recs :: about
'Tis Almost Fairy-Time
we have but slumbered here
PG-13, gen, drama. Rose is searching for the meaning of
love. The Doctor just wants to sit down with a good book.
“I don’t love you,” said Rose.
It felt good to say it. She, Rose Tyler, did not love Mickey Smith in any way,
shape or form beyond the platonic, and she might be all alone lying in the dark
but it felt good to say it.
“I don’t love you,” she said again, for further emphasis.
At which point Shireen’s voice drifted insinuatingly into her head – ain’t
he a good shag, then? – and she felt the beginnings of a blush despite the
darkness. It wasn’t that (well, at any rate he wasn’t bad) but as she
couldn’t help but remind herself, she hadn’t thought of him for days, it
took her half an hour to notice he’d been replaced by a plastic mannequin and
when it came right down to it, she’d left him behind without a second thought.
He was nice, yes; but you couldn’t save the world with nice. He was a good
mate, a good kisser (take that, Shireen, yeah) and all in all, a good bloke. She
wasn’t romantic. It didn’t go with being nineteen with no A-levels and a
mother who still thought she was twenty-five. But maybe there really was
something in Valentine’s hearts and silly love songs – rather than nice,
being in love meant icky squirmy feelings and I will die with you, for you,
always you sort of thing. Definitely maybe, like that song by Oasis.
“Don’t love you,” she said again, just to pull as much mileage out of the
point as possible.
That took care of that; but she still couldn’t sleep. And it wasn’t
because she didn’t have Mickey to snuggle, and it certainly wasn’t for lack
First there had been the attack on the shop, the plastic things, the weird
crying fit the Doctor had called culture shock; then there was the end of the
world and everything that came after, and after that came The Mystery of
Edwin Drood and the Blue Elementals; then she went home a year after she
left and it was still the same day, for heaven’s sake – maybe it was no
wonder she staggered as her hand touched the console and the Doctor noticed. He
sent her off to bed without a single remark about the inferiority of the human
race, from which she guessed she must have looked truly done-in.
She had managed to find her way to her room in the end, vaguely remembering the
number of turns to take from the time she found the Victorian dress, and blinked
as she took a good look at the room. The first time she’d headed straight for
the closet; this time, her eyes skimmed round a perfectly nice room with a
comfortable-looking bed in one corner, a desk and chair in another, thick dark
red carpet underfoot, and a print of Van Gogh’s Starry Night on one
She paused in the doorway, and decided she liked it, it was fine, everything was
fabulous, she was asleep.
And now she wasn’t.
It wasn’t the bed; the bed was perfectly comfortable. It wasn’t the weirdly
hypnotic green swirls she was sure she’d end up dreaming about, if she ever
got back to sleep, and it certainly wasn’t anything to do with the fact she
was in an alien timeship currently hanging in the middle of deep space.
That was it. Rose sat up in bed and nodded slightly to herself. It was too
normal. The room looked like anyone’s room, down to the frayed carpet and the
chipped paint on the wall where the edge of the bed had scratched it. The only
thing that was the slightest bit alien about the room was the lack of
lightbulbs; the illumination came from an invisible source near the floor that
she hadn’t yet been able to switch off.
Maybe if she could just get the light to go off, she wouldn’t be able to see
the normality and go back to sleep. It made sense, when you were overtired, and
she stumbled out of bed to begin the quest for the light-switch.
Looking under the bed for it (she did decide in hindsight that it hadn’t been
the best place to look) she found some dust bunnies, a few rusty nails and,
slightly more interesting, a scarf. It was made of soft, warm lambswool, striped
red-burgundy-and-plum, and about twenty feet long.
It belonged to the Doctor. She knew that, somehow; in the same way as she knew
the leather jacket belonged to him, in the same way as she knew he was here
somewhere and that she wasn’t alone in the echoing vastness of the TARDIS,
alone in the universe.
He was standing in the doorway, leaning against it, watching her. “Can’t
“Nah.” She went back to sit down on the bed. “I don’t know why.”
He gave her a look of exasperated admiration and sat down beside her on the bed,
pushing the scarf out of the way. “You’re difficult to tire out, you are.”
“I am tired, really,” she told him. “Not sleepy. There’s a
“Seeing as I don’t suffer from either, I couldn’t say.” He leaned back,
propped up on his elbows.
“You must sleep,” she said. “You can’t not sleep. Even though you are a
nine-hundred-year-old alien or whatever.”
He yawned. “I do, occasionally, succumb to unconsciousness,” he said lazily,
“but that doesn’t mean I spend half my life out of it like you humans seem
to want to do.”
“Well, I’m not asleep, so you can just shut up.” She nudged him so he
overbalanced and landed flat on his back on the bed.
“Ouch. That was uncalled for.”
“No, it wasn’t.” She glanced at him to make sure the manic grin was in
place, and then settled down next to him, lying flat and staring at the ceiling.
It still looked perfectly ordinary. “Doctor...”
“Are you really nine hundred years old?”
“What? Oh, yeah.” His speech was becoming slower. “Couldn’t tell you
exactly without working some things out, but it’s round about that.”
“You don’t look it.” Her hand, thrown out behind her head, brushed across
his face and hair, and she felt him blink.
“Neither do you,” he said presently. “When were you born?”
“We’re currently drifting in space in the year three thousand and something
something, I forget the rest. That makes you older than Methuselah, an’
“You’re winding me up.”
“Check the console if you don’t believe me.”
“No, I mean you’re just being annoying. By my timeline, I’m nineteen and
you know it. You can’t be nine hundred by your timeline, you look about
“I age differently from you people of the simian persuasion.”
She let that go and thought about it. “Does that mean you were a toddler for
fifty years? Because that would explain a lot.”
In his turn, he let that go. “I haven’t always looked the way I do now,
Rose. And I haven’t always been the exact same person.”
“I’m not the same person I was two days ago.” As she said it, she
realised it was true. “Or three thousand years ago, whatever. I just
don’t... I don’t know.”
“I keep thinking about home. And I kept having stupid dreams, you know – all
about the world ending and all of us dying and stuff – and now I can’t
sleep. Did you ever have that dream where you’re falling and falling and just
when you hit the ground you wake up?”
“When I think I’m falling, it’s usually ‘cause I am falling.”
He reached for the scarf Rose was still holding and ran the soft tassels through
his fingers. “Fell off a radio telescope once. I dream about that,
She raised her eyebrows, and tried to see his face more clearly. In the yellow
light and absence of the grin, his expression was enigmatic. “You’re
“Not about that, I assure you.”
“What d’you think happened? Splat is what happened. Not an experience
I’m anxious to repeat.”
She took that in silently, and he seemed to be dozing off, the scarf draped over
him. Just when she thought he had, contrary to expectations, fallen asleep, he
lifted his head and asked, “So, what’s it all about, then?”
She was feeling a little sleepy herself. “Did you say something?”
“Yeah. When I came in, you had an air of Paul on the road to Damascus.”
She frowned. “That’s not fair.”
“What isn’t?” he asked lazily.
“You’re not fair. I know you’re mega-important and nine hundred years old
and you’ve probably read every book there is, but you know I haven’t, I
couldn’t. So it’s not fair you use all these references that I don’t get
and then I feel thick.”
He frowned. “Paul,” he said gently. “Paul, as in the apostles Peter and
Paul, disciples of Christ, you know?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
“Before his conversion, Saul was riding to Damascus in Syria when a flash of
revelation struck him down. It had such an effect on him, he changed his name to
Paul and became a Christian.”
“I remember that,” she said wonderingly. “I do, I really do. Did it in RE
in primary school.”
“And I only meant that you looked like you’d just had a revelation of some
“Oh, yeah.” She gave him a faintly wicked smile. “I was thinking about
“You want to go back and ask him to ask you to marry him, don’t you?”
“Shut up, you.” She shoved an elbow into his ribs. “I only thought –
well, you don’t want to know. I don’t think I get it, myself.”
“Mickey the idiot or my literary references?”
“Both,” she said, and he laughed quietly in response, but said nothing. The
ceiling was becoming blurry above Rose’s head.
“I just remembered something,” she said after a while. “Where’s the
The Doctor paused before saying sharply, “Lights, off.”
The darkness came down like a sudden blanket, punctuated only by the merest
gleam of light near the floor and the faint whirring of the TARDIS. “That’s
better,” Rose said, and it was; there was something comforting about being
aware of nothing very much beyond the Doctor’s presence. “Tell me,” she
said, “why are you so into literature and stuff, anyway?”
“I have a lot of time on my hands.” Without seeing his face, she couldn’t
tell if he was kidding. “And there’s nothing like a good book, Rose. You
live your life, day by day, going to school, going to work, wondering if
there’s gonna be chips for tea... it gets old. But with a great work of
literature, you get to be someone else, for a while. You get to experience all
the good stuff, all the big emotions, love and hate and grief and loss, and then
you come back to earth without even a bump. It answers questions you hadn’t
thought to ask. That’s what it’s all about.”
Rose took it in. “I never read much at school,” she said after a minute.
“Was always more into boys and clothes and stuff, you know. I’d like to
“You can.” She heard him laugh softly. “I tell you what, we can start in
the morning. Don’t forget, anywhere in space and time.”
She laughed, too. “I wouldn’t forget it.”
“Goodnight, Rose,” he said.
Somehow he knew she was falling asleep; and judging by the regularity of his
breathing, he was too. The last thing she noticed about the darkened room was
the twin gleams that must be the Doctor’s eyes; he wasn’t falling asleep,
after all, she noted, or maybe aliens slept with their eyes open or something,
she didn’t know what, and then she really was asleep.
In the morning, the Doctor was gone. Rose shifted, stretching out her limbs with
a comfortable sigh, and decided slowly that she hadn’t felt so well-rested in
days. She opened her eyes to find the lights were up again, this time faintly
blue to resemble natural light. She sat up and ran her palms across the
bedcovers – she’d fallen asleep on top of them – but they were strangely
cool to the touch. He must have been awake for hours.
Further exploration revealed the scarf tangled up with her pillow, together with
a hairbrush. She didn’t remember it as one of her own, but she used it anyway
before getting to her feet and making for the door. From down the corridor, she
heard the sounds of rhythmic clanking and followed them down landings and round
corners to the brightly-lit console room.
The Doctor was underneath the console itself, hitting it with something. The
sounds stopped as she drew closer to the door – in passing, Rose wondered
exactly how good his hearing was – and his head appeared slowly from
underneath one of the control panels. “Morning,” he said through a mouthful
of sonic screwdriver.
“Hey,” Rose replied. “Where can I get some breakfast?”
He seemed to consider. “Try the kitchen. Second on your left, two doors down,
you can’t miss it.”
“Thanks,” she said. “So where are we going today, then?”
“Yeah, about that.” The Doctor looked enigmatic again. “Rose, be a love
and check where we are, would you?”
She gave him a wary look, but she went to the outside door and carefully stuck
her head outside. Immediately, her mouth filled with seawater.
“Gaargh!” She slammed the door shut and stomped across. “Doctor!”
“Yes,” the Doctor said thoughtfully as she dripped on him. “We may be
somewhat off course.”
“Off course? We’re at the bottom of the bloody ocean!”
“Actually, we’re in the North Sea.” He turned back to the control panel.
“Ah, well, back to the drawing board.”
He was ignoring her. She stamped her foot once more for good measure and went
off in search of breakfast.
Surprisingly, the kitchen was as easy to find as he’d said. It was a small
room, lined with cupboards, and reminded Rose strangely of a student kitchen
with its air of having been used by a great many people at one time or another.
She found a toaster and bread to put in it, and put the kettle on the boil.
While waiting, she rummaged through the cupboards. There was a pot of jam, which
she put on one side, but nothing else seemed helpful; along with a jar of
pickled gherkins (Mickey would have liked them, she thought, and wondered why
she was thinking it), she found an old, falling-apart paper bag of jellybabies,
a sink plunger, some Heinz tomato soup and an ancient and wilting bunch of
The toaster pinged, and she let the cupboard door slam shut. She grabbed the
slices, made the tea, spread everything out on a tray and pushed the door open
with her knee.
The Doctor slid out again from beneath the console. “Fantastic.”
“Oi, mucky paws.” She slapped his grubby fingers away and passed him a
teatowel. Obediently, he wiped them before grabbing a piece of toast.
“Tea’s up.” She poured two cups and sat down on the floor beside him.
“What’re you doing, then?”
“Bit of jiggery-pokery.” He grinned. “I thought of someone I’d like you
to meet, last night.”
“Yeah... what actually happened, last night?”
He rolled his eyes. “You people, always assuming the worst. You fell asleep. I
tucked you up and went on my way.”
“Good,” she said faintly. Not that she’d had any doubt, but still.
He took it from her, bit into one side and promptly gagged. “Urgh! What’s
“Marmite.” She smiled serenely. “It was in your cupboard. Don’t you like
“No, I don’t!” He was spluttering. “The others did. Urgh.”
Rose was still smiling. She laid down her mug, flicked a last bead of seawater
off the end of an eyelash and with scarcely a qualm, fed the Doctor some more
The TARDIS eventually materialised on grass so green and lush that at first Rose
suspected they were on another planet. It was only the sight of the punts,
moving slowly on greenish-brown water, and the man on the bank throwing stones,
that persuaded her otherwise. Feeling the Doctor’s presence behind her, Rose
asked, “Where is this?”
The Doctor nodded at the water. “That’s the River Avon, in Warwickshire.”
Rose considered it. “When is this?”
He grinned at her. “Getting the hang of it, aren’t you? This is 1597, or
Rose gave him a half-smile. “Thereabouts? Meaning?”
“Meaning I have no idea if it’s February or September. What does it look
The sky was grey and leaves were falling from the trees, making brown sludge in
the water. “September,” Rose decided, and heard the Doctor mutter something
in what she presumed was an alien language and hit the console with a mallet.
While he was gainfully employed, she slipped out onto the riverbank and walked
down the edge of the water. Most of the punts had gone past, heading towards a
small bridge she could make out in the distance; the only person close by was
the man sitting and throwing stones.
She approached him carefully, making sure her steps were quiet as not to startle
him, but he looked quite startled enough when he raised his eyes to meet hers.
“Hi,” Rose tried, but there was no reply. His gaze drifted downwards, and
she felt a familiar pang of irritation – talk to my boobs, why don’t you
– before abruptly realising. She was wearing her usual pink hoodie and jeans,
in Warwickshire in 1597.
Well, it couldn’t be helped now. She sat down beside him, not minding the
slight squelch of the grass. “I’m Rose.”
He nodded slowly. “From whence have you come? Your apparel, I never before saw
“Far away,” Rose told him. “Far, far away.”
“I think perhaps you are more than what you seem.” His expression was
unreadable, and Rose shivered a little.
“I’m not anybody,” she said quickly, remembering the dangers of time
travel. “No-one important, I mean.”
He nodded, his gaze moving to something above Rose’s head. “Tell this to thy
companion – he hides his secrets well.”
“Making friends, are we?”
It was the Doctor. He was striding easily along the grass in his usual leather,
but to Rose’s surprise, the man on the bank looked up at him without evidence
of discomfiture, and reached up to take the proffered hand.
“How goes it, Will?”
“Not well, Doctor,” said the man, and moved slightly for the Doctor to sit
down. “I have not seen you for many a month, now.”
“Ah, well, time flies.”
“Even among those who style themselves lords of it?” Will asked, staring at
“Even among them.” The Doctor nodded. “I have not been in London; tell me,
what plays below the flag?”
“The Dream, once again, for her Majesty’s pleasure. It has them lining the
streets with pennies in hand.”
“And so it should.” The Doctor smiled. “But you are not happy, my friend;
you do not play thine Oberon.”
There was a long silence before the other spoke.
“I would ask you now if time itself may be altered and the past turned upon
itself, but I dare not hear the answer.”
“What great sadness has befallen you, Will?” the Doctor asked, and suddenly
his expression was deadly serious.
Will threw another stone at the water, this time with more force so a cloud of
ripples spread out over the waves. “My boy,” he said. “My pretty boy,
younger than that child of thine, is lost to fever. His sister survived it, but
Rose leaned forwards. “Hamlet?”
“Hamnet. Why, Doctor” – and he paused – “what know’st she of
“She misheard, ‘tis all,” said the Doctor quickly, with a warning glance
“I had a play in mind, for Burbage...” He stopped and sighed. “Now it
scarce seems important.”
“The play’s the thing,” the Doctor said, with a hint of gravitas. Rose
caught his eye, but his gaze revealed nothing.
“Perhaps again, with time.” Will nodded, and then brightened imperceptibly.
“Doctor... I ask you?”
His voice suggested too much.
The Doctor shook his head. “It happened so, and so happened it will remain. I
can’t change it for you, Will. You know I can’t.”
There was a long, quiet pause, broken only by the lapping of the water and the
calls of birds.
The Doctor broke the silence. “Will – this is Rose.”
Will glanced at her. “Who by any other name would be as lovely, and yet,
mayhap, I am right glad she is called so.”
Embarrassed, Rose felt herself blush; the Doctor seemed to be hiding a smile.
“You flatter the lady,” he said with a straight face.
Rose resisted the temptation to kick him and said simply, “Thank you.”
Will nodded. “It pleases me to make your acquaintance.”
“And having done that, time runs short.” The Doctor shifted and caught
Rose’s eye, nodding in the direction of the blue police box. Rose couldn’t
see it, but had no doubt it was hidden carefully somewhere in the shadows of the
Will caught the change in atmosphere. “Doctor? You take your leave?”
“I have much to do, as you know.” The Doctor was standing up again. “But I
was anxious Rose should meet you.”
“She would do better to spend her time elsewhere. A mere bard, a purveyor of
tales; what is that, to a pretty girl?”
“More than you know, I think.” The Doctor smiled and started walking.
Rose let him get some distance away before turning to the bard. “You,” she
said breathlessly. “You wrote the plays, Romeo and Juliet and all that, you
know what it’s all about. Right?”
For a moment she was afraid he hadn’t understood her, but he nodded. “Speak
“What’s love, really?” she blurted out.
He was silent so long that she worried he wouldn’t answer her at all, but at
last he raised his head. She liked the way he met her eyes without a qualm.
“Fair lady,” he said slowly, “love’s not time’s fool. Remember it.”
She held his gaze a moment longer, than tore away after the Doctor, down past
the river and back to the TARDIS.
In the console room, she complained, “You could have told me I was
gonna meet Shakespeare. I’d have brushed my hair again.”
“What, and spoil the surprise?” He laughed and she couldn’t help joining
“We didn’t stay long, though,” she said after a moment. “Don’t tell me
– grandfather paradoxes?”
“Something like that.” The Doctor grinned at her. “Well, you’ve met
Shakespeare, but it’s still only eleven o’clock in the morning. Fancy
visiting somewhere else?”
“Oh,” – he waved an enigmatic hand – “not far from here.”
Fifty miles and two hundred years away, the TARDIS appeared in a dingy dead-end
alley under the cover of onset darkness. Rose, who had carefully held her breath
when checking to see where they were this time, was less than impressed.
“Looks just like home,” she said, frowning. “All smog and dirty
“D’you know,” said the Doctor, emerging alongside her, “you’re
brighter than you look.” Ignoring her outrage, he continued: “You’re
absolutely right. This is London.”
“In 2005?” Somehow she doubted it.
“No, in 1879. Do keep up, Rose.” He shut the TARDIS door behind them and
strode off into the dimness; with a sniff, Rose decided she had no choice but to
“You said it wasn’t far away!” she said breathlessly as she caught up with
him. When he really got going, she needed to take two steps to match one of his.
“Back in Shakespeare’s time, you said it wasn’t far!”
“It isn’t!” he said, laughing. “Last week we went to the year five
billion, or had you forgotten?”
“Not likely to forget,” she muttered mutinously, and then found herself
having to concentrate on not getting left behind.
They eventually emerged onto something approaching a main road, but in the
absence of close shadows, Rose could see clearly that it wasn’t the
twenty-first century. The irregular cobblestones under her feet were thick with
debris, fallen straw and other things she didn’t want to know the identity of;
there were people walking and running through regardless of the traffic, which
consisted mainly of horse-drawn carriages and carts. Above her, the only sources
of light were the setting sun and newly-lit gas lamps. The scene reminded her
vaguely of Cardiff.
“Over there,” said the Doctor suddenly. Rose followed his pointing finger to
see a pub with a hanging sign – Pig And Whistle – which even from
this distance seemed to be filled with rowdy drinkers and swinging lanterns. The
noise grew louder as they drew closer, but Rose, heartened by memories of
herself, Mickey and Shireen out of a Saturday night, took the Doctor’s hand
and allowed herself to be steered inside.
Between them, they managed to shove their way through the crowds and reach the
bar. With a gesture so rapid Rose nearly missed it, he pushed the nearest man
out of the way and pulled out two stools, one for himself, one for her. The
barman settled two foaming mugs in front of them. “Lethal,” the Doctor said,
but took a sip anyway. Rose grinned.
“Look over there,” he added. He was pointing towards one corner, where the
bar met the wall. “See that bloke? Anything strike you as odd about him?”
Rose looked, and saw a man perched on a barstool, head nearly on his knees. At
once, she saw what the Doctor meant; even more so than a Time Lord and his
companion, the man looked out of place. Unlike the other drinkers, rough types
in cloaks and heavy hobnailed boots, he seemed as though he had been well-turned
out, once – there were the remains of a white shirt collar around his neck,
along with perfectly creased trousers and polished, if now scuffed, leather
boots. Even in the dim light, Rose could make out the gold of the ring on his
“He’s waking up,” whispered Rose. He was; lifting his head, he yelled
something incomprehensibly at the barman, who gave him another mug without even
“Come on.” The Doctor got up and pulled Rose along with him to the dim
The man looked up at their arrival, but the Doctor ignored him for the moment.
“Rose,” he said. “Meet Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.”
“Hi,” said Rose faintly.
“And who might you be?” asked the man suspiciously, peering out from below
“I’m the Doctor,” said the Doctor, “and this is Rose. She’s a fan of
“My work?” Wilde was still looking suspicious. “At present, my work
consists of lily-flower aestheticism and early-morning dips in the Cherwell. I
know not of what you speak.”
“Rose,” the Doctor hissed, “what year did I say it was?”
“1879,” she whispered.
“Ah.” He sat back and said in his normal voice, “Do you want another
“More than life itself,” Wilde told him.
Once the drink had been procured, the Doctor leaned in to speak to Rose again.
“That’ll keep him busy for a moment. You know who he is, of course.”
“Well...” Rose hesitated. “I’ve heard of him.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes in the incredibly expressive way that made Rose want
to hit him. “‘Heard of him,’ she says. What do they teach in schools
nowadays? How to tie your shoelaces? How to walk and chew chewy at the same
“Shut up,” Rose said, offended. “That’s why we’re doing this,
remember? So I know more about literature, and history, and stuff, and you can
just shut up and stop complaining and actually be some help, for a change.”
The Doctor seemed unfazed. “Fine. Oscar Wilde wrote – sorry, will write in
about ten years – The Picture of Dorian Gray. Heard of that? No?
S’about a bloke with a painting in his attic that gets old instead of him. How
about The Importance of Being Earnest?”
Rose wavered. “Maybe...”
He rolled his eyes again. “When you were little, did your mum ever read you
The Selfish Giant? Fairy-tale, somewhat moralising, involves a giant who builds
a wall around his garden?”
Rose frowned. “Doctor, you’ve met my mum.”
Wilde had been staring at them both, drink forgotten. “Go on,” he said
uncertainly. “I have no idea what you are talking about, but go on.”
“My mum’s not that interesting,” Rose said quickly.
“Terrible woman,” agreed the Doctor, straight-faced. “Not worth talking
about at all.”
“Aha,” said Wilde, and keeled over. The two time travellers exchanged
glances, and Rose took a sip from her drink.
“Good stuff, this,” she said thoughtfully. “Worth the trip.”
The Doctor murmured something that sounded suspiciously like “Philistine.”
“Well, it’s not as if it’s a great literary adventure, is it?” Rose said
indignantly. “We can’t ask him about his books, because he hasn’t written
them yet! If you ever managed to get us to the right place at the right
“What do you mean, right place at the right time? Don’t see you offering to
navigate, do I?”
“I mean, you managed to get us to bloody Cardiff instead of Naples last time
and now here we are ten years too early, and d’you know, I’ve got an excuse,
I’m human. You’re the one who’s the Time Lord!”
“There’s nothing wrong with Cardiff!”
“Indeed,” broke in Wilde, inexplicably awake again, “mine is a marriage of
convenience, so to speak, with which the pretty boys of the Borough have nothing
whatever to do. And yet, this is the love that dare not speak its
“We’re friends,” said Rose, and resisted adding “when he’s not being a
“You’re drunk,” the Doctor informed him.
Wilde appeared unconvinced. “‘Do not think, gentlemen, that I am
drunk...’” He relented. “Perhaps I am drunk.”
“And how!” interjected the Doctor, and was thoroughly ignored.
“I may be drunk,” persisted Wilde indefatigably, “but in the morning I
shall be sober, and yet the pair of you, my friends, will still be denying what
He waved a hand around to make the point, and the Doctor laughed. Suddenly, he
leaned in and kissed the other man on the lips. “That,” he said decisively,
“is for being such a poof.” And off Rose’s look, he did it again. “And
that,” the Doctor continued, wagging a somewhat shaky finger, “is for being
so bloody good at it.”
Wilde stared at him for only a second before laughing. “Thank you, my good
man, I shall treasure it.”
He smiled at them, a happy smile that soon became fixed, then pitched forwards
off the stool and rolled until he was flat on the ground. The Doctor gave him an
experimental prod with one foot. He didn’t stir, and the Doctor nodded at
Rose. “He won’t remember a thing in the morning.”
“It already is morning,” Rose told him, pointing through the leaden window
at a sky streaked with purple. She had a sneaking suspicion she was concerning
herself with trivialities.
“It is that.” The Doctor stared down at the prone figure for another moment,
then took Rose’s hand and began walking out of the tavern. “Might be time
for us to go.”
Rose had thought the streets might be quieter at this time, but they were
already busy with people herding animals to market and the occasional splash of
a chamberpot being emptied from an upstairs window. She stuck close to the
Doctor and only relaxed when they reached the alley where the TARDIS lurked in
the shadows. She used her own key in the time it took for the Doctor to ferret
out his, and the door opened slowly. The lights in the console room glowed dim
“Doctor,” she said.
“Yeah?” He walked in, hands in his pockets, and turned back to look at her.
There was something deliciously alien about his eyes, and she shook her head.
The door closed behind them both.
It was still only lunchtime, if lunchtime meant about six hours after you woke
up. “One more for today,” the Doctor had said, and now out of habit, Rose
held her breath opening the door. She was met by a burst of brilliant sunshine
and a fresh breeze. Trees waved gently in the shifting air, and she looked down
to see the land fall away into an azure blue sea. “Wow,” she said after a
while. “You finally took me somewhere pretty.”
The Doctor looked around with a satisfied smile. “This is Eressos,” he said.
He nodded down at the water, breaking shallowly against the rocks a hundred feet
below. “About six hundred years BC. Lovely place.”
“It looks it.” She took his proffered hand and shut the TARDIS door behind
her. They wandered together down the rocky pathway; in the distance Rose thought
she could see a city, but she wasn’t sure. It became clearer as they walked,
resolving into small, white houses with narrow windows and flat roofs. “It’s
like Greece,” she said after a while. “I went there once when I was little,
“This is an island off the coast of Greece,” said the Doctor after a while;
she didn’t know why he was taking so long to reply. “I like it better
He wouldn’t elaborate, and Rose didn’t press him, concentrating on enjoying
the walk through the sunlight. Before long, she reasoned, someone would be
shooting at them or condemning them to certain death, or else the Doctor would
run into an old friend who wanted to kill him, and the more she travelled
through time the more she was learning to just live for the moment.
They came across a few people along the way, peasants and farmers with donkeys
who looked askance at the Doctor’s leather jacket and long stride, but they
didn’t pause until reaching a large, airy courtyard next to one of the small
houses Rose had noticed earlier. Close to, they didn’t seem as small; it was
the fact they were all one storey that had made her think so.
The Doctor pointed silently in front of them. A woman, small with short dark
hair and the long sheet-like garment – was it a toga? Rose wasn’t sure –
was sitting at the centre of a crowd of girls and women. She seemed to be
reading aloud, or else reciting poetry from memory, and although she didn’t
understand the words, Rose liked her voice.
As they drew nearer, the Doctor placed a finger on his lips and held her back.
The woman continued reciting, the words liquid and melodic but occasionally lost
on the breeze, and Rose wished they could get closer. As she was thinking it,
the phrasing reached a ringing conclusion and there was a brief but enthusiastic
burst of applause from the audience. They stood up and began to mingle, laughing
and talking amongst themselves and to the speaker, but it was only when the
majority of them had drifted away that the Doctor and Rose emerged from the
shadows. The dark-haired woman turned at the sound of footsteps. “Theta,”
she said, her face lighting up. “It is you?”
“Yes, it’s me,” said the Doctor, stepping forwards. “This is Rose.”
“And I will greet Rose with the love with which I greet you,” she said
“Hi,” said Rose, feeling awkward. For a moment, she wondered how the Doctor
managed to be so comfortable everywhere he went, and then decided it was
probably something to do with being nine hundred years old and a Time Lord.
“Rose, meet Sappho,” said the Doctor, apparently assuming this would explain
“You brought an innocent girl so far to meet me?” Sappho asked, and laughed
at the expression on Rose’s face. “Poor child, to be brought such distance
“He never explains anything,” agreed Rose, suddenly feeling she might have
made a friend.
“Well, I am merely a poet, whose work he does appreciate,” said Sappho,
“and perhaps he feels that you, too, might derive some small enjoyment from
it. Are you weary? Will you take sustenance?”
“What? Nah, I’m fine.” She was unconsciously backing away. “Really, you
don’t have to bother.”
Sappho laughed again, and then turned behind her to the last of the women who
had been listening. “Come,” she called, “bring some wine for the girl.”
While her attention was turned, Rose grabbed at the Doctor’s sleeve.
“What’s going on?” she said urgently. “I don’t want to say something
wrong and get us killed, or something.”
The Doctor was unperturbed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I just thought you
might like to meet Sappho. She gets ignored in most twentieth-century literature
courses, I can’t think why.”
The other woman had returned; she placed a cup in Rose’s hands before
retreating, and in peering at its sweet, golden contents, Rose almost missed
hearing Sappho call her back and kiss her briefly, murmuring something too
softly to be heard.
The Doctor was there when Rose looked up, staring. “Are they,” she began,
but Sappho was paying attention to her once again.
“It is not to your liking?” she asked anxiously.
Rose tried it, expecting to have to lie, but the wine was sweet and luscious,
almost like the spritzers she would have with Mickey two thousand years from
now. “It’s nice,” she said, meaning it. The poet was still gazing after
the woman who had left them, and Rose decided abruptly she had nothing to lose
and a lot to learn. “Sappho,” she asked. “Are you and her...”
She stopped. The Doctor’s face was expressionless.
“She is my student,” Sappho said. “My friend, my lover. Do you also have
such a one?”
Rose glanced back at the Doctor. “Sort of,” she said.
“Well, she is my muse. No voices chanted choruses without ours, no woodlot
bloomed in spring without song...”
Rose was suddenly bereft of anything to say, and the Doctor, catching her
hesitation, looked up at the sky. “Sappho, the sun grows high.”
She laughed. “Dear, sweet Theta. Always the same. You come, you listen for
five minutes, you go again. One day you will stay and listen to everything I
have ever written, you understand, while the sun rises and sets around us.”
“I will.” The Doctor nodded, and the motioned to Rose. “Come on.”
“‘Go, and be happy.’” Sappho laughed and after a moment, so did the
Doctor; Rose had the distinct impression she was missing something.
“‘But remember whom you leave shackled by love,’” murmured the Doctor as
they were walking away. “A few years from now, an Athenian ruler named Solon
is going to visit the island, and is going to ask to learn the poem. Because
I want to learn it, and then die. And then somehow or other, all nine
volumes of her poetry are going to be destroyed before the twentieth century.
That’s how well you lot take care of your literature.”
He was walking too fast for Rose to keep up. She resigned herself to jogging
every few moments, and asked: “Why did you bring me here?”
“Because I wanted you to see another type of literary love. Closed-minded
Victorians get on my nerves.” Off Rose’s look, he slowed down. “Yes,
Sappho wrote love poetry for other women. Scholars throughout the centuries have
got their knickers in a twist over it.”
“I didn’t think they had that in six hundred BC,” said Rose thoughtfully,
and the Doctor grinned.
“The name of the island is Lesbos. Make of that what you will.”
Rose giggled. “You’re just a typical bloke, you are. Bloody fascinated by
lesbians, all of you.”
The Doctor took the bait. “I resent that remark.”
“Don’t see why you should, you’re no different just ‘cause you’re an alien...”
“I’m not just anything, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, ‘cause your ego could sink ships.”
“Thank you for that biting insight into my character. I’ll be sure to seek
The argument lumbered gently on, but just before entering the TARDIS, Rose took
a moment to pluck a large branch from the olive tree above it. She presented it
ceremonially to the Doctor, and the last a passer-by would have heard before
dematerialisation was a charged silence, and then a sudden chord of laughter.
“Tell me,” Rose said as the ship swung through space, “why does everyone
in the universe think I’m shagging you?”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
Soon after that, Rose lost the Doctor. Within the TARDIS, it wasn’t difficult
to lose sight of him; the timeship had a tendency to oscillate between being
merely big and being astronomically vast, and the room she’d seen as the
kitchen had inexplicably morphed into a conservatory full of Venus flytraps, but
all the same, this time she knew she was alone. She couldn’t feel the presence
of the Doctor anywhere, no matter how far she wandered, and in the end she found
her way back to the console room and the outside door.
He was leaning against the side of the TARDIS, looking out over unbroken, stony
flat land stretching towards the horizon. In all her walking, she must have been
too far from the console room to feel the drunken lurching that indicated they
were going somewhere.
“Where is this?” asked Rose. The Doctor licked a finger and held it into the
whipping, chilly wind; there was a bleakness about his expression that matched
“The road to Damascus,” he said slowly. “Fancy a walk?”
Rose nodded. “Hang about.” She knew her way well enough now to be able to
run to her room and back; she grabbed the scarf from under her pillow and joined
him outside. The blue police box was the only thing to be seen for miles, other
than rocks, scrubland and the occasional scurrying lizard. To Rose’s eyes, it
looked oddly homely.
They set out along the road towards the horizon. The Doctor’s usual decisive
stride had been replaced by a more shambling amble that Rose could keep up with
easily. After a few minutes, she said: “Mickey would have said I was mad.”
“What?” His voice was low.
“I mean, I’m a time-traveller, right? You – we – can go wherever we
like. And I chose to spend the day with dead authors.”
“What’d he have done, then?”
Rose smiled slightly. “World Cup final, 1966. I know him.”
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. “We still could do that. I was there the first
“Nah.” She let her hand slip into his. “I’m not with him, I’m with
you. I wanted to meet Shakespeare, and Oscar Wilde, and, and...”
“Sappho,” he said quietly, with no additional remark about her ignorance.
“Yeah. And I’d like to meet Charles Dickens again, maybe. And, you know,
“I know.” He was still thoughtful, and Rose wondered vaguely what he was
“I did learn something today,” she said. “You do have a name.”
“I’m the Doctor,” he said automatically, but she shook her head at him.
“She, Sappho, I mean, she called you…” She paused, and then pronounced the
word the way the poet had. “Theta.”
The Doctor glanced at her. “She calls me by the most pronounceable name I have
in her tongue. It’s just an old nickname, that’s all. It’s not my real
name, it doesn’t mean anything.”
“What’s it short for?” Rose asked.
“Theta Sigma.” He said the words as if they were in an unfamiliar language.
“I was called Theta Sigma, at the Prydonian...” His voice trailed off, and
Rose realised he wasn’t talking to her particularly as much as the universe as
a whole. “Everyone who called me that is gone.”
Rose gripped his hand and said nothing. If the Doctor were a jigsaw she was
trying to piece together, a name would be a corner-piece, the bit with the
significant part of sky you went hunting through the box for; but she wondered,
sometimes, if it were jigsaw pieces she was hunting for or the shattered,
jagged-edged pieces of a broken glass.
The thought made her shiver, along with the howling wind, and she rearranged the
scarf so it gave her better protection from the elements. Even wrapped round
twice, it trailed along the floor and she was tempted to pick up the frayed ends
and wrap them around the Doctor’s neck.
She moved to do it, but lost her nerve. Instead, she took his hand again and
walked in step. “Doctor,” she said presently. “I asked Shakespeare what
love is, this morning. Because of Mickey, you know.”
“And I wanted to ask Oscar Wilde, only he sort of told me without me asking,
and then I asked Sappho and she gave me some of her poetry. Which was pretty,
but didn’t exactly tell me much.”
“So... d’you think I’ll ever find out? I mean, we will go back eventually,
right? See Mickey again and that?”
“Yeah,” he said gently. “We promised.”
“So...” She paused, waving her hands helplessly around. “Does it get
easier, then? Do you meet someone and fall in love and that’s that?”
There was a long pause, broken only by the howling wind, before the Doctor gave
her his habitual manic grin. “We’re on the road to Damascus. I’m sure
we’ll find out.”
Rose smiled wanly. “Literature’s about love and hate and grief and loss.
That’s what you said.”
“All the big emotions, you said. It answers questions you hadn’t thought of
He nodded again. She wondered if he were capable of speaking.
“Answer me this, then,” Rose said clearly. “’Cause I don’t think any
book in the world’s going to tell me. Who are you?”
He glanced at her and frowned. “What do you mean?”
She wasn’t going to be shaken off this time. “I’m Rose Tyler, I’ve got
no brothers and sisters, I used to live with my mum, my boyfriend’s name was
Mickey, blah, blah. You’re the one who’s taking me on this voyage of
discovery, you know who I am, but I don’t know who you are. You’re
“The Doctor,” he said, and his tone suggested finality.
“That’s not even a name!” she said, her voice rising. “It’s a title!
What the hell does it mean?”
“It means,” – and his voice had dropped as hers had risen – “that I
hold a doctorate from the Prydonian, an educational establishment that no longer
exists, on a planet whose past, present and future are a burning cinder in
space; that I am the only survivor of a hellish war; that I am the last of the
Time Lords, I am the Doctor, Rose, and don’t forget it!”
“As if I would!” She wasn’t sure how she’d ended up shouting at him, nor
he at her, but it was something about his mood, something about the miserably
grey landscape, that made it easy to forget the marvels of the universe and
focus on picking at the scabs. “As if I’d forget that. I’m just a human,
after all! Someone you picked up because you were bored!”
“If that’s what you really think, then maybe I shouldn’t have bothered!”
“Yeah,” she said, honestly livid in a way she’d never been with Mickey and
her mum, who made her angry but didn’t get under her skin and crawl the way
the Doctor did. “Threaten to drop me off home, why don’t you? That’s what
you do with stuff you don’t like, don’t you? Dump it overboard and hope you
never see it again!”
“Don’t think I wouldn’t!”
There was a ringing silence. He stared at her while she stared mutely, furiously
back, and time seemed to slow down for a few seconds. She heard him breathe in,
breathe out, and abruptly kick a rock. “I’m tired,” he said at last, his
voice quiet and even.
She looked down at her feet. “This was stupid,” she said, too softly for him
“I think it’s time to go back,” he went on, in the same low tones, “and
I’ll take you home if you want.”
It had begun to rain. She didn’t resist as he turned around and began the walk
back towards the TARDIS, the only thing with any appreciable colour on the
horizon. Her hair hung wetly in her face, and she pulled the strands out of her
eyes, shifting the scarf. Close to, she noticed small discolourations on the
woollen stripes – dark, copper brown bloodstains that interfered with the
regular pattern. She wanted to cry.
When they reached the TARDIS, Rose stumbled numbly in as he held the door for
her. The central column moved in time with the humming sounds of
dematerialisation, but she could see he wasn’t paying it any attention,
letting it throw them to a random place and time. She edged away from the door,
just in case. He watched her move, his eyes distant and unsettling, and then
abruptly turned back to the console.
Rose thought about running into the depths of the ship, taking random turns
through greenhouses and cloisters so she’d stay out of his reach, but as soon
she had the thought, she discarded it. The TARDIS was the Doctor’s ship, made
to suit his shifting moods, and he would find her.
The console jerked. He was controlling it with precision now, struggling without
her help but keeping his silence nonetheless. The ship pitched, rolled,
performed some kind of loop-the-loop in space and landed with its usual sequence
of creaks and hums.
Rose eyed the outside door.
“This is going to be Mickey’s living room or something, isn’t it?” she
asked, not bothering to disguise the wretchedness in her tones. She was going to
open the door now, see familiar chintz and unwashed dishes and Mickey, poor
sweet Mickey who would never be good enough again, but she was going to hold up
her head and step out without turning round, even if, especially if, it meant
she never laid eyes on the Doctor again.
She opened the door. At once it was darker than she expected, with the sounds of
people shouting and horses’ hooves clattering over cobbles, and in front of
her were small, shining green figures dancing through the dimness and above her
was a perfect circle of grey sky.
She jumped back and let the door slam shut. “This isn’t home,” she said
The Doctor didn’t look up. “Nope.”
“I thought we were going back.”
“And get slapped by your mum again? I’d rather not.”
“Doctor!” She moved closer to him, trying not to think about slapping him
herself. “Please talk to me. Where are we?”
“Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, 1599, hidden in the groundlings’ pit so
no-one sees us.” He turned his head, finally, and looked straight at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment.
Rose thought about it. She picked the olive branch off the floor and handed it
to him. “I’m sorry, too.”
He held it, unseeing, then let it drop, smiling a little. “I told you I
don’t do domestics.”
“Stop having rows with me, then!” She smiled back. “You know, you can be
so horrible it’s not even funny. It’s not my fault I’m only human.”
“You’re not only human,” he said gently. “You’re not only anything.”
There was a brief, awkward pause. Rose tugged the scarf from around her neck and
let it twine around her hands and arms.
“Let’s go out,” he said.
Rose grinned wryly. “Yeah, let’s. More love and hate and grief and loss –
don’t we have enough of it between us?”
“Don’t forget the comedy aspect,” he said, and took her hand.
The blue box was deep in shadow. The Doctor locked it behind them and led Rose
out of the pit strewn with reeds towards the narrow wooden staircases and long
benches. The audience were transfixed by the play, and no-one noticed the time
travellers come to a stop in a murky corner and perch themselves on the edge of
“Where is this?” Rose asked.
“I did say,” the Doctor told her, leaning forwards. “Shakespeare’s
Globe. We’re near Southwark, on the banks of the Thames. Ever been?”
“Nah, they built a replica in 1999, and Harriet subsidised it later. Shut up
and listen now, this is the good bit.”
Rose neglected to mention he was the one doing the talking, and looked down at
the stage. A tall man, made up to look fat and red in the face, was standing
before the audience, declaiming loudly with one hand raised. “O grim-look’d
night! O night with hue so black!”
The Doctor stifled a giggle. The actor continued, “O night, which ever art
when day is not! O night, O night, alack alack alack...”
“What’s happening?” she whispered.
“That’s Pyramus, played by Bottom, played by somebody-or-other,” said the
Doctor quickly. “It’s the tragic story of doomed lovers Pyramus and
“Why’re people laughing?”
“It’s a comedy, this play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
“You said it was tragic.”
“Well, it is. It just has a comic aspect.” His expression was entirely
wicked, and Rose grinned, gripped his hand and decided to enjoy the play whether
or not she understood a word of it.
“Who’s that?” she asked after a minute.
“Snout. He’s playing a wall.”
“How the hell do you play a wall?”
“Like that,” said the Doctor, pointing as the hapless actor spread his
fingers so the lovers could peer through them. Rose laughed, half at the drama,
half at the sight of the Doctor laughing.
After a minute, she said: “That’s a talking lion.”
“It is that,” agreed the Doctor, and Rose gave up asking him for
explanation. The play within the play rollicked on to its gruesomely hysterical
conclusion, and a hush descended on the stage and the audience. “Lovers,
‘tis almost fairy-time,” murmured the Doctor.
“Now the hungry lion roars
And the wolf behowls the moon...”
“I’m glad we came back,” whispered Rose.
On the stage below them, the flickering oil-lamps were beginning to dim,
illuminating the fairies as small, shimmering woodland creatures drifting around
the boards. At the front was a dancing, leaf-patterned boy, holding a bundle of
“I am sent with broom before
To sweep the dust behind the door...”
Rose laughed as he began to sweep, the other fairies dancing lightly out of his
way. “It was good,” she decided.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Not just this, the whole day. Even Damascus,” she added as an afterthought.
He nodded. “We’re not far from your time, now,” he said neutrally.
“I told you, you’re not getting rid of me.” She hoped she wasn’t
sounding petulant. Below, the fairies were making way for their king and queen.
The regal stance of the fairy king struck Rose as somehow familiar, and she
leaned forwards, trying to peer through the make-up. “That’s Shakespeare!”
The Doctor followed her gaze. “He went back to acting in the end, I reckon.”
“Yeah, he must have.”
The stage was full of dancing sprites and unearthly children now. Rose looked
first at them, and then at her companion, then back again. “You’re not
getting rid of me, Doctor.”
The Doctor’s face was carefully set. “I couldn’t go back and save
Shakespeare’s child,” he said. “Hamnet is dead, is dying, just as
Sappho’s love always leaves, shackled in love but leaving all the same, and
Dickens never finishes Edwin Drood and Wilde is banged up for being a deviant.
In the end, Gallifrey burned. I couldn’t save my own people and I can’t keep
Rose watched as the fairies delivered their blessing. She didn’t look at him
as she spoke. “The safest place in the universe is probably wherever’s
furthest from where you are. And I still want to stay with you.”
“You do?” He sounded surprised.
“So, goodnight unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends...”
Rose reached out. His eyes met hers.
“And Robin shall restore amends.”
Puck bowed low, plucking a candle like a flower from the hands of a passing
sprite, and sweeping it in a wide, expressive arc at the audience. The flame
went out and the audience erupted into applause. The Doctor and Rose joined in
with slightly more restraint. “A happy ending,” she said.
“You heard him,” he replied. “We have but slumber’d here – in
other words, it was all a dream.”
Rose wasn’t put off. “So… don’t people live happily ever after, even in
books? Don’t they learn to live again? Maybe love again?”
The Doctor paused. “It doesn’t conquer all, Rose.”
“Then does it conquer some?”
He stayed still for a second longer, then got up. The audience was beginning to
disperse, and Rose had to step quickly to keep up with him. “Maybe it does,”
he said, after a while.
She nodded and didn’t comment for the moment. On the way back down, she kept
her head down to avoid being spotted by the natives, not having the Doctor’s
natural talent for going unobserved. She almost didn’t notice the king of the
fairies watching them as they crossed the pit.
Shakespeare leapt lightly off the edge of the stage, unnoticed by those around
him. “Farewell, Doctor. And thy pretty companion, too.”
The Doctor smiled. “You knew we were here?”
As he turned to go, Shakespeare gave Rose a flower from his costume. She
accepted it bemusedly, wanting to thank him, but the Doctor didn’t pause,
beckoning for her to hurry up.
Safe in the TARDIS, she sat down in the console chair and drew her knees up to
her chin. “If you’re the last Time Lord,” she said, his scarf around her
neck, his hand in hers, “then I’m the last Time Lord’s companion. To the
end of the world.”
“And all that comes after.” The Doctor nodded and she reached up to give him
the flower. He held it, hands shaking. It was a night-blooming rose.