My head was pounding, and all I really wanted to do was go back to sleep. Before I had the chance to roll over and try to get back to sleep, my door creaked open.

 

I shoved my face into my pillow, hoping whoever it was would think I was asleep and leave. No such luck.

 

“I know you’re awake, Katelyn,” the Doctor said. I groaned, unwilling to try speech. “Sit up. I’ve got something for your head.” Reluctantly, I rolled over and sat with my back on my pillows. The Doctor handed me a pill and a glass of water, which went down easier than I was expecting. Holding my consciousness over Cassandra’s had been hard, and had affected me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

 

The Doctor didn’t leave, so I sat up straighter against the pillows. I couldn’t really sit up without them. “You shouldn’t keep throwing yourself in harms way like that,” the Doctor said. I leaned further into my pillows and closed my eyes.

 

“You didn’t believe me. I had to prove I wasn’t lying.” I shrugged. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.” The Doctor didn’t say anything for a while, but it hurt less to have my eyes closed, so I didn’t look. 

 

“Last time you switched places with Rose, you were expecting to die,” the Doctor reminded me. I picked up a pillow that was next to me and screamed into it.

 

“God, I’m so bad at this,” I said into the pillow. “I don’t ever remember being this bad at communicating. I’m sorry I didn’t explain better, but I can’t just tell you what’s going to happen, and I didn’t plan for you asking.”

 

The Doctor sighed. “I shouldn’t ask,” he admitted. “And when I do, I should trust your honesty.”

 

“Thanks,” I yawned. “Glad we had this talk. Please fuck off and let me sleep.” The Doctor didn’t say anything, but I could hear him chuckling as he left the room.

Chapter Text

 

The next two months passed completely normally. Well, normally for three people who live on a sentient time traveling spaceship. We saved a few civilizations, bounced around for a bit, only got arrested twice, and generally had a good time. 

 

This particular day, we’d attended a festival on a human colony of Peth. Peth only had two seasons, wet and dry, and the festival we’d gone to was supposed to ring in the wet season. It had. We’d all gotten soaked through in the first five minutes, and spent the run back to the TARDIS laughing.

 

Something, maybe the TARDIS, or maybe something more instinctual, told me an episode was coming up. After New Earth came Tooth and Claw , so I tried to dress appropriately. I’d never be caught dead in a corset, but at least I could wear a long skirt and wrist length sleeves. It was better than the denim cut-off overalls Rose had changed into. 

 

“What do you think of this?” Rose asked, walking into the console room. “Will it do?” The Doctor looked up from whatever he’d been tinkering with.

 

“For the late 1970s? You'd be better off in a bin bag,” he said. “Although, I’d say it’s better than what Katelyn’s wearing.”

 

“I was cold!” I protested from the coral strut that was my designated seat now. The Doctor ignored me, as he was wont to do.

 

“Hold on, listen to this.” The Doctor turned a knob on the console and a song came on. “Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Number One in 1979.” 

 

“You're a punk!” Rose laughed. After getting over the shock of his regeneration, she’d been having fun learning what made this Doctor different.

 

“It's good to be a lunatic,” the Doctor sang with the song. 

 

“That's what you are,” Rose continued. “A big old punk with a bit of rockabilly thrown in.” I rolled my eyes and climbed down from the coral.

 

“Would you like to see him?” the Doctor offered.

 

“How'd you mean? In concert?” Rose asked, looking delighted.

 

“What else is a TARDIS for?” the Doctor asked.

 

“A great many things,” I deadpanned. 

 

“Well, yeah,” the Doctor said, throwing his tinker project onto the console. “I can take you to the Battle of Trafalgar, the first anti-gravity Olympics, Caesar crossing the Rubicon, or...Ian Dury at the Top Rank, Sheffield, England, Earth, 21st November, 1979. What do you think?”

 

“Sheffield it is,” Rose said.

 

“Rose!” I whined. “Caesar crossing the Rubicon!”

 

“We can go back to Rome when it’s your turn to pick,” the Doctor said. I opened my mouth, and the Doctor put his hand on a lever. “Hold on tight.”

 

The Doctor piloted to the beat of the music, being a bit more rough with the console than was called for. I don’t think the TARDIS felt pain, but I can’t imagine the treatment made her happy. That’s probably why we landed so hard. I had a tight enough grip on the railing that I didn’t fall, but Rose and the Doctor ended up on their backs. Not that this seemed to bother them, laughing as they were.

 

“1979!” the Doctor declared, jumping to his feet. “Hell of a year.” He pulled Rose to her feet on his way to the door. We followed. “China invades Vietnam. The Muppet Movie. Love that film.” The Doctor grabbed his coat and threw it on. “Margaret Thatcher. Urgh. Skylab falls to Earth, with a little help from me. Nearly took off my thumb.” The Doctor opened the doors and walked out, still facing Rose and I. I grabbed a coat of my own I’d hidden a few weeks ago and pulled it on. “And I like my thumb. I need my thumb. I'm very attached to…” The Doctor stopped talking at the sound of rifles being cocked. “My... thumb.” 

 

We were surrounded by soldiers, most on foot, but a few on horses. Tucked behind them all was a coach, the driver being the only one unarmed. We raised our hands next to our heads. “1879,” the Doctor whispered. “Same difference.” Rose and I exchanged a look. 

 

“You will explain your presence,” the head soldier commanded. “And the nakedness of this girl.” He gestured to Rose with his pistol. I congratulated myself on dressing enough to be considered clothed. “And the baldness of the other.” Shit. I kept my hair as short as Jack had cut it nearly five months ago, which was too short apparently.

 

“Are we in Scotland?” the Doctor asked in the regional accent, delighted.

 

“How can you be ignorant of that?” the soldier asked.

 

“Oh, I'm, I'm…” The Doctor looked at us for a moment. “We’re dazed and confused. My…my sister-” The Doctor gestured vaguely to me. I blinked. Sister? “-and I've been chasing this, this wee naked child over hill and over dale. Isn't that right, ya…timorous beastie?” 

 

“Och, aye!” Rose tried. “I've been oot and aboot.” Yikes, if her attempt was that bad, should I even try?

 

“No, don't do that,” the Doctor whispered.

 

“Hoots mon,” Rose continued anyway. 

 

“No, really don't,” the Doctor whispered again. When Rose opened her mouth again, the Doctor held out his hand. “Really.”

 

“Will you identify yourself, sir?” the solder insisted. 

 

“I'm Doctor-” He paused. “James McCrimmon, from the…township of Balamory. I have my credentials, if I may.” The Doctor gestured to his pocket as best he could while still holding his hands over his head. The soldier nodded, but didn’t lower his gun. Rose and I dropped our arms, and the Doctor pulled the psychic paper out of his coat pocket. 

 

“As you can see, a Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh,” the Doctor lied. “I trained under Doctor Bell himself.” That was possibly not a lie. One could never tell with the Doctor.

 

“Let them approach,” said a voice from the coach.

 

“I don't think that's wise, ma'am,” the soldier said, not looking away from us. Really, how threatening could we look?

 

“Let them approach,” the voice insisted. The soldier looked quite put out. The Doctor gestured in a ‘what can you do’ kind of way. I smiled in a way I hoped was comforting.

 

“You will approach the carriage,” the soldier said, lowering his gun. “And show all due deference.”

 

We approached (due deference was always up for debate with us). A footman opened the door of the coach to reveal the Imperial Widow herself, sitting primply and dressed in mourning clothes. Rose stopped dead, and I bumped into her.

 

“Rose, Katelyn,” the Doctor said. “Might I introduce her Majesty Queen Victoria. Empress of India and Defender of the Faith.”

 

“Rose Tyler, Ma'am.” Rose curtsied. “And my apologies for being so naked.”

 

“I've had five daughters. It's nothing to me,” Victoria dismissed. “And you?” I opened my mouth to speak, but the Doctor jumped in first.

 

“Katelyn-” He paused, lost for a moment in the tangle of the elaborate lie he’d been weaving. “McCrimmon. You’ll have to excuse my sister, your majesty. She was caught up in a fire recently. It ruined her hair and her voice ,” the Doctor finished with a pointed look my way. My eye twitched, but I offered Queen Victoria a smile and a curtsey. Oh, the Doctor was gonna get it once this was over.

 

“And you, Doctor,” Victoria said. “Show me these credentials.” He handed her the psychic paper. Victoria read quickly, blinking hard once she was done. “Why didn't you say so immediately?” The Doctor looked a bit confused. “It states clearly here that you have been appointed by the Lord Provost as my Protector.”

 

“Does it?” the Doctor questioned, taking the paper back and reading it. “Yes, it does. Good. Good. Then let me ask - why is Your Majesty travelling by road when there's a train all the way to Aberdeen?” Victoria’s face turned grim.

 

“A tree on the line,” she stated.

 

“An accident?” the Doctor asked in a way that said he already knew the answer. 

 

“I am the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Everything around me tends to be planned.”

 

“An assassination attempt?” the Doctor guessed.

 

“What, seriously?” Rose asked. “There's people out to kill you?”

 

“I'm quite used to staring down the barrel of a gun,” Victoria answered.

 

“Sir Robert MacLeish lives but ten miles hence,” the soldier announced. “We've sent word ahead. He'll shelter us for tonight, then we can reach Balmoral tomorrow.”

 

“This Doctor, his sister, and his timorous beastie will come with us,” Victoria announced.

 

“Yes, Ma'am,” the soldier almost sighed. “We'd better get moving - it's almost nightfall.”

 

“Indeed,” Victoria said dramatically. I chuckled before I could stop myself. “And there are stories of wolves in these parts. Fanciful tales intended to scare the children. But good for the blood, I think. Drive on!” The footman closed the door and the coach lurched and moved again.

The Doctor, Rose, and walked with the soldiers behind the carriage. 

 

“It's funny though,” Rose said after we’d been walking for a few minutes. “Because you say assassination and you just think of Kennedy and stuff. Not her.” Rose aimed a smile at me, teasing. I couldn’t blow our cover, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t glare at her. Caesar was assassinated, I thought bitterly. John Lennon, Franz Ferdinand, Abraham Linc- Fuck! 

 

“1879?” the Doctor began. “She's had, oh, six attempts on her life? And I'll tell you something else. We just met Queen Victoria!”

 

“I know!” Rose cheered.

 

“What a laugh!” the Doctor agreed. My forced silence was really getting on my nerves. So much sass I was being denied.

 

“She was just sitting there,” Rose continued. 

 

“Like a stamp,” the Doctor agreed again.

 

“I want her to say ‘we are not amused’. I bet you five quid I can make her say it.”

 

“Well,” the Doctor drawled. “If I gambled on that, it'd be an abuse of my privileges of traveller in time.”

 

“Ten quid?” Rose offered.

 

“Done.”

 

<...>

 

Torchwood manor loomed in a way that was probably only intimidating to me. Three stories of brick and stone stood out against the otherwise flat hills. There was a chill in the air I couldn’t fully ascribe to the wind.

 

Creepy and high-causality adventure? I had my work cut out for me today.

 

Sir Robert came out to greet us. He looked nervous and extremely pale, but I understood how the others could chalk that up to the queen’s presence. I chalked it up to the bald monks dressed in servants clothes trailing behind him.

 

“Your Majesty.” Robert greeted the queen with a bow.

 

“Sir Robert,” Victoria acknowledged. “My apologies for the emergency. And how is Lady Isobel?” Robert was almost shaking, the poor man.

 

“She's...indisposed, I'm afraid,” Robert said. “She's gone to Edinburgh for the season.” Robert stopped shaking. He had an idea, I could tell. I’d had a lot like them in the last few months. His was about to go as well as mine had. “And she's taken the cook with her. The kitchens are barely stocked. I wouldn't blame Your Majesty if you wanted to ride on.” The Doctor watched the exchange with interest, trying to figure out why Robert was lying.

 

“Oh, not at all,” Victoria refused easily. Robert’s smile vanished. “I've had quite enough carriage exercise. And this is charming, if rustic. It's my first visit to this house,” Victoria added. “My late husband spoke of it often. The Torchwood Estate. Now, shall we go inside? And please excuse the naked and bald girls.” Victoria gestured to us.

 

“Sorry,” Rose said. I signed ‘sorry’ just to remind the Doctor I knew ASL.

 

“She's a feral child,” the Doctor said, nodding at Rose. “I bought her for sixpence in old London Town. It's was her or the Elephant Man, so…”

 

“Thinks he's funny,” Rose said with her own nod to the Doctor. “But I'm so not amused.” And I’m here too! I couldn’t say, because of the Doctor’s bullshit. “What do you think, Ma'am?”

 

“It hardly matters,” Victoria dismissed. “Shall we proceed?” 

 

Rose turned to us as Victoria walked away. “So close,” she whispered. I gave her a ‘were you, though?’ look. 

 

“Makerson and Ramsey, you will escort the property. Hurry up,” the lead soldier commanded. 

 

“Yes, sir.” Two soldiers stepped forward, retrieving a box from the Queen’s coach and following her into the manor.

 

“So what's in there, then?” the Doctor asked, following the box.

 

“Property of the Crown,” the soldier said. “You will dismiss any further thoughts, sir.” 

 

<...>

 

Sir Robert gave us a tour of nearly the entire estate. By the end of it I was, as usual, so very glad I’d chosen not to wear period shoes. I made a mental note to ask the Doctor to take us to whoever had invented hiking boots. I needed to thank them personally. 

 

The last room we were lead into was an observatory, the centerpiece of which was a massive Jules Verne-looking telescope. 

 

“This, I take it, is the famous Endeavour,” Victoria said.

 

“All my father's work,” Sir Robert answered. “Built by hand in his final years. Became something of an obsession. He spent his money on this rather than caring for the house or himself.”

 

That’s not healthy, I signed.

 

“I wish I'd met him. I like him,” the Doctor said. He was grinning like an idiot, a grin he reserved for either ‘I love humans’ or ‘I love Rose’. “That thing's beautiful. Can I?” The Doctor gestured toward the telescope.

 

“Help yourself,” Robert said. Team TARDIS walked over to the Endeavor, although neither Rose nor I really knew what we could be looking for.

 

Thank you, I signed. 

 

“What did he model it on?” the Doctor asked.

 

“I know nothing about it,” Robert admitted. “To be honest, most of us thought him a little, shall we say, eccentric.” The Doctor chuckled, and crouched down to try and see through the ‘telescope’. “I wish now I'd spent more time with him and listened to his stories.”

 

“It's a bit rubbish,” the Doctor announced. I smiled sheepishly at Sir Robert, since I was not able to say ‘Please excuse my idiot friend. His tongue moves faster than his brain’. 

 

“How many prisms has it got?” the Doctor asked, then answered “Way too many” before any of us could check him. “The magnification's gone right over the top. That's stupid kind of-” He finally noticed the look Rose was giving him.  “Am I being rude again?” he whispered in his normal voice.

 

“Yep,” Rose said.

 

“But it's pretty!” the Doctor said. Rose patted him on the shoulder. “It's very…pretty.”

 

“And the imagination of it should be applauded,” Victoria added, walking forward. I nodded, agreeing.

 

“Mmm. Thought you might disapprove, Your Majesty,” Rose started. I rolled my eyes. Fondly, of course. “Stargazing. Isn't that a bit fanciful? You could easily not be amused, or something?” Victoria stared, blank faced. “No?” The Doctor shook his head with infinitely more fondness than I had rolled my eyes. 

 

“This device surveys the infinite work of God,” Victoria said. “What could be finer? Sir Robert's father was an example to us all. A polymath, steeped in astronomy and sciences, yet equally well versed in folklore and fairytales.”

 

“Stars and magic. I like him more and more,” the Doctor said, the first thing I’d agreed with him on all day.

 

“Oh, my late husband enjoyed his company,” Victoria said, specifically to Rose and I. “Prince Albert himself was acquainted with many rural superstitions, coming as he did from Saxe Coburg.”

 

“That's Bavaria,” the Doctor whispered to us. The Queen turned back to Sir Robert.

 

“When Albert was told about your local wolf, he was transported.” 

 

“So, what's this wolf, then?” the Doctor asked.

 

“It's just a story,” Robert dismissed with a not very convincing laugh.

 

“Then tell it,” the Doctor insisted. Robert swallowed hard, and made a conscious effort not to turn around.

 

“It's said that-”

 

“Excuse me, sir,” the monk-butler interrupted. “Perhaps her Majesty's party could repair to their rooms. It's almost dark.”

 

“Of course. Yes, of course,” Robert said, gesturing out the door. 

 

“And then supper,” Victoria said. “And could we find some clothes for Miss Tyler? I'm tired of nakedness.”

 

“It's not amusing, is it?” Rose tried. Victoria gave her a look that said she was wise to the game, and would not be giving Rose what she wanted. 

 

She knows, the Doctor mouthed to Rose. I took a moment to wonder if they were standing to close for polite, Victorian standards. I mean, any closer and they’d be occupying the same space.

 

“Sir Robert, your wife must have left some clothes. See to it,” Victoria commanded. “We shall dine at seven, and talk some more of this wolf. After all, there is a full moon tonight.” Robert looked again like he was going to be sick.

 

“So there is, Ma'am.”

 

<...>

 

“I-I swear,” I spat as soon as the bedroom doors were closed behind us. Rose had been given access to a guest room that was stocked with Lady Isobel's extra clothing, and I’d gone with her to ‘help her get dressed’. 

 

Rose was barely holding in laughter, now that the door was closed. I was fuming, trying to pretend I hadn’t noticed she was laughing. “I swear with God as my witness as soon as we’re back on the TARDIS, I am pushing his skinny ass into the nearest event horizon,” I said.

 

“Well, what was he supposed to say?” Rose asked, diving into one of the closets.

 

“What was he su- hwa- Rose!” I sputtered. “Literally anything else? ‘Yes, hello, this is my American friend. She’s visiting. Don’t mind her.’ What in that massively stupid brain of his compelled him to say ‘yes this is my mute sister whose hair all burned away recently’. I??” Rose wasn’t hiding her laughter as she started pulling some dressed out. “Wha- I just??”

 

“I think it’s sweet,” Rose teased.

 

“Rose, not this again,” I moaned. 

 

“It’s better than you two not talking,” Rose said. I said nothing to that and sat on the bed. Just because she was right didn’t mean I had to tell her. 

 

After looking for a few minutes, Rose found a blue dress she liked. “Will this do?” she asked. I hummed.

 

“Probably need some underskirts to make it poof out appropriately.” Rose huffed and moved to another one of the closets.

 

“Your skirt isn’t poofed,” she mumbled. I shrugged, obviously unable to say I needed her to look in that closest because a maid was in there. Rose opened the closest and jumped back, screaming. I shot to my feet. “He-hello.”

 

Flora immediately burst into tears. Gently, Rose and I guided her until she was sitting on the bed. I put my arms around her shoulders. “Can you tell us what happened, miss?” I asked. Flora took a deep breath.

 

“They came through the house in silence,” she whispered. “They took the Steward and the Master, and my Lady.” Rose reached out and took one of Flora’s shaking hands in her own.

 

“Listen. We've got a friend,” she whispered. “He's called the Doctor. He'll know what to do.” Rose grabbed Flora’s other hand and tugged, but Flora stayed rooted to the bed. “You've got to come with us.”

 

“Oh, but I can't, Miss.” She was shaking with fear. I held her a little tighter.

 

“What's your name?” Rose asked gently.

 

“F-Flora,” she whispered.

 

“Flora.” Rose smiled. “We'll be safe. There's more people arrived downstairs, soldiers and everything, and they can help us. I promise.”

 

“Come on,” I said, pulling her shoulders as I stood again. Flora budged just a little. 

 

It took some more coaxing, but we were able to get Flora to leave the room. Rose lead, holding one of Flora’s hands. She hadn’t said so, but I knew she was making a beeline for where she thought the Doctor was. In Rose’s mind, there was no safer place than at his side.

 

That was slightly undercut by the unconscious soldier we found just around the corner.

 

“Oh,” Flora whimpered. “I did warn you.” Rose ran forward and checked the soldier's pulse. I tightened my grip on Flora’s hand, straining to see if I could hear the monk that I knew was approaching.

 

“He's not dead,” Rose announced. “I don't think. He must be drugged or something.”

 

Flora screamed, her hand ripping out of my grip. I turned, whether to try and defend myself or to save her, I’m not sure. One of the monks grabbed me from behind. I managed to swing my leg back and catch him in the shin, not that the pain seemed to affect him much. He hit me in a pressure point, and I passed out.

 

<...>

 

I came to in the rather uncomfortable position of having my arms shackled on the other side of the corner from where my hips were. I opened my eyes to the ceiling.

 

“Don't make a sound,” Isobel whispered. “They said if we scream or shout, then he will slaughter us.” I turned my head to the side to see the soon-to-be werewolf sitting, eyes closed, in his cage.

 

“But he's in a cage,” Rose whispered back. “He's a prisoner. He's the same as us.”

 

“He's nothing like us,” Isobel whispered. “That creature is not mortal.”

 

The werewolf opened his pitch black eyes. Everyone but Rose and I flinched back. Rose stood up and took a step toward the werewolf. 

 

“Don't, child,” Isobel warned, 

 

“Come on, Katelyn,” Rose said, still moving forward. I got to my feet as quietly as I could, ignoring the pain in my hips.

 

“Yes Rose, I’m fine. Thanks for asking,” I muttered. We moved forward until the chains on our wrists stopped us.

 

“Who are you?” Rose asked. 

 

“Don't enrage him,” one of the chained men warned.

 

“Where are you from?” Rose continued. “You're not from Earth. What planet are you from?”

 

“Oh,” the werewolf cooed. “Intelligence.”

 

“Where were you born?” Rose asked more firmly.

 

“This body? Ten miles away,” the werewolf answered. “A weakling, heartsick boy, stolen away at night by the brethren for my cultivation. I carved out his soul and sat in his heart.” The werewolf barely moved as he spoke, using as little of his body as possible.

 

“All right, so the body's human,” Rose said to me. “But what about you, the thing inside?”

 

“So far from home,” the werewolf moaned.

 

“If you want to get back home, we can help,” Rose offered, gesturing to me. “We have a ship-”

 

“Why would I leave this place?” the werewolf interrupted. “A world of industry, of workforce and warfare. I could turn it to such purpose.”

 

“How would you do that?” Rose asked.

 

“I would migrate to the Holy Monarch,” the werewolf said.

 

“You mean Queen Victoria?” Rose sounded shocked.

 

“Unless you’re carrying another Holy Monarch in you overalls,” I snarked, because, as previously noted, that’s how I cope with fear.

 

“With one bite, I would pass into her blood, and then it begins. The Empire of the Wolf,” the werewolf said. “So many questions.” The werewolf lunged at the front wall of the crate. We all jumped back. “Look. Inside your eyes,” the werewolf said quickly, sounding almost desperate. “You've seen it too.”

 

“Seen what?” Rose asked. My heart pounded a little faster. 

 

“The Wolf. There is something of the Wolf about you,” the werewolf rushed.

 

“I don't know what you mean,” Rose answered honestly. 

 

The Doctor had said nothing to Rose about her whole ‘Bad Wolf’ episode, and so I’d said nothing either. It was a wonder she hadn’t asked about it yet.

 

“You burnt like the sun,” the werewolf said. “But all I require is the moon.” The cellar doors were suddenly flung open, and the light shone in on the crate. I jumped back, shaking. All the things I’d seen, and this werewolf scared me as much as the Daleks.

 

The werewolf turned and pressed his face through the bar. “Moonlight,” he moaned. He started pulling his cloak off to expose more of his skin. A wind that didn’t feel entirely natural started blowing through the cellar.

 

Rose looked around, and spotted how the chain was attached to the wall. “Katelyn-”

 

“Got it,” I shouted. I wrapped the chains around my hands and got ready to pull. 

 

“All of you! Stop looking at it!” Rose commanded. Flora stayed frozen. “Flora, don't look. Listen to me. Grab hold of the chain and pull!” We could hear the werewolf’s growls slowly turn less and less human. “Come on! With me! Pull!” We pulled.

 

Nothing happened. Rose looked around desperately. Only the servants had helped us pull. Everyone else was still frozen. “I said pull!” Rose screamed in frustration. “Stop your whining and listen to me! All of yous! And that means you, your Ladyship. Now come on, pull!”

 

The rest of the prisoners stood up, yanking randomly, desperate. I refused to look at the werewolf. 

 

“One, two, three, pull!” I shouted. We pulled. Nothing happened. “One, two, three, pull!” Rose counted with me that time. The creature howled. I glanced over. He was fully transformed, staring at his hands. “One, two, three, pull!”

 

This time, the end of the chain snapped off the wall. A few of us lost our balance. Before we could get back up, there was a crashing noise. I looked over, but the cage was still intact. Someone pulled me to my feet.

 

“Where the hell have you been?” Rose shouted. I turned and saw her yelling at the Doctor. The door he’d come through was hanging slightly off its hinges. He looked around with wild eyes, and saw the creature.

 

“Oh, that's beautiful,” he said. 

 

“You and I have very different concepts of beauty,” I said. I pushed person after person through the door, but never took my eyes off the werewolf. Said creature stretched, breaking the side of the cage.

 

“Out!” the Doctor shouted on repeat. I waited, despite his pushing, until everyone else was out. The Doctor stared at the werewolf in something like admiration, until it threw the roof of the crate at him. He pushed me out the door and soniced it locked behind us.

 

The next room was in chaos. The steward handed guns to all the men. Lady Isobel kissed her husband goodbye and ran off with the other girls. The Doctor grabbed Rose’s hands and started sonicing the manacles off. 

 

“Do werewolves actually exist?” Rose shouted.

 

“Well, it could be any form of light modulated species triggered by specific wavelengths,” the Doctor sort of answered. “Did it say what it wanted?” Rose’s manacles fell off, and the Doctor got to work on mine.

 

“The Queen, the Crown, the throne - you name it,” Rose answered.

 

“The Empire of the Wolf, it said,” I added.

 

In the far too close distance, something wood shattered. Everyone fell silent. The Doctor stepped toward the entryway, holding an arm behind him to keep anyone else from advancing. Rose and I followed anyway, just far enough behind him that he wouldn’t tell us off (We’d memorized the distance). We couldn’t see the werewolf that we both knew was at the other end of the hall. What else could have made that noise?

There was a growl, and a gasp, and the Doctor flew back into the room. He snagged Rose and my hands on the way, pulling us back and away from the doorway. 

 

“Fire!” the steward commanded as soon as we were behind him. The line of men fired once. The creature recoiled. “Fire!” They shot again. The werewolf retreated out of the room.

 

“All right, you men. We should retreat upstairs,” the Doctor said. “Come with me.”

 

“I'll not retreat,” the steward growled. “The battle's done. There's no creature on God's Earth that could survive such an assault.”

 

I dashed around him and blocked the man’s path to the werewolf. “And what if the creature isn’t of God’s Earth?” I challenged. He hesitated, and that pause was enough for him to hear the werewolf growling.

 

“Retreat!” I shouted. The line of men listened, dashing past the Doctor and Rose. I ran after them, nearly tripping on my damned skirt. 

 

Screams sounded behind us as some of the men were not fast enough to escape the werewolf's first assault. By some miracle, however, the werewolf turned away from our hunt, and ran down a different hallway. 

 

All told, four of the servant men, Sir Robert, Rose, the Doctor, and I were the only ones to escape. I hadn’t managed to save the steward. I hadn’t learned his name.

 

“Your Majesty?” Sir Robert called as soon as the wolf wasn’t directly behind us. “Your Majesty!” Queen Victoria came down the stairs, not moving nearly as quickly as we needed her to. 

 

“Sir Robert?” she asked. “What's happening?” I turned to the four men trailing behind. 

 

“Ok, you lot-” I started.

 

“Fifteen,” the Doctor interrupted as he walked past. I swung to hit his arm and missed. He’d been keeping a running total of all the times I slipped into the wrong slang, and was getting increasingly insufferable about mentioning it.

 

“You men,” I started again. “You can come with us, but my personal suggestion would be you go to the kitchen with the girls.”

 

“I’ll not run away!” one of the men protested.

 

“Maybe not, but those girls need protection, don’t they?” I asked. It was an offering, a way they could save themselves and not be labeled cowards. All four took the opportunity and ran off. I sighed in relief. Four less people to keep track of.

 

“The front door's no good, it's been boarded shut,” the Doctor said, running back into the room. “Pardon me, Your Majesty. You'll have to leg it out of a window.” The Doctor gestured to a window. Victoria made her way over, so slowly , Robert right behind her. I trailed in last, watching behind me the whole time. It was almost worse to not be chased.

 

“Excuse my manners, Ma'am,” Robert said, marching in front of the queen, “But I shall go first, the better to assist Her Majesty's egress.”

 

“A noble sentiment, my Sir Walter Raleigh,” Victoria praised.

 

“Yeah, any chance you could hurry up?” the Doctor said, voicing the thoughts I was expressing with anxious bouncing.

 

Robert opened the window and the monks outside opened fire. He jumped back just in time to avoid getting shot. We all ducked on instinct. I heard a bullet lodge itself in the far wall. The Doctor walked to the window and looked out. 

 

“I reckon the monkey boys want us to stay inside,” he said.

 

“Do they know who I am?” Victoria asked, scandalized.

 

“Yeah, that's why they want you,” Rose said. Victoria turned around, shock written all over her face. It took all my effort not to roll my eyes. “The wolf's lined you up for a... a biting.”

 

“Now, stop this talk. There can't be an actual wolf,” Victoria scolded. No sooner had the words left her mouth than the werewolf howled. We ran back into the hallway we’d come from. The wolf was slowly clawing the door down.

 

“What do we do?” Rose asked.

 

“We... run,” the Doctor answered.

 

“Is that it?” Rose cried.

 

“You got any silver bullets?” the Doctor asked sarcastically.

 

“Not on me, no,” Rose sassed back.

 

“There we are then, we run.” the Doctor turned to Victoria. “Your Majesty, as a Doctor, I recommend a rigorous jog. Good for the health.” He held out his hand, which Victoria took We ran up a staircase at half the speed Team TARDIS usually ran, which was not at all helping my anxiety.

 

The door smashed open beneath us, and the werewolf pounded its way up the stairs. It caught up much too quickly for my liking, being nearly on my heels when we rounded a corner and a gun went off. I yelped on instinct and crashed into wall. Someone (Rose, I think) grabbed my arm and pulled me upright again.

 

“I'll take this position and hold it,” the soldier from earlier said. He reloaded his gun. “You keep moving, for God's sake!” We stayed still for a moment, all catching our breaths. “Your Majesty, I went to look for the property and it was taken. The chest was empty,” the soldier added.

 

“I have it,” Victoria panted. “It's safe.” The soldier smiled, just a bit.

 

“Then remove yourself, Ma'am.” He turned to the rest of us. “Doctor, you stand as Her Majesty's Protector. And you, Sir Robert, you're a traitor to the crown.” He raised his gun.

 

“Bullets can't stop it!” the Doctor shouted.

 

“They'll buy you time,” the soldier shouted back. “Now run!”

 

Never ones to turn down good advice, we all took off down the end of the hallway. There was an open door, and we ducked left into it. Rose hesitated in the hallway, watching the soldier. I stood, barely breathing, listening to the revolver fire until it was empty, the sounds turning to the crushing of bones and screaming.

 

The Doctor noticed Rose was still standing in the hallway. “Rose?” She didn’t move. He ran out and dragged her into the room by her waist. 

 

Robert and I slammed the doors as soon as they were inside. “Barricade the door,” he commanded. We all scrambled to grab the nearby furniture, shoving it against the door at whatever angle seemed to stay.

 

“Wait a minute,” the Doctor said. I put down the chair I’d been holding in front of the second door. “Shush, wait a minute.” The wolf howled once, then fell silent. “It's stopped,” the Doctor whispered. He stepped onto the percauaily stacked barricade and pressed his ear to the door. A few moments passed where I felt paralized by the stillness in the air. Then the wolf growled and padded way. “It's gone,” the Doctor whispered.

 

“Listen,” Rose whispered. We could hear the wolf padding around, looking for a way in and growling when it found none. I moved slowly, grabbing the lance off the suit of armor in the room, and wedging it sideways across the second door.

 

“Is this the only door?” the Doctor whispered.

 

“Yes,” Robert whispered back. “No!” He turned quickly, but I was already moving the last piece of furniture in front of the door. Robert stared. I locked eyes with the Doctor.

 

I’m sorry, I didn’t say. I’ve seen this before. The Doctor offered me a tiny nod in return.

 

The werewolf snarled and padded away.

 

“I don't understand,” Rose said quietly. “What's stopping it?”

 

“Something inside this room,” the Doctor realized. “What is it? Why can't it get in?” I shook my head.

 

Can’t talk, I signed, both to remind the Doctor of his dumbassery, and also because I didn’t really trust my voice not to squeak at the moment..

“I'll tell you what, though,” Rose prompted.

 

“What?” the Doctor asked, turning to her.

 

“Werewolf.”

 

“I know,” the Doctor said. Rose breathed a nervous laugh, which the Doctor echoed. They shared a quick hug. I finally managed to smile a little. “You all right?” he asked, still holding her closer than was strictly necessary.

 

“I'm okay, yeah,” she responded. “Katelyn?” 

 

I gave them a shaky, very convincing thumbs up.

 

“I'm sorry, Ma'am,” Robert said suddenly. “It's all my fault. I should have sent you away. I tried to suggest something was wrong. I thought you might notice.” He paused, and I got the feeling he would have glared at the Doctor if he hadn’t been so defeated. “Did you think there was nothing strange about my household staff?”

 

“Well, they were bald, athletic,” the Doctor said. “Your wife's away, I just thought you were happy.” I swung for his arm again and didn’t miss this time. “OW!” I glared. 

 

“I'll tell you what though, Ma'am,” Rose said, shaky. “I bet you're not amused now.” I leaned forward to glare at her too. C’mon Rose, you’re better than this.

 

“Do you think this is funny?” Victoria snapped.

 

“No, Ma'am. I-I'm sorry,” Rose said.

 

“What, exactly, I pray tell me, someone, please, what exactly is that creature?” Victoria asked. Rose and I both opened our mouths, but the Doctor was faster.

 

“You'd call it a werewolf,” he said. “But technically it's more of a lupine wavelength haemovariform.”

 

“And should I trust you, sir?” Victoria asked, starting to sound hysterical. “You who change your voice so easily? What happened to your accent?” 

 

Really? After he’d quite clearly saved your life at least twice? Really Victoria?

 

“Oh right, sorry, that's-” the Doctor started. 

 

“I'll not have it,” Victoria snapped. The Doctor shut his mouth. “No, sir. Not you, not that thing, none of it. This is not my world.” I snapped, the anxiety and fear and disappointment all converging into anger.

 

“With all due respect, your Majesty,” I spat. Everyone turned shocked eyes on me. “Whether that creature-” I pointed out the door. “-insults you sensibilities is irrelevant to reality. It’s here, and it’s dangerous, and people have died, and allowing yourself to refuse that reality is a disservice to them. So please, Victoria , do try to remain on this plane of existence.”

 

Victoria did me the courtesy of stepping back. “You-you-” she started.

 

“Mistletoe,” I announced pointing at the door. “The monks were wearing mistletoe and its there again on the door.” 

 

“How dare you-” Victoria started. 

 

“Please, your majesty,” I sighed. “I’m American, Irish, and French. I am genetically hardwired to disrespect you.” I turned to Robert. “Robert, did you father put that there?”

 

“I-I don't know,” he stuttered, apparently also shocked I’d sassed the queen. “I suppose.” 

 

“On the other door, too,” the Doctor realized. “But, a carving wouldn't be enough. I wonder.” He climbed the barricade again, and licked the door. Rose looked disgusted, although not shocked. “Viscum album, the oil of the mistletoe,” the Doctor announced. “It's been worked into the wood like a varnish. How clever was your dad?” the Doctor said to Robert. “I love him. Powerful stuff, mistletoe. Bursting with lectins and viscotoxins.”

 

“And the wolf's allergic to it?” Rose realized.

 

“Or, it thinks it is,” the Doctor agreed. “The monkey-monk-monks need a way of controlling the wolf. Maybe they trained it to react against certain things.”

 

“Nevertheless,” Sir Robert said, getting his voice back “That creature won't give up, and we still don't possess an actual weapon.” The Doctor groaned.

 

“Oh, your father got all the brains, didn't he?” he complained. 

 

“Being rude again,” Rose teased.

 

“Good. I meant that one,” the Doctor said. 

 

“Also the more accurate insult would be that his father didn’t pass on any brains,” I added, just to be a little shit. The Doctor glared accordingly.

 

“Really?”

 

“I have been mute for nearly six hours, you brought this upon yourself,” I said. “You want weapons, Robert?” I back up until I could grab a book from behind me. “We're in a library. We’ve got all the weapons we need.”

 

“This room's the greatest arsenal we could have,” the Doctor agreed, slipping his glasses on. He picked a book off the shelf and threw it at Rose. “Arm yourself.”

 

The Library took about a minute to dissolve into utter chaos. We ran around, grabbing random books off the shelf, announcing ideas and genres to each other, although not making any significant progress. I did learn ancient Greeks believed that if someone ate meat from a wolf-killed lamb, they ran a high risk of becoming a vampire, which was vital information for my everyday life, but did not help here.

 

Eventually, the Doctor ‘ooh’ed and set a book down on the table. “Look what your old dad found. Something fell to Earth.”

 

“A spaceship?” Rose guessed.

 

“A shooting star,” Robert corrected, reading from the book. “‘In the year of our Lord 1540, under the reign of King James the Fifth, an almighty fire did burn in the pit.’ That's the Glen of Saint Catherine just by the monastery.”

 

“But that's over three hundred years ago,” Rose protested. “What's it been waiting for?”

 

“Maybe just a single cell survived,” the Doctor guessed. “Adapting slowly down the generations, it survived through the humans, host after host after host.”

 

“But why does it want the throne?” Robert asked.

 

“The Empire of the Wolf,” I said. 

 

“Imagine it. The Victorian Age accelerated,” the Doctor said. “Starships and missiles fueled by coal and driven by steam, leaving history devastated in its wake.” We were only allowed a moment to ponder how horrible that was, when Queen Victoria shot to her feet.

 

“Sir Robert. If I am to die here-” she started.

 

“Don't say that, Your Majesty,” he protested.

 

“I would...destroy myself rather than let that creature infect me,” Victoria said firmly. I was a little impressed by that. “But that's no matter. I ask only that you find some place of safekeeping for something far older and more precious than myself.” She started digging in her little purse.

 

“Hardly the time to worry about your valuables,” the Doctor said.

 

“Thank you for your opinion,” Victoria lied. “But there is nothing more valuable than this.” She pulled out a clear diamond, easily the size of my fist. It was so large, it didn’t look real.

 

“Is that the Koh-I-Noor?” Rose asked, sounding fairly breathless.

 

“Oh, yes,” the Doctor breathed. “The greatest diamond in the world.”

 

“Given to me as the spoils of war,” Victoria explained. “Perhaps its legend is now coming true. It is said that whoever owns it must surely die.”

 

“Well, that's true of anything if you own it long enough,” the Doctor said. “Can I?” He reached out. Victoria reluctantly laid the diamond in his hand. I took a step back, just to be safe. Maybe I didn’t believe in curses, but I was currently being hunted by a werewolf, so why take the chance? Would you step in a faerie circle?

 

“That is so beautiful,” the Doctor breathed, clearly not agreeing with my ‘better safe than sorry’ mentality.

 

“How much is that worth?” Rose asked.

 

“They say the wages of the entire planet for a whole week.” Rose huffed a laugh.

 

“Good job my mum's not here,” she said. “She'd be fighting the wolf off with her bare hands for that thing.”

 

“And she'd win,” the Doctor added.

 

“Where is the wolf?” Robert asked, walking around again. “I don't trust this silence.” I had to agree with him.

 

“Why do you travel with it?” the Doctor asked.

 

“My annual pilgrimage,” Victoria answered. “I'm taking it to Helier and Carew, the Royal Jewellers at Hazlehead. The stone needs recutting.”

 

“Oh, but it's perfect,” Rose protested. 

 

“My late husband never thought so,” Victoria said. 

 

“Now, there's a fact. Prince Albert kept on having the Koh-I-Noor cut down,” the Doctor explained. “It used to be forty percent bigger than this. But he was never happy. Kept on cutting and cutting.”

 

“He always said the shine was not quite right,” Victoria said with the tiniest of fond smiles. “But he died with it still unfinished.”

 

“Unfinished,” the Doctor whispered. It was kinda fun to watch his brain put it all together. “Oh, yes!” He threw the diamond back to Victoria, and stepped back. “There's a lot of unfinished business in this house. His father's research, and your husband, Ma'am, he came here and he sought the perfect diamond. Hold on, hold on.” He started messing up his hair in that way Ten did when he was thinking really hard. “All these separate things, they're not separate at all, they're connected. Oh, my head, my head. What if this house, it's a trap for you. Is that right, Ma'am?”

 

“Obviously,” Victoria deadpanned. 

 

“At least, that's what the wolf intended. But, what if there's a trap inside the trap?” the Doctor offered. Victoria looked more confused. 

 

Oh, trap. I walked over to the less barricaded second door and slowly started removing the barricade.

 

“Explain yourself, Doctor,” Victoria demanded.

 

“What if his father and your husband weren't just telling each other stories?” the Doctor continued. “They dared to imagine all this was true, and they planned against it, laying the real trap not for you but for the wolf.” Plaster dust fell from the ceiling, stopping the Doctor’s speech. We looked up to the domed skylight. The wolf had climbed his way up there, and was slowly pushing to break the glass. “That wolf there.” The glass in the skylight cracked.  “Out!” the Doctor shouted.

 

“This way!” I shouted, yanking the second door open. Ok, so I’d bought us about ten seconds. Would that mean anything?

 

The Doctor slammed the door behind us, effectively trapped the werewolf for a few more moments. “Get to the observatory!” he commanded.

 

We made it around a corner when the wolf screeched in pain behind us. We slid to a stop and turned around. Lady Isobel was standing in the corridor, holding a now empty pot.

 

“It was mistletoe,” she explained. 

 

“Isobel!” Sir Robert came over and kissed his wife twice, then pushed her in the direction of the stairs. “Now, get back downstairs.”

 

“Keep yourself safe,” Isobel pleaded. I reached into the pocket on my coat. 

 

Don’t worry, I thought. I planned for this.   

 

Isobel left at Roberts urging, and I took some pride in the four men I saw trailing with the girls behind her. I suppose five saved lives out of seven was would have to be good enough.

 

“Come on!” the Doctor said, running again.

 

“The observatory's this way.” Robert lead us through his house again, although faster this time, up another set of staircases and into the last room we’d seen on our tour.

 

“No mistletoe in these doors because your father wanted the wolf to get inside,” the Doctor observed. “I just need time. Is there any way of barricading this?”

 

“Just do your work and I'll defend it,” Robert said. I pulled him in the room, much to his surprise, and slammed the doors shut.

 

“If we could bind them shut with rope or something,” the Doctor said, looking around.

 

I pulled a length of steel cord out of my pocket. The Doctor blinked, but left me to tie the door shut, deciding, wisely, to ask questions later. “Robert, go help the Doctor!” I shouted when he didn’t move. He scrambled over to the others.

 

I had been carrying this rope around for weeks. It was gratifying to finally get to use it.

 

“Your Majesty, the diamond,” I heard the Doctor say.

 

“For what purpose?” Victoria demanded. 

 

“The purpose it was designed for,” the Doctor said. Victoria handed over the diamond just as I turned around from the door. The Doctor tossed it to me. “Set it up, Katelyn,” he ordered.  “Rose, Sir Robert, with me.” They went to the wheel on the side of the Endeavor while I sat on the ground and tried to line the Koh-i-nor with where the light would come out.

 

“Lift it. Come on,” I heard the Doctor say.

 

“Is this the right time for stargazing?” Rose grunted.

 

“Yes, it is,” the Doctor insisted.

 

The Endeavor was about half-way to where it needed to be when the wolf arrived and banged on the door. I swore, but the steel held. Victoria lifted her cross and started praying.

 

“You said this thing doesn't work,” Rose shouted.

 

“It doesn't work as a telescope because that's not what it is,” the Doctor explained, grunting with the effort of moving it. “It's a light chamber. It magnifies the light rays like a weapon. We've just got to power it up.” I settled the Koh-i-noor in what I was pretty sure was the right spot.

 

“It won't work,” Rose protested. “There's no electricity.” The Doctor made a frustrated noise and nodded out the ceiling. 

 

“Moonlight,” I said as if I was only realizing it now.

 

“But the wolf needs moonlight,” Rose protested. “It's made by moonlight.”

 

“You're seventy percent water but you can still drown,” the Doctor snapped.

 

One more push and the Endeavor was at the right angle. Moonlight shot through it, and down onto the diamond. I had put it in exactly the right spot. The door snapped off their hinges. The werewolf barreled in the room, and ran right into the light beam. It raised off the floor with the force of the light, which didn’t really make any sense.

 

The wolf turns back into the young man. “Make it brighter,” he begged. “Let me go.”  The Doctor adjusted the magnification on the eyepiece. The man shifted again to the shadow of a wolf, howled, and vanished. 

 

All fell silent, save for those of us still catching our breath. I picked the Koh-i-nor back up and handed it back to the queen. She was looking at a small scratch on her wrist.

 

“Your Majesty? Did it bite you?” I asked, because that was the line.

 

“No,” she dismissed. “It's, it's a cut, that's all.” It really did look like a cut, so I took her at her word. Besides, it’s not like Victoria was having anymore children anyway.

 

<...>

 

Morning rose on a house that wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself. There were bodies to bury, the living to celebrate, and heroes to reward.

 

Queen Victoria, probably wanted to get rid of us as quickly as possible, decided rewarded came before even breakfast.

 

In the presence of all us survivors, the Doctor and Rose knelt before Queen Victoria, who was holding a sword. I had expected not to be knighted (since non-citizens couldn’t really be), but after my outburst last night, I was just glad I was allowed in the room.

 

“By the power invested in me by the Church and the State, I dub thee Sir Doctor of Tardis.” Victoria moved the sword from one shoulder to the other, and I could feel the Doctor’s smile from the other side of the room. “By the power invested in me by the Church and the State, I dub thee Dame Rose of the Powell Estate.” I could feel Rose holding in a giggle. “You may stand.” Both rose to their feet.

 

“Many thanks, Ma'am,” the Doctor said.

 

“Thanks,” Rose agreed. “They're never going to believe this back home.” I smiled, imagining Jackie’s face when we told her. Something to look forward to.

 

“Your Majesty,” the Doctor began. “You said last night about receiving no message from the great beyond. I think your husband cut that diamond to save your life. He's protecting you even now, Ma'am, from beyond the grave.”

 

“Indeed,” Victoria agreed, with the last small smile we’d ever see on her face. “Then you may think on this also. That I am not amused.”

 

“Yes!” Rose cried. The Doctor sighed and shot me a ‘can you believe’ look. I shrugged with a fond smile.

 

“Not remotely amused,” Victoria continued. Our smiles faded. “And henceforth I banish the three of you.” It took a second for that to register for the others.

 

“I'm sorry?” the Doctor asked.

 

“I have rewarded you, Sir Doctor, and now you are exiled from this empire, never to return,” Victoria said. The Doctor looked a little bit like he knew he’d fucked up pretty bad. Rose looked like she was trying to figure out how being banished before she was born was supposed to work. 

 

“I don't know what you are, the three of you-” Victoria turned a glare to me. “-or where you're from, but I know that you consort with stars and magic and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death, and I will not allow it. You will leave these shores and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good, and how much longer you may survive this terrible life. Now leave my world, and never return.”

 

“Drama queen,” I whispered.

 

<...>

 

Thankfully for my legs, one of the men I’d saved offered us a ride back to the TARDIS. Mind you, we had to sit on the back of a hay wagon, but it was still better than walking a couple of miles. Again. 

 

We jumped off the cart as soon as it stopped moving, said our thanks, and started walking toward the TARDIS. I was very ready to get out of this skirt and maybe sleep for a week.

 

“No, but the funny thing is, Queen Victoria did actually suffer a mutation of the blood,” the Doctor said, apropos of nothing. “It's historical record. She was hemophiliac. They used to call it the Royal Disease. But it's always been a mystery because she didn't inherit it. Her mum didn't have it, her dad didn't have it. It came from nowhere.”

 

“What, and you're saying that's a wolf bite?” Rose asked. The Doctor shrugged.

 

“Well, maybe hemophilia is just a Victorian euphemism,” the Doctor offered.

 

“For werewolf?” Rose asked.

 

“Like consumption for tuberculosis,” I added.

 

“Could be,” the Doctor shrugged.

 

“Queen Victoria's a werewolf?” Rose asked again, just to make sure we were on the same page.

 

“Could be. And her children had the Royal Disease. Maybe she gave them a quick nip,” the Doctor said. I rolled my eyes. Rose laughed.

 

“So, the Royal Family are werewolves?” she asked.

 

“Well, maybe not yet,” the Doctor said. “I mean, a single wolf cell could take... hundred years to mature. Might be ready by, oh, early 21st century?” Rose laughed again. 

 

“Nah, that's just ridiculous!” she dismissed. “Mind you, Princess Anne.”

 

“Who?” I asked.

 

“What!” Rose said. “Everyone knows the royal family.”

 

“Mm, ok,” I deadpanned. “Can you tell me who the 38th US president was?”

 

“Gerald Ford,” the Doctor said. I punched him again.

 

“I wasn’t asking you and you know it.” The Doctor unlocked the TARDIS and piloted us quickly into the Vortex. 

 

<...>

 

“You know what?” I asked, a few hours later. We were relaxing in the Library, all in our pajamas, Rose using the Doctor as a pillow. They turned to me. “Sit up, I’m teaching you two ASL."

Chapter Text

Nina really liked the school’s new secretary. She’d only been there two days, but so many of the teachers were new, it wasn’t that short of a time by comparison. What she (and all the other students at Ferryvale) liked about Miss Laurin was that meeting her often meant not meeting Mr. Finch. Now there was nothing wrong with Mr. Finch, except, generally, he wasn’t nice to be around. 

 

Nina approached Mr. Finches office slightly worried. It was nearly lunchtime, so Miss Laurin might not be there. Luckily for Nina, Miss Laurin was still at her desk.

 

“Hullo, Miss Laurin,” Nina said as she approached.

 

“Hello,” Miss Laurin said in her American accent. Another reason the students were so fond of her. “What do you need, dear?”

 

“The nurse sent me, ma’am,” Nina said. Miss Laurin’s pleasant smile faltered. “I was in English and I got a headache.”

 

“Well, if she sent you here, then you should probably go home. Who can I call for you...um?” Miss Laurin’s hands hovered over her keyboard. 

 

“Nina Johns,” Nina said. Miss Laurin typed her name, and frowned.

 

“I’m sorry, Nina. It says here you live in Ambrose Hall?” Was it just Nina, or did Miss Laurin sound panicked?

 

Nina dug in her pocket to find the paper her Grandmother had given her that morning. “I got adopted last week, ma’am,” Nina said, smiling despite her pounding headache. 

 

“Oh, congratulations!” Miss Laurin said, genuinely happy. Nina handed her the slip of paper, and Miss Laurin called the number. “Why don’t you sit down, Nina. Whose number is this?”

 

“My Grandma, Miss Laurin.” 

 

The conversation with Grandma went fairly quickly, although Miss Laurin looked confused the entire time. “She’ll be right over,” Miss Laurin said, three minutes before Grandma walked into the office. 

 

When she walked in, Miss Laurin stood quickly from her chair, shock flitterting across her face before it vanished behind a smile. Grandma smiled back, her smile lines wrinkling around her warm brown eyes. 

 

“I’m here to collect my grandaughter?” Grandma said, her own not-from-here accent standing out. Nina rather liked her Grandmother’s accent too. 

 

“Of course,” Miss Laurin breathed. “H-how is the shop?” Nina looked between the two women. Did they know each other? Wouldn’t that be fun!

 

“Oh, I closed it,” Grandma said. “How’s the locket?” 

 

“Right where it should be,” Miss Laurin answered. Grandma nodded, apparently satisfied with the vague answer, and reached for Nina’s hand.

 

“Let’s go home, dear.”

 

<...>

 

Despite there being a much cleaner staff room for the Doctor and I to eat in, we took our lunch in the cafeteria. I’m not sure what the students or staff whispered was the reason (although I’d heard one student whisper that we simply hated the rest of the staff, which was much tamer than the rumors I remembered from middle school).

 

I had a habit of getting there first, and thus picking where we sat. This meant I had a great view of the Doctor getting in line and giving Rose the smuggest look when she spooned what was only legally Mac and Cheese onto his plate.

 

“If we’re here much longer, I think she’s going to murder you,” I told the Doctor when he sat down next to me. “If you could fake our credentrails, why didn’t you fake hers too?” The Doctor raised his eyebrow, a move slightly undercut by the fact that he was chewing.

 

“We agreed we needed eyes in different places,” the Doctor reminded me. “I’ve got the children in class, you’ve got them in administration, and Rose can watch them here.” I looked over his shoulder to see Rose advancing on our table, cleaning cloth in hand.

 

“Try telling her that,” I mumbled, turning back to my own food. Food I had made myself on the TARDIS. I’d only just escaped school food. I did not intend to go back.

 

“Two days,” Rose spat as soon as we were in earshot.

 

“Sorry, could you just?” The Doctor gestured with his fork to a spot on the table. “There's a bit of gravy.” Rose ignored him. “No, no, just, just there.”

 

“Two days, we've been here,” Rose repeated.

 

“Blame your boyfriend,” the Doctor said. “He's the one who put us on to this. And he was right.” The Doctor dropped his voice and looked between Rose and I. “Boy in class this morning, got knowledge way beyond planet Earth.”

 

“You eating those chips?” Rose asked, distracted as always by fried potatoes. She snatched one before the Doctor could even answer.

 

“Yeah, they're a bit...different,” the Doctor admitted. I grabbed one as well, two days of curiosity finally beating out my apprehension. 

 

“I think they're gorgeous,” Rose said. I hummed my agreement because holy shit they were good. “Wish I had school dinners like this.”

 

“It’s lunch, Rose,” I corrected on instinct, snatching another chip before the Doctor could stop me.

 

“It's very well behaved, this place,” he said. Rose and I hummed our agreement, since our mouths were full. “I thought there'd be happy slapping hoodies. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones.” The Doctor grinned and raised his eyebrows. “Eh? Eh? Oh, yeah. Don't tell me I don't fit in.” 

 

“I have literally no idea what you just said,” I deadpanned. “You do not fit in with human children.” Rose shook her head at us, smiling.

 

“You are not permitted to leave your station during a sitting,” one of the dinner ladies said. Rose shot to her feet

 

“I was just talking to this teacher and the secretary,” Rose defended. 

 

“Hello,” we said. 

 

“He doesn't like the chips,” Rose whispered conspiratorially to the lunch lady.

 

“The menu has been specifically designed by the headmaster to improve concentration and performance,” the lunch lady snapped at the Doctor. “Now, get back to work.” Rose sighed and walked to the next table.

 

“See?” Rose gestured to her outfit. “This is me. Dinner lady.”

 

“I'll have the crumble,” the Doctor called after her. 

 

“I'm so going to kill you,” Rose responded.

 

“Told you,” I said. Before I could take another bite of my food, my phone went off in my pocket. “Fuck, already?” I whispered. It wouldn’t do for the kids to hear me swear. I pulled my phone out, muted the alarm, and stood up. “Here, I packed the last of the snicker doodles.”

 

“Where are you going?” the Doctor asked, stuffing the bread in his mouth.

 

“Got to greet a reporter,” I answered. “Someone’s doing a profile on Finch.” I pretended to just notice one of the Krillitanes walk in. “Wagner just came in.” That distracted the Doctor well enough that I could slip away without him asking more questions. 

 

My only goal for the day was to make sure the Doctor didn’t know I knew what was happening. I didn’t need to add to the drama of the Doctor’s past being dredged up. Nina was the only one I could remember being in danger, and somehow, she’d already been saved.

 

Who was that woman? Why did she feel so… familiar? I’d only seen her once, and not even for that long or in any life threatening situation. Was it really just her sympathy and open ears that endeared her to me?

 

I started playing with the chain of my locket, as I walked to the door to greet Sarah Jane Smith.

 

<...>

 

“Mathematics. That’s the cornerstone of our work here,” Finch explained. My job as the lone secretary was really ‘Headmaster’s personal assistant’, so instead of sitting at my desk taking calls like I remembered the brilliant secretaries at my highschool doing, I was following Mr. Finch and Sarah Jane. I had work, dammit, and just because this job was a cover to get into the school didn’t mean I was going to slack off. There was a school to run.

 

“My improvements aren't confined to the classroom,” Mr. Finch continued. “Oh, no, no, no. We've introduced a new policy. School dinners are absolutely free, but compulsory.”

 

“Do try the chips,” I added when Finch paused to breathe. He nodded in my direction.

 

“Oh, I'd love to. Thank you,” Sarah Jane said. “And it's got to be said, the transformation you've brought about is amazing. I mean, maybe you're working the children a little bit too hard now and then, but I think good results are more important than anything.”

 

“Exactly,” Finch agreed. He sounded proud of his accomplishments, and knowing what they were made my stomach churn. “You're a woman of vision, Miss Smith.”

 

“Oh, I can see everything, Mr. Finch. Quite clearly,” Sarah said.

 

We walked through the rest of the school, Finch telling Sarah Jane about all the improvements he’d made. Despite all his boasting about the new math program, we carefully avoided the math department. 

 

“If you’d like to interview the staff, Miss Smith,” Finch offered as we passed the teacher’s lounge.

 

“Yes, thank you.” We went in, where about half of the staff was gathered. Maybe half of the gathered were the new staff. One of them was the Doctor. He gave me a curious look. 

 

“Excuse me, colleagues. A moment of your time,” Finch announced as we entered. “May I introduce Miss Sarah Jane Smith.” The Doctor’s eyes slide over, going unbearably soft as they settled on Sarah Jane. There was a little surprise, but mostly it was joy and pride that lit the Doctor’s expression. He’d never looked older.

 

“Miss Smith is a journalist who's writing a profile about me for the Sunday Times,” Finch continued, unaware of the bombshell he’d just dropped on the Last of the Time Lords. “I thought it might be useful for her to get a view from the trenches, so to speak. Don't spare my blushes.” Finch turned to leave. “Katelyn, if you’d stay here, in case Miss Smith needs anything.”

 

“Of course, sir,” I responded, because that’s what one says to their boss.

 

Sarah walked over to the Doctor, who was still staring at her. “Hello.”

 

“Oh, I should think so,” he said, dumbly.

 

“John Smith,” I introduced, while the Doctor took some time to turn his brain back on. “Our new physics teacher.”

 

“John Smith,” Sarah almost laughed. “I used to have a friend who sometimes went by that name.”

 

“Well, it's a very common name,” the Doctor said, voice full of emotion.

 

It’s not, I had told him two days ago. The parts are, but not together.

 

Well, I’ve been using it with no problem, the Doctor had defended.

 

I’m not saying it’s a problem, I’m just saying your wrong, I had said.

 

“He was a very...uncommon man,” Sarah said fondly. I smiled. What an understatement. “Nice to meet you.” Sarah held out her hand.

 

“Nice to meet you,” the Doctor agreed, shaking her hand longer than was appropriate. “Yes, very nice. More than nice. Brilliant.”

 

“John,” I interrupted. The Doctor blinked before looking at me, like he’d forgotten I was there. “I think Miss Smith would like to get past greetings at some point.”

 

“Right, yes, sorry.”

 

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Sarah dismissed. “Miss Laurin said you were new. How long have you worked here?”

 

“It's, um, only my second day.”

 

“Oh, so you’re very new,” Sarah realized. “What do you think of the school? I mean, this new curriculum? So many children getting ill? Doesn't that strike you as odd?” The Doctor was practically vibrating with energy, face the picture of pride.

 

“You don't sound like someone just doing a profile,” he whispered. Sarah smiled.

 

“Well, no harm in a little investigation while I'm here,” Sarah whispered back. 

 

“No,” the Doctor agreed. “Good for you.” His mad grinning appeared to finally get to Sarah, who went over to another teacher without saying goodbye. “Good for you. Oh, good for you, Sarah Jane Smith.” He laughed, just once, then turned to me. “Did you…?”

 

“I didn’t know,” I lied, smiling. “I just recognized her when I opened the door.” I looked over to where Sarah was slowly charming her way through the entire staff. “Should we tell Rose?”

 

“Why?” the Doctor asked.

 

“You really think Sarah Jane’s gonna leave this here?” I asked. “Don’t think Rose could use a little heads up?” 

 

“Is that a suggestion or a warning?” the Doctor asked. Suggestion meant ‘I have a higher wisdom stat than you, and thus understand people’. Warning meant ‘I’ve seen this before, and don’t much like the outcome’.

 

“Suggestion,” I lied.

 

<...>

 

We waited in the TARDIS until it was dark, snuck to a back entrance to let Mickey in, and gathered in the center of the building. Lively buildings that were suddenly empty and dark were always creepy, but there was something about this place that was even worse.

 

“Oh, it's weird seeing school at night,” Rose laughed. “It just feels wrong. When I was a kid, I used to think all the teachers slept in school.” I giggled. “Oi.”

 

“No, it’s just, my parents were teachers,” I said. “Believe me, the teachers are just as eager to get home as the students.”

 

“All right, team,” the Doctor said, then cringed. “Oh, I hate people who say team. Er, gang?”

 

“Implies illegal activities,” I countered.

 

“Er, comrades,” the Doctor tried.

 

“Implies communism.”

 

“Anyway, Rose, go to the kitchen. Get a sample of that oil,” the Doctor directed. “Mickey, the new staff are all Maths teachers. Go and check out the Maths department. We’re going to look in Finch's office. Be back here in ten minutes.” The Doctor jogged up the stairs, and I followed, since apparently that was my job. 

 

At the top of the stairs, the Doctor turned left, which was not right. “Doc? Finch’s office is this way?” I pointed behind us.

 

“You were right about Sarah Jane,” the Doctor said, still walking in the wrong direction. “And I’ll bet she’s here already. It’s a small school. She’ll find the TARDIS.”

 

“Why not just stay there, then?” I asked. The Doctor didn’t answer, which meany one of us wouldn’t like his answer. There had been a period of about an hour when I’d been making dinner, and the Doctor and Rose had been alone in the Library. I’d hoped they’d talked about Sarah Jane or about seeing her tonight. I couldn’t think of a single reason not to. But then, I wasn’t a complete buffoon, so who knows?

 

The TARDIS was in a storeroom in the back of the gymnasium. We watched Sarah Jane run in the room, and make straight for the TARDIS. The Doctor took a deep breath and walked in behind her. I stayed back, hid in the shadows. This was not my scene.

 

Sarah Jane stumbled back out of the storeroom, breathing hard. She turned slowly, eyes widening when she saw the Doctor. “Hello, Sarah Jane.”

 

“It's you,” she breathed. “Doctor, oh, my God, it's you, isn't it.” She smiled for a second, then it vanished. For a second, she looked like she was going to cry. “You've regenerated.”

 

“Oh, half a dozen times since we last met,” the Doctor agreed, the tiniest smile creeping onto his face.

 

“You look...incredible,” Sarah said.

 

“So do you,” the Doctor said.

 

Sarah laughed. “I got old. What are you doing here?”

 

“Well, UFO sighting, school gets record results. I couldn't resist,” the Doctor said. He glanced back at me for a second, but I shook me head. This wasn’t my entrance. “What about you?”

 

“The same,” Sarah whispered. She looked like she was going to cry again. “I thought you'd died,” Sarah sobbed. The Doctor’s smile disappeared. “I waited for you and you didn't come back, and I thought you must have died.”

 

“I lived,” the Doctor said mournfully. “Everyone else died.” 

 

Of course, I realized. Of course he didn’t want to talk about Sarah Jane Smith. He’d been a different man when he’d known her. And now here was his past, dredged up and in his face, a reminder of all he’d lost. And what was I doing? The Doctor was my friend. I should be helping him, not preemptively shaming him.

 

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

 

“Everyone died, Sarah,” the Doctor repeated. Sarah opened her mouth to say something, then wisely decided to swallow that comment.

 

“I can't believe it's you,” she whispered instead. No sooner had the words left her mouth than someone screamed. I snorted, because you could just tell it was Mickey. “Okay, now I can!”

 

We ran from the room, me ahead of the Doctor and Sarah only because I was closer to the door. Rose met us at the first intersection.

 

“Did you hear that?” she asked. Then she spotted Sarah Jane, did a double take at where the Doctor was holding her hand, and narrowed her eyes at the Doctor. “Who's she?” The Doctor was beaming, oblivious to Rose’s mood.

 

“Rose, Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane, Rose,” the Doctor introduced. “And you’ve met Katelyn.”

 

“Please never call me Miss Laurin again,” I said, offering my hand. Sarah Jane shook it, but wasn’t really focusing on me. 

 

“Nice to meet you both.” She turned to the Doctor. “You can tell you're getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.”

 

“I'm not his assistant,” Rose spat.

 

“It’s not the word I would use-” I tried.

 

“No?” Sarah said, sounding sceptical. “Get you, tiger.”

 

The Doctor said nothing, opening and closing his mouth several times before gesturing down the hallway and leaving without waiting for us. I jogged to catch up to him.

 

“Would it kill you to listen to my advice in a non-life threatening situation just once?” I hissed. The Doctor said nothing, again. God, it was like managing toddler sometimes.

 

We found Mickey in one of the science classrooms, stumbling around with armfuls of rats, trying to put them back in the closet.

 

“Sorry!” He said when he saw us, dropping the rats he was holding. “Sorry, it was only me. You told me to investigate, so I started looking through some of these cupboards and all of these fell on me.” The Doctor crouched and picked up a rat.

 

“Oh, my God, they're rats,” Rose observed. “Dozens of rats. Vacuum packed rats.”

 

“And you decided to scream?” the Doctor asked Mickey.

 

“It took me by surprise!” he protested.

 

“Like a little girl?” the Doctor teased.

 

“It was dark! I was covered in rats!”

 

“Nine, maybe ten years old. I'm seeing pigtails, frilly skirt.”

 

“Hello, can we focus?” Rose interrupted. “Does anyone notice anything strange about this? Rats in school?”

 

“Well, obviously they use them in Biology lessons,” Sarah Jane said, as if we were all stupid. “They dissect them. Or maybe you haven't reached that bit yet,” she said to Rose. “How old are you?”

 

“Excuse me, no one dissects rats in school anymore,” Rose shot back. “They haven't done that for years. Where are you from, the dark ages?”

 

“Anyway!” I said loudly. “We never did get to Finch's office. C’mon, guys.” I started making my way over to the office. The Doctor followed right behind me, but we were maybe four steps into the hallway when Rose and Sarah Jane sped in front of us.

 

“I don't mean to be rude or anything,” Rose lied. “But who exactly are you?”

 

“Sarah Jane Smith. I used to travel with the Doctor.”

 

“Oh! Well, he's never mentioned you,” Rose said.

 

“Oh, I must've done,” the Doctor said, scratching his ear. “Sarah Jane. Mention her all the time.”

 

“Making it worse,” I muttered.

 

“Hold on,” Rose said, pretending to think. “Sorry. Never.”

 

“What, not even once?” Sarah sounded rightly hurt. “He didn't mention me even once?”

 

“Ho, ho, mate.” Mickey sounded delighted. “The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man's worst nightmare.”

 

<...>

 

Because it was quieter than the sonic, I used my administrative key to unlock Finch’s door. 

 

“Maybe those rats were food,” the Doctor offered out of nowhere.

 

“Food for what?” Rose asked.

 

I pushed the door all the way open slowly, never taking my hand off the handle. 

 

“Rose?” the Doctor asked. We looked at him. He was looking up. “You know you used to think all the teachers slept in the school? Well, they do.” We looked up. 

 

The creatures hanging from the ceiling didn’t really look like bats, but they didn’t really look of Earth at all, so any comparison would be a little off. E.T./Gargoyle/Bats was the best description my brain could feed me.

 

“No way!” Mickey said, turning and running out the door and down the hallway again. Rose and Sarah Jane followed a little slower. I pulled the door silently shut before following.

 

Mickey didn’t stop running until he was outside the building. The rest of us walked out after him. “I am not going back in there,” he declared. “No way.”

 

“Those were teachers,” Rose gasped.

 

“When Finch arrived, he brought with him seven new teachers, four dinner ladies and a nurse. Thirteen,” the Doctor explained. “Thirteen big bat people. Come on.” The Doctor turned back toward the school. We all started our way back in.

 

“Come o-? You've gotta be kidding!” Mickey protested.

 

“I need the TARDIS. I've got to analyse that oil from the kitchen,” the Doctor explained.

 

“I might be able to help you there,” Sarah said, jogging toward the parking lot. “I've got something to show you.” Sarah Jane ran over to her car, unlocked it, popped the trunk, and pulled a blanket off the tin dog sitting inside

 

“K9!” the Doctor cried, delighted. “Rose Tyler, Katelyn Laurin, Mickey Smith, allow me to introduce K ni- well, K9 Mark Three to be precise.”

 

“Why does he look so...disco?” Rose asked. 

 

“Vaguely 80s,” I agreed.

 

“Oi! Listen, in the year five thousand, this was cutting edge,” the Doctor protested. Rose gave me a long suffering look. I sighed. “What's happened to him?”

 

“One day, he just-” Sarah shrugged. “-nothing.”

 

“Well, didn't you try and get him repaired?” the Doctor asked, sounded deeply offended on K9’s behalf.

 

“Well, it's not like getting parts for a Mini Metro,” Sarah protested. “Beside, the technology inside him could rewrite human science. I couldn't show him to anyone.”

 

“Couldn’t take him in to UNIT?” I asked. “They know about the Doctor and stuff.”

 

“I’d never get him back,” Sarah said.

 

“Ooh, what's the nasty lady done to you, eh?” the Doctor cooed, scratching around K9’s head. I shook my head.

 

“And you judged me for wanting to pet those Andorran wolves,” I said.

 

“No, I judged you for calling them ‘harmless little babies’ when they’d already tried to bite your hand off,” the Doctor corrected. I stuck my tongue out at the back of his head, then walked around him to pet K9. 

 

<...>

 

Somehow, we all managed to pile into Sarah Jane’s tiny car. We drove around until we found the one chippy open this late, wrestled K9 onto one of the tables, and sat down. I decidedly did not mention that the Doctor had put K9 on a table with only two chairs. Knowing him, he hadn’t even noticed.

 

Rose and Mickey went to the counter to order some food. “You see, what's impressive is that it's been nearly an hour since we met her and I still haven't said I told you so,” Mickey teased, sounding delighted.

 

“I'm not listening to this,” Rose muttered.

 

“Although, I have prepared a little I was right dance that I can show you later,” Mickey continued. 

 

“Lay off, Mickey,” I warned. Rose paid for our chips and sat down at the table I’d picked. 

 

“All this time you've been giving it, he's different, when the truth is, he's just like any other bloke,” Mickey continued.

 

“You don't know what you're talking about,” Rose muttered, passing me my serving of chips and digging into hers.

 

“Maybe not. But if I were you I'd go easy on the chips,” Mickey whispered. Rose stopped dead, a chip halfway out of her mouth. I glared at him and dumped part of my serving into Rose’s.

 

“Lay off, Mickey,” I repeated, with more force. We sat in an awkward silence for a few moments, before K9 beeped.

 

“Oh, hey!” the Doctor cheered, playing the table in front of him like drums. “Now we're in business.”

 

“Master,” K9 said in his adorable little robot voice.

 

“He recognises me!” the Doctor said, delighted. Sarah Jane beamed.

 

“Affirmative,” K9 agreed.

 

“Rose, give us the oil,” the Doctor said, holding his hand out to the side and not looking away from K9. We walked over, and Rose fished the oil out of her pocket and handed it over. The Doctor opened the lid and went to stick his finger in.

 

“I wouldn't touch it, though,” Rose warned. “That dinner lady got all-” Rose gestured down her body. “-scorched.”

 

“I'm no dinner lady,” the Doctor said. “And I don't often say that.” He smeared a bit of the oil on to K9's probe, then wiped his hands off on a napkin. “Here we go. Come on, boy. Here we go.”

 

“Oil,” K9 tried. “Ex-ex-ex-extract. An-ana-analysing.”

 

“Listen to him, man. That's a voice,” Mickey laughed. Rose grinned.

 

“Careful, that's my dog,” Sarah warned. Our smiles faded a little.

 

“Confirmation of analysis. Substance is Krillitane Oil,” K9 said. The Doctor stood up straighter and stared out the window, all business now that there was a real threat.

 

“They're Krillitanes,” he breathed.

 

“Is that bad?” Rose asked, knowing full well it was.

 

“Very,” the Doctor answered Rose’s real question. “Think of how bad things could possibly be, and add another suitcase full of bad.”

 

“You’re underestimating my creativity,” I joked. One of us had to be the comic relief. 

 

“And what are Krillitanes?” Sarah asked.

 

“They're a composite race,” the Doctor explained. “Just like your culture is a mixture of traditions from all sorts of countries, people you've invaded or have been invaded by. You've got bits of Viking, bits of France, bits of whatever. The Krillitanes are the same. An amalgam of the races they've conquered. But they take physical aspects as well. They cherry pick the best bits from the people they destroy.” The Doctor paused, biting his lip. “That's why I didn't recognise them. The last time I saw Krillitanes, they looked just like us except they had really long necks.”

 

“What would be the benefit of long necks?” I asked.

 

“What're they doing here?” Rsoe asked. Frankly her question was much better. Probably why the Doctor ignored mine.

 

“It's the children,” the Doctor whispered in horror. “They're doing something to the children.”

 

With that horrifying remark, we made our way back out to Sarah’s car. Mickey and I lugged K9 out this time, and damn he was heavy. Tin my ass, there was no way that dog was made of anything lighter than steel.

 

“So what's the deal with the tin dog?” Mickey asked.

 

“The Doctor likes travelling with an entourage,” Sarah Jane explained, sitting down in her trunk. “Sometimes they're humans, sometimes they're aliens, and sometimes they're tin dogs. What about you, Mickey? Where do you fit in the picture?”

 

“Me?” Mickey scoffed. “I'm their Man in Havana. I'm the technical support. I'm...Oh, my God. I'm the tin dog.” Mickey dropped to sit on the edge of the trunk, as that finally occurred to him. I giggled. Sarah Jane patted Mickey on the shoulder and turned to me.

 

“And you?”

 

Their third wheel, mainly, I thought. In the pause, I could hear Rose say “I thought you and me were...I obviously got it wrong.”

 

“Comic relief,” I offered, wanting some laughter to block out the Doctor and Rose’s conversation. “And occasionally I have good ideas. I must, if the Doctor keeps me around.” I smiled at Sarah Jane. “He only brings the best, after all.” She smiled back. And then he losses us. Three steps forward, two steps back. Always moving on.

 

“That's the curse of the Time Lords,” the Doctor finished. A Krillitane screamed, and we all looked up to where it was perched on the roof of a nearby church. It swooped down, straight at the Doctor, but he was more concerned with pushing Rose down and out of harm's way than protecting himself. How could she think he didn’t love her? 

 

The Krillitane flew away.

 

Those of us by the car ran over. “Was that a Krillitane?” Sarah asked.

 

“Is it weird that I hope it was?” I asked.

 

“It didn't even touch you. It just flew off,” Rose observed. “What did it do that for?” We watched it flap away, back toward the school, before it was out of sight.

 

“I have some ideas,” the Doctor said.

 

<...>

 

We marched into school the next morning. I was dressed in jeans and a hoodie for once, because the pantsuits I’d worn to be “Miss Laurin, secretary” was not particularly conducive to running. I don’t know how the Doctor did it. Rose had similarly ditched her lunch-lady outfit for her own pair of jeans and a jacket.

 

We paused in the throng of students to get our roles in the Doctor’s plan. “Rose and Sarah, you go to the Maths room. Crack open those computers, I need to see the hardware inside. Here, you might need this.” Rose held out her hand, but the Doctor passed the screwdriver to Sarah on his right. To be fair, Rose usually stood on his right. “Mickey, surveillance. I want you outside.” 

 

“Just stand outside?” Mickey complained.

 

“Here, take these. You can keep K9 company.” Sarah tossed Mickey her car keys.

 

“Don't forget to leave the window open a crack,” the Doctor said.

 

“But he's metal!” Mickey protested.

 

“I didn't mean for him.”

 

“What're you going to do?” Rose asked.

 

“It's time I had a word with Mister Finch,” the Doctor answered. “Katelyn, with me.”

 

We split off as soon as we were inside. It didn’t take the Doctor and I long to find Mr. Finch. Or rather, Mr. Finch found our lurking spot, stopping in the middle of the hallway to look up a flight of stairs. 

 

He locked eyes with the Doctor first, then with me. Mr. Finch’s eyes widened slightly. After all, I’d had to interview with him personally. He’d approved me. This must feel like a betrayal to him. 

 

Eventually, Finch looked away and started walking in the direction he’d come from. The Doctor and I followed at a distance, until we made it to the pool. There were no students, and I wondered if the pool had just been closed, or if it was a lucky break in the schedule. 

 

We stopped and stood at opposite ends of the pool.

 

“Who are you?” the Doctor asked.

 

“My name is Brother Lassa,” Finch answered. “And you?”

 

“The Doctor.”

 

“Still Katelyn Laurin.”

 

“Since when did Krillitanes have wings?” the Doctor asked.

 

“It's been our form for nearly ten generations now,” Finch explained walking toward us around the edge of the pool. “Our ancestors invaded Bessan. The people there had some rather lovely wings.” We walked in the same direction, always keeping distance. “They made a million widows in one day. Just imagine.”

 

“I’ll pass, thanks,” I said.

 

“And now your shapes human,” the Doctor said.

 

“A personal favourite, that's all,” Finch dismissed.

 

“And the others?” the Doctor asked.

 

“My brothers remain bat form. What you see is a simple morphic illusion. Scratch the surface and the true Krillitane lies beneath,” Finch explained. The Doctor nodded, like that had been the answer he was expecting. 

 

“And what of the Time Lords?” Finch asked. His eyes flicked back and forth between the Doctor and I. Oh. Of course. “I always thought of you as such a pompous race. Ancient, dusty senators, so frightened of change and chaos.” The Doctor nodded, and we started walking to meet Finch. “And of course, they're all but extinct. Only you two. The Last.” Finch finished like he was just realizing something.

 

“This plan of yours,” the Doctor said calmly, not rising to Finch’s bait. “What is it?”

 

“You don't know?” Finch asked.

 

“That's why we’re asking,” I said.

 

“Well, show me how clever you are,” Finch said, still advancing. “Work it out.”

 

“If we don't like it, then it will stop,” the Doctor said.

 

“Fascinating,” Finch whispered, now so close our toes were almost touching. I fought the instinct to back up. “Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence.” He tilted his head. “You seem to be something new. Would you declare war on us?”

 

“Children,” I breathed. “Don’t think I won’t protect them.” 

 

“I'm so old now. I used to have so much mercy,” the Doctor said, sounding more tired than I’d heard him sound since he regenerated. “You get one warning. That was it.” The Doctor turned to leave, so I followed.

 

“But we're not even enemies,” Finch said to our backs. We stopped walking. “Soon you will embrace us. The next time we meet, you will join with me.” I just suppressed a shiver. He was so creepy. “I promise you.” Finch walked past us and out of the pool.

 

As soon as he was out of sight, I let myself shiver. 

 

“Cold?” the Doctor asked. 

 

“Creeped out,” I corrected. “He’s taking the vampire bit too far.” The Doctor smiled.

 

“Come on. Let’s go see what Rose and Sarah Jane found.

 

We were ten steps out of the pool when I felt the need to ask. “Is that why you wanted me to come with you?” I asked quietly. “Because you knew he was going to ask about the Time Lords?”

 

“No,” the Doctor answered.

 

“You’re lying,” I whispered. “Look, I’m sorry I don’t have answers for you, but if I don’t, what makes you think the greater universe will?”

 

“Someone has to know,” the Doctor answered.

 

We heard Sarah Jane and Rose laughing from halfway down the hallway. It was a welcome sound compared to the heavy silence that had fallen between the Doctor and I.

 

“How's it going?” the Doctor asked. The women kept laughing. I fought my bodies instinct to join in. “What? Listen, I need to find out what's programmed inside these.” Rose pointed with the sonic, and they only laughed harder. “What?” Hysteria was starting to set in. “Stop it,” the Doctor whined.

 

<...>

 

Ten minutes later, the tannoy called the students back to their classrooms, and the staff to the staff room. The Doctor paused. Oh, the staff. None of them would survive this, would they?

 

Katelyn sucked in a pained breath and sat down in a chair. So, no. 

 

Rose ran to the door to turn students away. The Doctor yanked one of the computer’s hard drives, tossed the wires around his shoulder, and got to work.

 

“I can't shift it,” he muttered.

 

“I thought the sonic screwdriver could open anything!” Sarah Jane said.

 

“Anything except a deadlock seal,” the Doctor explained. “There's got to be something inside here. What're they teaching those kids?” 

 

About 30 seconds after the words left his mouth, every computer screen in the room lit up green. Symbols and letters and numbers scrolled by impossibly fast. He could just read them.

 

“You wanted the programme?” Sarah said. “There it is.”

 

“Some sort of code,” the Doctor realized. A breath, then “No. No, that can't be. The Skasis Paradigm.” This was.. This was about as bad as it could possibly be. “They're trying to crack the Skasis Paradigm.”

 

“The Skasis what?” Sarah asked.

 

“The God maker. The universal theory,” the Doctor explained. “Crack that equation and you've got control of the building blocks of the universe. Time and space and matter, yours to control.” This was bad. This was far worse than he’d been imagining. Katelyn didn’t look shocked. Maybe he had underestimated her imagination.

 

“What, and the kids are like a giant computer?” Rose asked.

 

“Yes,” the Doctor breathed. “And their learning power is being accelerated by the oil!” he realized, pacing. “That oil from the kitchens, it works as a, as a conducting agent. Makes the kids cleverer.”

 

“But that oil's on the chips,” Rose said. “We've been eating them.” She looked at Katelyn. Katelyn’s eyes widened.

 

“What's fifty nine times thirty five?” the Doctor asked, knowing full well that math was not either one of their strong suits.

 

“Two thousand and sixty five,” the girls answered in unison. The Doctor tilted his head as if to say, ‘see, there’.

 

“Oh, my God,” Rose said.

 

“But why use children? Can't they use adults?” Sarah asked.

 

“No, it's got to be children,” the Doctor said. “The God maker needs imagination to crack it. They're not just using the children's brains to break the code, they're using their souls.”

 

“Let the lesson begin,” Finch said. They all turned to him. “Think of it, Doctor. With the Paradigm solved, reality becomes clay in our hands. We can shape the universe and improve it.” The Doctor almost rolled his eyes. Yeah, sure, ‘improve it’. 

 

“Oh yeah, the whole of creation with the face of Mister Finch?” the Doctor asked. “Call me old fashioned, but I like things as they are.” Finch shook his head.

 

“You act like such a radical, and yet all you want to do is preserve the old order?” he asked. That’s my job now, the Doctor thought. “Think of the changes that could be made if this power was used for good.”

 

“What, by someone like you?” the Doctor laughed.

 

“No, someone like you,” Finch said. The Doctor’s smile vanished. “Or you.” Finch turned to Katelyn. She shot to her feet, eyes going even wider. “The Paradigm gives us power, but you could give us wisdom.” Katelyn stepped closer to the Doctor’s side. He grabbed her hand. If Finch wanted them to be in this together, then great. They worked better together anyway.

 

“Become Gods at my side,” Finch continued. “Imagine what you could do. Think of the civilisations you could save. Perganon, Assinta. Your own people, Doctor, standing tall. The Time Lords...reborn.” 

 

The Doctor looked over at Katelyn. Could that…? Could that really be it? She met his eyes, panic overtaking everything else in her expression. 

 

“No,” she said, voice shaking. She turned back to Finch. “Nice try, boss, but you’re offering power to the person who least wants it. I’m quite content to bounce about the universe saving lives. Making reality just that much kinder.”

 

And she was, the Doctor knew. Katelyn wanted nothing to do with power. She’d shown it time and time again. She’d turned down the opportunity to be the Roman Empress several weeks ago. And she loved Ancient Rome

 

“But you could,” Finch said, never breaking eye contact with Katelyn. Oh, he never blinked, that’s what made him creepy. “You could make reality kind. How many lives could you save as a god?”

 

“Not enough,” she whispered. But the Doctor was not standing as firm.

 

“I could save everyone,” the Doctor realized. He… he should stop this, but… but if he didn’t?

 

“Doctor, don't listen to him-” Sarah tried. Finch walked around the Doctor, over toward the humans.

 

“And you could be with him throughout eternity,” he said. “Young, fresh, never wither, never age, never die. Their lives are so fleeting. So many goodbyes.” Finch turned back to the Doctor and Katelyn. “How lonely you must be, Time Lords. Join us.”

 

“I could stop the war,” the Doctor whispered. What could he do with all that power? No. The better question was what couldn’t he do? 

 

Gallifrey, shining and back in the sky. 

 

Rose Tyler, forever at his side, if she wanted. 

 

He could open the walls between worlds, let Katelyn go back home. Answer the question of who she was.

 

How many companions had he lost? He could save them all with that power.

 

“No.” Sarah Jane Smith’s firm voice broke into his thoughts in a way Katelyn’s shaking one had not. “The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love.” Finch dropped his head, broke eye contact. The Doctor lowly looked over to Sarah. And Rose, standing over her shoulder, looking so concerned. “Whether it's a world, or a relationship, everything has its time. And everything ends.” 

 

The Doctor eyes trailed over to the board, where the Skasis Paradigm was on full display. Suddenly, he was angry. A deep, burning rage that only the most evil in the universe could provoke in him. 

 

The Krillitanes were about to learn why he was called the Oncoming Storm. 

 

The Doctor ran forward, grabbed a chair and threw it through the board before he could regret it. Finch hissed. “Out!” the Doctor shouted, running and praying the human followed.

 

<...>

 

We ran down toward the entrance, but Mickey met us halfway. There were still a few shards of glass clinging to his jacket, which was to be expected when one drove through a glass wall, and one of the kids was trailing behind him. Kenny, I remembered. Kenny had been sent to Finch’s office a few time for “misbehavior” which was really just non-compliance. Good kid.

 

“What is going on?” Mickey asked, falling into step with the Doctor. We tried going down one hallway, but the Krillitanes were coming from that way. We spun as fast as we could and took off in the other direction.

 

They were fast, but the school’s narrow hallways were not conducive to flying, so we were faster. We ran into, and most of the way across the cafeteria. The door on the other side was locked. The Doctor started searching his pocket for his sonic. 

 

Finch three the door open so hard it hit that wall. Three Krillitaines flew in after him. We all froze and turned to him, crouching, on edge, ready to fight.

 

“Are they my teachers?” Kenny asked.

 

“Yeah. Sorry,” the Doctor said.

 

“We need the Time Lords alive,” Finch commanded. “As for the others? You can feast.”

 

The Krillitanes dove. We dove too, except to hide under the tables. The Doctor picked up a chair and started swinging. Rose kicked at one that got to close. I’m pretty sure Mickey screamed again. 

 

Suddenly a laser beam shot one of the Krillitanes, and it fell to the ground. Finch started screeching this horrible, grating noise. I covered my ears.

 

“K9!” Sarah shoute. I looked up to see K9 roll in and fire randomly into the air.

 

“Suggest you engage running mode, mistress,” he said in his adorable little robot voice. We all scrambled back to our feet and ran.

 

“K9, hold them back!” the Doctor shouted over his shoulder.

 

“Affirmative, master.” We ran out the door. The Doctor sealed it behind us.

 

We ran all the way back to the Doctor’s classroom, where we locked but didn’t barricade the doors. We sat down, just thinking for a moment.

 

I can’t believe I… Back when the Paradigm was still on the wall… I’d very nearly let the Doctor take it. I wanted so badly to let him have that. Not the power, but the relief. I hadn’t tried to stop him. I wouldn’t have.

 

Maybe I didn’t want the power for myself. But was compliancy any better?

 

“It's the oil,” the Doctor said out of nowhere. Rose and I shot to our feet. “Krillitane life forms can't handle the oil. That's it! They've changed their physiology so often, even their own oil is toxic to them. How much was there in the kitchens?”

 

“Barrels of it,” Rose said.

 

The Krillitanes started battering at the door.

 

“Okay, we need to get to the kitchens,” the Doctor said. “Mickey-” 

 

“What now, hold the coats?” he complained.

 

“Get all the children unplugged and out of the school,” the Doctor ordered.

 

“I’ll go with Mickey. The kids know me,” I offered. The Doctor nodded, never looking away from the door.

 

“Now then, bats, bats, bats. How do we fight bats?” the Doctor asked. Kenny jammed his elbow into the fire alarm. On the other side of the door, the Krillitane screeched in pain. The Doctor laughed and soniced the door open. 

 

Mickey and I peeled off from the main group immediately, running into the nearest classroom. The fire alarm stopped.

 

“Okay, listen, everyone. We've got to get out of here!” Mickey shouted. The children didn’t react, hear him, or notice when he walked forward and waved his hand in front of their face.

 

“They’re hardwired in,” I explained. Mickey ran to the teacher’s computer and started typing. 

 

“Even if I can get in here, it’ll take too long,” Mickey explained. We both stopped dead in our frantic movements. We made eye contact.

 

“Power cable!” we shouted, running toward the other end of the room. Mickey got there first, and yanked the cable out of the wall. It sparked a few times, and all the computers went dead.

 

“Everyone get out. Now!” Mickey repeated. The children threw their headsets off and ran for the doors. 

 

“Tell everyone else to get out!” I shouted. “Check every classroom. There’s a fire and the alarm broke!” The children moved a little faster at that.

 

We waited until every child was out of the room, then ran and checked every classroom we could on our own way out. Each and every one was empty. I prayed that was true of the whole school. 

 

The crowd outside certainly looked the same size as the crowd that waited to get in every morning. 

 

“Miss Laurin!” someone shouted. I turned in a wild circle, searching. That had certainly been an adult’s voice… and that accent…

 

The antique store woman was standing at the back of the crowd, waving to me. I wormed my way through the children, back to her. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, I don’t know where-”

 

I was interrupted by the school exploding. The children immediately started cheering. One shouted “Kenny blew up the school!”, which turned the cheers into chants of Kenny’s name.

 

“Nina didn’t go in to school today,” the woman said. I turned back around, not bothering to hide the relief on my face. “And I think you’ll find, if you do a headcount, that every student is present and accounted for.” She was smiling so kindly, I had to believe her.

 

“How-how do you know,” I had to ask. She just smiled a little wider, eyes sparkling with secrets.

 

“Oh, look, here come your friends,” she said. I turned to see the others coming toward me, and when I turned back, the woman was gone.

 

<...>

 

I’d climbed onto my TARDIS strut to think (Read: brood) while the Doctor moved it and called Sarah Jane. Mickey had not been a fan of the trip, but seemed fine now, chatting with Rose while we waited.

 

The door creaked open, and Sarah Jane walked in.

 

“You've redecorated,” she noticed.

 

“Do you like it?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Oh, I, I do. Yeah,” Sarah said, walking around. “I preferred it as it was, but er, yeah. It'll do.”

 

“I love it,” Rose said. I leaned back on my perch, just to feel the TARDIS hum her joy a little louder. 

 

“Hey, you what's forty seven times three hundred and sixty nine?” Sarah asked Rose.

 

“No idea,” Rose sid happily. “It's gone now. The oil's faded.”

 

“But you're still clever,” Sarah said fondly. “More than a match for him.”

 

“You and me both. Doctor?” Rose prompted. 

 

“Um, we're about to head off, but you could come with us,” he offered, smiling. 

 

“We’ll have to add you to the breakfast roster,” I added. Sarah laughed quietly, but shook her head.

 

“No,” she breathed. “I can't do this anymore.” Rose and the Doctor’s smiles faded. “Besides, I've got a much bigger adventure ahead. Time I stopped waiting for you and found a life of my own.”

 

“Can I come?” Mickey asked. Sarah gave him a Look™. “No, not with you,” Mickey clarified. “I mean with you.” The Doctor stood up straighter. “Because I'm not the tin dog, and I want to see what's out there.”

 

“Oh, go on, Doctor,” Sarah said. “Sarah Jane Smith, a Mickey Smith. You need a Smith on board.”

 

“Okay then, I could do with a laugh,” the Doctor said.

 

“Oi! I’m the comic relief here!” I protested.

 

“48 slip-ups,” the Doctor sing-songed.

 

“I’m going to strangle you with your tie,” I deadpanned. “‘Oi’ shouldn’t count.”

 

“Rose, is that okay?” Mickey asked. Rose wouldn’t meet his eyes.

 

“Oh, yeah, Katelyn threatens the Doctor’s life at least once a day,” Rose said. That wasn’t what Mickey was asking about, and we all knew it, but no one commented.

 

“Well, I'd better go,” Sarah Jane announced. She hugged Rose goodbye, whispered something to her, and turned to leave. I waved from my perch. The Doctor saw her out.

 

“Hey, Mickey!” I called. He looked up at me. “I wasn’t kidding about the breakfast roster.”

 

Chapter Text

We went right from saying goodbye to Sarah Jane to the next adventure. Rose got over herself pretty quickly, and by the time we’d landed, everyone was back to normal. The TARDIS materialised with a softer landing than usual. The Doctor stepped out first, Mickey then Rose then me trailing behind him. It made sense the Time Lord wanted to go first. The softest landings sometimes meant the most immediate danger on the other side of the doors.

 

Except no one was in physical danger this time. My Plans for today had nothing to do with saving lives. Just as well since I seemed to be pretty shit at that. How could I have forgotten the teachers?

 

Team TARDIS stepped out onto into the cockpit of a spaceship with a long central computer, a lot of clutter, and not much else. 

 

“It's a spaceship. Brilliant!” Mickey said. “I got a spaceship on my first go.”

 

“It looks kind of abandoned,” Rose observed. “Anyone on board?”

 

“Nah, nothing here,” the Doctor dismissed without checking. “Well, nothing dangerous. Well, not that dangerous. You know what, I'll just have a quick scan, in case there's anything dangerous.” Rose smiled and walked forward to lean on the computer. 

 

“So, what's the date? How far’ve we gone?” Rose asked.

 

“About three thousand years into your future, give or take,” the Doctor offered. I checked my watch, which listed the year as 5028, which meant- “Fifty first century,” the Doctor confirmed. I sucked in a pained breath, but it was hidden under the sound of the lights coming on. Any other thoughts of Jack disappeared as the ceiling opened up to the stars. “Dagmar Cluster,” the Doctor continued. “You're a long way from home, Mickey. Two and a half galaxies.”

 

“Mickey Smith, meet the universe,” Rose said, walking up behind him and leaning. “See anything you like?”

 

“It's so realistic!” he gasped.

 

“That would be because it’s real, Mickey,” I deadpanned. Rose rolled her eyes at me and started walking around.

 

“Dear me, had some cowboys in here,” the Doctor said. “Got a ton of repair work going on.” He picked up a piece of metal and then tossed it back down in favor of pointing at the one working computer. “Now that's odd. Look at that. All the warp engines are going. Full capacity. There's enough power running through this ship to punch a hole in the universe-”

 

That seems dangerous,” I interjected.

 

“-But we're not moving,” the Doctor continued like I’d said nothing. “So where's all that power going?”

 

“Where'd all the crew go?” Rose asked.

 

“Good question,” the Doctor praised, typing away. “No life readings on board.” 

 

“Well, we're in deep space. They didn't just nip out for a quick fag,” Rose said.

 

“No, I've checked all the smoking pods,” the Doctor said, oblivious to sarcasm. 

 

I raised my head, the smell finally hitting me. “Have I gone crazy, or is someone barbecuing?” I asked.

 

“I can smell it,” the Doctor said.

 

“Yeah, someone's cooking,” Rose agreed.

 

“Sunday roast, though,” Mickey added, sounding excited. I swallowed some bile that had risen into my throat.

 

The Doctor hit a button on the computer, and the wall behind us opened. We all walked over and into the room it revealed. The far wall was wood panelled with a lit fireplace and a clock on the mantle. It stood out like a sore thumb against the dirty greys of the rest of the ship.

 

“Well, there's something you don't see in your average spaceship,” the Doctor said, walking forward. “Eighteenth century. French. Nice mantle.” He pulled out the sonic and scanned it over. “Not a hologram. It's not even a reproduction. This actually is an eighteenth century French fireplace.” Rose looked out a nearby window, and made a confused face. “Double sided. There's another room through there,” the Doctor observed.

 

I walked over and crouched beside him. If my goal for today was to get on Madame de Pompadour's good side instead of the Doctor, I might as well start as soon as I could. She was already sitting on the other side, close to the fire and looking very confused. I smiled at her.

 

“There can't be,” Rose said. “That's the outer hull of the ship. Look.”

 

“Hello,” the Doctor and I said together.

 

“Hello?” the little girl responded, sounding just as confused as she looked. 

 

“What's your name?” the Doctor asked.

 

“Reinette,” she answered.

 

“Reinette, that's a wonderful name,” I said. Mickey and Rose came over and peered into the fireplace. “Much better than my name. Can I ask where you are, Reinette?”

 

“In my bedroom,” she said, like that was exactly what we should expect her to say.

 

“And where's your bedroom?” the Doctor prompted. “Where do you live, Reinette?” Reinette looked very confused.

 

“Paris, of course,” she said.

 

“Of course,” I agreed.

 

“Monsieur, Madame, what are you doing in my fireplace?” Reinette asked.

 

“Oh, it's just a routine...fire check,” the Doctor tried. Rose shot me a very fond ‘look at this dumbass’ look. I rolled my eyes. “Can you tell me what year it is?”

 

“Bien sûr, je peux,” Reinette said. Of course I can. “Seventeen hundred and twenty seven.”

 

“Right, lovely. One of my favourites,” the Doctor said. “August is rubbish though. Stay indoors. Okay, that's all for now. Thanks for your help. Hope you enjoy the rest of the fire.” The Doctor stood up. 

 

“Bonne nuit et dors bien,” I said. Good night and sleep well.

 

“Bonne nuit, Madame,” Reinette answered. I stood as well.

 

“You said this was the fifty first century,” Mickey said.

 

“I also said this ship was generating enough power to punch a hole in the universe,” the Doctor said. “I think we just found the hole. Must be a spatio-temporal hyperlink.”

 

“What's that?” Mickey asked, voice full of wonder.

 

“No idea” the Doctor admitted. “Just made it up. Didn't want to say magic door. 

 

“And on the other side of the magic door -” Rose emphasized the words. “-is France in 1727?” The Doctor nodded.

 

“Well, she was speaking French. Right period French, too,” the Doctor said. He walked over to smoke exposed piping threw his coat in it, and marched back.

 

“She was speaking English, I heard her,” Mickey protested.

 

“That's the TARDIS,” Rose explained. “Translates for you.”

 

“Even French?” Mickey cried.

 

“When it works. The translation circuit’s not usually on the fritz.” I said. The Doctor looked over from the fireplace, hand hovering over the switch I knew was there. 

 

“What?” he asked. I looked around the group, but the other humans just looked confused.

 

“Was she not switching back and forth from English to French?” I asked. Mickey and Rose shook their heads. 

 

“Pouvez-vous comprendre ce que je dis?” the Doctor asked. 

 

“Of course I can understand you- oh.” I stared at the wall, as memory upon memory of pointing and asking my dad what that was in French flooded back into my brain. 

 

“So um, fun fact,” I said, voice cracking. “I can speak French. Turns out.”

 

“Gotcha!” the Doctor cried. He flipped the switch, and the fireplace rotated. I was still standing on it, and turned into Reniette’s bedroom with him. 

 

Reinette was fast asleep. The Doctor walked as quietly as he could and looked out the window. It was snowing, and the sun was just about to rise. A horse passed under the window, and the floor creaked without either the Doctor or I moving. Reinette woke with a gasp.

 

“Shh,” I whispered, stepping slowly forward. “It's okay. It's just us. The - the fireplace people.” We walked closer to Reinette, who wisely moved as far away from us as she could on her bed. 

 

The Doctor lit a candle on the bedside table with the sonic. We smiled as soon as the light touched our faces. Reinette looked marginally less scared. “We were talking just a moment ago,” the Doctor said. “We were in your fireplace.”

 

“Monsieur, Madame,” Reniette began, looking back and forth between us. “That was weeks ago. That was months.”

 

“Really?” the Doctor asked, walking back toward the fireplace.

 

“May I sit here?” I asked, gesturing to the bed. Reinette nodded, so I did.

 

“Must be a loose connection,” the Doctor continued from the other side of the room. “Need to get a man in.” 

 

“Who are you?” Reinette asked me. “Who is he? And what are you doing here?”

 

“We’re…” I hesitated. My normal answer of ‘we’re travellers and we’ll help if we can’ was probably not my best option here. I looked over at the Doctor, who had just noticed the broken clock. “We’re here to protect you,” I decided, taking one of her hands in both of mine. “I promise as long as one of us is with you, nothing will hurt you.” Reniette looked even more confused than she had before I’d answered.

 

“Okay, that's scary,” the Doctor said quietly. Reinette looked past me to the Doctor.

 

“You're scared of a broken clock?” she asked.

 

“Just a bit scared, yeah. Just a little tiny bit,” the Doctor said. “Because, you see, if this clock's broken, and it's the only clock in the room-” He looked around to confirm. “-then what's that?” The steady tick-tock-tick-tock seemed to get louder when we actually listened for it. I pulled my legs onto the bed and threw an arm around Reniette’s shoulders.

 

“Because, you see, that's not a clock,” the Doctor continued, coming toward us. “You can tell by the resonance. Too big. Six feet, I'd say. The size of a man.”

 

“Doc,” I hissed.

 

“What is it?” Reinette asked. Her eyes kept darting around the room, like she was desperate to find the potential danger.

 

“Now, let's think. If you were a thing that ticked and you were hiding in someone's bedroom, first thing you do, break the clock,” the Doctor continued, locking eyes with me. “No one notices the sound of one clock ticking, but two?” I jerked my head down. “You might start to wonder if you're really alone.” He looked under the bed, slowly reaching in his pocket for the sonic. “Stay on the bed. Right in the middle. Don't put your hands or feet over the edge.” 

 

The Doctor waved the sonic under the bed for a moment. Something knocks it out of his hand, and pushed him back. I turned and glared at the clockwork android that had stood up on the other side of bed.

 

“Reinette,” I asked quietly, not taking my eyes off the clockwork man. “When you’re with your friends and someone tells a scary story, what do you do?” The Doctor stood up slowly behind me.

 

“Madame, I do not understand,” she whispered in fear.

 

“Just tell me-” I squeezed her hand I was holding. “When the story gets scary, do you close your eyes or do you look around?”

 

“Madame, I look around.”

 

“Ok then, Reinette.” I glared at the repair android. “Look around.” Reinette turned slowly. “You, stay exactly where you are.” 

 

There was a pulse in the air, something so light it only brushed through the world. But it tried to worm its way inside my mind, so I glared harder and shored up my mental defenses. 

 

“You've been scanning her brain?” I asked, even though it wasn’t a question.

 

“What, you've crossed two galaxies and thousands of years just to scan a child's brain?” the Doctor asked the clockwork android. “What could there be in a little girl's mind worth blowing a hole in the universe?”

 

“I don't understand,” Reinette said. “You want me?” The droid snapped his head to look at Reinette.

 

“Not yet. You are incomplete,” it droned.

 

“Incomplete? What's that mean, incomplete?” the Doctor asked. The droid remained silent. “You can answer her, you can answer me,” the Doctor demanded, standing again and pointing the sonic. “What do you mean, incomplete?”

 

The android walked jerkily around the bed and raised its arm to the Doctor. A blade comes out of its hand, a few inches from the Doctor’s neck. He didn’t flinch, which was really impressive.

 

“Monsieur, be careful!” Reinette cried. I stood up quickly from the bed, using the momentum to pull the Doctor back a bit, just as the droid swung again.

 

“Just a nightmare, Reinette, don't worry about it,” the Doctor assured, stepping back, holding his arm out to keep me behind him. The droid slashed again, and we ducked out of the way. “Everyone has nightmares. Even monsters from under the bed have nightmares, don't you, monster?” The android swung. We ducked to both sides. The blade stuck in the mantlepiece. 

 

“What do monsters have nightmares about?” Reinette asked.

 

The Doctor flicked the switch and the fireplace rotated again.

 

“Me!” we cried.

 

“Doctor! Katelyn!” Rose cried as soon as we were back on her side.

 

The Doctor grabbed a tube-gun-thing from a nearby rack and fired its contents over the android. I grabbed the second one, but waited. The android seized up.

 

“Excellent,” Mickey said. “Ice gun.”

 

“Extincteur d'incendie,” I corrected.

 

“Which translates to fire extinguisher,” the Doctor said, tossing his to Rose. She settled in on her hip, ready to use it if needed.

 

“Where did that thing come from?” she asked.

 

“Here,” the Doctor answered. He stepped forward to get a better look.

 

“So why is it dressed like that?” Mickey asked.

 

“Field trip to France. Some kind of basic camouflage protocol,” the Doctor explained. “Nice needlework, shame about the face.” He took the droid’s mask off to reveal the clockwork underneath. “Oh, you are beautiful!” He slipped the glasses on. I walked around the droid to stand next to Rose. “No, really, you are. You're gorgeous! Look at that. Space age clockwork, I love it. I've got chills! Listen, seriously, I mean this from the heart, and, by the way, count those, it would be a crime, it would be an act of vandalism to disassemble you. But that won't stop me.” 

 

I raised my fire extinguisher, but the droid teleported away before I could fire.

 

“Short range teleport,” the Doctor said. “Can't have got far. Could still be on board.”

 

“Well, it’s either on board or in deep space,” I reminded him, putting the gun back on the wall, and stepping toward the fireplace.

 

“What is it?” Rose asked. 

 

I found the switch under the fireplace, and flipped it before the Doctor could step back on. The room I entered was not a little girl's room. The bed was in the same place, but other than that, everything was new. I walked over to harp and played a few notes. Luckily for my sanity, I didn’t suddenly remember how to play the harp.

 

Honestly, how could I forget knowing an entire language? A language I knew so well, apparently, that I could switch back and forth with no effort. I’d thought I was getting better. I’d thought I’d known who I was. 

 

Maybe I’d just always be a mystery. Mysteries were fun, right?

 

Across the room, someone cleared their throat.

 

I turned to see Reinette again. She was much older, although I couldn’t tell how old. 17? 18? Certainly around my age.

 

“Hello,” I said. “Sorry, I was just looking for Reinette?” Reinette smiled a secret smile, like she very much enjoyed keeping me in the dark. “Is still her room? I've been away, not sure how long.”

 

“Reinette!” a woman called from another room. “We're ready to go.”

 

“Go to the carriage, Mother,” Reinette called over her shoulder, smile only growing. “I will join you there. It is customary, I think, to have an imaginary friend only during one's childhood.” She stepped closer, and I was suddenly aware that she was very pretty.

 

Goddamn you, I cursed myself. Now is not the time to be a disaster bisexual.

 

“You are to be congratulated on your persistence,” Reinette finished.

 

“Reinette,” I acknowledged. “Good to see you’re safe. And an adult.”

 

“And you do not appear to have aged a single day,” Reinette said, stepping closer. I stepped back toward the fireplace on instinct. “That is tremendously impolite of you.”

 

“Sorry,” I said, only just managing to keep my cool. “Um, great to talk, but I should be off. Don't want your mother finding you up here with a stranger.” Why the fuck would I say that?

 

“How could you be a stranger to me?” Reinette asked, crowding me against the fireplace. “I've known you since I was seven years old.”

 

“I came the quick route,” I managed. Reinette reached up and touched my cheek. Were hands usually that warm? Unfortunately, I was on the other side of the fireplace from the switch, and could not escape. 

 

“You seem to be flesh and blood, at any rate, but this is absurd,” Reinette marveled. “Reason tells me you cannot be real.”

 

“Well, you never want to listen to reason,” I said. “Reason’s so boring.”

 

“Mademoiselle!” a voice called. “Your mother grows impatient.”

 

“A moment!” Reinette called back. “So many questions. So little time.”

 

Reinette decided to use that time to push my hips against the fireplace and kiss me. She was… she was very good at it, and some long buried instinct had me kissing back, had hands reaching to hold her face and waist. 

 

“Mademoiselle Poisson!” the voice called again. Reinette pulled away with a self-satisfied smile and ran out the door, grabbing whatever she’d come back to the room to get on her way out.

 

I swallowed hard, fumbling for the switch behind on the mantelpiece behind me and hitting it. 

 

“Poisson,” I squeaked as soon as I was back on the ship. The Doctor looked up from the computer he was working on and stared.

 

“Poisson?” he repeated.

 

“Reinette Poisson,” I clarified. “French courtesan, future mistress to Louis XV. She grew up, and she remembered me.” The Doctor paused, letting that information sink in, and no doubt trying to figure out why I looked so rumpled. A smile that bordered on a smirk spread across his face.

 

“Did you snog Madame de Pompadour?” he laughed.

 

“She snogged me,” I said, still trying to remember how to breathe. It had been a while since I’d been kissed like that. Wait. Had I ever been kissed like that?

 

“49,” the Doctor sang.

 

“I hate you,” I said. My brain fizzled back on, and I noticed we were the only ones in the room. “Where did the humans go?”

 

The Doctor’s smile faded. He turned in a circle, apparently only just noticing he was alone. 

 

“Rose! Mickey!” he called. They didn’t answer. “Every time. Come on.” He started walking away, and I made my shaky legs follow him. “Every time, it's rule one. Don't wander off. I tell them, I do.” 

 

“You didn’t tell me,” I said.

 

“You, of all people, should know,” the Doctor said. “There could be anything on this ship.”

 

And that was when we walked into the horse.

 

<...>

 

Several human-less corridors and about ten minutes later, the Doctor was starting to get irritated.

 

“Rose?” he called for the 200,000th time.

 

“Mickey?” I added, for fairness.

 

The horse clopped along behind us. I was making an effort not to get attached. The Doctor stopped walking with a loud sigh, and turned to the horse.

 

“Will you stop following us? I'm not your mother,” he said. The horse snorted and nuzzled at the Doctor’s sleeve. The Doctor sighed and kept walking. 

 

“Just ignore the mean old Time Lord, Arthur,” I cooed, giving him the pat he so clearly wanted. Then I cursed. Here I was, trying not to get attached, and I’d gone and named the fucking horse.

 

“Katelyn!” I jogged to catch up with the Doctor. “I think I found where the horse came from.” He pulled open a pair of white wooden doors, and we stepped out into bright summer light. 

 

Reinette walked by immediately, giggling, arm in arm with another woman. “Oh, Catherine, you are too wicked”. She turned around, and we dropped to the ground to hide from her.

 

“You’re blushing,” the Doctor whispered. I punched his arm hard enough that he shut up.

 

“Oh, speaking of wicked,” Katherine said. “I hear Madame de Chateauroux is ill and close to death.” The Doctor and I stood back up and watched.

 

“Yes. I am devastated,” Reinette deadpanned. 

 

“Oh, indeed. I myself am frequently inconsolable,” Katherine said dramatically. The two women giggled for a bit. “The King will therefore be requiring a new mistress. You love the King, of course?”

 

“He is the King, and I love him with all my heart,” Reinette said. “And I look forward to meeting him.” 

 

A bird called, and the Doctor and I dropped to the grass again.

 

“Is something wrong, my dear?” Katherine asked.

 

“Not wrong, no,” Reinette said. When we stood back up, Reinette, had turned back around and was walking away.

 

“You’re still blushing,” the Doctor teased. I turned and walked back through the doors we’d come from.

 

“Another word, and they will find your body in that pond tomorrow,” I deadpanned. The Doctor chuckled behind me.

 

“With all the time jumping we’re doing today, that’s the least threatening thing you could have said.”

 

It didn’t take us much longer to find Rose and Mickey. They were about two hallways away, watching another scene of Reniette’s life play out.

 

“Blimey, look at this guy,” Mickey said as Louis XV walked in. “Who does he think he is?”

 

“The King of France,” the Doctor said, moving to stand in the middle of Rose and Mickey. I allowed the smile I normally would have hidden spread across my face. Territorial old Time Lord.

 

“Oh, here's trouble,” Rose said. “What you two been up to?”

 

“Oh, this and that,” the Doctor dismissed. “We became the imaginary friend of a future French aristocrat, I picked a fight with a clockwork man.” The Doctor sniffed. “Katelyn snogged Madame de Pompadour.” I looked up at the ceiling, begging God to smite me where I stood. It would be less embarrassing. Arthur neighed. “Oh, and we met a horse.”

 

“Katelyn did what?” Rose cried, delighted.

 

“What's a horse doing on a spaceship?” Mickey asked. Mercifully, the Doctor ignored Rose’s question in favor of making fun of Mickey.

 

“Mickey, what's pre-Revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective,” the Doctor sassed. “See these? They're all over the place. On every deck. Gateways to history. But not just any old history-” Reinette picked the perfect time to enter. “-hers. Time windows deliberately arranged along the life of one particular woman. A spaceship from the fifty first century stalking a woman from the eighteenth. Why?”

 

“Who is she?” Rose asked.

 

“Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, known to her friends as Reinette,” the Doctor answered. “One of the most accomplished women who ever lived.”

 

“Choice snogging partner, Katelyn,” Rose teased. I groaned and buried my face in my hands. God, I was never going to live this down, was I? “So has she got plans of being the Queen, then?”

 

“No, he's already got a Queen,” the Doctor said. “She's got plans of being his mistress.”

 

“Oh, I get it,” Rose drawled, smirking. “Camilla.” Mickey laughed. I decided not to say I had no idea why that was funny. Rose had enough on me already.

 

“I think this is the night they met,” the Doctor said, gesturing to the window. “The night of the Yew Tree ball. In no time flat, she'll get herself established as his official mistress, with her own rooms at the palace. Even her own title.”

 

“Madame de Pompadour,” I finished for him. Reinette came over to the window and checked her reflection. “It’s funny, I grew up knowing her name, but I couldn’t tell you why.” 

 

“You were fated to meet,” Rose said dramatically. I almost laughed at that one. No, this exact scenario was the reason I’d grown up with Reinette’s name in my head. “The Queen must have loved her,” she added when I ignored her.

 

“No, she did. They get on very well,” the Doctor said.

 

“The King's wife and the King's girlfriend?” Mickey asked.

 

“France,” the Doctor mused. “It's a different planet.”

 

“Actually, on Earth, polygyny is more common than monogamy,” I added. “Your culture is statistically abnormal.” I left Mick to stew that over, grabbing his fire extinguisher and walking through the window just as Reinette noticed the clockwork droid

 

“Hello, Reinette. Hasn't time flown?” I said as I passed her.

 

“Fireplace woman!” she cried. I sprayed the android until it’s gears clicked frozen, and then threw the extinguisher back to Mickey. After only a second, the android creaked.

 

“What's it doing?” Mickey asked.

 

“Switching back on. Melting the ice,” the Doctor explained. Reinette spun around.

 

“Fireplace man?” she asked. 

 

“And then what?” Mickey said, like he knew he wouldn’t like the answer.

 

“It kills everyone in the room, right, Doctor?” I said, backing up as the droid reached out. 

 

“Yep,” he said, stepping level with me. “Who are you? Identify yourself.” The only indication the droid gave that it had heard was the slight tilt of its head. The Doctor groaned and turned to Reinette. “Order it to answer me.”

 

“Why should it listen to me?” Reinette asked. 

 

“I don't know. It did when you were a child,” the Doctor explained. I walked to Reinette’s other side, really trying to ignore how her gaze followed me.

 

“Answer his question,” Reinette said to the droid. “Answer any and all questions put to you.”

 

“I am repair droid seven,” the droid said.

 

“What happened to the ship, then?” the Doctor asked. “There was a lot of damage.”

 

“Ion storm,” the droid answered. “Eighty two percent systems failure.”

 

“That ship hasn't moved in over a year,” the Doctor said. “What's taken you so long?”

 

“We did not have the parts,” the droid droned. I shivered. Only Rose and Reinette noticed. Reinette looked confused, but reached for my hand anyway. I let her.

 

“Always comes down to that, doesn't it?” Mickey laughed. “The parts.”

 

“What's happened to the crew?” the Doctor asked. “Where are they?”

 

“We did not have the parts,” the droid repeated.

 

“There should have been over fifty people on your ship. Where did they go?” the Doctor insisted. 

 

“We did not have the parts,” I said in unison with the droid. Everyone turned to me.

 

“You didn't have the parts, so you used the crew,” I revealed, feeling sick.

 

“The crew?” Mickey asked. Slow horror spread across Rose’s face.

 

“We found a camera with an eye in it,” she said slowly. “And there was a heart wired in to machinery.” Mickey face was slowly shifted to match Rose’s. Reinette’s grip on my hand tightened.

 

“It was just doing what it was programmed to,” the Doctor said. “Repairing the ship any way it can, with whatever it could find. No one told it the crew weren't on the menu. What did you say the flight deck smelt of?”

 

“Someone cooking,” Rose said quietly.

 

“Flesh plus heat.” The Doctor turned to me, and gave me the ‘I know you know’ look. “Barbeque.” I nodded. “But what are you doing here?” the Doctor asked the repair droid. “You've opened up time windows. That takes colossal energy. Why come here? You could have gone to your repair yard. Instead you come to eighteenth century France? Why?”

 

“One more part is required,” the droid said, snapping her head toward Reinette. I pulled her back and stepped in front of her.

 

“Then why haven't you taken it?” I asked.

 

“She is incomplete,” the droid said.

 

“What, so, that's the plan, then?” the Doctor asked. “Just keep opening up more and more time windows, scanning her brain, checking to see if she's done yet?”

 

“Why her?” Rose asked. “You've got all of history to choose from. Why specifically her?”

 

“We are the same,” the droid said. 

 

“We are not the same. We are in no sense the same,” Reinette snapped.

 

“We are the same,” the droid repeated.

 

“Get out of here,” Reinette shouted. “Get out of here this instant!”

 

“Reinette, no!” the Doctor and I said. The droid teleported away.

 

“It's back on the ship,” the Doctor said. “Rose, take Mickey and Arthur. Get after it. Follow it. Don't approach it, just watch what it does. I’ll be with you in a second.”

 

“Arthur?” Rose asked as she walked out.

 

“Good name for a horse,” I defended.

 

“No,” Rose said, looking between the Doctor and I. “You're not keeping the horse.”

 

“I let you keep Mickey,” the Doctor said. “Now go! Go! Go!” The Doctor closed the mirror-door behind Mickey and Rose. “Katelyn can you-”

 

“Me?” I asked. He wanted me to go in Reinette’s mind?

 

“You’re…” the Doctor hesitated. “You’re telepathy is stronger than mine,” he admitted.

 

“It is?” I asked. The Doctor only nodded. “Ok, that’s a conversation for another time. Go.” I made a shooing motion, and the Doctor disappeared through the mirror-door. Turned back to Reinette. “Reinette, I need to find out what they're looking for.” I raised my hands to either side of her face. Stronger telepathy had nothing on experience, and I had never done this before. Oh well, just another trial by fire. “This won't hurt,” I promised. 

 

I pressed my fingers to Reinette’s temples and pressed my mind into hers. It was… a weird feeling to be out of your mind and in another’s. I imagined myself a body, because I had to in order to move around. Reinette’s thoughts were a maelstrom of colors around me, only every so often coalescing into something solid enough to make out. I closed my metaphorical eyes.

 

“Fireplace woman, you are inside my mind,” Reinette breathed.

 

“It’s a bit chaotic,” I said, pushing toward the back of her thoughts, were I thought her memories would be.

 

“You are in my memories. You walk among them,” she said. 

 

“If there's anything you don't want me to see, just imagine a door and close it,” I said, the exact sentence I’d heard the Doctor say the two times I’d watched him do this. “I won't look. Like that one.” Distantly, I felt my cheeks heat up. “You might want to clo-” I swallowed hard and made a conscious effort to look away from the… ‘memory’. “Reinette, please, I have to concentrate.” She giggled, but the doors closed.

 

“To walk among the memories of another living soul. Do you ever get used to this?”she asked. There , just to the left of her most recent memories, was something that was not made of either of us.

 

“I’ve never done it before,” I said. 

 

“How can you resist?” Reinette asked.

 

“How old are you?” I asked. 

 

“So impertinent a question so early in the conversation,” Reinette teased. “How promising.”

 

“No, that’s their question,” I corrected, purposefully ignoring her tone. “You're twenty three and for some reason, that means you're not old enough.” Reinette flinched suddenly, and I pressed my fingers tighter. Technically, I’d found what I needed, but getting out was just as complicated as getting in. I might have bumped something. “Sorry, I think that was some old memories reawakening. Must be a side effect.”

 

“So many holes,” Reinette whispered.

 

“It'll pass,” I promised, distracted by making sure I didn’t bump anything else. “Stay with me.”

 

“Oh, Katelyn,” Reinette whispered. I tore my hands from her face and opened my eyes, uncaring of the awful feeling of being ripped from her mind. Reinette’s eyes were open and earnest in a way that kept me from backing away. “Useless?” she asked. “Alone? Wrong? How can you see yourself like that? Oh, but Katelyn, you are wonderful.”

 

“I’m- How did you do that?” I whispered. How had I not noticed? How had she gotten through walls even trained and aggressive telepaths could not?

 

“A door, once opened, can be stepped through in either direction,” Reinette explained softly. She reached out and grabbed my hands. “Oh, Katelyn. My lonely angel. Dance with me.”

 

“I-I have to go back,” I protested. “The-the Doctor-”

 

“He can wait. Dance with me,” Reinette repeated, leaning closer.

 

“Th-he King,” I tried. Reinette smiled and started tugging on my hands. I followed, despite not really wanting to.

 

“He can wait too,” Reinette said.

 

“I can't go out there, please,” I whispered. “I’m awful at parties.”

 

“There comes a time, Time Lord, when every lonely little girl must learn how to dance,” Reinette whispered. I didn’t bother to correct her on my species or my dancing, because I knew there was no way to persuade her. I just let her lead me away.

 

Halfway to the ballroom, I shot Rose a text saying what the droids were looking for.

 

<...>

 

“Found her!” Rose said, walking back into the room with the TARDIS and the Doctor and Mickey, dragging Katelyn along behind her. “Doctor! She was at a party,” Rose added. 

 

Katelyn giggled. The Doctor looked up from the computer he was working on, and looked beyond confused.

 

“Go on, pull the other one,” he said.

 

“I’m serious, look at her!” Rose said, pushing Katelyn to stand in front of him. She was a bit wobbly on her feet, and grinning like an absolute loon. 

 

“Doctor!” Katelyn slurred. “Rose est un trésor et un de mes meilleurs amis!” 

 

“And she’s stuck on French,” Rose added. The Doctor laughed. “What did she just say?”

 

“That you’re a treasure and one of her best friends,” the Doctor translated. All true, he had to agree. “Vous n'avez rien de gentil à dire sur moi?” he asked Katelyn. Don't have anything nice to say about me? She looked very thoughtful as she sat down on the nearest flat surface, but said nothing. Good, that would keep a clearly drunk Katelyn occupied for a few minutes.

 

“Did you figure out why they’re scanning her age?” Rose asked. 

 

“This ship is thirty seven years old,” the Doctor explained. The computer had been really helpful once the clockwork droids had run off. “They think that when Reinette is thirty seven, when she's ‘complete’, then her brain will be compatible. That's what they're missing, command circuit. This ship needs a brain.”

 

“Why hers?” Rose asked. The Doctor shrugged.

 

“The brain is compatible,” one of the droids said.

 

“Mickey!” the Doctor scolded. Said human scrambled to flip the repair droid’s off switch back to the ‘off’ position.

 

“Sorry!” Mickey said. “Katelyn’s distracting.” The Doctor looked over to where Katelyn was now leaning heavily on the TARDIS and spouting endless praises at her. The Doctor fought a smile. He should have known Katelyn was a sappy drunk.

 

“Why didn't they just open a time window to when Reinette was thirty seven?” Rose asked.

 

“With the amount of damage to these circuits, they did well to hit the right century,” the Doctor said. He flipped what he thought was the off switch for the windows, but the windows did not close. “Trial and error after that. The windows aren't closing. Why won't they close?”

 

“Champion du temps!” Katelyn declared, as a bell rang.

 

“What's that?” Rose asked.

 

“Well, Katelyn said ‘time’s champion’, for some reason, but I don't know about that bell,” the Doctor said. “Incoming message?”

 

“From who?” Mickey asked.

 

“Report from the field. One of them must still be out there with Reinette!” the Doctor realized. Katelyn giggled at the name, too drunk to realize the situation was serious. “That's why I can't close the windows. There's an override.”

 

The droid off switch moved itself to on again, despite Mickey’s scrambling to keep it on ‘off’. It wouldn’t budge after that.

 

“Right. Many things about this are not good,” the Doctor said. “Message from one of your little friends?” he asked the droid in the corner. “Anything interesting?”

 

“She is complete. It begins,” it declared, before teleporting away.

 

“What's happening?” Rose asked. 

 

“One of them must have found the right time window,” the Doctor said. “Now it's time to send in the troops. And this time they're bringing back her head.” He started pacing. “Right, right, ok. Rose, go back to that music room window we found. Reinette should be about 32 there. Warn her.” Rose nodded and ran off. The Doctor turned to Mickey. “In the TARDIS, in the medbay, fourth cabinet from the door, you’ll find a box labeled ‘detox 6’.” He looked over to where Katelyn had now seated herself on the floor, staring at the opposite wall as if it were the most interesting thing she’d ever seen. “Bring me a syringe.” 

 

<...>

 

I woke up to the sound of screams, a mild headache, and a mouth that tasted vaguely of almonds. My memory got fuzzy somewhere around my third glass of wine, but I could just remember Rose showing up and dragging me away from the party. Oh! That was the almonds! For some reason detox 6 made everything taste like almonds to me.

 

I sat up on the metal grating, and realized exactly when I was. The screams were from the time window, the right one, the one where Reinette was 37. 

 

I shot to my feet, which was a stupid and very dizzying decision. Luckily Rose happened to be right there to catch me.

 

“You found it, then?” she asked the Doctor.

 

“They knew we were coming,” he said, scrambling around. “They blocked it off.”

 

I could see the ballroom through another mirror-window, French noble being pushed around by the repair droids. I let go of Rose and went to find Arthur.

 

“I don't get it,” I heard Rose say. “How come they got in there?”

 

“They teleported. You saw them,” the Doctor said. “As long as the ship and the ballroom are linked, their short range teleports will do the trick.”

 

“Well, we'll go in the TARDIS!” Rose said. I grabbed Arthur’s reigns and guided him back into the room.

 

“We can't use the TARDIS. We're part of events now!” the Doctor said.

 

“Well, can't we just smash through?” Mickey said.

 

“Hyperplex this side, plate glass the other. We need a truck,” the Doctor said.

 

“We don't have a truck,” Mickey said, unnecessarily.

 

“I know we don't have a truck!” the Doctor shouted.

 

“We have a horse,” I offered. The Doctor paused in his frenzied running, eyes going wide.

 

“No,” he said. “Smash the glass, smash the time window. There'd be no way back.”

 

“Then I’m going,” I said firmly, not looking away from the portrait.

 

“You are not-”

 

“Don’t go getting all emotional. It’s logistics , Doctor. Only one of us can fly a TARDIS, and it’s not any of us humans.” With strength I didn’t know I had, I swung myself up onto Arthur’s back. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but breaking the time window would remove this ship from ‘established event’ would it not?” 

 

The Doctor said nothing, clearly not willing to encourage me. Jokes on him, because his silence told me all I needed to know.

 

Could everyone just calm down? ” came Reinette’s voice from the ballroom portrait in front of my. “Please.”

 

“See you on the other side,” I said.

 

I ignored the others’ shouts of protest, stepped Arthur back, and urged him forward. I only knew the absolute basics of riding a horse, which meant I was holding on for dear life with arms and legs. I probably looked significantly less cool than the Doctor would have smashing through that window, especially when I slid from Arthur with exactly no grace and barely managed to land on my feet.

 

“Madame de Pompadour,” I said shakily. “You look younger every day.”

 

“What the hell is going on?” Louis XV demanded. I ignored him and just walked over to Reinette.

 

“Oh. This is my lover, the King of France,” she said. 

 

“Your Majesty.” I curtsied between steps. “Don’t mind me. I'm just here to fix the clock.”

I ripped the mask off the nearest android, the same one from Reinette’s childhood. It pointed its blade at my throat. And it was at that moment I really wished I’d nicked the sonic.

 

“Oh, leave it. It's over,” I said, glancing at the mirror I’d broken. “Talk about seven years bad luck. I broke the link. There’s no way back.” The android had no face, but I could still see its expression when it looked at the wall and saw I wasn’t lying. It pressed its wrist a few times, but the teleport didn’t work. “ You don't have the parts, ” I sneered. “How many ticks left in that clockwork heart, hm?”

 

The androids all wound down, bending over with the lack of power. One of them fell backwards and broke apart. I reached down and helped Reinette to her feet.

 

“You all right?” I asked.

 

“What's happened to them?” she asked.

 

“They've stopped,” I said with a shrug. “They’ve lost. They have no purpose now.”

 

<...>

 

I’d been shooed out of the party by the sheer scandal of the fact that I was wearing pants, which was fine with me. Curled up in a bay window staring out at the stars was a much better way to spend my time.

 

How long would it take the Doctor to get here? Theoretically, he could have left as soon as I’d broken the window. Not that that would help his accuracy in any way. I could only hope he wouldn’t be a century off. Although, I suppose if he’d been a century off, he’d get another shot at actually finding me.

 

“I have often wished to see those stars a little closer,” Reinette said. I turned from the stars and watched her walk over to me. She passed me a glass of wine. “Just as you have, I think.”

 

“We really spend more time on other planets than on stars,” I said. “Although, there are stars cold enough to touch. I keep meaning to ask the Doctor to take me to one.” 

 

“Is ‘the Doctor’ the true name of Fireplace Man?” Reinette asked. 

 

“It’s the one he uses,” I said.

 

“You are of many mysteries,” Reinette said fondly. I smiled, but Reinette’s face stayed serious. “In saving me, you trapped yourself. Did you know that would happen?”

 

“Yes,” I said, “But it’s just for a bit, sorry. The Doctor has… this ship. Assuming he remembers the year, he should be here any day to pick me up.”

 

“You do not have faith in his arrival?” Reinette asked.

 

“Oh, he’ll get here,” I said. “But God only knows when.”

 

“So, here you are,” Reinette said, reaching to touch my cheek again. “My lonely angel, stuck on the slow path with me.” 

 

“Yep.” I popped the P and raised my glass. “Here's to the slow path.” We drank a toast, and I set my glass down next to me on the windowsill.

 

“It's a pity,” Reinette said quietly. “I think I would've enjoyed the slow path.”

 

I smiled at her gently, the first smile like that I’d smiled in… 10 months? 

 

I remembered another time so like this, with another woman. The memory was… soft, but so strong I felt the ache even here and now. I couldn’t see her face.

 

<...>

 

The Doctor was late, of course. I had expected that.

 

That’s why I didn’t argue at all when Reinette dug out an older dress of hers, and demanded I dress for the era. I was a little confused, however, when she insisted I get a title (which ended up being Louis' second official mistress, although he never once even looked at me), and be treated as such by the other occupants of Versailles. I was a lot confused when not one person argued with that. When I said as much to Reinette, she stared like I was from another planet.

 

“How is it you are the smartest woman I know, yet you fail to understand people?” she asked. “All who were at that ball know you saved our lives. What fools would they be to deny you?” 

 

I had kissed her then, because I could and I wanted to and she made a good point. She seemed happy enough with that scenario.

 

It took a month of being stuck in 18th century France for that to start feeling a little weird.

 

It was 7 weeks into my… stay in Versailles when the memories started coming back in earnest. I was walking alone through the gardens, at night. It was something I’d started doing after the first month, when the corsets and the people and the expectations started getting too heavy. At night, no one but the guards walked around the grounds, and the guards didn’t give two shits if I wore a corset or skirts or walked alone.

 

It was nice, having that freedom again. I didn’t even realize how much freedom living on the TARDIS had given me, until I ripped it away by breaking the time window.

 

This particular night, I found a spot in the middle of the gardens, laid down, and enjoyed watching the stars sans light pollution. 

 

And suddenly I wasn’t in Pre-revolutionary France. I was back in Willow Brook, lying on my back, my head in someone’s lap.

 

“So what’s that one?” the woman asked, pointing.

 

“Alpha Centauri,” I remembered saying. I also remember that I was lying out my ass. I had no fucking clue which star she’d even pointed at. “From here, it looks like just one star, but it’s actually a binary system, so close together we can’t tell them apart.”

 

“Did you pick that answer just to be sappy?” the woman asked. I hummed, turning and hiding my face in her stomach.

 

“If I say yes, will I win a kiss?”

 

I broke off whatever I’d had with Reinette the next day. She seemed to understand. After all, a passing fancy about someone you’ve met three times is one thing, but living with them? That was another thing entirely. We stayed good friends.

 

The memories kept trickling in, small and large, but never the woman’s name, never her face, and never why I loved her so much. She seemed to be everywhere. My earliest to my last memories of my other world. So many holidays, and vacations, and school days, and weekends. There was nowhere you could turn in my mind and not find her.

 

Well, until you looked at the last ten months. The months I’d spent in this universe. Then she was gone.

 

<...>

 

It was six months when the Doctor finally came to get me. The day after my 20th birthday, actually. Reinette and I were sharing lunch in the garden, and I was telling her the story of a coup Team TARDIS had supported. It had happened only a week before School Reunion , on a planet just called “O”. I was halfway through describing what an ass the queen we were helping deposs was when I heard it.

 

“And this woman had the gall, the AUDACITY-” I ignored it at first. I thought I was imagining it. “-to look me in the eyes-” But the wheezing-groaning was getting louder. “-and… say…” My voice trailed off when I heard the thump that came with a landed TARDIS.

 

I wasn’t even aware of what plane of reality I was on until Reinette reached over the table and grabbed my hands. “Katelyn?”

“He’s here,” I whispered, because my voice refused to go any louder. I could feel the faintest impression of the Doctor’s mind reaching toward me, trying to find out where I was. On instinct, I looked in his general direction. Reinette followed my gaze.

 

“Then go,” she said. I didn’t move. “You have been waiting for months. What is holding you?”

 

I’m remembering here, I couldn’t say. She came back. What if that all stops? 

 

“I don’t want to leave you,” I said instead. It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I didn’t want to abandon another friend to an uncaring world. Not while I could keep them safe.

 

Reinette shook her head. “You have stardust in your soul, Katelyn Laurin,” she said. “Keeping you here would kill you.” 

 

“Come with us,” I said, standing and pulling her to her feet. “All of time and space.” Reinette smiled a smile so forlorn, I wanted to scream. There was nothing I could do. Again. Finch had been right. There were so many goodbyes.

 

“If you had asked me six months ago, I would have gone with you running and never looked back,” Reinette admitted. “Today, I can only tell you I belong in this time and place.” She dropped my hands. “You have told me so many stories of preserving history. I am history. I cannot go with you, and I know some part of you knows that.”

 

Farewells are like ripping off a bandaid. If you try to do it slowly, it may hurt less, but it will hurt for longer. It’s better to tear it from your skin, for the pain to be sharp, but fade quickly.

 

I whispered a goodbye and ran away. Because that’s just what I did now. Always running. Always moving on.

 

<...>

 

The Doctor was the first one back to the TARDIS. Really, Katelyn knew they were coming, why’d she run off and try to meet them?

 

Unless Madame de Pompadour was lying, of course. After all, six months? There was no way he’d missed by that much. No matter what Rose said, it wasn’t his fault he’d landed a year out that one time. It was the TARDIS. Obviously, she’d bumped the coordinates, for a reason he could never quite figure out. But the TARDIS loved Katelyn. There was no way she’d let him lose Katelyn for six whole months. Reinette had to be lying.

 

Not that Reinette had seemed the kind to lie, but she had seemed rather distraught. Or maybe annoyed was the better word? Something about Katelyn leaving without a proper goodbye.

 

He didn’t want to think about where she might have picked that up.

 

Anyway, the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey had split up to search Versailles for Katelyn, since she also had disappeared from the telepathic field and he could no longer track her. Although, the slightly cracked TARDIS doors in front of the Doctor gave him a good idea where Katelyn might have gone.

 

“There you are!” he said before he’d actually seen if she’d gotten in there. “Honestly, if you knew we were coming-” The TARDIS hummed worry, which stopped the Doctor in his tracks. It was not a good thing when she worried in Katelyn’s general direction.

 

That was certainly Katelyn Laurin up by the console, but with the longer hair (nearly over her shoulders. Had it really been six months?) and period dress, he almost couldn’t tell. And why was she looking at him like that? All… angry and sad and broken . He hadn’t seen her like that in months.

 

“Erika Kumar,” Katelyn said.

 

“Sorry?” the Doctor responded. He didn’t know any Erika Kumars, he was certain. It was a brilliant name. He’d remember.

 

“Erika Kumar,” Katelyn repeated. “My fiance.”

 

“What?” the Doctor asked quietly. Of all the things he’d thought Katelyn might say, that hadn’t even graced the ‘least likely’ list.

 

“We’d been dating for 6 years,” Katelyn said. “Everyone thought we were too young, and God, we were only 18, but she wanted the commitment, and I think we’d been in love since we were children. We always said it was just that we were broke and couldn’t afford rings, then she surprised me, on my birthday, two years ago, and proposed.

 

“I remembered that yesterday, ” Katelyn hissed. “How can you just forget your other half? How do you remember everything else, and not them?” The Doctor had never been happier that he didn’t have to answer a rhetorical question, because what was he supposed to say to that?

 

“So I’m not being… complacent anymore,” Katelyn continued. “I will not stand here and watch the only two people I have in this word dance around each other until one of them dies. I know why you’re holding back, Doctor, and I won’t allow it. 

 

“Erika is gone-” Katelyn’s voice cracked. “-and I can never get her back. But I wouldn’t change one moment of our time together, not one breath. Because I know when the loneliness gets so heavy I can’t breathe, I’ll always have those memories to save me.

 

“You’re choice, Doctor. Regret or memories.” Then Katelyn turned and left the console room. 

 

The Doctor was not a being easily made speechless. It was usually the effort of several people (or several pounds of force to the skull) to get him to shut up.

 

But what was he supposed to say to that?

 

Chapter Text

“And that weird munchkin lady with the big eyes?” the Doctor laughed. I snorted from my spot up on the coral. “Do you remember? the way she looked at you! And then she opens her mouth and fire comes out!”

 

“I thought I was going to get frazzled!” Rose laughed.

 

“Yeah,” the Doctor said. “One minute she's standing there, and the next minute-” They both gestured like fire was coming out from their mouths and roared. 

 

I rolled my eyes. Get a room, you two, I might have added if Mickey was not standing four feet away.

 

“Yeah. where was that, then?” Mickey asked. “What happened?”

 

“Oh, it was on this um, this, er, planet thing,” the Doctor said. “Asteroid. It's a long story, you had to be there.” The Doctor looked at Mickey for the first time in about half an hour. “Um, what're you doing that for?”

 

Mickey looked down at the button he was pushing. “Because you told me to.”

 

“When was that?” the Doctor asked. I jumped down from the coral. I knew what was happening and it would not be a good idea to be up there in a minute. 

 

“About half an hour ago,” Mickey answered. 

 

“Um-” The Doctor looked like he was torn between laughing and being embarrassed, but laughter was just winning. “You can let go now.” Mickey lifted his hand. Rose started giggling, although she tried to hide it behind her sleeve.

 

“Well, how long's it been since I could've stopped?” Mickey asked.

 

“Ten minutes?” the Doctor guessed, voice a little higher pitched than it would normally have been. “Twenty? Twenty nine?”

 

“You just forgot me!” Mickey shouted. I got a good grip on the railing.

 

“No, no, no,” the Doctor lied. “I was just, I was, I was calibrating.” Rose laughed a little louder. “I was just- No, I know exactly what I'm doing.”

 

And that was when the console blew up. I was the only one who managed to stay on my feet. We all ran to the console.

 

“What's happened?” Rose shouted. 

 

“The Time Vortex,” the Doctor realized. “It’s gone. That's impossible. It's just gone.” The TARDIS started screaming in my head, her usual soft hum turning to a sound like nails on a chalkboard. I lifted a hand from the console to hold my head, which was a mistake. I was thrown to the floor. 

 

“Brace yourself!” the Doctor started. “We're going to cra-!” He was interrupted by our landing. Everyone else was thrown to the floor with me. My body actually lifted completely off the grating for a second, then slammed back down. The TARDIS ripped herself from my mind, with one last pitiful hum. I bit off a scream. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. The power went off.

 

“Everyone all right?” I heard the Doctor ask somewhere to my left. I curled into a ball, knees to my chest, head in my hands, a headache pounding its way through my skull. “Rose? Katelyn? Mickey?”

 

“I'm fine. I'm okay,” Mickey said from the other side of the console. “Sorry. Yeah.”

 

“Katelyn?” the Doctor asked again, closer this time.

 

“‘M ok,” I lied, not moving. “Hit my head.” I don’t think the Doctor bought that one bit, but he had a different problem to deal with right then.

 

“She's dead,” he breathed. I heard him walk closer to the console. “The Tardis is dead.”

 

“You can fix it,” Rose said gently. The pain ebbed slightly, and I managed to uncurl from the fetal position and sit up.

 

“There's nothing to fix. She's perished,” the Doctor whispered. He tried some switches on the console, but nothing happened. “The last Tardis in the universe. Extinct.”

 

I knew he was wrong. He had to be. I knew we got home.

 

I tried to reach for the part of my head where the TARDIS always was. My headache spiked, and I cried out before I could hide it.

 

“Katelyn, you have to stop,” the Doctor said, still in that quiet, broken tone. “She’s not there. You’ll just hurt yourself.”

 

“Yeah, no shit,” I groaned, in too much pain to offer sympathy.

 

“We can get help, yeah?” Rose offered.

 

“Where from?” the Doctor said. Clearly, he’d already given up. Rose looked annoyed, just not having it.

 

“Well, we've landed,” she said. “We've got to be somewhere.” The Doctor looked at Rose with heartbreak in his eyes.

 

“We fell out of the vortex, through the void, into nothingness,” he explained. “We're in some sort of no place. The silent realm. The lost dimension.”

 

“Otherwise known as London,” Mickey said from the open TARDIS doors. Rose and the Doctor walked walked over to him, helping me to my feet along the way. I leaned on them as much as I could. “London, England, Earth,” Mickey added once we were all outside. “Hold on.”  He ran to a trash can and picked up a discarded newspaper. “First of February this year not exactly far flung, is it?” Rose ran over to double check him, and the Doctor followed her. I sat in the grass and started massaging my temples. The headache was not fading, not that that made me feel better.

 

“So this is London?” the Doctor prompted.  

 

“Yep,” Mickey said.

 

“Your city,” the Doctor added.

 

“That's the one,” Mickey agreed. 

 

“Just as we left it.”

 

“Bang on.”

 

“And that includes the Zeppelins?” the Doctor asked. We all turned to look at the sky. There were so many Zeppelins, it was almost hard to see the sky. Now that I was paying attention, I noticed the air was a little heavier, like it was more polluted. Big Ben had a square face. The Thames looked cleaner.

 

“What the hell?” Mickey said.

 

“That's beautiful,” Rose said. I frowned.

 

“Can’t say I agree,” I mumbled, too quiet for the others to hear.

 

“Okay, so it's London with a big international Zeppelin festival,” Mickey tried.

 

“Never heard of those before,” I said, just loud enough for the Doctor to hear. He nodded.

 

“This is not your world,” the Doctor said. I watched the group walk away, but couldn’t conjure the effort needed to stand up and walk with them.

 

“But if the date's the same, it's parallel, right?” Mickey asked. “Am I right? Like a parallel Earth where they've got Zeppelins. Am I right? I'm right, aren't I?”

 

“Must be,” the Doctor conceded. 

 

“So, a parallel world where-” Rose started. I looked ahead of her, to the ad she had fixated on.

 

“Oh, come on. You've seen it on films,” Mickey said. Like an alternative to our world where everything's the same but a little bit different, like, I don't know, traffic lights are blue, Tony Blair never got elected-”

 

“And he's still alive,” Rose said. The Doctor and Mickey looked where Rose and I were already staring. The ad was for Vitex Lite, cherry flavor (ew), starring one Pete Tyler. “A parallel world and my dad's still alive.” Rose started walking forward, and the Doctor walked with her.

 

“Don't look at it, Rose. Don't even think about it,” he said. “This is not your world.”

 

“But he's my dad and-” She touched the ad, and it started moving.

 

“Trust me on this,” video-Pete said.

 

“Well, that's weird. But he's real,” Rose said.

 

“Trust me on this,” video-Pete repeated.

 

“He's a success!” Rose laughed. “He was always planning these daft little schemes. Health food, drinks and stuff. Everyone said they were useless.” She shook her head. “But he did it.”

 

The Doctor turned Rose by her shoulders to look at him. “Rose, if you've ever trusted me, then listen to me now.” Rose turned to look at the ad again. “Stop looking at it,” he snapped. Rose obeyed. “Your father's dead. He died when you were six months old. That is not your Pete. That is a Pete. For all we know, he's got his own Jackie, his own Rose. His own daughter who is someone else, but not you. You can't see him. Not ever.”

 

Rose nodded, but she didn’t look at all happy with that, and she probably only fooled the Doctor.

 

I tried to offer her a sympathetic smile, but as soon as no one was talking, something stabbed behind my eyes. I cried out again and curled back on my side. I hadn’t even reached that time. 

 

The Doctor was at my side in an instant. “Katelyn, you have to block the bond or this will keep happening,” he said. 

 

“I have to…wha?” I asked. The Doctor groaned.

 

“I knew your lack of formal training would come back to haunt us,” he said. Then, before I could remind him whose fault my ‘lack of formal training’ was, he added “Mickey stay with Rose!”, pulled me upright, and basically carried me into the TARDIS.

 

“Doctor, what are you doing?” I asked. He kept guiding me until we reached the jumpseat. I sat down.

 

“Right, lesson one,” he started. “Bonds are the tying of one telepathic presence to another. They’re not usually meant to be broken.”

 

“Usually?” I asked. The Doctor waved his hand around.

 

“Well, there’s some weak bonds, like a, a teacher-student bond, that aren’t really meant to last,” he explained. “Although those are supposed to be carefully dismantled, not ripped away.”

 

“So, I had a more permanent kind of bond with the TARDIS, and now its broken?” I guessed.

 

“Oi, I’m supposed to be the teacher here,” the Doctor protested. He was smiling, though, clearly proud I was understanding.

 

“Sorry, Doctor- ” I emphasized his name. “Should I be taking note-” I groaned and tried to double over again, but the Doctor kept me upright. 

 

“That’s what you have to block, Katelyn. Can you-” I whimpered again. “Ok, no you’re in too much pain and the longer we leave it, the worse it will be.” The Doctor raised his hands and I leaned back on instinct.

 

“Isn’t that a bad idea?” I said. I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t think I could do this on my own.

 

“I trust you,” the Doctor said. I smiled weakly, because that was unbelievably nice to hear. “Lower your shields.” I did as the Doctor placed his fingers on my temples.

 

Well, the Doctor said immediately.

 

I looked around my mindscape, trying to figure out what had caused that reaction. It was very clean and very organized, I thought. Everything was compartmentalized and solid. I had pictured my mind like a garden, large and sprawling, but organized by section, although winding and uneven, as all nature should be. The only part that wasn’t a garden were my memories, safely locked away in what I would deny until my dying breath was a replica of the Great Deku Tree from Ocarina of Time.

 

What? I had an aesthetic, and I was sticking to it, damn it.

 

What? Is something wrong? I asked the Doctor.

 

Not wrong, he assured. Just different. Not what I was expecting. 

 

Talk about different, I mumbled, ‘looking’ over to where the Doctor was ‘standing’. He was… strange to look at. I’d imagined myself a body, the same body I had in the real world, dressed unusually in a sundress and barefoot. It felt comfortable, and appropriate.

 

The Doctor hadn’t bothered. He was just… a huge mass of blue swirls, much bigger than my imagined body was. He was also a lighter blue than Nine had been, when I’d seen him during my Reality Check in Cardiff. 

 

Ok… um… this way?

 

I picked a direction and walked, playing a game of hot and cold with my pain. I lead the Doctor all the way to the back of the garden, until I could ‘see’ the damaged end of the bond. It was a cliff, the end of the garden. Where the bond had been looked like a part of a cliff had been ripped away, red and scarred. I limped up to it, hurting too much to walk properly even in my own mind.

 

I knew we got home from here. I knew the TARDIS wasn’t dead. But there was still this tear, this hole where she had been. I wondered if she had broken it herself, to protect me somehow. I wished she hadn’t.

 

I waited a few seconds for instructions, and when the Doctor said nothing, I turned to him. He was looking over the cliff, as best I could tell, metaphorical furrow in his non-existent brow. I followed his gaze, but it was just static beyond.

 

Something wrong? I asked again. 

 

The swirls that were the Doctor coalesced until an actual Time Lord stood next to me. He shook his head. Wrong’s not the right word, but I’ve never see open space before, he said. Not that I’ve done this often.

 

The pain spiked again, the red of the ripped place pulsing out, and I fell to my knees. Add it to the list and help please? I managed.

 

Right, sorry. The Doctor did something I can’t really use written language to explain, and visibly brick walls went up around the broken bond. I sighed with relief and mirrored him, perfectly able to raise my own barriers now that the pain was gone. The brick just stood out too much against the garden. The Doctor’s eyes widened, and he dropped the protection he’d put in place. You’re a fast learner.

 

I had to be, I said simply, standing and starting my way back out. I could feel the Doctor cringe.

 

I never apologized for the Sernox… incident, did I? he asked.

 

You don’t have to, I assured. The Doctor was still in my head, he could feel the sincerity in my words. You got me as fast as you could, and I’m the one that wandered off, specifically when Jack told me not to.

 

The sky of my mindscape darkens, like it usually does when I think of Jack. A memory pops up in front of me like a weed. I crushed it with my heel and kept walking. This was not the time.

 

I could feel the Doctor wanted to say something, but he didn’t. By the time we were both back in our own heads, and the Doctor was taking his hands off my temples, the TARDIS doors were creaking open. The Doctor glared over my shoulder.

 

“I told you to keep an eye on her!” he shouted, practically in my ear. 

 

“She's all right,” Mickey sighed. 

 

“Rose goes wandering off!” the Doctor shouted, pointing to the doors. He stood up and marched around the console. “Parallel world, it's like a gingerbread house. All those temptations calling out-”

 

“Oh, so it's just Rose, then?” Mickey asked. “Nothing out there to tempt me? Nothing to tempt Katelyn?”

 

“Well, I don't know, I can't worry about everything,” the Doctor dismissed. He shot me a look, just subtle enough that Mickey wouldn’t notice.

 

“You do try though,” I offered, my way of acknowledging that there was nothing here to tempt me. Probably. I didn’t intend to find out.

 

“If I could just get this thing to-” The Doctor kicked the console, and started walking toward the jumpseat I was still sitting on.

 

“Did that help?” Mickey asked, sounding genuinely curious.

 

“Yes,” the Doctor said.

 

“Did that hurt?” I asked.

 

“Yes, ow,” the Doctor mumbled, sitting down next to me and grabbing his foot. “We're not meant to be here. The TARDIS draws its power from the universe, but it's the wrong universe. It's like diesel in a petrol engine.”

 

“Or like an extrapolator in a TARDIS?” I asked. The Doctor rolled his eyes.

 

“You’re still hung up on that?” 

 

“You never explained it,” I defended. 

 

“But I've seen it in comics,” Mickey said, sitting on the Doctor’s other side. “People go hopping from one alternative world to another. It's easy.”

 

“Hey, Mickey,” I started. “Remember that thing I said about this being reality?” He opened his mouth to say something back.

 

“Used to be easy,” the Doctor said, his tone far more casual than his posture. “When the Time Lords kept their eye on everything, you could hop between realities, home in time for tea. Then they died, and took it all with them. The walls of reality closed, the worlds were sealed. Everything became that bit less kind.”

 

He sounded tired more than anything, which was not necessarily better than him sounding sad. I hesitated a moment, then leaned against the Doctor’s arm, offering wordless comfort. He didn’t move, but I felt him relax a bit.

 

“Then how did we get here?” Mickey asked. The Doctor dragged his hand down his face.

 

“I don't know,” he admitted. “Accident? Should've been impossible, now we're trapped.” His eyes drifted across the console room, then stopped on the grating. “What's that?”

 

There was a green light, tiny but steady, glowing in the wires underneath.

 

“What?” Mickey asked.

 

“That, there.” The Doctor stood up. “Is that a reflection?” I ran and blocked the windows. “It's a light!” the Doctor cried. “Is it? Is that a light? I think that's a light.” The Doctor pulled up the grating. “That's all we need. We've got power! Katelyn, Mickey, we've got power! Ha!” The Doctor threw the grating off to the side and climbed down into the wires. I ran back over, only just avoiding being hit with a piece of machinery the Doctor had tossed over his shoulder. 

 

Mickey and I layed down on the grating and moved whatever piece of TARDIS the Doctor handed us out of the way 

 

“It's alive!” the Doctor cried, handing my a circuit board that I was very careful putting behind me. One never knew which of these were important and which were not, so I tried not to break anything.

 

“What is it?” Mickey asked.

 

“It's nothing. It's tiny,” the Doctor said, pulling out a piece of pipe. “One of those insignificant little power cells that no one ever bothers about, and it's clinging onto life, with one little ounce of reality tucked away inside.” 

 

“Enough to get us home?” Mickey asked, locking hopeful eyes with me across the gap in the floor.

 

“Not yet. I need to charge it up.” The Doctor pulled the tiny light out of the rest of the machinery and cupped it in his hands. I leaned over him and brushed my fingers across it. It was warm.

 

“We could go outside and lash it up to the National Grid,” Mickey suggested. The Doctor shook his head.

 

“Wrong sort of energy,” he said. “It's got to come from our universe.” Mickey’s face fell.

 

“But we don't have anything,” he said.

 

“There's me,” the Doctor whispered. He shifted the little light in his hands and blew on it. It glowed brighter, illuminating the Doctor’s and my huge smiles. “I just gave away ten years of my life,” he continued. “Worth every second.”

 

I made grabby hands at the power cell. The Doctor handed it over like the precious thing it was and climbed out of the floor. I held the light tightly and pressed it to my lips.

 

“It's going out. Is that okay?” Mickey asked. 

 

“It's on a recharging cycle,” the Doctor explained, taking the light out of my hands. I only pouted a little. “It'll loop round, power back up and be ready to take us home in, oo, twenty four hours?” The Doctor kissed the light, still smiling.

 

“So that gives us twenty four hours on a parallel world?” Mickey asked.

 

“Shore leave!” the Doctor agreed. “As long as we keep our heads down. Easy. No problem. Let's go and tell Rose.”

 

<...>

 

Rose was sitting on a bench just far enough away from the TARDIS that she could have hidden before we got to her if she wanted. Rose was smart, I knew. She’d done that on purpose.

 

“There you are!” the Doctor cheered as soon as we were in earshot of Rose. “No applause. I fixed it.” The Doctor pulled the light out of his pocket. “Twenty four hours, then we're flying back to reality.” We sat down next to Rose on the bench, but she said nothing. The Doctor saw Rose’s phone in her hand, sighed and turned forward. “What is it?”

 

“My phone connected,” Rose explained. “There's this Cybus Network. It finds your phone.” She paused, like she knew what we were going to say when she told us, and didn’t like the reaction. “It gave me Internet access.”

 

“Rose, whatever it says, this is the wrong world,” the Doctor reminded her. Rose hesitated a moment, then spoke.

 

“I don't exist.”

 

“What do you mean?” the Doctor asked.

 

“There's no Rose Tyler. I was never born,” she said. The Doctor and Mickey both looked away, like neither of them wanted to imagine a world where there was no Rose Tyler. “There's Pete, my dad, and Jackie. He still married mum but they never had kids.”

 

“Give me that phone,” the Doctor said. He reached to grab it from Rose, who only held it tighter and leaned away from him. 

 

“They're rich,” she laughed. “They've got a house and cars, and everything they want. But they haven't got me.” She stood up and paced for a bit before looking at the Doctor. “I've got to see him.”

 

“You can't,” the Doctor repeated. 

 

“I looked you up too,” Rose said, suddenly talking to me. I inhaled sharply, but said nothing. I didn’t want to know. “Didn’t find anything.”

 

“Of course you didn’t. Rose. I’d be seven-” I tried.

 

“I looked up your family,” she continued. My stomach dropped. My heart skipped a few beats. “No Victor or Riley Laurin either.”

 

“Rose, I can’t,” I said. I knew where she was going, and I didn’t want her to go there. I didn’t even want to think about them right now. I hadn’t even looked them up in her universe.

 

“Don’t you want to see them again?” she asked.

 

“Please stop,” I whispered. Through my blurry vision, I could see Rose knew she’d crossed a line. She frowned an apology and turned back to the Doctor.

 

“I just want to see my dad,” she argued.

 

“I can't let you,” the Doctor argued back.

 

“You just said twenty-four hours!” Rose shouted. I looked over at Mickey, who looked like he was slowly coming to a realization.

 

“You can't become their daughter, that's not the way it works,” the Doctor insisted. “Mickey, tell her.”

 

“Twenty four hours, yeah?” he asked, standing.

 

“Where're you going?” the Doctor demanded, standing too.

 

“Well, I can do what I want,” Mickey said. He started walking away.

 

“I've got the address and everything,” Rose said, walking in the opposite direction.

 

“Stay where you are, both of you!” the Doctor shouted, looking back and forth between the two humans. “Rose, come back here! Mickey-” I finally got off the bench and walked over to Mickey. “Katelyn, come back here right now!”

 

“I just want to see them,” Rose repeated, not stopping

 

“Yeah, I've got things to see and all,” Mickey agreed. He’d slowed down to let me catch up to him.

 

“Like what?” the Doctor demaded.

 

“Well, you don't know anything about me, do you?” Mickey pointed out. “It's always about Rose. We’re just spare parts.” I didn’t agree with Mickey on that point, not anymore, but that didn’t mean I was going to side with the Doctor. I couldn’t right now.

 

“And that’s a warning,” I said. I’d never seen the Doctor’s expression change so quickly. It snapped right from anger to fear, then snapped back. 

 

“I'm sorry. I've got to go,” Rose said again.

 

“Go on, then. There's no choice, is there?” Mickey said. “You can only chase after one of us. It's never going to be me or Katelyn, is it?” The Doctor only hesitated a second more.

 

“Back here, twenty four hours!” he shouted over his shoulder, running to catch up with Rose.

 

“Yeah. If I haven't found something better.” As soon as the words had left Mickey’s mouth, he snapped it shut and looked at me guilty.

 

“Wipe that look off your face, Mickey Smith,” I commanded. “It’s fine. I get it.”

 

“Is that why you travel with the Doctor?” Mickey asked. “What did you leave behind?”

 

I already had the lie half-formed and my mouth open to say it when something occurred to me. Mickey was staying here. I had zero intention of stopping him, because I was certain he’d be happier here than he was on the TARDIS or back in his London, and because we needed him here. This world needed him.

 

I didn’t have to lie. I could tell him. It’s not like the Doctor would ever know.

 

“No,” I said, and felt a weight I hadn’t even realized I was carrying lift off my shoulders. “No, actually. I didn’t really… I didn’t start traveling with the Doctor by choice.”

 

Mickey stopped dead in his tracks. “What like he kidnapped you?” Mickey sounded outraged, ready to fight on my behalf. I kept walking.

 

“No,” I answered. “No nothing like that, but it’s… it’s a bit complicated. How long of a walk do we have?” Mickey paused, jogging for a few steps to catch up with me.

 

“Long enough,” Mickey promised.

 

I took a deep breath and told him everything.

 

I told him about my family. I told him I was from another world, only a little like this one. I told him how I had no idea how I’d gotten here, but that I knew I couldn’t get back. I told him I’d known the future. I told him that was why the Doctor had been so afraid (even if he insisted that was the wrong word) of me when we’d first met. I told him I still knew the future, and made him promise not to ask.

 

By the end, I felt so light I could just float away.

 

Mickey didn’t seem to share that sentiment, staring at his shoes while we kept walking. After a long break of silence, he asked “You only told me ‘cause I’m staying, aren’t I?”

 

“That decision is still yours to make,” I said. “The future isn’t set in stone.” Mickey nodded, but I’m not sure I really convinced him.

 

“Rose doesn’t know, does she,” he added. I shook my head.

 

“The Doctor didn’t tell her, and then I was afraid too,” I admitted. “I didn’t know what he’d do, and I had nothing else.”

 

“Are you still scared of him?” Mickey asked. I shook my head again. “Then you’ve got to say something. The Doctor’s too good at keeping secrets.”

 

<...>

 

 We walked until an army roadblock stopped us.

 

“Are we alright to get past?” Mickey asked. I just smiled at the soldiers. I had no idea what this London’s tourism policies were, or what this world’s United States was like, and I didn’t want to freak anyone out.

 

“Yeah. No bother,” one soilder said, lifting the roadblock for us. “Curfew doesn't start till ten.”

 

“There's a curfew?” Mickey asked as we walked by.

 

“Course there is,” the soldier scoffed. “Where you been living, mate? Up there with the toffs?” He nodded up toward the Zeppelins.

 

“We wish,” Mickey sighed. I laughed for good measure. “See you.”

 

It was only a matter of a minute more of walking, and then we were in Mickey’s Grandmother’s neighborhood. Mickey stopped across the street from her house. 

 

“Do you want me to come with you, or do you want me to stay here?” I asked gently. Mickey made a ‘stay there’ gesture, walked over to his grandmother’s house, and knocked. I watched her open the door. I watched them talk for a minute. I smiled when they hugged and laughed when she started whacking Mickey wherever she could reach.

 

I wondered how fast I was going to need to run to jump in the Preacher’s van before it sped away. I’m sure I could do it, but I’d have to time it right. Because if I didn’t make it to the van, then I’d be staking out the Tyler’s mansion for the rest of the afternoon, which sounding soul-crushingly boring. 

 

No sooner had the word ‘boring’ passed through my mind, then a knife pressed against my back. I stiffened, eyes going wide, but didn’t react. It was certainly not the first time I’d been threatened, and a knife was hardly the most deadly thing to have been pointed at me. I had the scars to prove that.

 

“If you know what’s good for you,” a woman’s voice said. I almost fainted at the sound. I knew that voice. “Don’t. Move.” The accent was all wrong, but I knew that voice. I knew that voice inside and out. I’d known that voice my whole life.

 

A van screeched down the street, doing a handbrake turn in the road in front of Mickey’s grandma’s house. A man (Jake, I think he was named) jumped out and dragged Mickey in. The woman behind me whistled for it, and the van stopped in front of us. She pushed me in.

 

Well, that solved that problem, I guess.

 

“Ricky, you were the one who told us you don't contact your family because it puts them in danger,” Jake scolded. Mickey nodded, looking very out of his depth.

 

“Yeah. Ricky said that. Course I did, just testing,” he said.

 

“I saw them. I taped them,” Jake continued, unprompted. “They went round Blackfriars gathering up the homeless like the child catcher. They must've took four dozen.”

 

“The vans were hired out to a company called International Electromatics,” the woman (Mrs. Moore, I think?) said from the front. “But I did a protocol search. Turns out that's a dummy company established by guess who? 

 

“Cybus Industries,” I said. I could feel everyone staring at me, but I didn’t dare look up from my boots, lest I actually see her. 

 

“Who’s this?” Jake asked. 

 

“Don’t know,” the woman still holding a knife to me said. My mind knew her name, but I refused to even let myself think it. I couldn’t get attached. It’s not her. “Caught her watching Rickey. Didn’t want to risk it.”

 

“New recruit,” Mickey offered, sounding unsure. I gave him a tiny smile. “Told her to hang back.” Everyone seemed to accept that. Good, cause I wasn’t coming up with any defenses on my own.

 

“Well, anyway,” Jake continued. “Now we've got evidence.”

 

“Unfortunately,” the woman who had put her knife away said. “They've arrested Thin Jimmy. So that just leaves you.”

 

“Leaves me what?” Mickey asked.

 

“The Number One,” Jake said.

 

“Top of the list,” the woman agreed. “London's Most Wanted.”

 

“Okay, cool,” Mickey laughed. He paused a moment, then said, “Say that again?”

 

<...>

 

It was night by the time we got to the Preacher’s base. It was an old building, possibly a church once. It was also in the middle of nowhere, and probably condemned property. 10/10 secret base choice, couldn’t have done it better myself.

 

“There's a light on,” Jake noticed. “There's someone inside the base. Mrs. Moore, Erika, We've got visitors!” he called back into the van. Mrs. Moore pulled a handgun out of the glovebox. Jake pulled one out of his jacket. Erika flipped her knife back open.

 

We ran in a back entrance, crouching and staying in the darkness as best we could. When we got to the back door, Jake started counting down. When he shouted go, we all ran in.

 

The familiar silhouette of one Mickey Smith was already standing on the other side of the room, looking like he was making a cup of tea or something. The Mickey behind me’s jaw hit the floor.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” Rickey demanded. The other preacher’s lowered their guns.

 

“What're you doing there?” Jake demanded.

 

“What am I doing here?” Rickey scowled. “What am I doing there?”

 

The Preachers turned their weapons back on Mickey and I.

 

“Surprise,” I said, shaking my raised hands.

 

<...>

 

You know, in all the times I had imagined my fiance stripping me down to my bra and shorts and tying me to a chair, never had the setting been an abandoned house in the English countryside. And there had certainly never been other observers.

 

Then again, 11 months ago when I’d harboured those fantasies, I had also never been arrested, tied to a chair, and searched. Now that was practically an average Tuesday for me. This was nothing.

 

This being nothing did not stop the skipped beat in my heart when Erika took off my locket and TARDIS key though. I hated being seperated from those.

 

She studied the two necklaces for a moment, dropped them on a table behind her, crossed her arms, and scowled down at me. The posture was so very Erika like, that it hurt to look at her. But I found I couldn’t look away. I hoped I didn’t look as lovesick as I felt. That would take far too much explaining.

 

“He's clean,” Jake announced, tossing the thing he’d been scanning Mickey with to Erika. “No bugs.” Erika started scanning me.

 

“But this is off the scale,” Rickey said, pacing around Mickey. “He's flesh and blood. How did that happen?”

 

“Well, it could be that Cybus Industries have perfected the science of human cloning?” Mrs. Moore said sarcastically. “Or your father had a bike. She’s clean too.” Erika tossed the scanner next to my necklaces.

 

Rickey scowled even harder. “And your name is Mickey, not Rickey,” he prompted.

 

“Mickey,” himself confirmed. “Dad was Jackson Smith. Used to work at the key cutters in Clifton's Parade. Went to Spain, never came back.” Rickey leaned uncomfortably close to Mickey. 

 

“But that's my dad,” he sid. “So, we're brothers?”

 

“Be fair. What else could it be?” Jake laughed.

 

“I don't know,” Rickey said. “But he doesn't just look like me, he is exactly the same. There's something else going on here, Jake.”

 

“Oh,” I offered. “He’s you from a parallel world.” Everyone but Mickey glared at me instead. “Or maybe I’m being sarcastic. Always hard to tell when I’m tied to a chair.”

 

“Is that something that happens to you often?” Erika asked. Her accent had switched to the Midwestern one I knew from our childhood. Her accent from before was just part of a disguise. I smirked at her before I could stop it.

 

“Darling, this isn’t even the first time this week,” I flirted. Before I could regret my tone, Erika broke her scowl with a laugh, and started untying me.

 

“Oi, what are you doing?” Jake demanded.

 

“She’s cheeky, and I like her,” Erika declared, helping me stand. “She starts… Vulcan neck pinching us all, I’ll shoot her myself.” 

 

“Aw, thanks,” I said. I grabbed my necklaces first and slipped them back on, feeling infinitely calmer with the weight of them back around my neck.

 

“S-So, who are you lot?” Mickey asked.

 

“We? We are the Preachers. As in Gospel Truth,” Rickey said, stalking around the chair Mickey was still tied to. I rolled my eyes at his drama, and didn’t miss Erika’s tiny giggle next to me. God, I had missed that sound. “You see?” Rickey gestured to his ears. “No ear pods. While the rest of the world downloads from Cybus Industries, we, we have got freedom. You're talking to London's Most Wanted, but target Number One is Lumic, and we are going to bring him down.”

 

“From your kitchen?” Mickey asked. 

 

“Have you got a problem with that?” Rickey growled. 

 

“No, it's a good kitchen,” Mickey mumbled. Mrs. Moore’s laptop beeped before we could say anything else. 

 

“It's an upload from Gemini,” she said.

 

“Who's Gemini?” Mickey asked. This time, no one answered him.

 

“The vans are back,” Mrs. Moore read. “They're moving out of Battersea. Looks like Gemini was right. Lumic's finally making a move.”

 

“And we are right behind him,” Rickey said. “Pack up, we're leaving.”

 

Jake untied Mickey. We got our clothes back and were marched back out to the Preacher’s van. I had to pull my hoodie back on while we were still walking. Rickey took the wheel this time.

 

We drove to an alley closer to the city and waited until a truck marked ‘International Electromatics’ passed. We peeled out after it. Everyone except Mickey and I checked their weapons, machine guns for most, and a pistol and knife for Erika.

 

They looked wrong in her hands. I knew her. I knew her dark skin. I knew her warm, black eyes. I knew her kindness and her sarcasm and how she took her coffee, and I knew above all else that she’d never use either of those weapons in her hands. I had to wonder why she was even bothering, or if this Erika Kumar was just that different from mine.

 

When the truck stopped, we stopped about 50 feet behind it. Erika, Jake, and Rickey got out, locking the doors behind them. It was probably meant to trap Mickey and me inside. As if we could reach the manual lock.

 

I don't know what they're doing, but this seems to be the target, ” Rickey said through a walkie-talkie. “ Big house, fair bit of money. Now we have got to find a way to get in.

 

“I've identified the address,” Mrs. Moore said. “It belongs to Peter Tyler, the Vitex millionaire.”

 

“Pete Tyler?” Mickey muttered.

 

“He's listed as one of Lumic's henchmen. A traitor to the state,” Mrs. Moore explained.

 

“But…” Mickey turned to me in panic. “We've got to get in there!”

 

Now, shut it, duplicate, ” Rickey said. “ That's what I just said.

 

I leaned over and put my hand on Mickey’s shoulder. “Rose is fine,” I promised.

 

“What makes you think I’m worried about Rose?” Mickey squeaked.

 

“That squeak, what I told you earlier, and because it’s my job to worry about the Doctor,” I said.

 

<...>

 

After a few minutes of complete radio silence, I was well on my way to paranoid. This adventure suddenly had stakes . Personal stakes. Erika was here. That was a new variable, and I hadn’t accounted for her.

 

I couldn’t lose her.

 

Thirty seconds after that, I threw the van doors open and tore out. I heard Mickey follow me, both of us ignoring Mrs. Moores shouts of protest.

 

I was used to running, often desperately and for my life. I wasn’t even winded by the time I’d caught up with the Preachers, although Mickey was panting far behind me.

 

“Get behind me!” Rickey shouted. The Doctor, Rose, and Pete Tyler dashed passed the Preachers, stopping just in front of me. Jake and Rickey dropped to their knees and opened fire. Erika lifted her gun, but I didn’t miss that she didn’t pull the trigger. 

 

She was still my Erika.

 

Was that a good thing?

 

The Doctor noticed my face. “Are you ok?” he asked.

 

I glanced at Erika, then offered the Doctor a weak smile. “I’ll get back to you on that.”

 

The bullets didn’t seem to affect the Cybermen, but they still stopped advancing anyway. Rickey and Jake stopped shooting and stood back up.

 

“Oh my God, look at you,” Rose said to Rickey, hugging him close. “I thought I'd never see you again!” Rickey pulled away as quickly as he could

 

“Yeah. No offence, sweetheart, but who the hell are you?” Rickey asked. Rose only had a second to look confused before Mickey ran up to us.

 

“Rose!” he shouted. “That's not me. That's like the other one.” He panted for a second, then looked at me. “How do you run so fast?!”

 

“Oh, as if things weren't bad enough, there's two Mickey's!” the Doctor complained.

 

“It's Rickey,” this world’s -ickey Smith said.

 

“We’ve also got one Jake and one Erika, while we’re taking stock,” I joked. The Doctor and Rose both stared at me with wide eyes. I nodded. No harm in letting them know I was standing next to my fiance from another world. At least then they’d understand why my brain was working at half it usual speed.

 

“There's more of them,” Mickey said. We were surrounded in a matter of seconds.

 

“Put the guns down. Bullets won't stop them,” the Doctor said. Jake raised his gun away. Erika pushed it to the ground, glaring.

 

“Don’t you listen?” she demanded, back to her English accent.

 

“We surrender!” the Doctor shouted to the Cybermen. 

 

“Hands up,” I said to the other humans, raising mine. Everyone followed, with varying degrees of confidence. The Doctor’s hand only ghosted past his pocket on the way up, but I knew he’d grabbed the battery.

 

“There's no need to damage us. We're good stock,” the Doctor continued as the Cybermen stepped closer. “We volunteer for the upgrade program. Take us to be processed.”

 

“You are rogue elements,” a Cyberman droned. The Doctor’s face fell.

 

“But we surrender,” he protested.

 

“You are incompatible,” the Cyberman said. 

 

“But this is a surrender!” the Doctor repeated.

 

“Doc, if it didn’t work the first two times-” I started.

 

“You will be deleted.”

 

“Then shouldn’t you try a different approach?” I finished. He adjusted his grip on the light, but made no other movement.

 

“You are inferior,” the Cyberman droned. “Man will be reborn as Cyberman, but you will perish under maximum deletion.” All around the circle, the Cybermen held their arms out and aimed. “Delete. Delete. Delete!”

 

Chapter Text

The Doctor waited half a second more, just to make sure the Cybermen would not stand down, then pointed the power cell at the Cybermen. It only hit the one right in front of us, but the power arched to all the others, who bent backwards then turned to dust. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Rickey demanded.

 

“Or how about, instead run!” the Doctor shouted, grabbing Rose’s hand and taking off. I reached behind me, snagged Erika’s hand, and took off after them. Pure panic raced through me. Erika, I kept thinking. Erika, protect Erika.

 

We only barely made it to the gravel driveway before Mrs. Moore peeled in front of us and honked.

 

“Everybody, in!” she yelled through the window. Everyone ran in but the Tylers, who both ran toward the house. The Doctor went after them, but I was too focused on getting Erika into the van to go with him. Not that he needed me. The Doctor could handle a few wandering Tylers without me.

 

“Come on! Get a move on!” Mrs. Moore shouted again. The Doctor finally managed to get Rose in the van, yanking the door shut behind him. “Finished chatting? Never seen a slower getaway in my life!”

 

“We’re usually faster than this!” I apologized. Erika pulled her hand from mine and gave me a worried look.

 

“Is this also normal for you?” she asked. I nodded. “Where the hell do you live?” I huffed a laugh.

 

“You’d never believe me,” I said. She gave me a ‘try me’ look, but Rickey turned around before she could say anything.

 

“What was that thing?” he demanded, pointing at the Doctor. The Doctor held up the battery.

 

“Little bit of technology from my home,” he dismissed.

 

“It's stopped glowing,” Mickey noticed. “Has it run out?”

 

“It's on a revitalising loop. It'll charge back up in about four hours,” the Doctor explained, putting the light back in his pocket. 

 

“Right. So, we don't have a weapon anymore,” Rickey summed up.

 

“Yeah, we've got weapons,” Jake spit. “Might not be one of those metal things, but they're good enough for men like him.” He pointed at Pete with a glare. Rose slide forward in her seat to block him. 

 

“Leave him alone. What's he done wrong?” she asked.

 

“Oh, you know, just laid a trap that's wiped out the Government and left Lumic in charge,” Jake said.

 

“If I was part of all that, do you think I'd leave my wife inside?” Pete said.

 

“Maybe your plan went wrong,” Rickey said. “Still gives us the right to execute you, though.”

 

“Talk about executions, you'll make me your enemy,” the Doctor said. 

 

“Trust me,” I added. “You really don't want to do that.” Rickey glared, but no version of -Ickey Smith was one to turn down good advice. But this version was also not one to back down.

 

“All the same,” he continued. “We have evidence that says Pete Tyler's been working for Lumic since twenty point five.”

 

We all turned to Pete. Rose looked betrayed. “Is that true?” she asked. Pete didn’t answer, looking to the door in shame. And that’s what told me he could be trusted. The shame .

 

“Tell them, Mrs. M,” Rickey said.  

 

“We've got a government mole who feeds us information,” she explained, never taking her eyes off the road. “Lumic's private files, his South American operations, the lot. Secret broadcasts twice a week.”

 

“Broadcast from Gemini?” Pete sounded both annoyed and offended. 

 

“And how do you know that?” Rickey asked.

 

“I'm Gemini,” Pete nearly spat. “That's me.”

 

“Yeah, well you would say that,” Rickey dismissed.

 

“Encrypted wavelength six five seven using binary nine,” Pete rattled off with the ease of someone who knew up and down what he was talking about. The Preachers exchanged uneasy looks. I sat on my hands to keep from reaching to Erika. “That's the only reason I was working for Lumic. To get information.” Pete sighed. “I thought I was broadcasting to the Security Services. What do I get? Scooby Doo and his gang. They've even got the van.” The Doctor looked around with an expression that read, ‘they do have the van!’ He looked to be the only one having fun.

 

“No, no, no. But the Preachers know what they're doing,” Mickey said, although he didn’t sound very sure. “Ricky said he's London's Most Wanted.”

 

“Yeah, that's not exactly…” Rickey trailed off.

 

“Not exactly what?” Mickey asked.

 

“I'm London's Most Wanted for parking tickets,” Rickey mumbled. The Doctor and I lit up, both failing to contain our amusement at that. Erika giggled again, quiet enough I’m the only one that heard.

 

“Great,” Pete groaned.

 

“Yeah, they were deliberate,” Rickey insisted. “I was fighting the system. Park anywhere, that's me.”

 

“Good policy. I do much the same,” the Doctor said. “I'm the Doctor, by the way, if anyone's interested.”

 

“We weren’t,” I deadpanned. The Doctor looked somewhere between genuinely hurt and over exaggerated scandal. “What? There was a life threatening situation and I haven’t been cheeky about it yet.” The Doctor narrowed his eyes.

 

“I think that counts as 56,” Rose said. 

 

“Betrayal!” I gasped, turning to her. “Cheeky should not count!”

 

“And I'm Rose,” she said to the group, purposefully ignoring my glare. 

 

“Even better,” Pete sighed. “That's the name of my dog. Still, at least I've got the catering staff on my side.” Pete’s joke fell flat. No one even smiled.

 

“I knew you weren't a traitor,” Rose said after a moment.

 

“Why is that, then?” Pete asked. Rose opened her mouth to say something, and the Doctor gave her a look. She swallowed her comment, looking guilty.

 

“I just did,” Rose said, very convincingly.

 

“Rose is good with people,” I offered. “Mickey’s our tech guy, I’m comic relief, and the Doctor takes care of everything the rest of us forget.”

 

“Oi,” the Doctor protested, on principle.

 

“Doc, I’ll have you know the support is the most important part of any party-oh my god you’re a bard,” I realized. I had to stop and consider that for a minute. Everyone gave me weird looks, except Erika, who looked like she was trying to figure me out.

 

“They took my wife,” Pete said after a beat of silence.

 

“She might still be alive,” Rose offered gently. Pete shook his head.

 

“That's even worse,” he said. “Because that's what Lumic does. He takes the living and he turns them into those machines.”

 

“Cybermen,” the Doctor said grimly. It was his turn for everyone’s attention. “They're called Cybermen. And I'd take those ear pods off, if I were you.” Pete snatched them out, like he’d forgotten he was wearing them. “You never know. Lumic could be listening.” The Doctor zapped the ear pods with the sonic, and pocketed them. “But he's overreached himself. He's still just a businessman. He's assassinated the President.” The Doctor turned to the Preachers. “All we need to do is get to the city and inform the authorities. Because I promise you, this ends tonight.”

 

<...>

 

We arrived in London to all the people walking around like zombies.

 

“What the hell?” Mrs. Moore said, jumping out of the car. We all piled out after her.

 

“What's going on?” Rose asked.

 

“It's the ear-pods. Lumic's taken control,” the Doctor explained.

 

“Can't we just, I don't know, take them off?” Rose asked, reaching for the nearest person’s ears.

 

“Don't!” the Doctor cried, grabbing her arms. “Cause a brainstorm. Human race.” The Doctor shook his head. “For such an intelligent lot, you aren't half susceptible. Give anyone a chance to take control and you submit. Sometimes I think you like it. Easy life.”

 

“Hey, Come and see.” Jake beckoned us over to an alleyway. Through it we could see more people, streaming out of their housed and lining up. A squad of Cybermen escorted them.

 

“Where are they all going?” Rose asked.

 

“I don't know,” the Doctor admitted. “Lumic must have a base of operations.”

 

“Battersea,” Pete said. We all looked to him. “That's where he was building his prototypes.”

 

“Why's he doing it?” Rose asked.

 

“He's dying,” Pete explained. “This all started out as a way of prolonging life, of keeping the brain alive at any cost.”

 

“The thing is, I've seen Cybermen before, haven't I?” Rose realized. “The head. Those handle shapes in Van Statten's museum.”

 

“Van who’s what?” Erika asked. I shrugged, for appearance sake.

 

“Oh, there are Cybermen in our universe. They started on an ordinary world just like this, then swarmed across the galaxy,” the Doctor explained. “This lot are a parallel version, and they're starting from scratch right here on Earth.”

 

“What the hell are you two on about?” Pete echoed Erika.

 

“Never mind that,” Rickey dismissed. “Come on, we need to get out of the city.” He looked around. “Okay, split up,” Rickey continued. “Mrs. Moore, you look after that lot. Jake, distract them. Go right, I'll go left. We'll meet back at Bridge Street. Move.”

 

I tore off after Rickey, not waiting for Mickey to follow, although I knew he would. Cybermen were fast approaching. We had no time to waste, and every part of me knew Erika would be safest with the Doctor’s party.

 

We ran until the -Ickeys had to pause for breath.

 

“Which way? I don't know where we are,” Mickey said. I started diggin in my hoodie pocket.

 

“Did they see us?” Rickey asked. 

 

“Do they know where we are-

 

“I think they saw us-”

 

“I bet they've got satellites-”

 

“I bet they can see in the dark-”

 

“They know where we are,” the -Ickeys finished together.

 

“I don't get it.” Rickey glared. “What is it with you? You are exactly like me.”

 

“I don't know, I reckon you're braver,” Mickey said.

 

“Aw, don’t sell yourself short Mick. Only one of you has killed a Slitheen,” I offered.

 

“A what?” Rickey asked. I just smirked. Rickey rolled his eyes. He’d never looked more like Mickey. “Well, your friends aren't bad. I'll give you that.”

 

“Oh, that's the Doctor and Rose and her,” Mickey gestured to me. “I just tag along behind.”

 

“He can’t run as fast,” I agreed to myself.

 

“Well, then, you're not that bad,” Rickey decided.

 

“Do you think?” Mickey smiled. I lined up behind Rickey, pulling what I’d nicked from Jack’s room out of my pocket.

 

“Yeah, I suppose,” Rickey sniffed. Cyberemen approached from behind. The -Ickeys shared a look.

 

“Split up!” they shouted, tearing in opposite directions. I hesitated a moment, then ran after Mickey. His path was shorter, if I remembered correctly. I’d have more time on his side.

 

Mickey and I managed to give our Cybermen the slip by ducking through a pile of garbage and quickly around the next corner. As soon as we had the space to run upright again, we hit a chain link fence. 

 

Rickey was on the other side, and the Cybermen were closing fast. 

 

“Come on!” Mickey shouted.

 

“Get back!” I corrected. I raised Jack’s sonic gun, and Rickey immediately backed up. 

 

Jack had shown me how to use it once, ‘just in case’, he said. I’d been a deadshot. He was so proud. We’d agreed to never tell the Doctor he still had it.

 

I set the gun to squareness, and shot out a part of the fence. Rickey looked at me like I was completely insane, but he jumped through without a word. Before I could put the fence back, a Cyberman reached through. I flicked the gun back to blast and shot. The Cyberman seized, making the closest sound it could to a scream, and collapsed. The hole was too small for anything else to get through, so the remaining Cybermen had to pull the dead one out. As soon as it was clear, I switched the gun back to squareness and sealed the hole. 

 

“What the hell?” the -Ickey’s said, very eloquently.

 

“You had that on you the whole time?” Rickey demanded. “Why didn’t you use it?”

 

“Or ‘thanks for saving my life’, as people usually say,” I said. I pocketed the gun, pushing it far enough into the transdementional space that it wouldn’t show. “You can’t tell the Doctor I have this.” Then I turned and ran back the direction we’d come.

 

“Why not?” Mickey asked, following me.

 

“Easy answer? He doesn’t like guns.”

 

“What’s the hard answer?” Mickey asked. 

 

“Oh, very much related to what I told you earlier.” I could just see the others gathered ahead of us, so that was all I said. I had no idea how good the Doctor’s hearing was.

 

“There they are!” Jake shouted as soon as we were under a light. Rose ran forward to meet us and hugged Mickey. I paused, since I knew Rose would want to hug me too, but Erika ran forward, and pulled me off to the side.

 

I shot the Doctor a panicked look, but all he did was mirror it.

 

“How do I know you?” Erika demanded. Every muscle in my body tensed.

 

“You don’t,” I said, although it pained me to say. Erika shook her head.

 

“No, no,” she insisted. “I was worried about you. I’d only meet you today. I’ve only known you for a few hours, and I was terrified you were going to die.”

 

Instead of answering, I closed my eyes and wondered why the universe was sometimes so cruel. For something so logically indifferent, it sure did like watching me suffer.

 

“We can talk when London is safe,” the Doctor said to my left. I hadn’t noticed him walk up. “But now, we have to move.”

 

“I think the fuck not!” Erika said. I smiled, because that what you do when someone you love is being themselves. “You were all dodgy about it earlier too. How do I know her?”

 

“You don’t,” I repeated. I opened my eyes again and looked at her. She looked so incensed, like she couldn’t believe I’d pulled the same lie twice. “You can’t. I don’t exist.”

 

“Now what in the holy hell is that supposed to mean?” Erika shouted.

 

“I can hear them!” someone from the other group shouted.

 

“We have to move,” the Doctor repeated, walking away without waiting. The ‘I’m just gonna leave you behind then’ method of making people follow you. My mom’s favorite one.

 

I moved to follow the Doctor, but Erika grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. “I’m gonna remember,” she insisted. Then she let go and ran after the others. I felt a tear slide down my cheek.

 

“You won’t.”

 

<...>

 

We walked in relative silence all the way to the waste grounds of the Battersea ‘Power Station’, preferring not to talk until we were well away from the Cybermen. We walked until we were at the top of a hill, and could see the Cyberman factory across a field. 

 

“The whole of London's been sealed off,” the Doctor explained as if we had not all heard the screaming Newscaster. “And the entire population's been taken inside that place.” He nodded at Battersea. “To be converted.”

 

“We've got to get in there and shut it down,” Rose said.

 

“The sooner, the better,” I agreed.

 

Mickey looked between the three of us. “How do we do that?” he asked like he was 90% sure we already had a plan. I pointedly didn’t look at him.

 

The Doctor took a deep breath. “Oh, I'll think of something.” Mickey looked scandalized.

 

“You're just making this up as you go along!” he cried.

 

“Yep.” The Doctor popped the ‘p’. “But I do it brilliantly.” Rose smiled a smug little smile, and Mickey nodded in a ‘fair enough’ kind of way.

 

Everyone broke into groups to strategize, and that was when Erika decided she’d had enough of waiting. She grabbed my arm again, yanking me far out of the range of human hearing. I pulled her further still, until I was pretty sure we were out of the range of Time Lord hearing as well. 

 

“You said your name was Katelyn Laurin,” she said without prompting. I laughed bitterly.

 

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?”

 

Erika was not swayed. “I’ve never met a Katelyn Laurin.”

 

“No, you haven’t,” I agreed.

 

“But you’ve meet me.”

 

“Yes,” I whispered. I was incapable of lying to her. I always had been, ever since we were children.

 

“Explain,” Erika demanded. I glanced back at the others, but they were all engrossed in Mrs. Moore’s laptop.

 

I sighed. “The Doctor’s gonna kill me,” I mumbled. “Erika, remember that joke I made earlier about the -Ickeys?” Erika thought for a moment, then raised her eyebrows.

 

“You’re shitting me,” she said.

 

“I can’t believe you believe me,” I said back. “If this were the other way around I would have checked you for a fever.”

 

“I don’t-” Erika scrunched her face in such a familiar expression that it took almost all my willpower not to reach out and smooth the lines away. “The rational part of me thinks you’re barking, but somehow I-” Erika stood up straighter, suddenly thinking I might be a threat instead of a friend. “Convince me.”

 

“Your mother’s name is Jennifer and your father’s name is Lucas. He-” I stopped. Telling her I knew her father had died of pancreatic cancer felt too cruel. “You were born on August 23rd. You’re an only child, but you always wanted a twin. You’re left handed, like me, and we always used to complain about that.”

 

“Fuck spiral notebooks,” Erika agreed, voice quiet.

 

“You’re favorite colors are pink, blue, and yellow. It’s probably killing you to have to dress in all black to work with the Preachers. You sleep with way too many pillows and-”

 

“You love me,” Erika interrupted. I forgot how to breathe. Erika’s eyes softened somehow. “Did I?”

 

“We were engaged,” I whispered, simply because I couldn’t speak any louder. God, having her here didn't hurt until now. Now, when my heart was forced to stop pretending it was really my Erika in front of me.

 

“Did I die?” Why was her voice so gentle? Why did she care that much about me? I dropped my head, unable to look at her any longer.

 

“I did, I think.” I could hear Erika’s sceptical expression.

 

“I can’t help but notice you’re alive.”

 

“Don’t have an answer for you there, dear. We’re still trying to figure that out ourselves.”

 

“Katelyn! Erika!” the Doctor shouted from the top of the hill. Erika glared in his direction.

 

“We should go. That’s his ‘I have an idea’ tone.” On instinct that I wished I could bury, I offered Erika my hand. Before I could drop it, she slid her fingers through mine. I shoved down how right that felt, and pulled my mental shields all the tighter. We walked up the hill together. The Doctor and Rose both noticed our hands, but neither said anything.

 

“That's a schematic of the old factory,” Mrs. Moore explained as soon as we were close. She typed something and the view of the schematics on her laptop changed. “Look. Cooling tunnels underneath the plant. Big enough to walk through.”

 

“We go under there and up into the control centre?” the Doctor suggested, pointing. Mrs. Moore hummed her approval of that plan.

 

“There's another way in,” Pete said. “Through the front door. If they've taken Jackie for upgrading, that's how she'll get in.”

 

“We can't just go strolling up!” Jake protested. Erika held my hand a little tighter.

 

“Or we could,” Mrs. Moore said, digging in her bag and producing two sets of earpods. “With these. Fake earpods. Dead. No signal. But put them on, the Cybermen would mistake you for one of the crowd.”

 

“Then that's my job,” Pete said, nodding.

 

“You'd have to show no emotion,” the Doctor warned. “None at all. Any sign of emotion would give you away.”

 

“How many of those you got?” Rose interrupted.

 

“Just two sets,” Moore said. 

 

“Okay,” Rose said, grabbing a pair. “If that's the best way of finding Jackie, then I'm coming with you.” Rose stood up.

 

“Why does she matter to you?” Pete asked. 

 

“We haven't got time,” Rose dismissed quickly. “Doctor, I'm going with him, and that's that.” For a second, the Doctor looked heartbroken and terrified, then he shuttered it.

 

“No stopping you, is there?” he asked.

 

“Nope.” 

 

“Tell you what. We can take the ear pods at the same time,” the Doctor said. Both -Ickeys nodded. “Give people their minds back so they don't walk into that place like sheep.”

 

“Good idea,” I said. “Jake, -Ickeys-” Both opened their mouths to protest the nickname. I ran over to a higher part of the hill before they could say anything, dragging Erika with me. “The signal’s continuous, which means it’s still transmitting. I’ll bet it’s from there.” I pointed to the blinking red lights in the Zeppelin parked over Battersea. “On the zeppelin, see it? Apparently, Lumic likes showing off. Think you could take it out?”

 

“Definitely,” Rickey said.

 

“Consider it done,” Jake agreed. 

 

“Erika?” I tried. Her eyes hardened.

 

“Not a chance.”

 

“Didn’t think so. Doctor!” I shouted down the hill. “We’re with you.”

 

“Mrs Moore, would you care to accompany me, Katelyn, and Erika into the cooling tunnels?” the Doctor asked.

 

“How could I refuse an offer of cooling tunnels?” Moore said as an answer.

 

“We attack on three sides,” the Doctor said to the group. “Above, between, below. We get to the control center, we stop the conversion machines.” The first group, Mickey, Rickey, and Jake, started walking off.

 

“Mickey,” the Doctor called before they’d gotten too far. Mickey turned around. “Good luck.” Mickey nodded nervously.

 

“Yeah, you too,” Mickey said. “Rose, I'll see you later.”

 

“Yeah, you'd better,” Rose said, not as firmly as I think she wanted.

 

“If we survive this, I'll see you back at the TARDIS,” the Doctor said. Mickey gave me a look, and I just smiled. He nodded. 

 

“That's a promise.” Then he was gone. I was the only one who didn’t miss him turn around one last time and watch the Doctor and Rose share a hug that was a little more than friendly.

 

<...>

 

We opened the cellar-like door to the cooling tunnels and were immediately blasted with a burst of cold air. I took a deep breath.

 

“It's freezing,” Mrs. Moore said, the first one down the ladder. 

 

 “Katelyn’s natural habitat,” the Doctor said flatly, jumping down after her. 

 

“I keep my bedroom cold so I can sleep with more blankets,” I said for maybe the 15th time. “It’s dark. Any sign of a light switch?”

 

“Can't see a thing,” Mrs. Moore answered. She dug around in her bag a bit. “But I've got these.” She passed the Doctor a headlamp. “A device for every occasion.” She passed another one to Erika, but I pulled out the 36th century flashlight I kept on me instead.

 

“Haven't got a hotdog in there, have you?” the Doctor asked no one in particular. “I'm starving.” Erika and Mrs. Moore chuckled.

 

“I’ve got a Milky Way,” I offered, digging in my pocket for the candy I knew was still there.

 

“What else you in there?” Erika asked, clearly amused. I pulled out a slightly bent copy Much Ado about Nothing . “Wh- how?”

 

“It’s bigger on the inside,” I smirked, apparently incapable of not flirting with Erika.

 

“A proper torch as well,” Moore said, passing one to each of the others.

 

“Let's see where we are,” the Doctor said. I flicked on my light and immediately jumped back. There were Cybermen lining both sides of the tunnel, still and cold.

 

“Already converted, just put on ice,” the Doctor guessed. “Come on.” We walked a few steps before he tapped a Cyberman’s face. Nothing happened but a hollow clanging noise

“Let's go slowly. Keep an eye out for trip systems. Katelyn, up front with me.” I shimmied past Mrs. Moore and walked in step with the Doctor. As soon as I was close enough, he pressed his fingers to mine.

 

She’s not you Erika, the Doctor thought. I didn’t bother to hide my irritation, turning and glaring at him, even if he could feel it already.

 

Yeah, not shit, Sherlock. I glanced over my shoulder. But what if this world had had a parallel Rose? What if she’d left you after you regenerated, and you found a second chance here? The Doctor looked at me with wide eyes.

 

Katelyn- Even his mental voice sounded strangled. 

 

I’m sorry, I said honestly. I paused to let my sincerity sink in. That was unnecessarily cruel. I’m just asking you to understand. I know she can’t come with us, and I don’t even think I want her to. But I can’t just pretend she’s not here.

 

You really love her, the Doctor said, almost sounding in awe. I yanked my shields tighter, because I didn’t want him to feel my constant hum of love for Erika.

 

No, Doc, I said sarcastically. I got engaged to someone I was mildly fond of.

 

Katelyn-

 

“I don’t know how, but somehow you two are having a conversation,” Erika said. The Doctor pulled his hand away from mine, but I got the lingering impression of his respect in Erika’s direction. It filled me with pride. “Care to share with the class?”

 

“How did you get into this, then? The Doctor asked instead of answering Erika’s question. “Rattling along with the Preachers?”

 

“Is he always like this?” Erika asked. I nodded.

 

“I used to be ordinary,” Mrs. Moore offered before Erika and I could go on a tangent. “Worked at Cybus Industries, nine to five, till one day, I find something I'm not supposed to. A file on the mainframe. All I did was read it. Then suddenly I've got men with guns knocking in the middle of the night. Life on the run. Then I found the Preachers. They needed a techie, so I, I just sat down and taught myself everything.”

 

“What about Mr. Moore?” the Doctor prompted.

 

“Well, he's not called Moore,” she admitted. “I got that from a book, Mrs. Moore. It's safer not to use real names. But he thinks I'm dead. It was the only way to keep him safe. Him and the kids.”

 

“You’ll be able to go back after this,” I said. Because I will personally ensure it. I fiddled with the nanogene bracelet. I’d only finished building the charging port a few days ago, when I’d finally admitted I knew fuck all about eletronics and asked the Doctor for help. He’d told me not to use them too often. I had them today. Desperate times and all that.

 

“What about you two?” Mrs. Moore asked. “Got any family, or?”

 

“No,” I said simply, unwilling to explain.

 

“You had a little brother,” Erika said, sounding confused. I stopped dead in my tracks.

 

“Erika, do you know her?” Mrs. Moore asked. 

 

“She doesn’t,” I said to the hallway in front of me. “But I-” I sighed, and started walking again. “I fucked up. Erika, I know why you were scared for me earlier and I am so sorry.”

 

“You gonna elaborate on that?” she asked, not sounding very hopeful.

 

I heard a click, and noticed a Cyberman in front of me move a finger.

 

“Maybe later,” I lied. “Right now RUN!”

 

The Doctor took off without double checking. I grabbed Erika’s hand again and ran after him. The hallway was too narrow to pick up as much speed as I wanted, but I hadn’t heard Mrs. Moore scream in the back, so we were going fast enough.

 

“Trapdoor!” I shouted, as we ran around one last corner, and I could pretend I’d seen it. “Sonic!” The Doctor pulled the sonic out of his pocket while still running. When we hit the ladder, he jumped the first three rungs and scrambled up the last two.

 

“Get up! Quick! They're coming!” Moore shouted. The lock gave way and the Doctor shoved the trapdoor out of the way. I climbed the rungs two at a time. I reached down and pulled Erika up before she could even get a footing on the last few rungs. Mrs. Moore was a second behind. Erika helped her through. 

 

The Doctor and I grabbed the trapdoor and swung it back into place. It shoved down the reaching arm of a Cyberman. I stood on the block to add my weight until the Doctor had it sealed shut again. 

 

Only when the sonic stopped buzzing did I remember to breathe.

 

“You two can read each other well,” Erika noticed.

 

“Comes of having to run for your life every few days,” I said, eyes darting around. “We’ve been in planet ending disasters… oh, eight times this month?”

 

“Decrox does not count,” the Doctor said, standing.

 

“Oh, so just because your life wasn’t threatened-”

 

“You are not upgraded,” a Cyberman droned. We all spun to it, but it was alone and not advancing.

 

“Yeah? Well, upgrade this,” Mrs. Moore growled. She threw a small rod with copper wire wrapped around it at the Cyberman. It stuck, and the Cyberman seized and jerked, throwing off sparks for a few moments before it collapsed.

 

“What the hell was that thing?” the Doctor cried, clearly impressed.

 

“Electromagnetic bomb,” Mrs. Moore explained as we walked toward the Cyberman. “Takes out computers, I figured it might stop the cyber-suit.” We crouched around the Cyberman. I put my hand on its - her - shoulder.

 

“You figured right. Now, let's have a look,” the Doctor said. “Know your enemy. A logo on the front.” He tapped it, then started sonicing it off. “Lumic's turned them into a brand. Heart of steel, but look.” The Doctor removed the logo on the chest. The inside was not just electronics.

 

“Is that...still bits of human?” Erika asked, sounding like she really hoped the answer was no.

 

“In a way,” the Doctor said, scooping the strips of white material out of the Cybermans chest. “Central nervous system. Artificially grown, I’d say, then threaded throughout the suit so it responds like a living thing.” He dropped the nerves and wiped his hands off. “Well, it is a living thing. Oh, but look.” He tapped an exposed circuit board.

 

“Emotional inhibitor,” I said. “Blocks them from feeling anything, good or bad.” 

 

“But why?” Mrs. Moore asked.

 

“It's still got a human brain,” I said.

 

“Imagine its reaction if it could see itself, realise itself inside this thing,” the Doctor added. “They'd go insane.”

 

“So they cut out the one thing that makes them human,” Moore said quietly. 

 

“Because they have to,” the Doctor agreed. Erika reached over and grabbed my arm. I rested my hand over hers.

 

“Why am I cold?” the Cyberman asked.

 

“Oh, my God,” Mrs. Moore whispered. “It's alive.”

 

“It can feel,” Erika realized, voice choked with horror.

 

“We broke the inhibitor,” the Doctor said, leaning over the Cyberman. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

 

“Why so cold?” the Cyberman asked again.

 

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” I asked.

 

“Sally,” she said. “Sally Phelan.”

 

“You're a woman,” Mrs. Moore realized. 

 

“Where's Gareth?” Sally asked. The Doctor sat back. I put a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Who's Gareth?” Moore asked.

 

“He can't see me,” Sally said. “It's unlucky the night before.” My grip on Erika’s hand tightened. She leaned closer.

 

“You're getting married,” Erika whispered.

 

“I'm cold. I'm so cold,” Sally said. The Doctor leaned forward.

 

“It's all right. You sleep now, Sally,” he whispered. “Just go to sleep.” He pressed the sonic screwdriver inside the chest cavity and all the lights went dead. “Sally Phelan didn't die for nothing,” the Doctor whispered. “‘Cause that's the key! The emotional inhibitor. If we could find the code behind it, the cancellation code, then feed it throughout the system into every Cyberman's head-”

 

 “They'd realise what they are,” I said so the Doctor didn’t have to. “It would kill them.” The Doctor narrowed his eyes at me, looking stricken.

 

“Could we do that?”

 

“We have to,” Erika said, voice firm despite the waver. 

 

“Before they kill everyone else,” Mrs. Moore agreed. The Doctor scowled down at the Cyberman on the floor. He was never happy with the killing option, even if it was the only one. “There's no choice, Doctor. It's got to be done.”

 

Mrs Moore stood up, and I started the last of my Plan for the day.

 

I twisted in a way that my hips would definitely complain about tomorrow. Erika’s hand came off my arm. I kicked over the dead Cyberman in front of me, and knocked Mrs. Moore’s legs out from under her. She fell forward, an unpleasant cracking noise signaling her face had hit the steel of the Cyberman’s chest. I clicked the nanogene bracelet before my legs had a chance to succumb to gravity. Some nanogenes flew immediately to heal Mrs. Moore. I scooped my hand around the last of them and pressed them into Erika’s skin.

 

“Katelyn-” the Doctor whispered.

 

“Sensors detect two rapidly repairing bodies, one binary vascular system, and one unknown configuration,” the Cyberman who tried to kill Moore said. “You are unknown upgrades. You will be taken for analysis.”

 

We stood without much complaint. Mrs. Moore’s face was covered in blood, but her bewildered expression told me the nanogenes had already done their work. Erika was wearing a similar expression, her hand on her throat. We followed the Cybermen out of the room.

 

“What was that?” Moore asked. I glanced at the Cyberman behind us. 

 

“A little tech of my own,” I said. “Sorry about breaking your nose.” Mrs. Moore touched her own face, feeling for anything out of place.

 

“Well, it’s fixed now.”

 

“What are the lights doing to me?” Erika asked. 

 

“Probably regrowing the tonsils you had taken out when you were ten,” I said. “Sorry about that too.”

 

“I’ll take tonsils over death,” Erika joked weakly.

 

“Unknown configuration?” the Doctor asked, not even bothering with pretense. A bolt of panic shot through me. 

 

“List it under ‘shit we don’t have time for’ and come back to it?” I offered. The Doctor looked around at the marching Cybermen, and the two humans with us.

 

“Yeah.”

 

<...>

 

“We've been captured!” the Doctor announced once we walked into the control room. “But don't worry, Rose and Pete are still out there. They can rescue us.” The Doctor walked straight over to Rose. “Oh well, never mind. You okay?” Rose nodded, looking back and forth between us.

 

“Yeah.” She paused and swallowed. “But they got Jackie.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I offered. Rose looked at her shoes.

 

“We were too late. Lumic killed her,” Pete said, voice breaking. Poor man. He’d only wanted to help.

 

“And where is he?” the Doctor asked the room. “The famous Mister Lumic? Don't we get the chance to meet our Lord and Master?”

 

“Is he trying to put us in more danger?” Erika whispered to me.

 

“We’re already in the belly of the beast, darling,” I whispered back. “Time to confront the one that put us there.”

 

“He has been upgraded,” a Cyberman said.

 

“So he's just like you?” the Doctor asked, sounding both angry and disappointed.

 

“He is superior,” the Cyberman corrected. “The Lumic Unit has been designated Cyber Controller.” The Cybermen spun to look at a wall. The wall opened with a dramatic puff of smoke. Lumic rolled out on an upgraded, chrome wheelchair.

 

“This is The Age of Steel and I am its Creator,” Lumic droned, his voice just a smidge different from the regular Cybermen.

 

Although, no sooner had the words left Lumic’s robot mouth than screams echoed through the factory. I laughed, and the Doctor grinned.

 

“That's my friends at work. Good boys!” the Doctor said proudly. “Mister Lumic, I think that's a vote for free will.”

 

“I have factories waiting on seven continents. If the earpods have failed, then the Cybermen will take humanity by force,” Lumic explained. Everyone but Pete, the Doctor, and I took a step back in horror. The Doctor glanced over his shoulder, but made no move to show he had a real plan now. “London has fallen. So shall the world. I will bring peace to the world. Everlasting peace and unity and uniformity.” 

 

“And imagination?” the Doctor asked. “What about that? The one thing that lead you here, imagination, you're killing it dead!”

 

“What is your name?” Lumic asked. The Doctor stood up straighter.

 

“I'm the Doctor.”

 

“A redundant title,” Lumic droned. “Doctors need not exist. Cybermen never sicken.”

 

“Yeah, but that's it. That's exactly the point!” the Doctor shouted. “Oh, Lumic, you're a clever man. I'd call you a genius, except I'm in the room.”

 

“How does the presence of one genuis negate the presence of another?” I asked. The Doctor ignored me, as he was wont to do during one of these speeches.

 

“Everything you've invented, you did to fight your sickness,” he continued. “And that's brilliant. That is so human. But once you get rid of sickness and mortality, then what's there to strive for, eh?” The Doctor looked around the room. “The Cybermen won't advance. You'll just stop. You'll stay like this forever. A metal Earth with metal men and metal thoughts, lacking the one thing that makes this planet so alive. People . Ordinary, stupid, brilliant people.

 

“You are proud of your emotions,” Lumic observed.

 

“Oh, yes,” the Doctor agreed.

 

“Then tell me, Doctor,” Lumic said. “Have you know grief and rage and pain?”

 

I almost laughed. Had this man really just asked the Last of the Time Lords if he’d ever felt grief? Had he asked the Oncoming Storm if he’d ever felt rage? Had he asked the Doctor if he’d ever felt pain?

 

“Yes,” he whispered. “Yes, I have.”

 

“And they hurt?” Lumic asked.

 

“Oh, yes,” the Doctor said proudly.

 

“I could set you free,” Lumic droned. “Would you not want that? A life without pain?”

 

“You might as well kill us,” I said. Lumic’s head turned toward me. Erika gripped my arm again.

 

“Then I take that option,” Lumic said. The Doctor stepped in front of me, as if that would somehow protect me.

 

“It's not yours to take,” the Doctor shouted. “You're a Cyber Controller. You don't control me or her or anything with blood in its heart .” The Cybermen all stepped closer to Lumic.

 

“You have no means of stopping me,” he insisted. “I have an army. A species of my own.” The Doctor groaned and dragged a hand down his face. Rose gave me a similar look.

 

“You just don't get it, do you?” the Doctor said. “An army's nothing. Because those ordinary people, they're the key.” The Doctor looked over his shoulder again. I looked at the security camera too, nudging Erika. I heard her stifle a gasp as she realized what was going on. 

 

“The most ordinary person could change the world!” the Doctor continued. “Some ordinary man or woman, some idiot. All it takes is for him to find, say, the right numbers. Say the right codes.” The other humans looked like they were slowly catching on. “Say, for example, the code behind the emotional inhibitor. The code right in front of him. Because even an idiot knows how to use computers these days. Knows how to get past firewalls and passwords. Knows how to find something encrypted in the Lumic Family Database, under er. What was it, Pete? Binary what?”

 

“Binary nine,” Pete said quickly, purposefully not looking at the Cybermen.

 

“An idiot could find that code,” I said. “And he’d keep on fighting. As fast as he could. Anything to save his friends,” I said, decidedly not looking over my shoulder. The Doctor gave me a disappointed look. “What? You looked like you were having fun.”

 

“Not just showing off then?” the Doctor said with a nod in Erika’s direction. I raised an eyebrow.

 

“Is that why you do it?” I shot back. The Doctor snapped his mouth shut. “Check and mate, friend.”

 

“Your words are irrelevant,” Lumic droned. The Doctor and I laughed.

 

“Yeah, talk too much, that's our problem,” he agreed. “Lucky I got you that cheap tariff, Rose, for all our long chats. On your phone.” He gestured toward the camera. 

 

“You will be deleted,” Lumic all but growled.

 

“Yes. Delete, control, hash,” the Doctor said. “All those lovely buttons. Then, of course, my particular favourite, send. And let's not forget how you seduced all those ordinary people in the first place.” Rose's phone beeped. She dug it out of her pocket and smiled. “By making every bit of technology compatible with everything else.”

 

“It's for you,” Rose announced, tossing her phone at the Doctor. He caught it with ease.

 

“Like this.” The Doctor slammed the phone into a docking station. The Cybermen cried out in pain. Every computer screen started flashing to code.

 

One Cyberan near the Doctor caught sight of itself in a shiny piece of metal, and made a truly pitiful sound of pain.

 

“I'm sorry,” we said.

 

“What have you done?” Lumic yelled, sounding outraged despite his apparent lack of emotions.

 

“We gave them back their souls,” I said, grabbing Erika’s hand and getting ready to run.

 

“They can see what you've done, Lumic,” the Doctor agreed, grabbing Rose’s phone and then her hand. “and it's killing them!”

 

We ran out to Lumic screeching “ Delete!” behind us.

 

The rest of the factory was in utter chaos. A few of the Cybermen seemed to think that destroying the factory had been their best course of action. The very building was exploding. Everything was on fire. The Doctor found an emergency exit and pulled the door open. It was blocked by writhing Cybermen. 

 

“There's no way out!” the Doctor shouted. Erika and Mrs. Moore were in such a panic that I could feel it leaking through my shields.

 

I don’t know how she heard it ring over the chaos, but Rose pulled her phone out of her pocket and held it to her ear.

 

“It's Mickey,” she said calmly. After all, we knew the going wasn’t hopeless until the Doctor got clingy. “He says head for the roof.”

 

Rose picked a direction and ran. We all followed her. We found a metal staircase and ran up, Rose leading and Mrs. Moore bringing up the rear. The air was so full of smoke I worried we wouldn’t be able breathe long enough to get up to the roof. 

 

Luckily, only four feet after I had that thought, Rose jumped on a ladder and threw a door open. We scrambled up to the roof, which was also mostly on fire, to see the Cybus Zeppelin lowering toward us.

 

“Mickey, where'd you learn to fly that thing?” she shouted. The Zeppelin dipped lower, then bobbed back up. Rose shoved her phone back in her pocket. The Zeppelin dipped again, veered right a bit, then dropped a rope ladder. 

 

We ran over immediately. “You've got to be kidding!” literally only Pete complained. The Doctor grabbed the rope to steady it, and helped (pushed) Rose up. I pushed Erika in front of me and made her go first too.

 

I wanted to refuse to get on until everyone was above me, but Pete just glared at me until I got on. He barely managed to grab the ladder before the Zeppelin started pulling away. We clung for dear life for a moment before climbing up a few more rungs.

 

“We did it!” Rose cried above me. I looked up to see the Doctor had climbed to the same rung as her, and I smiled. “We did it!”

 

Something heavy yanked the ladder back down, nearly making us all lose our grips. Lumic had grabbed the last rung and was desperately trying to pull himself up. 

 

“Katelyn!” the Doctor called. I looked back up. The Doctor pulled the sonic out of his pocket. I held out my hand, and caught it when he dropped it. I hooked my legs around the rung I was on, sat to close the distance, and passed the sonic to Pete.

 

“Hold the button down!” I commanded. “Press it against the rope. Just do it!” Pete didn’t hesitate.

 

“Jackie Tyler!” he shouted down at Lumic. “This is for her!” He pressed the sonic to the rope, which unraveled, then gave way.

 

Lumic fell, screaming, into the factory.

 

<...>

 

As soon as they were back at the TARDIS, the Doctor ran inside. He plugged the power cell directly into the console, and the lights came back up. The Doctor felt the TARDIS settle back into her place in his mind, humming a quiet, pleased sound, and he grinned. 

 

Someone sighed by the door. The Doctor looked over to see Katelyn walk in, eyes closed. “Good to have you back, old girl,” she said fondly. The TARDIS beeped a weak hello.

 

“We can’t stay long,” the Doctor said. Katelyn opened her eyes.

 

“I know.” She stepped inside, and Erika followed her. 

 

“Katelyn-”

 

“I just want to show her,” Katelyn said. The Doctor could hear to infinite sadness in Katelyn’s voice. She looked so… old, ancient in a way he’d only ever seen in the mirror. It was an expression that just didn’t look right on a young human’s face.

 

Time Lord Reborn indeed. She certainly already carried the burden of his people.

 

“You should probably go tell Rose,” Katelyn said. It was not a suggestion. The Doctor did not treat it like one, just patted Katelyn’s shoulder on his way out.

 

This leaving was going to be painful for all of them, he suspected..

 

<...>

 

Erika looked around in amazement, even after the Doctor walked out.

 

“It’s bigger on the inside,” she whispered eventually. I laughed.

 

“You know, we get that a lot,” I teased. Erika walked up to the console.

 

“Can I-?” she asked. I walked over and rested my hand on the console. The metal was just starting to feel warm again.

 

“Just don’t push any buttons,” I said. Erika rested her hands gently on the edge. The TARDIS hummed a little louder, but gave no sign that she either approved or disapproved, which was unusual. She usually had no qualms about telling even the people she liked when she was unhappy with us. I’d had the burns to prove it.

 

“It’s like it’s alive,” Erika said. I put one of my hands over hers.

 

“She is,” I said. “You just need to be telepathic to feel her.” Erika met my eyes.

 

“And you’re telepathic?” she guessed. I nodded. “I cannot believe that I believe you.” I took a deep breath, almost afraid to say what I was going to say next. 

 

This Erika wasn’t mine. She wasn’t coming with us and I didn’t want her too. But her rejection here, her reaction to my mistake… It was going to hurt.

 

“It’s my fault,” I admitted. “The first time I took your hand-” I laced my fingers through hers on the console, and held. “-I was panicking and hurt. My shields weren’t as strong as they should have been. I think I… I think I sent you some of my…” I paused, trying to figure out how to word my realization. Erika moved her second hand on top of mine.

 

“You sent me your emotions,” she said. 

 

“Yup,” I whispered. “And maybe a few vague memories too. I’m so sorry.” Erika looked confused, which made me panic. Had I slipped up bad enough to erase her understanding of why this was not ok? “Erika, that slip up was the only reason you believe me-”

 

“But not the only reason I trust you,” she interrupted. “Look, I don’t believe in a relationship without effort, but I can already see how I would fall in love with you,” Erika said softly. “You’re kind, and compassionate, wicked smart, and quick thinking. Also snarky as all get out.” My mouth twitched toward a smile, but didn’t quite make it.

 

“I never stopped loving you,” I whispered. “I never will. I love you sympathy and your sarcasm and your willingness to accept anyone and anything. Some part of me always knew that.” Erika let that hang for a long moment, then the light behind her eyes faded slightly.

 

“You can’t ever come back, can you?” she asked. I shook my head. “I-I’m not ready to go with you.”

 

“I was expecting that,” I admitted.

 

“Course you were,” Erika whispered. “Just said you were wicked smart, didn’t I?” She paused. “Do… do you want a kiss before you go?”

 

I forgot how to breathe for a minute.

 

“I don’t think I would survive it,” I finally managed around the lump in my throat. Erika looked both heartbroken and very grateful. She was like that sometimes. Or maybe I’d made her like that.

 

I raised my arms for a hug instead. Erika smiled and accepted. This was good. This was nice. But her arms felt the same and she smelled the same and she was still so warm, and that was all less good.

 

It was almost impossible to think of her as different. She was my Erika in almost every way it matter and in a fair few that it didn’t. She was just missing the memories. 

 

For a brief second, I wished I’d never gotten mine back.

 

Erika pulled back from the hug and, with a pat on my shoulder, walked out the TARDIS doors. The Doctor came in right as Erika walked out.

 

I ran into the corridors. 

 

<...>

 

I retreated to the Willow Brook room before we’d even taken off again. I didn’t want to face the Doctor. I especially didn’t want to face Rose. She had enough on her plate without seeing my pain.

 

I don’t know how long I’d been in there when I heard the door open and someone walked in. The Doctor came over to where I was laying on the grass and sat next to me.

 

“You told Mickey about being from a parallel world.” It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer it. “I can understand why you’d tell Erika, but why Mickey?”

 

“Because I wanted to,” I answered honestly. “Because it was nice to let that burden go. Because he was the only one who would understand not wanting to go back.” The Doctor was quiet for a long time. The TARDIS graced us with the image of a shooting star on the projected night sky. I almost smiled. She was so good to me.

 

“You don’t want to go back home?” he asked. I sat up and looked at him

 

I am home , Doctor,” I said firmly. It was hard to tell if I was still convincing myself, or him. “I have to be. I gave up on being able to go back a long time ago; I mourned a life lost, and I moved on. I’ll never be that person again. That-” I took a deep breath. Pouring out your soul was hard, as it turned out.

 

“That was why I had that freakout, way back on Calos Prime,” I managed. “I-I looked in that mirror, and all I could see was the person I needed to leave behind. The poor little lost girl. I couldn’t bear to look at her, to look at myself.” When only silence followed that confession, I turned my head and found the Doctor just staring at me, heartbreak and sympathy in his eyes. “What?”

 

“That-that…” He didn’t seem to know which depressing part of that confession to pick apart first. “You’d only been here a month, and you’d already given up?” I turned away from him again.

 

“I didn’t want to take the risk of asking if it were possible,” I admitted. “I didn’t want to take the risk of asking you . Part of me clung desperately to the hope that I could go back. But most of me, most of the time, knew the walls had closed. My coming here-” I paused, took another deep breath. “My coming here was a mistake. Some… cosmic fuck up.”

 

“Katelyn, you aren’t a mistake,” the Doctor said firmly. He sounded angry, but I knew it was more on my behalf than at me.

 

“Maybe not,” I said. The Doctor opened his mouth, but I kept going. “But I was never supposed to be here. I’ve understood from day one that my world couldn’t be parallel . There were just too many differences. I’m no dimensional physicist, but I started thinking it wasn’t parallel, it was-” I held my hands up in an ‘x’.

 

“A perpendicular world,” the Doctor said. “Crossing, bumping, this one at one tiny, incredibly specific point in space-time.” He paused, just staring for a moment. “If that’s true, it’s a miracle you even got here. It would be a certified act of the divine to ever get you back.” 

 

I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I figured something like that.”

 

“But not being able to go back is different than not wanting to,” the Doctor said.

 

“I-” I closed my eyes, because that made the talking easier. “Can’t do it again. Going back, losing this life… it would kill me.”

 

“Well,” the Doctor said, tone falsely light. “We can’t have that.”

 

I almost laughed. “No, I’d much prefer to stay alive.” For a few minutes, we just sat and watched the light show the TARDIS gave us. “How’d you convince Rose to stay away?” I asked eventually.

 

“I landed us at Jackie’s,” the Doctor said. “Rose’s with her mum.”

 

I sniffled, determined to stay strong this time. I failed, breaking down and curling in on myself. “I miss my mom,” I sobbed. There was only a second before a hand was on my back and an arm went under my legs and the Doctor me into his lap. I rested my head on his chest and tried to let the double heartbeats soothe away my tears.

 

“I miss mine too,” he whispered into the top of my head.