That which we dare invoke to bless;
Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt;
He, They, One, All; within, without;
The Power in darkness whom we guess;
I found Him not in world or sun,
Or eagle’s wing, or insect’s eye;
Nor thro’ the questions men may try,
The petty cobwebs we have spun:
If e’er when faith had fall’n asleep,
I heard a voice ‘believe no more’
And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the Godless deep;
A warmth within the breast would melt
The freezing reason’s colder part,
And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answer’d ‘I have felt.’
To her horror, Rose’s first instinct when confronted with a ten-foot tall, fire-breathing sea cow was to sing a novelty song about a serial monogamist with a fetish for men named Henry. She clutched the rope keeping the Doctor aloft and tried not to make any sudden movements.
“I’m…” she began breathily, and then swallowed. “I’m Henry the Eighth, I–”
A clump of grass a few feet from where she stood burst into flame.
All right, she thought, fighting back panic. Apparently that whole ‘frighten the beast away with song’ thing was his idea of a joke. Funny, funny little alien man.
She was so going to smack him when they survived this.
While the idea of standing entirely still until either the Doctor woke up or the sun rose higher in the sky (an animal with eyes like that has to be nocturnal, she prayed, it just has to be) had its appeal, Rose knew she’d be reduced to a person-sized pile of cinders long before either eventuality came to pass. She tried not to think about the thick layer of ash covering the floor of the stone pit.
Her first priority was to get the Doctor and his hammock safely onto solid ground. With almost painful slowness she knelt by the protruding tree root through which the rope was looped, and, with as little movement as possible, tied it securely to the smooth wood.
There was a sizzle by her right ear, a flash of heat against her skin, and the scent of burning hair reached her nostrils. She tensed, resisting the instinct to clap a hand to the side of her head and beat out the sparks singeing her hair. She raised her eyes to the tree before her and saw a large scorch mark burnt into the trunk, still smoldering. Either the manatee’s aim was improving or it had tired of playing with her.
After her second encounter with the Slitheen a few months ago, Rose had begun to keep record of her near-death experiences. In doing so she discovered that, on average, she felt fairly certain that she was about to die at least two point seven times per week. After working out that depressing statistic, she’d stopped keeping track. It was, she decided, the sort of thing it was better not to think about.
Nevertheless, the feeling that crept over her then was a familiar one. Out of the corner of her eye she watched the Doctor’s hammock swing slightly in the early morning breeze. She knew that if the movement attracted the manatee’s attention she’d offer herself as a diversion. She waited.
Then there was a whirring sound and something the size of a sparrow landed on her shoulder. It chirped in her ear.
“Disco cricket?” she had time to whisper before words filled her mind, like a large block-lettered sign.
CLOSE YOUR EYES.
Without thinking, she obeyed.
The air around her filled with the buzzing of wings, hundreds upon hundreds of them, and there was a flash of light so intense that even through her closed eyelids it managed to stun her for a moment.
The manatee let loose a miserable wail, and she felt as much as heard it fall to the ground.
Another word emerged from the chaos of her thoughts: RUN.
Rose stumbled away from the tree. Grabbing the rope, she pulled the Doctor from his place suspended above the pit to rest on the grass beside her. Panting with exertion and fear, she burrowed her hand through the cocoon of blankets to reach into the Doctor’s jacket pocket and pull out the sonic screwdriver. A deft flick of the switch later and she was slicing through rope, cutting him free of the hammock.
There was another brilliant burst of light from over her shoulder, and she couldn’t resist the temptation to turn and discover its source.
Hovering in the air above the manatee was a wall of mirrored crickets, their shining wings angled in such a way that the meager dawn light was reflected directly into the eyes of the prone creature below them.
Rose took a brief moment to pity the beast before heaving the Doctor over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry and staggering towards the TARDIS.
She never would have managed it if it hadn’t been for the adrenaline and terror pumping through her system. As it was, when she finally reached the blue doors her legs were shaking so badly she could hardly stand. She fumbled for her key, and when she looked up she saw the cricket fluttering in front of the lock, staring back at her.
“Thank you,” she gasped. “Sorry I called you a dumb bug.”
HAVE A NICE DAY, read the sign post that appeared in her mind. VISIT AGAIN SOON.
It flew away.
“Telepathic cricket,” she muttered as she lugged him into the TARDIS and made her way through the blessedly short hallway to the infirmary, bowing under the Doctor’s weight. “You could have mentioned that.”
His only answer was a slight snuffling noise as she dropped him as gently as possible onto the exam couch, carefully cradling his head.
She looked down at him, his features slack and his skin ashen even below the filth that covered his suit, face and hair. Though still wrapped tightly in blankets, his lean body was wracked by shivers, and cold as he was he was drenched in sweat. She reached out and carefully wiped a bit of dirt from his chin with one gloved finger.
Then her legs collapsed out from under her and she found herself staring up at him from the pristine infirmary floor. “Ow,” she said, and then lay back so she could stare up at the pristine infirmary ceiling. Everything was very white.
“I am never,” she said, “moving ever again.”
Her stomach and her bladder each lodged their objections to this plan.
She couldn’t help but think it was for the best that he was still unconscious when her legs refused to cooperate and she found herself forced to crawl on her hands and knees to the nearest toilet, which was more than a little demoralizing. Exhausted and, she realized, terribly dehydrated, she spent a few moments gulping down cool water from the bathroom sink.
Now that they were safely in the TARDIS, there was nothing she could really do for him. His injuries were internal, and he was sorting them out on his own as he slept. She felt useless.
So as soon as her muscles deigned to obey her once more, she went to the kitchen and made tea.
Rose placed a steaming mug beside him and settled down in a nearby chair with a box of chocolate biscuits. “Did you know,” she asked, munching away, “that the TARDIS has an emergency supply of biscuits? We didn’t buy these, but here they are.” It was unsettling to look too long at his oddly still face, so she focused on his stained tie. “I doubt you do know. She’s yours, after all — she knows what a terror you can be around sweets.”
She swallowed loudly. It was ridiculous, but the coil of frantic tension in her stomach refused to relax. He was perfectly safe and in a few hours time would be back to normal. No doubt his babbling would now sound almost logical in comparison with some of the nonsense he’d spouted last night. But, she couldn’t help but think, he’d waited so long to go into his restorative coma. What if he had been wrong, what if there was permanent damage?
What if he didn’t wake up?
Rose tossed aside the biscuits and set about doing what she could to make him more comfortable. The blankets were filthy, so she unwound them from around his legs, his waist and his chest, trying not to jostle him too badly. She dumped the soiled blankets to the floor and pulled fresh ones from a cabinet. She was about to cover him again when she noticed the rusty stains that marred the collar of his white shirt. Blood stains.
She gently pulled off his overcoat and set it aside. She loosened and removed his tie. His suit jacket gave her a bit of trouble when she tried to pull his long, limp arms from the sleeves, but with perseverance and one sharp tug she managed. She began to unbutton his shirt, but paused. She’d done this before, undressed him while he slept. Unbidden, the thought occurred to her that someday she’d like to do it while he was awake.
“Humans,” she muttered to herself as she unbuttoned his cuffs, her gloved fingers fumbling a little. “Everything’s about sex with you people.” Though there was no one to see, she hid a smile.
When the Doctor was naked from the waist up, she hesitated. He was clearly having trouble maintaining a normal body temperature, but it wasn’t like a human fever. She had no idea whether to cool him or keep him warm. Acting on instinct, she pressed her cheek to his bare chest and gasped at the chill of his skin. He arched slightly off the exam table, leaning into the contact. She stumbled backwards.
“R-right,” she stuttered, blushing furiously. “Warm it is.” She covered him with a clean blanket and pulled a flannel from a cabinet. After soaking it in warm water from the infirmary sink, she wringed it out and returned to his side. Working slowly and thoroughly, she cleaned his face, hands, and neck, and if she lingered a little too long on the swell of his Adam’s apple — well, she was, after all, only human.
She pulled him by the shoulders until he was sitting upright, and let him slump forward against her so she could reach the back of his head. As she scrubbed the blood from his hair he made a small noise in the back of his throat. At first she thought she was hurting him, irritating his recently healed wound, but when she stopped he nuzzled her neck and made the noise again, only now it was quite clearly not a noise of pain.
Rose bit her lip and closed her eyes. “Stop that,” she scolded faintly. “You’re unconscious and this is taking advantage and you need to stop that.” His breath was cold against her throat and she shivered. “You have the worst timing ever,” she said, and this time she wasn’t sure whether she was talking to him or to herself.
It was a relief to escape to the wardrobe for a few minutes to find a spare shirt and tie. When she returned she dressed him gently but efficiently, leaving the tie loose around his collar. Then there was nothing left to do but wrap him once again in blankets and wait.
After nearly an hour of sitting quietly by his bedside, the silence of the room became unbearable. Her thoughts were jumbled and chaotic, jumping between the irrational fear that she’d be waiting forever and memories of the terrible things she’d said to him the day before. Hurtful things.
She stood stiffly and, after checking yet again for the even up and down of his chest, walked down the corridor to the TARDIS library. She wandered through the endless aisles of books, searching for some distraction, some other words to replace those that haunted her memory.
When she found herself face to face with a green, well-worn volume with the name Tennyson emblazoned on the spine in gold lettering, she didn’t hesitate. She pulled it from the shelf and returned to the Doctor’s bedside.
The creak of the spine as she opened the book sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet room. He’d stopped shivering some time ago, but this unearthly stillness was nearly as upsetting. She placed one hand on his chest to feel his steady breathing and flipped past the first few pages until she reached one titled simply Prologue.
“Strong Son of God, immortal Love,” she read aloud, her voice hushed and unfamiliar to her own ears, and then continued awkwardly, stumbling over unfamiliar rhythms:
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
She looked up from the page to glare at the Doctor. “Wow,” she said, deadpan. “Skulls and Death. Don’t know ‘bout you, but I feel comforted.”
When she had seen the book she’d been sure that these were the words that would fill the silence and give her the answers she sought. Now she felt how silly that had been. The Doctor who had bumped into Tennyson that day in Vienna had not been her Doctor, and this was not her sort of poetry. Rose had found more awe and goodness and meaning in what the Doctor had shown her than she ever had sitting in a church or holding a Bible, and these words meant nothing to her.
“This is pointless,” she muttered and was about to close the book when she felt gentle the rise and fall of his chest and thought better of it. She remembered his face that night in the alleyway behind Henrick’s when he’d looked at her, really looked at her for the first time. He’d asked her name, and she’d answered.
She looked down at the book. In that moment, he’d thought of this.
She cleared her throat and began again:
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou:
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
She’d always known, from the first time she looked at him properly that morning in her mum’s flat, that he was something miraculous, something beyond the world she knew. She’d felt it when he’d taken her hand and told her of the turn of the earth, and ever since it had been an itch, a burning beneath her skin, an inescapable awareness of the size and beauty of the universe she’d seen in the lines of his face and the pale light of his eyes.
She’d known he was great, but until yesterday he’d never made her feel small.
She let her free hand slip from his chest to the hand that lay limp by his side. She squeezed his fingers and imagined that she felt him squeeze back. She kept reading.
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
She gripped his hand and closed her eyes against tears that rose from nowhere. The sun always sets, she thought. The light dies.
She was small. Small and bright and so temporary, a fleeting moment in a thousand years of living. One short day, the rise and fall of the sun.
And it terrified him.
So he held her close and pushed her away, and she’d never been able to keep up with the steps of the dance. She’d stumbled, lost her footing, lost the lines of his face and the pale light of his eyes. She’d lost sight of him, and begun to doubt what she’d always been so sure of.
She opened her eyes and read one more verse, and though she felt her heart beat furiously in her chest her voice was steady.
We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
She paused, looked down at his thin, freckled face and felt it again. The turn of the earth. She leaned forward, pressed trembling lips to the chilled skin of his cheek, and whispered, “A beam in darkness: let it grow.”
The book fell to the floor with a smack as she buried her tear-stained face in his shoulder, shaking with laughter and relief. “Oh, Doctor,” she choked out, her voice muffled by the fabric of his shirt, “what did you do to that poor man’s cheese sandwich?”
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