O when her life was yet in bud,
He too foretold the perfect rose.
For thee she grew, for thee she grows
For ever, and as fair as good.
“Speech is but broken light upon the depths of the unspoken.”
She awoke to the strange sensation of something vaguely slimy moving over her nose. She batted at it, and hit flesh.
“Excuse me,” a voice rumbled beneath her ear, “but you have some dirt just…” She opened her eyes to see the Doctor lick his thumb and rub it across the bridge of her nose. “There. Got it.”
She sat up so quickly she went a bit light-headed. “You were not just cleaning my face with your spit,” she groaned, and wiped her nose with her sleeve. Which was itself entirely filthy, she noticed.
“You fell asleep with your head on my stomach. I didn’t have a lot of other options for entertainment.” He folded his hands behind his head and smiled lazily at her. From the twinkle in his eye to the color in his cheeks, he looked entirely normal. For a crazed moment, she seriously considered kissing him.
Instead she grinned back and said, “You could have woken me up, you know.”
“Now why would I do that?” he asked, and winked at her when she blushed.
She stood and began to fuss with the tea things she’d left lying around the room, carefully not meeting his eyes. “So. You’re all better, then?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, obviously pleased with himself. “Right as rain. Fit as a fiddle. Corny as Kansas in August. As perfectly perfect as perfect can be.” He sat up suddenly and arched one eyebrow at her. “You,” he said, his voice dangerously warm, “changed my shirt.”
“You were dirty,” she answered, and bent down to pick up the Tennyson. He snatched it out of her hand.
“And you read me poetry as I lay ill,” he said cheerily. He looked from the cover of the book to her face. “In Memoriam.” The teasing note left his voice. “Interesting choice.”
She kept her expression as blank as possible. “I couldn’t find the bit about the rosebud and its little willful thorns.”
“You wouldn’t. It’s from something else.” He swallowed and looked away. “I don’t remember ever telling you about that,” he said, his tone carefully casual.
“You did, though. Last night.” He turned back to her, obviously surprised. She gave him half a smile. “How much do you remember?”
He hopped down from the exam couch and gave his ear an idle tug. “Oh, bits and pieces. Everything’s still a bit hazy at the moment.” He frowned. “Can’t quite recall how I ended up in that pit in the first place. Why I’d go wandering the labyrinth at night, I’ve no…” the sentence faded, unfinished. She followed his suddenly intent gaze and realised that he was staring at her gloved hands. Something shifted almost imperceptibly in his expression, and she knew he’d remembered.
He turned abruptly on his heel and walked to the sink at the other side of the small room, opening the white cabinet just above it. He began to pull out glass bottles full of various brightly coloured substances. “What have you done for your injuries?” he asked briskly, his face in profile, his expression shuttered.
“Huh?” she replied intelligently.
The Doctor gestured vaguely without looking at her. “Your hands. What did you use? Antiseptic, cutaneous tissue cream, the dermal regenerator?” When her only reply was an awkward silence, he turned to face her fully. “Well?” he prompted, either unable or unwilling to hide his irritation.
She stared at the floor. “Nothing,” she murmured.
He took a step towards her. “Sorry, what was that?” he asked, though the sharp disbelief in his voice suggested that he’d heard her perfectly.
“Nothing,” she said again, louder. “I didn’t think to use anything.”
“Oh, but you did think to strip me half-naked?” He gave her a scathing look. “I see your priorities are in order.”
That, she decided, was enough of that.
She met his eyes directly and walked towards him until his back hit the cabinets. “If you think for one second,” she said with deliberate slowness, “that I’d ever be able to watch you lie unconscious, shirt soaked in your own blood, and not do any little thing I could think of to help, then you are much, much stupider than I ever thought possible.” She held his gaze for a long moment, standing so close that she couldn’t avoid the vivid awareness of the tension in his shoulders and the shortness of his breath. He was the first to look away.
“Take off the gloves,” he said.
Not once looking away from his face, she did.
“Rose,” he gasped. Judging by his expression, it was a good thing she hadn’t looked down. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t surprised. Her hands hurt.
He reached to grip her forearms, but dropped his hands to his sides. “Wash them with soap and hot water,” he said tightly. “Now.” He stalked away to the other side of the small room.
She took in the array of options before her, and tried to remember what she’d used in the past. “Red soap or blue soap?”
He slammed a drawer shut, and then opened another. “Both.”
She ran the tap, still carefully not looking at her wounded hands. When the faucet ran hot, she poured the soap into her palms and let the water run over them.
If he hadn’t been standing a few feet away from her, tall and furious and unforgiving, she might have screamed. The pain sliced through her like a blade, and not just in her hands, but in her arms and her chest and an almost delicious ache between her shoulder blades. She refused to cry out, but even so he was hovering by her side in an instant, a blur of brown and white through the film of tears in her eyes. After today, she told herself, I am never crying again.
“Not a fan,” she panted, “of the blue soap.”
“Neither are the bacteria.” He put on his glasses and watched as she gingerly washed her raw and broken skin, but he didn’t touch her. Not once. “This is what happens,” he said, sounding far away, “when something hurts and you just pretend it isn’t there. It gets worse and worse until one day, you can’t pretend anymore.” He reached over and turned off the tap. “And by then, healing hurts as much as the injury ever did.”
She looked at him, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.
He stood back and cleared his throat. “That’s enough. Dry them on the sanitary towel and rub this,” he uncorked a glass bottle and set it on the counter with a clink, “into the skin.”
He left the room.
Rose did as he said, and found the clear solution in the bottle cool and soothing. The thorns had done all the serious damage — not one of her fingers had been spared the gouging cuts they’d inflicted — but her attack on the wall had scraped away the skin of her knuckles and left her hands bruised and sore.
She returned to the chair she’d slept in, holding her still-wet hands out rigidly in front of her to prevent them coming into contact with anything. She waited for him to return.
When he burst back in the door, she jumped. “This,” he said, his voice unusually loud, “is one of the fanciest health care toys ever to come out of the Loxorhynchus Planetary Confederation. I could explain the astonishingly advanced technology involved, but it’d take days and you wouldn’t understand it anyway.”
He dropped the machine onto the exam couch with a flourish. It looked exactly like the old nail varnish dryer Rose’s mum had borrowed off a manicurist friend of hers and never returned. Rose raised her eyebrows and gave him a look of obvious skepticism.
He ignored her. “Hands in that opening just there, flash of light, good as new. Well,” he drawled, tipping his head to the side, “better than new, really. All that fresh tingly skin. Wouldn’t give anyone a high five for the next few hours if I were you.” He darted away to inspect a cupboard full of unpleasant looking jars. “Go on, then.”
She placed her hands inside the machine. “Nothing’s happening,” she said.
“Give it a moment,” he tossed over his shoulder. “Oh, forgot to mention — you might feel a bit of a tickle.”
The opening filled with soft blue light, and ‘a tickle’ didn’t even begin to describe the sensation. Her skin crawled, itching with a deep, sandpaper sort of grind, like years of sunburns, one of top of the other. Then the light dimmed, and the pain was gone. She removed her hands and they were completely healed, if a bit pink.
“That’s brilliant,” she said. She looked up to where he stood, still facing away from her. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he replied distractedly, sounding anything but pleased.
This was her chance, she knew. This was the time to apologise, to make him understand why she’d said the things she had. She’d learnt so much in the hours since she’d stood in the console room and compared him to a careless child; she had to find a way to tell him.
Trouble was, she had no idea how to begin.
“Doctor,” she said, standing, “I wanted to–” She was interrupted by her own cry as her hands flew to the sharp, ripping pain in her back, just below her shoulder blades. She sagged back into the chair.
“Rose!” He was kneeling by her side before she’d even realised he’d moved. “Is it your back?”
She nodded. “Feels like I pulled a muscle.” She winced. “Or five.” She kneaded her fist into the spot and then felt an entirely new pain, a deep, dull ache. “Fantastic,” she said, chuckling through clenched teeth. “That’s where I hit the ground when I fell. Both times.”
“Stand slowly and lift up your shirt,” the Doctor ordered. She did, wincing as she straightened, and he whistled. “That,” he said, “is a very nasty bruise. Luckily, I have just the thing.” He bounced back to the cupboard and began to sort through the jars. Gingerly, she pulled off her shirt. It was grimy, torn, and just a bit singed. She sighed and tossed it into the bin.
“Oh,” she heard the Doctor breathe. She turned around and he was staring at her with a jar of unappealing grey goop in one hand and a horribly blank expression on his face.
“What?” she asked, noting that it hurt even to breathe.
“You took off your shirt.”
She blinked at him, utterly perplexed by his behavior. “I have a bra on.”
“I noticed,” he replied. “I…” He shook his head. “I’ll just leave this here for you.” He placed the jar on the exam couch and made for the door.
Rose ground her teeth together. Her back ached, her top was ruined, and the Doctor was being an idiot. If he continued to be an idiot, it was going to make apologising to him extremely difficult. And since when, she wondered, was he squeamish about seeing her undressed when she was injured? It wasn’t as if she’d flounced into the kitchen for tea completely starkers, after all. She was in pain.
“I can’t reach,” she said quickly, and he paused. She grabbed for his arm. “Help me.”
He pulled away, and she gaped at him.
“Doctor?” Maybe he heard the hurt in her voice, because for a brief moment he turned and met her gaze. In his eyes there was something dark and wounded that she could only remember seeing once before.
“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, striking out with her arms and legs. She connected once, twice; hitting him in the chest, in the shoulder. He stared at her, stunned, before coming to his senses and pinning her limbs to the chair, holding her down with his own weight.
“Rose, please,” he panted into her hair, and suddenly she could hear how afraid he was. “Please, you’re in hysterics. Tell me what happened. Let me help you.”
She laughed so hard tears began to run down her cheeks. “I will, I will, just stop touching me. Oh, please, don’t touch me.”
Later she would have no memory of any kind of conscious decision on her part, but in that moment she knew what needed to be done. She stepped in front of him, blocking his path to the door, turned around and reached behind her for his hands. Before he could react, she’d placed them on the bare skin of her lower back.
The Doctor made a strangled sound and snatched them away as if she’d burned him. “Rose,” he snapped when she reached for him again, “what are–”
“Just let me.” She covered his hands with hers, pressing his cool palms into the curve of her back. She held him there for a long moment, aware of the tension of his arms and the stiff resistance in his touch. Then she drew his hands down along her sides to her waist.
She felt him hesitate. “But–”
“It’s all right,” she murmured, leaning back into him. She wrapped her fingers around his wrists and felt the hard double beat of his pulse. “I want you to.”
She heard him exhale as something wound tightly within him relaxed and she released her hold on him, letting her arms fall to her sides. His touch lingered, skirting along her skin as he traced the outline of each bruise, his fingers like a breath teasing the tiny hairs across her shoulder blades, her sides, the skin of her hips just above her jeans. His touch was cool, but in its wake there was heat, a flush building in her face and chest.
“You have,” he said softly, “a mild contusion just…” his fingers slipped past her jeans, beneath the elastic waist of her knickers. She shivered. “Here.”
“Oh,” she said dazedly. “All right.” She reminded herself that bad things happened when she forgot to breathe.
His hands skimmed back up to her waist, then around to her stomach. Her eyes fell closed. For a moment he was still, the fingers of both hands spread wide across her belly, the heels of his palms resting against her ribcage. She froze, almost trembling, afraid that any movement would disrupt the spell cast by the press of his skin against hers and the sound of her uneven breathing. She felt the distance between their bodies like an ache.
Then his touch disappeared, replaced by a tug on the snap of her jeans and the drag of the zip. She bit back a gasp as his thumb hooked the waistband at the back and pulled down to expose the skin of her right hip.
“The jar, please,” he said, his voice perfectly even.
“Jar?” she repeated hoarsely, overwhelmed.
He chuckled, and though her trousers were undone and his free hand still rested on her bare hip, that sound was the most wonderful thing she could imagine. “The jar, Rose. On the couch in front of you?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Right,” she said, opening her eyes and reaching for the grey goop, “that jar.” She passed it back to him. “You should be more specific,” she sassed.
“You’re absolutely right.” He tickled her a bit in retaliation, his fingers dancing up her side. “So sorry.”
She fought back a giggle and tried to smack his hand away. “Yeah, but don’t let it happen again, eh?”
She stopped giggling when he began to rub the goop into her skin. He started with the bruise low on her right hip, and though he was gentle, the area was terribly sore. She tried to focus on something else.
“Is that…” She sniffed the air. “Is it just me, or does that stuff smell like banana?”
She heard a wet smacking sound and winced. “Hmm. Tastes like it too. That’s funny.”
“An ointment made of grey bananas?” She twisted to look at him but his hands on her shoulders turned her back around. “Are you sure it’s not mislabeled?”
“Mislabeled? What do you take me for?” He poked her hard in the hip where he’d been applying the goop only a moment before.
She yelped and jumped away from him. “What the hell was that for?”
“How did it feel?”
“How did it feel?” she repeated incredulously. “It bloody hurt, that’s how it felt, you great–”
“No, I mean — yes, it hurt because I poked you, but what else?”
She paused. “The bruise is gone.”
“From black and blue to in the pink in a matter of minutes. Also a mild analgesic to help the strained muscles.” He pulled her back to him and began working on another spot. “That’ll teach you to doubt the power of the mighty banana.”
She smiled and rolled her shoulders into his hands, feeling each ache as it sparked under his touch and then faded. “It’s not really made of bananas.”
“Oh?” he asked, and she could hear the laughter in his voice. “And how you do know?”
“Because if it were that would have been the first thing out of your mouth. ‘What’s that, Rose?’” she chirped in an exaggerated parody of her own accent. “‘You’ve fallen down a hole? A banana will fix that right up.’”
“I don’t sound like that,” he said severely.
She giggled. “You really do.”
“Well, if I do — and I don’t — it’s your fault.”
She grimaced as his thumbs reached a particularly sore spot on her left side. “I’d wondered about that, actually,” she said through the pain.
He made a sympathetic noise and pressed harder. “I don’t suppose the line, ‘Lots of planets have a London,’ will be explanation enough this time.” There was a sucking sound as he pulled more of the goop from the jar. “Though it is actually true.”
“But your planet didn’t.”
“Nope,” he said distractedly, his hands and his focus returning to her back. “Gallifrey had many things, but never a London.”
She went still beneath his hands. Gallifrey, she thought, and wished she dared to repeat it aloud. It sounded at once impossible and incredibly familiar, as if he’d been saying it all along. Gallifrey.
He squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Rose, this one goes deep. I’m almost done.” He thought she’d stiffened up because of the pain; she wondered if he even realised what he’d said. But then again, wouldn’t it be just like him to tell her like this, to share something important when he knew she couldn’t react to it?
“You were going to tell me,” she said through gritted teeth, “why you — bloody hell, that hurts — why you sound like you grew up down the street from — do you mind? I’ve got nerves there, you know!”
The Doctor snickered. “Who’s he, then?”
She closed her eyes and tried not to laugh. “Shut it.”
There was a short silence. Then he said, “It’s a hard process to explain. Every time you regenerate it’s a bit different.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “You mean you don’t always burst into flame?”
He looked surprised. “Did I?”
“No wonder you looked at me like that. Must have been terrifying.” He sighed. “That’s one respect in which I wouldn’t have minded being a bit more traditional. I never have had a peaceful regeneration.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
“So I am.” His touch lightened again, his hands moving in lazy circles across her skin. “I don’t age the way you do, Rose, you know that. But I do change. Life changes me. The war changed me.” His hands stilled. “You’ve changed me.”
“I killed you,” she said softly. It wasn’t something she liked to think about, but it had to be said.
“That’s not what I mean. Yes, I chose to regenerate rather than let you die, but how I am now — who I am — has everything to do with what you were to me before.” He paused. “Except maybe the teeth. And the babbling. Oh, and the mole.” His fingers dipped beneath the waistband of her jeans again. “Unless you have one you’re not sharing,” he added, his voice low.
“Whoa there, sailor,” she shot back, and he snickered. She hoped he hadn’t noticed just how throaty her voice had become.
His touch on her back drifted down to the base of her spine before his fingers traced with aching slowness the path of her backbone, tripping over vertebrae, pausing over the fastenings of her bra for a breathless moment before continuing to the nape of her neck.
Struggling for coherent thought, Rose remembered the Doctor as he had been when she first met him, the badly concealed need in his eyes as he’d asked her to come with him. She thought of herself, young and thoughtless and flushed, running to the TARDIS, heedless of what she’d left behind. She remembered them as they’d been, and then returned to the sensation of his clever hands dancing over the angles of her shoulder blades.
“I think I understand,” she murmured eventually.
She grinned. “It’s like growing up, only with pyrotechnics.”
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Sorry, did I say it was difficult to explain? What I meant was, it’s incredibly simple and really quite amusing.” His hands left her back, and for a moment the absence of his touch was disconcerting. “That’s you all done, then.” He made a noise of disgust. “Blech. My fingers are all gloopy.”
Without turning, she reached for him. “Give ‘em here. My hands are still a little sore.” She pulled his hands in front of her, tugging him forward until she felt the brush of his shirtfront against her naked back, his elbows pressing into her sides in a wriggly sort of embrace.
The Doctor wiped the excess ointment onto her fingers and palms. “Gloop gloop gloopy,” he pronounced, and bumped his chin against the back of her head as he stooped to match her height. “Take it, take it all.” She laughed and, tangling her fingers with his, rubbed the ‘gloop’ right back onto his skin. “Rose!” he whined.
“Bananas are good,” she replied, holding his hands tightly in her own. She noticed that he didn’t exactly struggle.
“You, on the other hand, are a menace.”
She shook her head and pulled him closer. “I’m delightful.”
“Well, that too.” For a long moment they stood still, his arms around her, his face against her hair. Rose stared down at their entwined hands and slowly ran the pad of her finger up and down the inside of his right thumb, before dipping to the soft skin between his thumb and forefinger. His hand flexed a little, giving her better access.
“I’ve changed too, you know,” she said, tracing the rise and fall of his knuckles, watching intently as the muscles in his hands shivered in response.
His nose brushed her ear, and she knew he was watching her touch him. “I know.”
“I even had some pyrotechnics myself.”
He tensed, and for a moment she was sure that he would pull his hands away. “I can’t joke about that,” he said flatly, and she thought of golden light and things only half-remembered.
“I was talking about Henrick’s,” she corrected him softly.
“Ah,” he said. “Right.” He nudged her with his shoulder. “You should be more specific.”
“When it comes to you and your explosions? Not a bad point.” She trailed her fingers across the back of his hands, feeling ridges of bone and tendon beneath the light hairs. She released his left hand and it fell to her hip, his thumb brushing once across her skin before settling.
His right hand she kept, cradling it palm upturned. She studied the graceful length of his fingers, his closely cut nails. The veins at his wrist (slight weakness in the dorsal tubercle) were blue and delicate and so very human. She wanted to touch them, feel the course of his blood beneath the skin.
She started with the long line that bisected the solid square of his hand, tracing it with only the barest touch of her fingertip. She began to catalog mounds and valleys, the creases of joints and the supple webs between fingers. He had been right — her newly healed hands were extraordinarily sensitive, the pads of her fingers singing with the subtle friction of whorls and lines and skin against skin. She found herself fascinated by a callous on the side of his thumb, running her own thumb across it until she felt his breathing change, becoming slow and deep, as if she were lulling him to sleep. She didn’t think she was.
“I’m sorry I said those things to you,” she said softly. She didn’t know if this was the way or the time to say it, but the words slipped out before she could stop them.
He stilled; she felt the brush of his cheek against her temple and the hand on her hip slid across her stomach, his arm encircling her waist. He waited silently for her to continue.
“I…I won’t say I didn’t mean it, ‘cause I did. It was like I finally understood why I’d felt, ever since…” She shook her head, frustrated. “I’m not saying this right.”
“But you’re saying it.” The fingers of his right hand twined with hers.
She licked her lips and started again. “There are things I knew from the beginning — and it wasn’t just knowing, it was more than that, like I didn’t even have to think about it, it just was. You showed me the end of the world and we ate chips and I just knew.” She tightened her grip on his hand. “It wasn’t that you changed. I’m human; I understand change.” She closed her eyes. “You left.”
He couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Rose–”
“And you came back, furious and wonderful and sort of brown, but I couldn’t…you left me, you were gone, and those things I knew, those things I’d been so sure of — I forgot them.” Her eyes opened and she looked down at their entwined fingers. “But I remember now.”
His lips grazed her temple. “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds,” he said solemnly, but she could feel the curve of his smile.
She chuckled. “Tennyson again?”
“It’s a recurring motif,” he replied. There was a short pause, and she waited, sensing he had more to say. “I haven’t always…there are things I should have…” he began unsurely. “I’ve made mistakes.”
She hid a smile. “That an apology?”
“I’m working on it, all right?” he said snippily.
“Well, don’t strain yourself. I can wait.” She trailed her fingernails up the soft skin of his forearm to the dip of his elbow and she felt the swell of his chest as he inhaled sharply. “We have time.”
His left hand slid from her waist to the curve of her ribcage, his thumb just barely grazing the fabric of her bra. Her heart beat against his palm and he pulled her flush against his chest until she could feel the scratch of his tie against her bare skin. Her fingertips followed the path of tendons and muscle back down his arm to the velvety skin at his wrist, where she traced the blue of his veins and the lines of his skin, and then, mad and dizzy and joyful, she raised his hand to her mouth and brushed her lips against the drum beat of his pulse.
“Rose,” he said. For months she’d heard nothing but the rise and fall of his voice, this new voice that was so rarely silent, but she’d never heard him sound like that. He’d said her name like it was the only word he knew, pulled from the back of his throat in a rasp that dimmed the lights and sent her mind racing to impossible places.
She stood paralyzed for an unbearably long moment before she realised that he was expecting a reply. “Yeah?” she managed, and was very proud of herself.
“I have a question.” His lips against the shell of her ear, his voice a whisper, and she was going to go mad.
“At what point in the past day or so was your hair set on fire?”
“Giant fire-breathing manatee,” she replied dazedly. “While you were unconscious. Nearly died. Saved by wall of shiny crickets.” Then the implications of his words sunk in. “My hair!” The sudden realization of how entirely awful she must look (and smell) served as an efficient mood killer. She winced. “Is it bad?”
“Well, it’s not good. Sort of…” he hesitated. “Charred.”
She stepped out of his embrace and there was a slight slurping sound as his now gloopy shirtfront clung to the skin of her back. “I need a mirror,” she said, and after opening a few drawers he found one and handed it to her.
On the right side of her head towards the back there was a spot where clearly there had once been hair, but were now only frazzled roots. “Oh my God,” she murmured miserably, her hand hovering over the damage, almost afraid to touch it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” This Doctor, she knew, took quality hair care very seriously. “We can get it fixed. I know just the–” He stopped. “Wait, I’m sorry, did you say giant fire-breathing manatee?”
“Well, I know it wasn’t actually a manatee, but that’s the best I can do. S’not like it was wearing a name tag.”
“Seriously? Big upright manatee, spurting flames out its mouth?” He sounded like a little kid who’d peeked at the presents under the Christmas tree. “Oh, but that’s brilliant! I thought they were extinct! And they’re still living right here in the Garden after all this time?” He paused, then placed one hand on the counter and leaned into her. “Rose…”
She knew that tone of voice. “Absolutely not.”
“My hair, on fire. You, dead to the world. Crickets, who you neglected to mention were telepathic. So, no. No more field trips to the Garden of Misery and Earthquakes and Supposedly Extinct Sea Mammals who are not in any way frightened by songs about Henry the Eighth!”
Her heavy breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the otherwise quiet room.
“Feel better now?” the Doctor asked after a moment.
“Much, thanks.” She leaned against the counter and smiled up at him. “You were saying something about getting my hair fixed?”
“Oh, yes!” He grabbed her hand and bounced out the infirmary door and down the corridor to the console room. “Perfect place, you’ll love it. Waterfalls and music and the most luxurious spa in the tri-galaxy area.” He paused mid-bounce and she nearly smacked into him. “Well, second most luxurious, but seeing as we are each of us sadly lacking tentaculated protuberances, this one will have to do.”
Rose laughed, delighted and entirely skeptical. “You’re taking me to a spa?”
He gave her a playful frown. “Now, why do you say it like that? You’d think I didn’t take you to all sorts of nice places.” He dashed around the console, flicking switches and turning cranks, setting the course for their next destination. He looked up at her and beamed. “You hungry?”
She let her tongue slip between her teeth as she grinned. “Starving.”
He ambled over to her, his eyes dark and flirtatious. “They have food there, Rose, that you wouldn’t believe. Cakes and wine and fruit you’ve never dreamed of, and oh–” he moaned. His eyes fell closed and she gulped. “The chocolate.”
“Chocolate?” she repeated, her voice gone hoarse.
“Chocolate.” He opened his eyes and grinned. “You,” he said, his voice low, “are going to love it.” He reached around her, his arm brushing her naked side, and flicked one last switch. The TARDIS lurched into the vortex and they tumbled into each other, laughing.
She patted his damp shirtfront. “You’d better change first. You’re covered in banana gloop.”
He looked at her intently, and though his eyes never left her face, she felt a sudden, fierce awareness of her exposed skin. “You’re hardly covered at all,” he said, and there was heat beneath the teasing in his tone. He winked at her. “And in need of a shower, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Oi!” She poked him in the chest. “Watch it, or I won’t share my chocolate.” She paused. “Is it just me, or did that come out sort of–”
“Dirty, both figuratively and literally! That’s my girl.” He shooed her towards the corridor. “Go, bathe and dress yourself. Then we shall away.” He returned to the console, setting the new coordinates.
She took a few backwards steps. “Is there anything I should bring? You know, in case of emergency? First aid kit, mountain climbing gear, helicopter?”
“Rose,” he groaned.
“I’m just saying, whenever we go somewhere to relax, that’s when–”
“Look, everything is going to be fine, I swear.” The Doctor bounded up to her, slipped his hand into hers, and smiled. “It’s you and me, Rose. What could possibly go wrong?”
It was a dark and stormy night.
Or perhaps not — from the four hundred and forty-seventh floor of the Hyacinth Hotel (second most luxurious spa resort in the tri-galaxy area) it was nearly impossible to tell. The Hyacinth had no windows, so the concepts of ‘night’ and ‘dark’ were entirely contingent upon the clock radio and the light switch, and if a storm had raged outside, it would have been far below, closer to the planet’s surface.
But Lena Croy von Stade, three-time Beauty Queen of the Balafon System and this year’s favourite for the InterGalactic Crown (Humanoid Division), possessed a temperament predisposed to melodrama, and as she sat in her darkened suite, lit solely by the bulbs framing the grand mirror of her vanity, she was quite determined that it was, in fact, a dark and stormy night.
Though prone to histrionics in general, on the evening in question Lena’s tears were unflatteringly sincere. The skin around her eyes was swollen and red, her face sickeningly pale. Each attempt to reapply her mascara only added to the rivulets of black sludge streaming down her wan cheeks.
“I h-hate him,” she moaned to herself, her nose leaking unpleasantly. “I hate hate hate him. And his stupid trousers too.”
There was another knock on the door of her suite, louder this time. “Madame von Stade? Are you in there?” It was her manager, Herbert. The rest of her entourage had finally gotten nervous enough to call in the big guns.
“Go away!” She slammed her fist down on the wooden surface of her vanity, rattling the bottles of creams and perfumes. “Why won’t you bloodsucking bastards just leave me alone?”
“I beg your pardon, Madame, but you’ll be late for the Opening Ceremonies Banquet,” Herbert said, as maddeningly reasonable as ever. “Perhaps if you unbolted the door, Evelyn and Puce could help you dress–”
Lena let out an inarticulate scream and hurled a bottle of outrageously expensive hand cream at the door. It shattered on impact. “Piss off!”
Judging by the fading murmurs from the hallway, they did just that.
Turning back to her reflection in the mirror, Lena let out a choked sob. “They left me. Ungrateful, greedy…everyone leaves me…” She straightened her back and stared defiantly at her own wretched face. “See if I care. I don’t need them. Any of them.”
She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dressing gown and began to apply her makeup, lipstick in one hand, eye shadow in another, and in the third she clutched a crumpled, tear-stained piece of paper. A letter.
Lena was well on her way to looking presentable again when the light bulbs surrounding her mirror flickered out, sending the room into total darkness. She sat back in her chair, dropping the wand of eye liner. “This is impossible. How am I to be expected to meet expectations when this stupid hovel of a hotel can’t even…” her voice faded, her rant unfinished. There, in the mirror before her, was the tiniest flicker of light.
She spun in her chair, but there was nothing behind her. The room was dark, empty. She slowly turned again to the mirror. The light danced, illuminating small parts of her own reflection — her nose, her left ear, the dimple in her chin. Fascinated, she reached out and touched her finger to the golden glimmer.
It began to grow, spreading across the surface of the mirror, larger and larger until it swallowed the reflection of her face. It became blindingly bright, but when Lena tried to close her eyes and pull her hand away, she could not. She was held frozen, unmoving, as the light encompassed the whole of the mirror, bathing her in its radiance.
Though Lena may have thought the Hyacinth a hovel, there was one thing you could say in its defense — the walls between suites were far too thick for anyone to hear her scream.
The room went dark, and one crumpled, tear-stained piece of paper fell to the floor, forgotten.
To be continued in Heartbreak Hotel, coming this fall!
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