Fic: Dead Reckoning (1/3)
Pairing: Rose/Ten II
Summary: Still reeling from the events in Alexandria and the subsequent strain on their relationship, the Doctor and Rose try to head back to Earth yet again. That quickly becomes far more difficult than they expect when the TARDIS unexpectedly breaks down.
Author's notes: Thanks to ginamak for betaing so well and with the usual crazy efficiency!
Episode 11 of a virtual series at the_altverse, following No Place Like Houm last week.
Virtual Series Masterlist
Their bedroom was quiet when Rose woke up.
At some point during the night, she had migrated into the centre of their large bed and cocooned herself in the covers. Hopefully this had been after the Doctor had woken up and wandered off, since he got little enough sleep as it was most nights. Besides, if she’d got into the habit of nicking the covers, she’d never hear the end of it.
She peered through the hangings on the bed to see if he was still around. There was no sign of him, and she couldn’t hear any of the characteristic bumping around that normally happened when he was inside their walk-in wardrobe. It was significantly smaller than the wardrobe he was used to on the old TARDIS, so he tended to hit the walls when he was distracted. He assured her it was still growing, though. One of these days, she was sure she was going to wake up and discover she had a five storey wardrobe to fill.
His chair by the desk showed no signs of having been moved since the night before and the piles of books were still as dusty as ever. She was fairly certain he’d bought several of those books just because he liked how old they looked. It was hard to imagine he’d ever actually sit down and read literary criticism in German from the 1920s, even if they did have some down time to read. Since they only had a few shelves’ worth of books in this new TARDIS, she didn’t blame him at all for picking up what he could.
Leaning backwards, she patted the headboard of the bed in what she hoped was an appreciative way. She was never quite sure just how much the TARDIS could see of her thoughts, and she didn’t want this new ship to end up with an inferiority complex.
Her slippers and dressing gown were beside the bed, where she definitely hadn’t left them. She smiled as she slipped them on. Whatever he’d run off to do, he’d at least thought of her.
Fighting the urge to rush around looking for him, she forced her feet to head to the kitchen. She did not want to become someone who couldn’t trust him to be in a different room inside their own home, especially when his own sleeping patterns were so different to her own. She just couldn’t help but remember the last morning she’d woken up without him in bed with her. On Houm, he’d been in the room with her, but that hadn’t changed that he’d snuck out without her before that.
Her hand shook a little as she reached to touch the side of the kettle (cold: he hadn’t had any tea yet). She still had trouble believing some of the things she’d said then.
She checked the water, flipped on the kettle and pulled out mugs, teabags and milk. She’d meant it, too. She couldn’t live like that. But he couldn’t live with her if she expected him there every morning just to prove he hadn’t done anything without her.
The bread in the breadbin was getting a bit stale and she put four slices in the toaster. If he hadn’t had tea, he’d probably forgotten to have breakfast too. It had never been a problem when he was all Time Lord, but skipping food these days made him irritable and often meant he couldn’t run as fast at crucial moments. He was still bad at remembering to try and stick to a routine with meals and sleep, but he’d got used to being part human quicker than she’d expected.
Toast and tea ready, she grabbed the mugs in one hand and the large plate in the other and padded down the corridor to the console room.
It was still the same shocking white it had been when they’d first started with this new TARDIS. Rose was more than used to it by now, although it didn’t feel quite as homey as the gold and green coral she’d got so used to. The Doctor had shrugged and said the TARDIS’d been like this for hundreds of years before and that they had to prioritise other things. This was, of course, true. But even he had admitted he rather missed the old design.
The room was bigger, now, than it had been a few months ago. The roundels were mostly missing their coverings: the holes revealed circuits and lumps of shining metal. These tended to be bigger than the space allowed and didn’t always seem to meet up with the circuits behind the next roundel over.
The console itself held only the faintest hint that it had once been a hexagonal white table with neatly arranged components. The Doctor had, at odd moments in the past few months, pulled off most of the panelling that had kept it so neat. He’d started replacing bits and reconnecting things seemingly randomly. Every now and again he’d try to explain what he was doing, but since most of the work seemed to be done at odd hours, she missed far too much to really follow what was going on. The TARDIS still flew, though, and that was the main thing.
When she walked in, at first she could see no trace of him. Then she noticed a telltale foot peeking out from under a curtain of wires that fell out of the console like a black and red waterfall.
She sat down on the floor in front of where he was hidden and put down the tea mugs. Then she ran her free hand along the sole of his foot.
That got a squeak and a jump. She grinned.
A surprised-looking face appeared between the curtains of wires, glasses perched on his nose and hair thoroughly ruffled.
“Rose!” he said, blinking at her.
“That’s me,” she said, holding up a piece of toast for him.
“You’re up early,” he said. He took the toast and stared at it for a moment as though he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then he seemed to jump back to reality and took a large bite.
“You lost track of time,” said Rose. “I’m up at normal time.”
“Mmph?” he said, frowning through his toast.
Rose shifted back to give him some space to come out from under the console, pointing at the tea and the plate of toast and then helping herself.
He emerged, then, pulling off his specs and putting them and the sonic in the top pocket of the shirt he was wearing. His jacket was on the back of the console seat, so he was missing most of his usual pockets. Rose giggled as she saw the rest of what he was wearing. His tie was knotted properly and he’d put on a t shirt underneath the shirt, which was all buttoned properly. He’d also taken the time to put some gel in his hair. He had, however, forgotten to change out of his pyjama bottoms or put on either shoes or socks.
Her laughter seemed to throw him for a minute until he looked down at himself and seemed to take in his failure to dress properly for the first time.
“Oh,” he said. “Right.” He paused to take a slurp of tea. “We need a full length mirror in the bedroom. I sat down in front of the dresser and did my hair and everything, but I didn’t see my trousers!”
Rose bit her lip. “Might be a good plan,” she said. He’d done this once or twice before: most memorably turning up to Torchwood dressed only in his PJs. He hadn’t even been fazed – pointing out with a grin that he’d saved the world similarly dressed – until it had appeared in the tabloids the next day and her mother had phoned up demanding to know if he was going insane.
“Whatcha been doing?” she asked, nodding at the console behind her.
He coughed and scratched his nose. “Just... tweaking the translation circuits,” he said. “I thought, if we could improve the English, it might make things easier for... you know.” He trailed off.
He was, in his own awkward way, trying to make it easier for her. Not to mention repairing some of the damage he’d done. Part of his attempt to keep her safe in Alexandria had resulted in the screen’s English display all but disappearing in favour of Gallifreyan. She’d undone most of it on the voyage to Rome, but she’d not been able to do all of it.
She turned back to her tea and concentrated on the fact that he was going in the other direction now. He was keeping his word and trying to help her with the TARDIS. Trust him to sneak off and do it while she was still asleep, though. Although she couldn’t blame him for desperately avoiding mentioning Alexandria and their subsequent fight. She’d threatened to leave him.... That was going to haunt her for a while. Him too, she suspected.
Still, she smiled at him encouragingly. Even if what he’d done still rankled, he was making an effort now.
“Is it working?” she asked, leaning backwards to see if she could catch a glimpse of the screen. “More than before, I mean?” Ever since they’d started in this brand new TARDIS there’d been English, but even before Alexandria and Rome, most of the display had been in Gallifreyan.
He ran a hand through his hair, probably for the thousandth time that morning. It couldn’t possibly stick up any more ridiculously and she bit her lip. He didn’t seem to notice.
“It’s improving,” he said. “She was grown on Earth and with as much help from you as from me, so that helps. But she’s still older at heart: still with inherited... memories, I suppose, of Gallifrey. So English isn’t exactly natural to her. Gallifreyan is a language so absolutely perfect for this sort of thing. Even when humans develop time travel, they don’t construct languages well enough for some of the things the TARDIS displays.” He paused and tugged an ear, glancing up above him to the console. “Sometimes, a screen with what looks to you to be one symbol on it will translate into two thousand words of garbled English. I can improve things until most of the display is in English – English that makes sense, I mean – but it’ll never been one hundred percent. That’s just not possible!”
“Could you teach me some of the Gallifreyan?” Rose asked tentatively.
She saw him hesitate and wished she hadn’t asked. As much as she’d love to learn the language, she didn’t want him to think he had no choice. If he wanted to keep things private, that was his choice, even if she hoped he wouldn’t with things like this.
“Maybe,” he said eventually, as though he was thinking the idea through for the first time. “Not to fluency. There’s too much. But it could help with the TARDIS.”
“And to swear when I don’t park right?” she asked.
That got a grin.
“What would your mother say?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in pretend shock.
“Probably ‘Can you teach me too?’” pointed out Rose, and he chuckled as he brushed a few crumbs off his tie.
“I think Jackie is good enough at... expressing her feelings without being able to do it in my native language,” he said cheerfully. He reached back behind him to grab a piece of what looked like green plastic and polished it with his cuff. “Did you still want to visit home?” he asked then. She could hear him trying to keep his voice casual. No doubt he was clearly remembering that she’d wanted to go home before they’d ended up on Houm: she’d wanted to go back to have an argument.
“We probably should,” she said, also keeping her voice light. After spending so long travelling to Rome, it felt like it had been forever since she’d seen her mum. “We could do with seeing if Dad and Torchwood have got anywhere with whoever it was who kidnapped Mum and Tony, after all.”
“Isn’t that what a phone is for?” grumbled the Doctor, but she knew better than to take that sort of muttering seriously. “All right, just let me put this stuff back together.” He checked himself. “You could help?” he offered.
“’Course,” agreed Rose, sending him an encouraging smile.
But before he could put his glasses on and get back to work properly, she reached out and took his hand. He looked at her, brows knitted and eyes becoming a little apprehensive when he studied her face.
“I want any emergency programmes gone,” she said. “You tried to send me home from Alexandria. If there’s any of that left, get rid of it. And don’t do it again.”
He blanched. “Rose, if something happens to me-”
“Then I will rescue you,” she said, holding his gaze. “I will not be sent home like a kid.”
“Rose... I don’t... I can’t regenerate,” he said at last.
She squeezed his hand tightly. “That’s not an option, so it doesn’t matter.” Her own vehemence surprised even her a little. If he thought she was going anywhere without him, he had another thing coming. And if he thought that if anyone killed him, she’d be likely to come out of the situation in one piece.... The practical side of her brain took over before she went too far down that thought. “Besides, soon I’ll be flying the TARDIS all by myself anyway. I’ll be able to pilot myself back if and when I want to.”
TARDIS flying lessons had been few and far between, so far. It was easy to just get distracted and think about the next trip and promise to learn the next day. But if she’d been able to fly the TARDIS in Alexandria, so much could have been prevented.
The Doctor had shut his eyes, but he let out a breath and opened them. “I’ll program some control discs,” he said. “For places like your parents’ place and anywhere we go often. Maybe some that do things like reverse the last trip or materialise on the closest planet, too. We’ll sort out a few. You can just slot them in and the TARDIS’ll take you straight there. It means if anything happens before you can pilot properly.... But you have to promise me you’ll use them. Please, Rose. Just promise.”
“If I need them,” she said. “Of course I will, if I need them.” She wasn’t going to leave anywhere if the Doctor needed rescuing and she hoped he didn’t expect anything else. “You’re allowed to protect me if you give me a choice,” she reminded him softly. “That’s all I want: the choice to be mine.”
He sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands. “Sorry, sorry, I’m just-”
She leaned forward to give him a tight hug and run a hand through his hair. He relaxed a little as she did so. She lowered her mouth to his ear and whispered, “I love you.” She felt his smile against her cheek and he squeezed her tightly. They’d fought over this too much to go through it all again and she didn’t want to think about either of them dying.
“And I you. Love, I mean. Love you.” She giggled into his neck. He still sometimes tripped up over those words but he did it so adorably it made her love him more. “Right!” he said suddenly, pulling back and reaching behind him to grab another lump of plastic, this one covered in grubby metal bolts. “Step one of TARDIS maintenance is doing what you’re told. Clean this!” She pulled a face. “Don’t give me that look, madam, scrubbing off dirt was the closest I got to a TARDIS for the first fifty years of my life.”
“Yeah right,” she said, grabbing a rag from the toolbox and getting to her feet. She settled into the chair and put her feet up on the edge of the console itself. “What am I cleaning, then?”
He grinned almost apologetically. “A fuse box,” he said. She snorted. “It’s a glamorous life,” he added, scrambling up and plonking down next to her, making the seat dip a little. He had his own collection of bits and pieces and carefully inspected each with his eyes, hands and the sonic as he cleaned them.
“You see, getting the screen to display useful information is complicated enough even in a sensible language like Gallifreyan,” he began suddenly. “Well, for a given value of ‘sensible’. When not discussing time travel, it’s the most ridiculous language ever - all pretentious and snobby and useless for conversation. You should hear Gallifreyan poetry: even most of the poets hated it. Anyway, when we land on Earth, we would like to know that’s where we are before we open the doors. But should I have the screen call it ‘Earth’ or ‘Sol Three’ or one of the numerous other designations it’s given by other species? Or perhaps I should ask her to call it by the Mandarin Chinese word for it, since that is technically the most widely spoken language on Earth. Of course, your brain will translate that back to English automatically, but you get my point.”
“Fortunately, she’s intelligent, and usually picks out the most useful name for us,” he said cheerfully, patting the side of the seat. “Very handy, that. And the same thing applies with the date: what year we land vastly depends on which calendar we’re using. She usually picks out the best one for us, of course. So we get England and not Angleterre and the twenty-first century as opposed to, say, the fifteenth century. Well... that’s assuming where we’ve landed and what the screen says are the same thing, which doesn’t happen as often as I might like.”
The lights in the console room flickered and the Doctor patted the chair again.
“It’s my driving,” he added cheerfully. “And your youth and erm... vitality?”
Rose sniggered quietly, not knowing quite how much of this the TARDIS could understand. The lights stayed that time, though. The Doctor winked at Rose.
“And those,” he continued, “are just the problems with giving me a static location and a one second per second speed through time. That can all be translated into English easily enough. Things get more interesting when we’re doing anything that’s not sitting on a planet, though. Just hanging around in the vortex, like we’re doing now, is a concept that English doesn’t have and can’t express. When we travel, we’re travelling in and out of timestreams and relative to some times at different speeds to others.”
Rose rubbed her nose. “Can you teach me what the Gallifreyan symbols are for just floating in the vortex and travelling normally and stuff like that?”
“Hmmm,” he said, spinning the sonic in his fingers. “Maybe. Just maybe. Some of them anyway.” He grinned and reached over to wipe her nose. “You’ve got a bit of oil. And my grammar was always atrocious when I was in school, so even I get surprised by some of them.”
“Yeah?” said Rose. “They make you stay behind and do extra homework?”
“Something like that,” he said with a grin.
For a while they sat and worked, the Doctor handing her pieces to clean or oil; and wires that needed rearranging. It would have bothered her if he hadn’t been mostly doing similarly menial stuff himself. Apparently all of this really did need to be done. When he started to put everything back, all it took was her moving to sit under the console with him to get an explanation of what he was doing.
As he talked, he jumped from the Gallifreyan language to the Shadow Proclamation planetary designation to electronics and then back again. She could just about follow him as he spoke but wasn’t sure she’d be able to repeat much of anything back at him if called on. Still, he’d always been like this in this body. Now he might be explaining far more complicated concepts than when they’d travelled together before, but he was the same as ever. He’d always been the exuberant tour guide then, whereas now he was taking the role of an equally enthusiastic science teacher. Her physics and electrical engineering knowledge up to this point was mostly courtesy of Torchwood, which had involved books and studying, and not listening to her husband babble. She thought she preferred this method.
He cheerfully re-attached bits of translation circuit, rambling on about the flow of electricity. She was gratified to realise she already understood some of it.
“You may, of course, be wondering why I’m talking so much,” he said when he was down to the final two bits to reattach – including Rose’s fuse box.
“I hadn’t noticed,” she said, unable to stop herself grinning when he frowned. True, now that she thought about it, he might have been babbling a little more than usual, but it was all interesting stuff.
He prodded her. “I have been talking so much,” he continued loftily, “because the danger when tweaking the translation circuits – even if I was only playing with the components that control the screen display – is that suddenly we’ll land on a planet and discover we can’t speak a word of the language. So I’ve been talking and switching between different languages. It’s quite an effective test.”
He crawled out from under the console and hauled himself to his feet, extending a hand to help her up and then suddenly looking guilty when she didn’t take it straight away.
Rose winced and grabbed his hand. She had not meant to make him worry about every little thing he did.
So she squeezed his hand and leaned into him. They’d find a good balance sooner or later, she supposed. It just might take a few days to get there.
“Back in time for dinner?” he said, seeming to recover and grinning at her. He held up two wires and joined them together at the end with a spark from the sonic.
“Maybe lunch,” said Rose, patting his arm. For someone who claimed he still had the best sense of time in the universe, he wasn’t at all good at living in twenty-four hour cycles. They could, she decided, change out of their pyjamas when they got there.
The Doctor nudged her towards one side of the console. “You reckon you can do those?” he asked. “If you can’t-”
“I’ve seen you do it,” said Rose, biting back some surprise. Normally, when they piloted together, she would do all of the work on two of the six sides of the hexagonal console table. The same two sides every time, in fact. Today, though, he’d urged her towards one of his sections as well as one of her own.
In her mind she ran through the moves he made as he materialised the TARDIS. Despite his occasionally tripping up or knocking things accidentally, he always managed to make it look like some sort of elaborate dance. Nothing about piloting the TARDIS came that easily to her and she had to think through every step. The new sixth she’d been given was not a particularly difficult one and didn’t involve coordinates or anything like that, but it was still unfamiliar.
She smiled at him, making sure he noticed her acknowledgement before settling into place. Even with relatively few lessons as a single pilot, many of the routine procedures involved were ones she’d either performed many times or seen him do. She might have to think about it, but she could do it. The first time he’d got her to help had been the second ever trip she’d made, after all. The console had changed since then, but the basics stayed similar enough.
“And away... we go!”
The Doctor grabbed one of the levers and pulled it.
The console room pitched sideways, throwing Rose violently away from the console and into the chair, which she clung to. She just had time to see the Doctor gripping the edge of the console by the skin of his teeth before the room plunged into complete darkness.
The room shook again. Rose held on to the seat for dear life, feeling her hands slipping and skidding against the smooth surface and wishing for some sort of handle to keep her secure.
“I’m OK! Just land us!”
A spark, then a burst of flames on the console illuminated the room so suddenly that for a moment she squeezed her eyes shut. When she looked again she could see the Doctor still holding on, stretching around for buttons and switches barely within his reach and coming perilously close to catching fire himself.
In the distance, she thought she could hear a cloister bell sounding, but it was so very quiet she might have been imagining it.
“I’ve got to- I’ve got to-” she heard the Doctor shouting.
“Just do it!” she ordered, feeling her fingers slipping even further.
Another violent lurch nearly sent her right into the fire, but with her last remaining strength she clung on to the back of the seat.
Then they were still.
The only noise was the crackling of the fire, which now seemed small and manageable. It was the only light, too, but Rose flopped off the chair and grabbed the extinguisher from underneath it, dousing the flames in moments.
Pitch black returned. She coughed on a bit of foam she’d just inhaled and felt her way backwards to replace the extinguisher. They might need it later, and knowing where it was would be really helpful.
He coughed, too. “Here, Rose,” he said weakly. She made her way around the console, keeping her hand on the side until she bumped into him and grabbed him. Laughing with relief, she grabbed him into a hug and a kiss that hit the side of his mouth on her first try. Fortunately, her second attempt was successful.
“Blimey,” he said at last. “You don’t even want to know where I’ve got bruises.”
She chuckled and kissed him again. The whole room smelled a bit too smokey for her liking, but at least this close he was still the prominent scent. Well, him and his hair gel, but that was part of him, really.
“Nothing more than a bruise, though?” she asked cautiously. She felt his hands leave her waist and the muscles in his shoulders move. Her hands were resting on his shoulders so she could feel that he was prodding his own face.
“No singed hair or eyebrows,” he said, with something approaching relief.
She snorted. “I meant broken bones or anything.”
“None of that,” he said dismissively. “You’re all right?” His voice was a little hesitant.
“Yeah, as far as I can tell,” she said. “No need to check my eyebrows, I don’t think. Where are we?”
“Well...” he said. “Shall we open the doors and have a look?”
Despite the situation, he sounded rather keen to see and Rose felt herself grin. Together, they stumbled over to the walls of the console room and felt their way around to the doors.
The Doctor flung them open.
Rose stared out, in awe at the view.
They were in the middle of nowhere. Quite literally, in fact. At Torchwood, the “middle of nowhere” had always meant a boggy, insect-filled field, usually in Wales. On the TARDIS it meant in space. The shield around the TARDIS kept the air in and she was able to lean out and stare around at the millions upon millions of stars. Tiny, sparkling little dots arrayed in endless shapes and patterns. She loved looking out like this. Even in the darkest, most remote corner of any planet, the view was never quite like this. Out here there were so many more and they were all brighter.
“Beautiful,” she murmured to herself. She’d gained a new appreciation for the stars since they’d started disappearing on her two years before. Even if that had been what had brought the Doctor back into her life, knowing that every single universe could have been lost had made this sort of view that much better.
“Mmm,” agreed the Doctor in a vague, distracted tone, and she turned to him to see what he was doing for the first time. The light from the stars was dim, but compared to the pitch black of the console room, it made things very clear indeed. The Doctor was standing and looking out into space. It wasn’t a look that meant he was enjoying the view; it was a look that meant trouble. She saw his lips move a little as he stared around. Then, before she could say anything, he jumped to the floor, lay down and looked under the TARDIS. Whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find, because he then got to his feet and peered around both sides of the doors – pushing her out of the way as he did so – before glancing up to the top of the doorframe. At least he seemed to dismiss looking over the TARDIS as a feat a little beyond him.
“What is it?” she asked nervously.
“I don’t know where we are,” he said simply. “Or when.”
She glanced out again to the view, finding no clues in the constellations. There was no helpful “this way to Earth” sign. She wondered if an interest in astronomy would have helped her here, but decided it probably wouldn’t.
“Did you put the coordinates for Mum’s in?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Of course I did. At least... I think I did. Well, I think they were right, anyway. Twenty-first century Earth isn’t exactly a difficult destination for me. But we’re not there – the stars are wrong.”
“And there’s no planet Earth,” she pointed out.
“Mm,” he agreed vaguely.
“Might we be close?”
“Maybe,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. We went wrong very quickly, but the TARDIS would have been trying to rectify that for us. She might have dropped us in the right time but the wrong place, or the other way around. Or neither. Everything might be wrong. We could be half a universe away and billions of years too late.” He squinted out at the stars again. “There are too many to be early universe. We’re a few billion years in, at least.”
Rose blinked. “That’s... helpful,” she said. “Good thing I’ve got you, isn’t it?”
For once he didn’t smile.
“What aren’t you saying?” she asked suspiciously.
He turned to stare at her for a few moments, eyes unreadable. Then he gestured back inside the console room. “I don’t have the equipment to fix her from this. I don’t have the equipment to know if I can fix her.”
Rose felt a chill run through her and settle somewhere in her stomach.
The console room was dark and quiet. The background hum the TARDIS suddenly seemed more absent than ever.
She turned back to the universe outside as they drifted. The stars didn’t seem so beautiful now. Instead they only seemed cold and distant. Tiny pinpricks of light bringing no warmth from their millions of light years away. Billions, even. She couldn’t even guess because the Doctor didn’t know.
They were stuck here.