R, drama, femmeslash. "...draped over the console as if it belonged to her, she was eloquent, indefinably attractive, and, well, alien. Just like the Doctor, only the Doctor wasn't a woman." On a planet with six suns, Rose gets used to it.
There was a woman coming towards them, a slight figure crowned with dark exuberant curls and bright, long-lashed eyes. Her features were pointed and pale, suggestive of much time spent in cold places, and her fingernails were short and bitten down towards the cuticle. She came to a graceful stop by the fire, her feet raising more dust. "Hi," she said cheerfully. "I'm the Doctor. Who are you?"
Hidden just out of sight and looking out through the TARDIS doors, Rose fought the urge to bury her head in her hands. She compromised by a long, five-second blink; and when her eyes opened again, she was pleasantly surprised to see the Doctor still standing, apparently carrying on a one-sided conversation with the recumbent aliens. After a moment, the Doctor nodded, turned on her heel and returned to where Rose was waiting. "That was interesting," she said, still cheerfully. "They didn't seem to understand me."
"That's because," Rose said through gritted teeth, "they're raving lunatics, Doctor. Everyone we've met on this planet is mad as a hatter. I thought they were going to attack you."
"Did you?" asked the Doctor, with apparently genuine surprise, as if they hadn't been shown violent aggression by every other group of people they'd come across on this ruin of a planet. "They didn't do that. Just rolled over and went back to sleep, poor chaps."
"Doctor," said Rose despairingly. "You're going to get yourself killed. Again. Why don't we just leave?"
"Because something is wrong here," replied the Doctor, and her voice had taken on that edge that reminded Rose of all her other selves. "I was here a long time ago, I'll admit, but it wasn't like this then. It was a thriving civilisation, rather like twentieth-century Earth, now I come to think of it."
"Is this the same planet?" Rose asked hesitantly. "I mean, no offence, Doctor, but you know you don't always get it right."
"I'd be offended, but it's true." The Doctor nodded.
"Oh..." Rose was suddenly struck by a perennial fear, remembering the almost human appearance of the madmen by the flames. "This isn't Earth, is it? Earth with all its history gone wrong again?"
"If there's any point I can reassure you on, it's that one." The Doctor led her out of the TARDIS properly and shut the still-open door. "Look over there."
She was pointing towards the horizon; Rose followed her gaze to see she was indicating a yellow slice of radiance overlooking the ragged trees and shattered building shells that made up the skyline. "This planet has two suns! Like in Star Wars!"
"Not quite." The Doctor described a full circle, looking all about her and taking in both the rust-red sun high above them and with the rising disc. "If I remember rightly, it has six."
"Six!" Rose grinned, startled at the idea. "Wow."
"Indeed. Amazing life ever evolved here, to be honest." The Doctor was looking thoughtful, one hand tangling idly through her hair. "What do you say we carry on exploring?"
"All right." Rose smiled and the Doctor's small hand slipped into hers; that touch, and the prospect of a sixfold sunrise suddenly brightening the day considerably.
It was amazing how quickly Rose had got used to it, considering. Her newest companion, draped over the console as if it belonged to her (which it did, Rose realised) was eloquent, indefinably attr quite." The Doctor described a full circle, looking all about her and taking in both the rust-red sun high above them and with the rising disc. "If I remember rightly, it has six."
"Six!" Rose grinned, startled at the idea. "Wow."
"Indeed. Amazing life ever evolved here, to be honest." The Doctor was looking thoughtful, one hand tangling idly through her hair. "What do you say we carrbr> "Believe me" - and the wryness in the tone was all Doctor - "it wasn't a walk in the park for me, either."
"What happened?" Rose asked, curiosity piqued. "Did you die again?"
"Something like that." The Doctor was perched on the edge of the console, legs swinging. Her feet were bare and Rose noticed her toenails were painted red. "Put in laymen's terms, I woke up, looked down and screamed a lot."
"Looked down… oh." Rose's eyes widened. "That must have been a, um, shock."
"It was. I adjusted." She swung down to her feet and Rose couldn't help admiring her grace. In an unconscious gesture, the Doctor pushed her long curls behind her ears, using her fingers to untangle them. "Is something the matter?"
Rose blinked, then blushed. She'd been staring without even realising it. "Sorry. I just can't get over how, um, feminine you are."
"That, my dear, would be because I am now female in every respect." She grinned wickedly, a broad grin that made something catch in Rose's heart and memory. "Would you like me to prove it to you?"
"No!" Rose giggled. The TARDIS was telepathic, she remembered, and it might make sense to ignore the inner voice that whispered yes, please...
"Bet the nights are short here," said Rose after they had been walking for a while. The further they went, the more inclined Rose was to trust the Doctor's memory; the streets and buildings, while battered and scarred by fire, did seem the product of a civilisation like Earth's. It was the bleak desertion, punctuated by roving wanderers babbling in incoherent madness, that made the place alien. "And I bet no-one's scared of the dark, either," Rose went on.
The Doctor smiled. "That would seem a reasonable assumption. Hello, who's this?"
It was a child. A small, curly-headed boy had run out of a neighbouring street, his feet clattering on the cobbles. He looked up at them out of solemn blue eyes, and Rose noticed inconsequentially that his pupils were much smaller than those of someone from Earth.
"Hello," said the child, and both the Doctor and Rose paused; now getting accustomed to the incomprehensibility of the insane, they needed the moment to register the TARDIS translation circuits were still working perfectly.
"Hi there," said Rose, kneeling down to be at eye-level with him. "What's your name?"
The child inclined his head. "Merlin."
"There's a coincidence," noted the Doctor. "All right, Merlin. Can you tell us anything that's happened here in the last, I don't know, the last month or so?"
The child said nothing, and Rose looked reprovingly up at the Doctor. "He's only little, Doctor. You can't get the whole thing out of him just like that."
"Out of the mouths of babes, truth," said the Doctor, unfazed. "Our small friend here is the only sane person we've met on the entire planet so far. Isn't that interesting?"
She was growing pensive, and Rose decided to ignore the Doctor for the moment. She focused on the little boy, who was grubbing away at something he'd found in the dust, uninterested in the alien visitors. A pebble, Rose thought, or maybe a coloured crystal of rock.
Suddenly, the Doctor dropped to the ground. Rose inhaled sharply, startled at the movement, but the Doctor was grinning as she looked up from beneath her lashes. Arms crossed beneath her head with her feet in the air, she seemed almost comfortable. "That's better, isn't it?"
Rose found herself grinning despite herself. "You're the maddest of them all, Doctor," she said. "What's this about?"
"Oh, I don't know. Seems to me you'd spent a lot of time looking at the sky too, if you grew up on a planet with six suns."
"No suppose about it. And you, little one," - this last to Merlin - "what do you think? Isn't this a far better way of looking at it?"
The child stared at the Doctor, brow furrowed. "Who are you?" he asked clearly.
"I'm the Doctor, and that's Rose."
"You're grown-ups." There was something curiously definitive about his voice. "Not like the others."
"Yeah, we are," Rose said. "What do you mean? Who are the others?"
The Doctor was thinking. "There are more of you," she said rapidly, "more children?" The boy nodded, and went back to staring at the rock in his small hand, but she wasn't finished yet. "Can you tell us?" she asked. "Can you tell us what happened?"
Merlin considered, eyes still solemn. "Flames," he said after a while. "There was fire. And then all the grown-ups were gone."
"What, disappeared?" Rose asked.
The child shook his head and pointed behind him. Frowning, the Doctor rolled over and swung to her feet. With Rose following, she moved swiftly in the indicated direction until they came to what seemed like a collapsed shop-front.
Rose shifted the fallen awning. They had found the bodies.
In the end, it came down to the same question. Perhaps Rose hadn't quite believed until that point that the leather-jacketed Northerner and the prettier, whimsical follow-up in the loose tie had had the same mind and memory as the woman in front of her; but when the Doctor inclined her head and asked, nervously, wringing her hands, d'you wanna come with me, Rose believed.
"You wanted your own life," the Doctor continued. "I said I'd leave you alone."
"You said you'd come back if I changed my mind," Rose recalled. "Although I remember wondering how you would know."
The Doctor was pacing now, up and down, avoiding the steps and pillars as if she'd lived here all her life, and Rose paid attention to the way the lights played over her face and noticed again and again how alien she looked.
"Will it be easier saving the world, now I've got A-levels?" Rose said carefully.
The Doctor looked up sharply, eyes bright. "Does that mean you'll come?"
Rose thought about it. All that you can't leave behind, that was it (and didn't she have an album called that, somewhere?), and was there that much of it? Her quiet, unassuming life, her job and her mother, her total lack of significant other, and a handful of people who would notice she was gone. And on the other side of the argument, the TARDIS key on its necklace chain, still pressed against her heart for a day when it might glow.
"I'll come," she said.
The Doctor smiled.
"After all," Rose continued happily, "someone's got to be around to show you which end of a tampon is which."
And for a moment, the Doctor's look of exquisite, bone-deep horror made everything worthwhile.
"They killed themselves," said the Doctor suddenly.
Rose shuddered. She'd had to let the Doctor inspect the bodies, scanning for causes of death with the sonic screwdriver and finally replacing the covering with a certain reverence. Rose was standing two steps away, arms wrapped around herself and chilled even in the sunlight, but the Doctor's expression never changed as she worked.
"What?" Rose spoke more abruptly than she'd meant to.
"They killed themselves," repeated the Doctor. "They set the buildings on fire themselves and plunged into the flames. And those that didn't were driven insane. Where's our little tour guide?"
Rose pointed. The child was still sitting in the dust, playing with his pebbles. "Tell me, Merlin," said the Doctor, "how old are you?"
"Four," said the child expressionlessly.
"Right, right. I think we'll leave him to it," said the Doctor. "Come on, then, we've got work to do. And I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind something to eat."
Rose quickened her pace to keep up, but she was frowning. "How can you be so..." She paused. "How can you be so normal? Those were actual dead bodies, hundreds of them, and you're talking about food!"
The Doctor turned to look at her. "I am who I am," she said simply, and her hand slipped back into Rose's.
They were walking away from the city now, towards a tall, imposing structure still some distance away towards the eastern horizon. That was if the suns all rose in the east, Rose thought, and realised she didn't know for sure. "What's that, do you think?" Rose asked after some time.
"I don't know," said the Doctor. "Another mystery, probably, to go with the ones we've already got. Where are the children getting their food and water from, I wonder?"
"The shops?" Rose suggested. "If there's still food there, they can just go in and help themselves. Are there really other children? I mean, if we've only seen one..."
"There will be others." The Doctor seemed certain. "Ah, look, someone new. Perhaps we can get some sense out of him."
Rose privately doubted it. They were walking along the middle of a paved road, and there was a man coming towards them at a sedate pace. He didn't look any more sane than the others, with the same ragged clothes and long matted hair and beard. As they drew closer, they could hear he was muttering something.
"Not afraid. I'm not afraid. Not afraid of it. Not afraid."
"Hello," said the Doctor politely. "I'm the Doctor."
Rose was sure he would move to attack the Doctor, as so many had done before, but he stared at her, unseeing, and carried on muttering. After a moment he had walked straight past them, heading towards the city.
"Not the communicative type, I see," said the Doctor lightly. "I suppose we shall have to continue unescorted."
They did, but Rose wondered anew how the Doctor was taking this whole strange business in her stride. At length, they arrived at the base of the structure, having met no-one else along the way. The second sun was well clear of the horizon now and Rose was wondering idly if another one was forthcoming.
"Looks like a Victorian gothic folly," commented the Doctor. "Folly being the operative word. Shall we go in?"
"Would you take any notice if I said no?" asked Rose, and followed the Doctor inside.
The Doctor was in the cloisters reading Mary Wollstonecraft when Rose walked deliberately across and kissed her.
The Doctor laughed and leaned back on the bench, elbows flat against the stone. "You never wanted to do that, before! What's brought this on?"
Rose couldn't answer for a moment. The first answer that leapt, unbidden, to the front of her mind was now you're more human, but that made no sense, that meant Mickey and Jack and the others had been alien simply because they were male, when they weren't, they were human and more close and real to her than the time-traveller in the blue box.
Now you're like me. That wasn't true, either; there was still an alien mind looking out behind those eyes, and a pair of hearts beating out the rhythm of time if Rose only came close enough to touch.
Another answer: I did once.
That was true, but Rose couldn't say it. "It's the clothes," she said weakly.
"The clothes." The Doctor sounded dubious, but her eyes were still bright with wicked, glittering amusement.
"You change them, now." She did; she wandered through the TARDIS wardrobes like a delighted child, deciding early on that she'd had nine centuries of trousers and didn't want to wear them any more; she liked skirts but not tights, red nail varnish but not any other colour, scarves and hats but not gloves, and like an ordinary person, she changed them every day or three, depending on impending apocalypse.
"And this makes you want to kiss me." The Doctor hadn't moved away, Rose noticed; her bare toes were curled around the edge of the bench and she still looked amused.
"Yes," said Rose, and she did. Her hands slipped down, extended fingers making swift, delicate explorations of the curving swell of each breast, and the Doctor's small mouth was open beneath hers, lips soft and tinted red.
Rose thought breathlessly that she'd done this with girls before, but those eyes with their long lashes broadcast their own message - this is different, this is the Doctor.
The room inside was dim and dark. Rose ferreted about for anything that looked like a light switch, but the Doctor shook her head. "Not on a planet with six suns," she said, and strode confidently across to open the curtains.
The reddish sunlight flooded into the room, and Rose jumped backwards with a startled cry. The Doctor wasn't similarly affected; she dropped to inspect the body on the floor with clinical efficiency. "Dead," she said, sighing. "He killed himself too, I'd say, but not in flames this time. Possibly a small knife of some sort." She rooted around on the ground and lifted a pointed object that looked something like a letter-opener. "This must be it."
"This is horrible," said Rose with feeling. "Why did all these people commit suicide?"
"That's what we're here to find out." The Doctor stood up, brushed herself off and moved back to the window. "Ah, here we are. The last words of the deceased." She held up several sheets of paper from a table beneath the curtains. At least, Rose thought they were paper; when she touched them, they felt rough and different, more like papyrus than ordinary pages.
The Doctor pulled out a chair from under the table and sat the wrong way round on it, studying the sheets intently. Rose couldn't understand a word that was written on them, and asked hesitantly: "Doesn't the TARDIS translate what's written down, then?"
"Mmm?" The Doctor looked up. "Oh, no, this isn't language, exactly. It's mathematics - a derivation of a single equation, if I'm reading it right."
She worked through it, muttering to herself, and Rose lost interest and began looking around the room. It was large and airy, now it was well-lit, and painted white like those she'd seen in hot countries on Earth. There were more sheets of the papyrus-type paper piled against the walls and some basic furniture, a little different in design to what she might have seen at home, but not significantly alien. If it hadn't been for the body on the floor, it would all have looked very normal.
In one corner, she found another door. She opened it carefully, worried that another body might drop through it like in television murder mysteries, but no such thing happened. Instead, she saw a spiral staircase winding dimly upwards, lit only from the window behind her. She considered it, but before she'd made up her mind to go up she heard the Doctor's voice.
"Got what?" asked Rose, turning.
"What this means," the Doctor said, pointing to the sheet in front of her. "Strange, it seems a very complicated way to go about it. Still, I'm sure the answer's right." Drawing an ordinary biro from her pocket, she wrote something down.
Rose squinted at it. Something about m and F and x squared, but it didn't make much more sense than the original, and she said so.
"What did you do your A-levels in?" the Doctor asked curiously, and off her look, "All right, sorry! It's a mathematical way of stating a very simple formula."
"Go on," said Rose, in tones that indicated she suspected it was anything but simple.
"The force between two given bodies is proportional to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them."
Rose frowned. "That does actually sound vaguely familiar."
"Good old Newton, he was the one who came up with it on Earth. Clever, but a bit tetchy. Died a virgin. Where was I? The laws of gravitation, that's it. It's all been needlessly complicated, but that's what all these equations," - she pointed to the alien language - "boil down to."
"But why?" Rose perched herself on the edge of the table. "Why write that down and leave it lying around, if it's as simple as you say?"
"I don't know." The Doctor was still thumbing through the sheets of paper, eyes narrowed. "There's more here, you know. Bits about bits."
"Thank you, that makes perfect sense now." Rose almost wanted to laugh at the Doctor's absorption.
"Bits," said the Doctor, waving one hand about. "Everything in the universe is made up of smaller bits."
"And electrons and quarks," the Doctor agreed. "That's been written down too. Along with a diagram of a double helix..."
"DNA," put in Rose, pleased she'd remembered.
"...and a solar system diagram, or it might be a sub-atomic model, I'm not sure, a treatise on time-travel… well, they've got all that wrong, for a start! Imagine, not going into the past? And there's relativity, and some historical dates and religious stuff, and lots more besides. Come on."
She bounced to her feet and leapt lightly over the fallen body. Rose, used to her mercurial mood changes, went after her with scarcely a sigh. To her surprise, the Doctor headed straight for the spiral staircase Rose had noticed earlier. She suspected the Doctor's night-vision was better than hers; at any rate, the dimness didn't slow her pace while Rose had to slow down and climb carefully.
When she emerged, the Doctor was improbably balanced on a wooden railing. They were on a viewing platform of some sort, and could see for miles across the countryside, all of it ravaged by fire. Even from this distance, the city looked like the ruin it was rapidly becoming.
"Doctor, you're going to fall over backwards and break your neck," Rose pointed out.
The Doctor ignored her. "So... we have a once thriving civilisation reduced to ruins, children and madmen, hundreds of people apparently dead from self-inflicted wounds, an observatory - that's what this is, I think - with its own dead caretaker guarding apparently random scientific information, and all around us, evidence of damage by fire." She smiled, satisfied with this summation. "Beats a locked-room mystery in a cocked hat. Now how do we solve it?"
"I don't know," said Rose wearily. She was getting tired and more than a little hungry, and despite the Doctor's earlier comments, she was pretty sure the Time Lord - or Time Lady now, she remembered - could keep going indefinitely until all her questions had been answered to her satisfaction.
"The thing is" - the Doctor was looking pensive again, swinging her legs back and forth - "I can't help but feel we've got all the jigsaw pieces we need. Something you said, Rose - something you said earlier that I thought was significant at the time. Now what was it?"
"I said you were going to break your neck. Which stands, by the way."
"Not that," said the Doctor impatiently, and wobbled alarmingly on the railing. Righting herself while ignoring Rose's knowing grin took all her attention for the next moment or so, but she was soon back to looking pensive. "Something you said, Rose. Something you said."
"Sorry, what?" The Doctor looked sleepily up.
"I said," Rose repeated patiently, "does this happen a lot?"
The Doctor rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Rose was still on the bench, but the Doctor didn't seem particularly uncomfortable on the floor of the cloisters. "Depends what you mean by a lot," she said carefully. "A Time Lord isn't immortal, you know."
Rose frowned. "But if you die, you come back..."
"There's a limit. I've got more lives than a cat, but not many more."
"More than nine lives?" Rose asked.
"Thirteen to be exact. Luckier than a black cat, me."
Rose smiled; the Doctor was actually exhibiting more than a passing resemblance to a cat, curled up in an attitude of total contentment. "But what I was actually asking was if you, you know, change sex. A lot. I mean, does that happen a lot?"
"Not really. It's not unheard of - there's an old wives' tale among Time Lords that it happens when you commit suicide, although as you can imagine I've never tested that theory - but it's the first time it's ever happened to me."
"You're not a Time Lord any more," said Rose, wondering why she hadn't realised this before. "You're a Time Lady."
"That's right." The Doctor smiled happily and once again, Rose was impressed by how calmly she was taking this. How calmly, in fact, the Doctor took most things.
"And you're nearly immortal," Rose continued. "You've got, what? Ten lives left?"
The Doctor sat up sharply. "Definitely not. Where do you get that... oh." She paused. "Rose, I'd been around a while before you met me, you know. Been to a few places, done a few things."
Rose thought about it. The vastness of the TARDIS, the rooms that felt like no-one had been in them for years, the stirring dust as she rummaged through cupboards and closets. She felt stupid.
"I've regenerated ten times," the Doctor said calmly. "Getting into the habit, now."
"Still," said Rose, keeping as much emotion out of her voice as possible, "you might live another hundred years easily."
"Might live a thousand, if I'm careful." She grinned and Rose returned the grin, a little reluctantly.
"And you've been the same person all this time?"
"As far as I remember," said the Doctor. "I've had my high points and low points. There's one of me - I'll take you to see him some time - who walks around in a silly hat and fifteen foot scarf pressing jellybabies on people. And there's another one who wears celery."
Rose laughed, still with that slight reluctance. "Why?"
"I'm not entirely sure," admitted the Doctor. "It's slipped my mind. You live nearly a thousand years, you start to forget things."
Rose nodded solemnly, still thinking about it. And in a thousand years, Doctor, will you remember me?
"Doctor!" Rose shrieked. "Duck!"
The Doctor's reaction time was as fast as Rose remembered it. Within a second, she was on the floor of the viewing platform beside Rose and a large missile had thudded heavily into the wall behind them.
Rose stayed where she was, frightened of further attack, but the Doctor was on her feet again, holding the rock that had been thrown. It was big and jagged at the edges, and the Doctor kept it at arm's length. "That would not have collided pleasantly with my skull," she said distastefully. "Thank you, Rose."
"You're welcome," Rose replied, still a little shaken. She stood up with care and joined the Doctor in looking over the railing. There was someone on the ground below, recognisable as the mumbling man they had met on the road to the observatory. As they watched, he picked up another rock and Rose felt the Doctor tense beside her, ready to run if needed, but after a moment, the man seemed to lose interest and dropped it. He started walking away from them, ignoring the road in favour of heading straight over the fields away from the city. The Doctor and Rose watched him go.
"How intriguing," said the Doctor after a while. "An insanity that manifests in violence! That's rarer than you would think, you know. Most people you and I would call insane are happiest just left alone."
"And you'd know all about it, would you?" commented Rose. Before the Doctor could reply to that, she went on: "Doctor, let's get back to the TARDIS. We've been out here for hours." She looked up at the first, reddish sun, which was moving towards setting. "I'd say it was going to get dark, but obviously it won't. How do these people sleep at night?"
There was a long silence, which Rose interpreted as the Doctor not listening, again. Sighing inwardly, she looked out over the landscape and wondered when she'd got quite so hungry.
"You've got it." The Doctor's voice was strange. "Rose Tyler, you wonderful girl, you've got it!" Her hands were on Rose's shoulders, her eyes sparkling. "Come on!"
"What? What have I got?" Rose called after her, but the Doctor was gone. Running to keep up, Rose chased her down the spiral staircase to the room below, where she was back near the window, rifling furiously through the papers. "Doctor! What is it?"
The Doctor paid no attention, throwing page after page unceremoniously to the floor. When she had reached the final sheet, she set it sharply down on the table and beckoned Rose across. "Just look."
Rose looked. The writing on this page was far less neat and controlled than the earlier ones, and it came to an abrupt stop halfway down, seemingly in mid-sentence. Frowning, Rose tried to read those last few words, written in a painfully cramped, almost illegible hand, but all she could really make out was the single word "stars", repeated over and over until it was too garbled to understand.
The Doctor was looking triumphant. "You see?"
Rose thought about it. "Um... no."
The Doctor grabbed her hand and led her outside. "I'll tell you about it as we go," she said, and Rose allowed herself to be dragged off. The world was red-tinted again as the first of the suns set. There was no sign of either children or madmen, and as they walked down the paved road, the scene looked almost peaceful.
"Right," said the Doctor, rubbing her hands together in satisfaction. "Let's start with you, Rose. Let's start with something you said not long after we started looking around her. Bet they're not scared of the dark here, you said. Remember?"
"And you were right, they weren't, because they'd never seen it. With six suns in the sky, it never gets dark, so people aren't afraid of it because they don't know what darkness is. Can you imagine that, Rose? You, living on a spinning world around a single star, got used to half a day of darkness as a matter of course. You call it night. All well and good.
"But here, they've got used to just the opposite. Continuous light from one or other of the suns. But let's say something happens. Some event in their astronomical calendar. Perhaps they have a moon, which causes an eclipse, a perfectly ordinary event - only, let's say it happens when there is only one sun in the sky. What would happen then?"
"Darkness," said Rose, picturing it. She'd seen a total solar eclipse in London once, a few years before she'd met the Doctor.
"Yes, darkness, the absolute blackness of night. What do you see at night on Earth, what did I used to see on Gallifrey?"
"Stars," said Rose automatically, and felt herself begin to understand.
"So the eclipse comes, and these people who have never seen darkness, never had use for electric light even, are suddenly introduced to the full glory of a night sky. According to the TARDIS coordinates, we're right on the outskirts of the Milky Way here, in one of the galactic star clusters. Imagine that. A sky densely packed with stars. Well," she finished, suddenly losing the portentous tone, "I don't think the human mind, or nearly-human mind anyway, was made for that sort of assault. These people have seen the dark of the universe for the first time, and all they can think of is the need for light."
"Fire!" Rose exclaimed. "They would have started fires."
"Which seem to have got out of control very quickly." The Doctor nodded. "And all the while the sight of the stars is driving people mad."
"But would the stars really drive people mad?" asked Rose doubtfully.
"Yes, I would say so." The Doctor tilted her head and considered. "Remember, it wasn't your pathetic light-polluted western spiral arm Earth sky. The whole of the galaxy above your head, and it's quite possible you've thought you're alone in the universe until now. The human mind is egocentric; it can't cope with that sort of sudden insignificance. Where was I up to? Ah, yes, you can understand why they killed themselves, why they lost their minds. And this" - she waved an expansive hand at the landscape in general - "is what's left. The survivors."
"The children," said Rose slowly. "If they were young enough, they wouldn't know how strange it was, would they?"
"No, they wouldn't. And there would have been other survivors - people who slept through it, for example, or those who were clinically insane to begin with - but all in all, the civilisation is gone."
"Not all of it." Rose remembered the papers the Doctor had dropped. "I bet that man we found was trying to write it all down before he went crazy."
"You may well be right." The Doctor sighed deeply. "Our little wizard friend is going to be the founder of a new race, it seems. He won't live to see it, and neither will his grandchildren or their grandchildren, but one day this world will be back to the point it reached before the eclipse."
"It's such a shame," Rose said sadly. "Everything they ever achieved, gone like that. And those poor kids left behind."
"What has been has been," said the Doctor, her tones rueful. "What's left to see is what will be."
The Doctor was a Time Lady. Rose hadn't ever thought about their existence, but the Doctor told her about a Time Lady named Romana, who had travelled with a former incarnation of the Doctor. "She left me for better things," the Doctor said, smiling. "We had been together for quite a few years, then."
"Then why do you like humans so much?" Rose burst out. "If we live such a short time compared to you, why do you even bother?"
The Doctor was still calm, still collected. Still beautiful in her way, Rose thought, and hated that she was even thinking it. "Do you really want to know the answer to that?" the Doctor asked mildly.
"Yes!" The fight was beginning to go out of her, but Rose tried her best. "Yes, I do."
"Before you ever met me, you were a time-traveller, Rose," said the Doctor quietly. "You moved through time at a rate of sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour, day in and day out. You'd made your way through more than nineteen years of subjective time when you found me in that shop basement. You know what it's like to experience time, to savour it as it goes by, isn't that right? Like every other sentient being in the universe, you're forever living through it.
"Now imagine, if you can, nine hundred years of subjective time. That's nine centuries of getting up in the morning and going to bed at night; nine hundred years of joy and pain and memories and continuous experience. Are you imagining it?"
Rose nodded mutely.
"Good. Now imagine all of that, and imagine doing it alone."
Rose said nothing, not trusting her voice. She sat down on the edge of the bench, shaking a little. The Doctor sat down next to her, leaned across and kissed her lightly on the lips. "I am the Doctor, Rose," she said. "I am the same person you have always known, and I am an entirely new person you have never met before. Above all, I am the person you said you wanted to travel with, and I will take you with me as long as you want me to. Do you understand?"
Again, Rose could only nod, and the Doctor kissed her again. "If you want to do this," she continued, "then we will. We will be carrying on something that began the moment we met, and at the same time starting from scratch. Okay?"
Rose breathed a shuddery breath. "Okay."
The Doctor leaned in, and this time Rose kissed her back.
The TARDIS materialised once more, in the same point in space if not in time as the Doctor put it, but Rose thought she couldn't be blamed for thinking they were on another planet altogether. Gone were the ruins and the drifting dust; now they were in a city, an alien city as Rose had always imagined them, with plate glass and steel interspersed with greenery, trees and flowers growing at the edge of the roads. "It's beautiful," she whispered as she stepped out.
"It was always beautiful," replied the Doctor. "Perhaps this time it's not the beauty of destruction."
They wandered slowly away from the police box and down a city street, taking in the sight of people in motorised vehicles, people rushing about their daily business, as well as people sitting on benches and enjoying the sunshine of the four risen suns. "Merlin worked his magic," the Doctor said happily.
"Why are you so sure it was him?" Rose asked, amused.
"The universe doesn't believe in coincidences. With a name like that it couldn't have been anyone else." The Doctor was swinging Rose's hand like a schoolgirl. "He's been dead a thousand years, but he's done a good job!"
Passers-by looked slightly askance at the two strange, excitable women, but they didn't attract too much undue attention. "There's something to be said for starting from scratch," Rose said, after they'd been walking for a few minutes.
"Yes," said the Doctor thoughtfully. "Perhaps this time they didn't quite start from scratch. There were all those papers we found in the observatory, remember? It's quite hard to work out the laws of gravity when you have six suns, but they had help."
"What about us?" Rose asked. "We could have helped them, we could have, I don't know, we could at least have helped the children find food."
"That would be interference," said the Doctor, sighing. "Which I'm trying to do less of, these days. Still, they did very well without our help."
There was a silence as they both looked around and took this in. Rose had begun to notice similarities with the world they had left behind; the layout of the streets was similar, and the bulk of the building they had called the observatory was still present on the horizon, but beyond that everything had changed.
"History on this world must be cyclical," the Doctor observed. "Everything is built, tested to destruction and begun again."
Rose nodded, trying to picture the world she knew, London in the twenty-first century destroyed by insanity and flame, but everything was all too normal and she couldn't do it. After a moment, she said,
"Did Newton really die a virgin?"
"As far as I know, he did." The Doctor smiled. "Not like I checked on his deathbed, or anything."
"What about you?" asked Rose, wickedly. "Ever died a virgin?"
The Doctor was still smiling, her curls swinging buoyantly around her head. "Not even once."
Rose thought she might sort of love the Doctor, in a love-of-my-life-bane-of-my-existence type of way. When the eclipse came again, they'd be ready.
"Perhaps I won't live that long," said the Doctor. "Perhaps in a thousand years from now, I'll be dead and gone too. But I will remember you, Rose; as each century passes, I will remember you."
notes and queries
1. Why is the Doctor a woman? I don't know. She just is. For more lack of explanation on this point, try Bohemian Rose.
2. For more about Lagash, the planet with six suns and the inhabitants driven insane by the sight of the stars, try Isaac Asimov's short story Nightfall, from which I have shamelessly lifted the plot of this fic.
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