Forgive what seem’d my sin in me;
What seem’d my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.
She spent the first hour on the floor of the console room, sitting frozen in the same spot she’d been when he’d left.
She finally stirred when she realised she had to pee. Her legs had fallen asleep, and she found the resulting pins and needles a welcome and distracting pain as she stumbled to the nearest loo.
She washed her hands without looking at herself in the mirror.
Most of the second hour was spent sorting dirty laundry. Darks and whites, delicates put aside to be washed separately. A t-shirt stained with some mysterious, otherworldly goop set to soak in the sink. As always, the TARDIS laundry was uncomfortably warm and smelled of dryer sheets and wool.
She passed the third hour with her face pressed against the cool metal of the washing machine, listening to regular revolutions of water and soap. She didn’t wonder when he would come back.
The fourth hour was the worst. The dryer was too loud, so she left to wander the halls. She came upon a long-forgotten room where every available surface was piled high with telephones — some grimy antiques with rotary dials, others so advanced that she could only guess at their original purpose. She picked up a bulky black mobile from the late twentieth century, cradled it in her hand and felt the weight of it.
She remembered that day in 1987 when she’d wondered if there was anything she could do that he wouldn’t forgive.
She spent the fifth hour searching for a torch and the heaviest coat she could find.
When the dryer buzzer went off nearly five and a half hours after the Doctor had left the TARDIS, Rose wasn’t there to hear it.
It was very, very dark outside.
Rose had seen all sorts of darkness while travelling with the Doctor — the shadowed blue of a midnight lit by three moons, the eternal night of space, the stuffy black of a broom closet as a battalion of militant warthogs marched by — and in comparison, a grey, misty night in the Rose Garden wasn’t much to look at.
It was, however, quite pointy.
She stumbled into the labyrinth wall and hissed as rose thorns ripped into her sleeve. The mist refracted the light of her torch, making it nearly impossible for her to avoid the now vicious flowers.
She hoped that whatever trouble the Doctor had gotten himself into, it would be well-lit.
This is insane, she thought giddily. Absolutely, totally, completely bloody insane.
She came to a fork in the path. To the left, the rose-lined corridor seemed to double back on itself. To the right, the labyrinth opened into a large clearing.
“Doctor?” she called, her voice small and unfamiliar in the darkness. She tightened her grip on the ball of string in her hand, her lifeline to the TARDIS. “Doctor, can you hear me?”
She was just about turn left when she heard the tiniest ghost of a noise from the clearing.
Her head snapped around so quickly she nearly hurt her neck. “Doctor, is that you?”
She strained to hear an answer, but there was nothing. Just the whisper of her breath and the wind in the trees. And then the noise again, like something scrabbling against rock and maybe, just maybe like a voice…
It took all of her self-control not to break into a run. She couldn’t be sure it was him and she was defenceless, virtually blind. Better to approach slowly and evaluate the situation. “Oh please,” she said under her breath, creeping towards the centre of the clearing, “please be him. Be him, and be all right so you can yell and scream and hate me forever, I don’t care, just please be him.”
Then she heard her name, and threw herself at the sound of his voice.
This, as it turned out, was a mistake.
The ground crumbled beneath her feet, her trainers struggling for purchase on dirt that was no longer there because it was falling, and she was falling with it — until she wasn’t anymore.
Her landing was soft, but still knocked the air from her lungs.
“Rose! Rose, are you all right?” The Doctor’s voice sounded muffled and far away, but she could hear the panic in it. “Answer me!”
For a moment, her only thought was relief that she had found him and that he was well enough to sound so irritated. “I’m fine,” she gasped. “Where are you?”
“How far did you fall? Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I landed on hay or dried grass or something; I’m fine.” She crawled to the still-lit torch and grabbed it. Standing, she slowly turned in a circle, taking in the full view of her new abode. She hadn’t fallen very far, but the surface was definitely out of her reach. She was surrounded on each side by walls of dirt, the nearest one consumed by an elaborate root system. At the far side of the pit was a passageway, a large tunnel leading into a darkness even the torch could not penetrate. “Blimey. We’re trapped in some sort of giant rabbit’s warren.”
“Correction,” the Doctor said, and she followed his voice to the smooth dirt wall on her left. “You are trapped in some sort of giant rabbit’s warren.”
“Where are you, then?” She looked up and down the wall that separated them, but there were no doors or openings.
“A nice, homey pit. Lined with…” There was a pause. “Black shale, I should think, given the tang of unoxidized carbon. Not terribly exciting, as rock goes.”
“What happened?” she asked, half-expecting a wild tale involving vestal virgins, a fascist regime, and cream pies.
Instead, there was a silence. “What do you think happened?” he asked peevishly.
“Ah,” she said, amused. “You fell in a hole.”
“Yes, I fell in a hole. Not exactly alone in that, am I?”
She nearly snapped back at him, but stopped herself. “Are you all right?”
“Unconscious for a bit, but all healed up now. Not that it does me much good.” His sigh was so loud she could hear it clearly through the dirt and stone between them. “There’s no way out.”
Rose turned and the torchlight illuminated the large tangle of roots again, revealing a ladder-like structure that reached from the hole in the ceiling to the floor. She grinned. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
There was the sound of sudden movement from the other side of the wall. “Ooh, I know that Rose Tyler tone. I like that tone. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking,” she said, moving to the root-covered wall, “that I’m going to climb right out of here, fetch a rope from the TARDIS, and spend the rest of the evening folding my nice, fluffy laundry.”
“Sorry, couldn’t quite hear that. How exactly will laundry be helping us, again?” He paused. “Are you going to make a grappling hook from your brassiere?”
Her snappy rejoinder died in her throat when she saw the thorns — each bulky root was covered with them. She looked down at the thin wool of her gloves. “This should be fun.”
“I don’t mean to be a bother, hate to interrupt, really, but could you possibly — if you get a free moment, of course — share this genius escape plan of yours?”
She leaned against their shared wall, shoved the torch in her pocket, and began ripping long strips of fabric from her coat. “You know, I’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell you — I don’t think sarcasm really works for you anymore. Something about your hair.”
“And you somehow thought this was that right moment?” he asked dryly.
“Yeah,” she said, wrapping the heavy fabric around her hands. “I did.” She pulled her gloves on again and flexed her fingers. “That’ll have to do, I guess.”
“Have to do for what?”
“There’s a sort of root ladder growing from the wall. I’m going to climb it to the surface.”
There was the scrabbling sound of shoes against loose rock. “Rose, those roots will be filthy with thorns. They’ll tear your hands to pieces.”
“Probably.” She reached for the lowest branch and hissed as it bit into her palm, easily piercing the layers protecting her skin. “Have you out of there in a mo’, Doctor!” she called and started to climb.
“Rose Tyler, you stop what you’re doing this instant!”
She snorted, wondering if he realized just how shrill his voice had gone. “Now who sounds like my mum?”
“That’s not funny!”
“It’s a bit funny,” she muttered, and then tried to swallow a gasp of pain. Her right hand was entangled, the thorns deeply embedded in the delicate skin of her fingers and palm. She tried unsuccessfully to ease her hand free and pain bloomed white in her vision. Her eyes watered fiercely, but she refused to cry out.
“Fine! Just a bit…just a bit stuck, is all. I’ll just give it a good tug…” She bit down hard on her bottom lip, steeling herself, and then ripped her hand free. The force of the pull sent her flying and this time her landing was not quite so gentle. She stared up at the ceiling, the dirt floor hard against her back. When she was finally able to breathe, it came out as a groan. “Okay. Not one of my better plans.”
She heard her name followed by a string of thick, incomprehensible syllables from the Doctor’s side of the wall. She winced and pulled herself up.
“Doctor, are you speaking Russian?”
“No,” he snapped. “I am not.” He took a long breath, and when he spoke again his voice was somewhat calmer. “Did you injure yourself?”
Looking down at her badly bloodied hands, she said, “Not really.”
“Are you lying?”
“Does it matter?”
“Does it…does it matter?” he stuttered, outraged. “In the name of…does it matter? You, you demented blond berserker, are easily the most stubborn, ridiculous little life-form I have ever had the misfortune to…” After that, all she could hear was an indistinct noise of fury, sounding very much like, “Argh.”
Rose slid down the wall between them, suddenly exhausted. “If you’re trying to say thanks for the rescue–”
“Oh, yes. Thanks ever so,” the Doctor said waspishly. “Speaking of which, did I or did I not tell you to stay put?”
“I’m not your cocker spaniel. I go where I like.”
“Is that so? Because earlier this evening you were singing quite a different tune.” Her breath caught in her throat and she felt a sharp twist of tension in her stomach. “Isn’t that the way of things with us, Rose? Wasn’t that your great revelation? I pat you on the head, toss you a biscuit, and say, ‘Sit, Rose. Stay. What’s that, Rose? An alien civilization’s fallen down the well? Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good–’”
“Stop it!” she cried, and he went silent. “Just…” Her voice broke. “Just stop it.”
They sat in silence for a long time.
Rose turned off the torch, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. The cuts on her hands stung terribly, and when she felt the prickle of tears behind her eyes she found herself hating him, just a little bit. She looked up at the small circle of night sky visible from her hole in the ground and blinked hard.
“You said the thorns retract during the daylight hours,” she said finally, pleased with the evenness of her voice. “How long until sunrise?”
He gave a little squawk of surprise. “You remembered that and you still–”
“Didn’t really fancy spending the rest of the night trapped down here.” With you, she didn’t say, but knew he heard it anyway. “Can you honestly say you wouldn’t have done the same?”
“No,” he said, his tone curt. “Sunrise is in eight hours and thirty-seven minutes.”
“Right. We’ll just wait, then.”
There was another long pause. Rose gathered her coat close around her and tried to get comfortable. The earthen wall was warm against her back, and she remembered what the Doctor had told her about the thinness of the planet’s crust. At least she wouldn’t freeze.
“I’ve travelled with plenty of non-humans, you know.”
Rose seriously considered pretending to be asleep, but after a moment’s hesitation she took the bait. “Robot dogs don’t count.”
“I’m not talking about K-9, Rose. I’m talking about people who would be as alien to you as I am.”
“But you usually travel with humans.”
“Why is that, do you think?”
“I…” He faltered. “I have my reasons.”
She chuckled, but there was no humour in it. “I’m sure you do.”
She heard movement on the other side of the wall and imagined that he was sitting near her, his back against stone. “How long has it been like this?” he asked, his voice almost too low for her to hear.
“What do you mean?”
“You didn’t just wake up this morning and decide that I…” He stopped. “How long have you felt this way? Since before we left Mickey?” He waited, but she didn’t answer. “Since Reinette?”
“Is that what you think this is about? Jealousy?” She gave a sharp bark of a laugh. “That is so typically male. I’m almost impressed.”
“Fine,” he sniped. “Don’t tell me. Bit typically female, isn’t it, to expect everyone around you to somehow read your mind–”
He sputtered incoherently for a moment. “That has absolutely…entirely beside the…oh, never mind.” He gave an explosive sigh and she heard the skitter of rocks as he kicked the ground. “Eight hours and twenty-six minutes until sunrise.”
“Right,” she said. “Thanks.” They lapsed into silence again.
She’d managed to evade the conversation, but her victory was a hollow one. She was wounded and angry, but beneath the anger waited the thought that had haunted her since he’d slammed out of the TARDIS earlier that evening: the Doctor was dear to her, and she had hurt him.
It should have been impossible. She’d seen herself through his eyes that day, finally understood her size and consequence in his life, and yet some hidden, irrational part of her ached with the thought of her betrayal. She wanted to apologise, but she couldn’t think what for.
What had she done but tell the truth?
Suddenly she found herself saying, “It wasn’t Reinette.”
“If you say so,” he replied graciously, which made her rather want to smack him.
“It wasn’t,” she insisted. “I won’t say that it was easy, waiting. Thinking you’d forgotten us.” She swallowed hard. “That you’d already left me behind.”
She cut him off, dreading what empty comfort he might offer her. “But I understood. She was in danger, and you did what you would have done for anyone.” A small, sad smile crossed her face. “But she wasn’t just anyone, was she?”
“No,” he said softly. “She wasn’t.”
Her throat constricted, even now feeling his grief as her own. Yet when she spoke again, her voice was steady. “It wasn’t Reinette,” she said again, and was fairly sure she was telling the truth.
Rose had been jealous, of course — fiercely so — but that wasn’t in and of itself particularly unusual. The Doctor made friends fairly easily (nearly as easily as he made enemies) and these friends were more often than not nubile young women in peril. Rose thought of the pig-tailed girl from the Game Station and felt a sinking sort of guilt at the memory.
The girl had been murdered by Daleks, died fighting, and Rose had wanted to shove her out an airlock for daring to touch her Doctor.
Reinette had been elegant and wise, bold enough to simply take from the Doctor what Rose was afraid to want, but the territorial urge to scratch the woman’s eyes out had been familiar and easy to ignore, no matter how Mickey had egged her on. Such petty (human) jealousies made her feel small and coarse, and she was eager to leave them behind.
No, the trouble with Reinette hadn’t been jealousy at all, but rather that, in the past, no matter whom the Doctor flirted with — or, for that matter, what pretty boys Rose took a fancy to — she had always been sure that it would end with his hand in hers. No matter how many times she’d been asked if she were his wife, his whore, or his pet, she’d never before needed a word for what they were to each other; they were the Doctor and Rose, and that was all she needed to know.
But she’d stood alone on that spaceship, staring up at faraway stars, and for the first time she’d wondered. Then he’d brought her here, and she’d stopped wondering.
“You’re wrong, by the way,” the Doctor said, too casually, as if they were debating the merits of various types of drain plugs.
“I don’t leave people behind.”
She closed her eyes. “Assistants.”
“You said people, but you mean assistants,” she said crisply. “That’s what I am, aren’t I? Your assistant, just like the others.”
“No. Not you.”
Rose felt like she’d had the breath knocked from her lungs for the third time that evening. “Stop saying that,” she hissed, ignoring the ache in her chest.
“I will when you stop pretending you don’t know what it means.”
She took a deep, steadying breath and then exhaled. The air tasted of dust, and she ran her tongue along the front of her teeth, then across the rough surface of each molar. The cuts on her hands stung, and when she spoke again her voice was hard. “What about Sarah Jane?”
“What about her?” It was clear from his tone that he didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking.
“She was your assistant.”
“She was my friend.”
“And you left her in Scotland.”
She heard the sudden squeak of rubber soles on stone as he stood. “I was called home. She couldn’t come with me.”
“Why didn’t you go back for her, then?”
“She was ready to leave,” he said somewhat desperately, and she wasn’t entirely sure which of them he was trying to convince. “I know the signs. It was time.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “So you made the decision for her. How helpful of you.”
There was a smack as his hands struck the wall, venting his frustration on unforgiving rock. “You don’t understand,” he bit out. “You think you do, you think you know, but you don’t.”
“Then explain it to me!” she demanded. “Unless you think it’s beyond my tiny little ape mind.”
“Seems to be,” he snapped, and she was glad he couldn’t see her recoil.
“No wonder you get tired of us so quickly. Poor Doctor, we must bore you to death, yammering on about our insignificant little lives. Chocolate custard, sombreros, and beans on toast.” She leaned against the wall, pressing her injured hands into the dirt until they burned. “‘Course, like any new toy we’re entertaining for a bit. How long, do you think, before the shine wears off and you chuck me too?”
“Honestly, how thick can you get?” he shouted, enraged. “How can you not understand? I don’t leave you behind, Rose — you leave me!”
There was silence but for the sound of his breathing through layers of dirt and stone.
“What?” She was dumbstruck.
“The people I travel with — my companions, my assistants, whatever you call them — they leave me. They find something or someone better, they get tired of running, and they leave.” He stopped. When he spoke again, his voice was low and strained. “And I let them go. I smile and wave and wish them the best and don’t you dare think that I don’t miss them, because I do. But I let them go, because they weren’t ever meant to stay.”
“You could visit. After they’re gone,” she suggested softly, though she already knew what his answer would be.
“I don’t do that.”
She nodded. “No. Of course you don’t.” For the first time that night, she wished she could see his face. “I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t tell you.” He sighed. “I’ve become so selfish, Rose. Used to be, I’d pick up a human with a nose for trouble, take them on a whirlwind tour of the universe, and then let them go on their merry way. But now I…” She waited, breathless, for his next words. But when he continued, his tone was suddenly sharp and false. “Mickey found his fight, and I should be happy for him. But I see how you and Jackie miss him, and I feel responsible, don’t I?”
She bit her lip, at once disappointed and unsurprised. “That’s selfish how, exactly?”
“Don’t know,” he replied breezily. “Just is.” She heard him sit again. “Eight hours and three minutes until sunrise.”
In that moment, she understood. “Of course,” she whispered, and felt the anger begin to build again. “Gingerbread.”
“Alternate universes are gingerbread houses. Full of temptations. That’s what you said, isn’t it?” she said, accusation clear in her voice. “You thought I was going to leave you.”
“Didn’t you?” he asked, his voice gone cold. “Can you honestly tell me that if Pete ‘Trust Me On This’ Tyler had swept you into his arms and named you his heir on the spot that you’d still be trapped on a frozen lump of a garden planet with me?”
Rose fumbled for an answer. “I told you, I wouldn’t–”
“Leave your mum. I remember.” He laughed, and the sound was harsh and unfamiliar. “Time was, you would have ripped the universe to shreds to stay with me. You very nearly did, once.” Then the bitterness left his voice, and he just sounded lost. “Am I really that different?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I am.” To her horror, her eyes began to well with tears. She pressed the back of her hand against her face, trying to stifle the sound. “I feel different.”
He said her name, softly, beseechingly, and some hidden part of her chimed in response — the part of her that had always known, whenever he said her name or took her hand, what he couldn’t, wouldn’t say. But that had all been a lie, and she knew better now.
She shuddered, and pushed her doubts aside. Anger was safer. “You begged me not to see him. Asked me to trust you, and all along you were just afraid that I might find something better.”
“I was trying to protect you!”
“You were trying to keep me for yourself!”
“And what’s so wrong with that?” he asked, his voice raw. “I lose everything, Rose, everything and everyone, and I’ve grown used to it — but I’m sorry, I refuse to lose you too. Not you. Not yet.” She heard his shuddering sigh, and felt herself exhale in an unconscious echo of sound. “You can hate me for not needing you or you can hate me for needing you too much, but you can’t do both. Either way, I–” He stopped, and something about the following silence frightened her.
“Rose,” he said, his voice full of a new urgency, “Rose, get away from the walls. Move to the centre of the cavern. Now!”
She obeyed him instinctually, stumbling backwards even as she asked, “What is it? What’s happening?”
Then she felt it. A tremor beneath her feet, slight at first but building to a thunderous rumble. Clumps of dirt and dead roots rained from the ceiling, and she curled into a ball to protect her face and neck. The noise was incredible, and from the Doctor’s pit she heard the shriek of stone against stone. The walls were collapsing.
She opened her mouth to scream his name, but choked on the dust.
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