Sweet soul, do with me as thou wilt;
I lull a fancy trouble-tost
With ‘Love’s too precious to be lost,
A little grain shall not be spilt.’
And in that solace can I sing,
Till out of painful phases wrought
There flutters up a happy thought,
Self-balanced on a lightsome wing:
Since we deserved the name of friends,
And thine effect so lives in me,
A part of mine may live in thee
And move thee on to noble ends.
She awoke to the sound of humming.
Which was perfectly normal and familiar and exactly as expected, but the pitch wasn’t right and the TARDIS didn’t usually sound quite so much like the theme from Chariots of Fire. She kept her eyes tightly closed and tried to bury her face in her pillow, only to find her pillow gone and her bed sheets horribly gritty. “Doctor,” she murmured, still half-asleep, “did you put dirt in my bed again?”
There was no answer. She opened one eye to see pale lines of dawn light stretching across the earthen floor and sat up with a jolt. The sun was up.
“Doctor!” she shouted, scrambling to her feet. “Doctor, are you all right?”
The humming stopped. “Everything tastes like ashes,” he said, his voice so faint it was almost unrecognizable. “It’s icky.”
“I’m going to the TARDIS now,” she said, rewrapping her hands as quickly as she could. She may have been numb last night, but she felt everything now — muscles stiff and sore from falling twice to the ground and then sleeping on it, hunger, exhaustion, and the fire in her blood-caked hands. She grinned widely. “I’m going, and then I’ll have you out of there. Is there anything I can bring back that will help?”
“Rope,” he croaked. “Rope would be good.”
“I love having a genius around.” She reached for the lowest tangle of the roots that made up the extensive, ladder-like system and tried not to notice how her hands were shaking. “You always have the best ideas.” When she tightened her grip, she had to bite down hard on her lip to keep from crying out. The thorns covering the roots were smaller, but not entirely gone.
“I’m fine,” she grunted, pulling herself up again. “Keep humming.”
“The sun…it’s not up yet.” She heard his labored breathing and climbed faster. “Not fully. You need to wait.”
She paused, the cuts on her fingers and palms screaming. “Can you wait?”
There was a silence. “No.”
She tried to laugh, but the sound stuck in her throat. “Then shut it.”
The moment when she finally pulled herself to the surface was a glorious one, but she didn’t have time to enjoy it. She swiftly surveyed the surrounding area that had been shrouded in darkness the night before. The light in the clearing was pale and grey, the sun only just visible on the horizon. The mist was still heavy, but she could see the green walls of the labyrinth in one direction and a massive, low-bowed tree nearby. And at the foot of that tree, she saw a Doctor-sized hole in the ground.
“Oh, finally,” she whispered, smiling. “Finally, something goes our way.” She walked to the hole as quickly as she dared, cautiously testing the ground before she stepped. “Anyone home?” she called as she reached the opening.
“Blimey, you’re up high,” the Doctor pointed out astutely.
“You’re down low, actually, though I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.” She could only see one plimsoll-clad foot, but found it immensely comforting. She looked up to grin at the thick tree branch that extended not far above her head. “Brilliant.”
“Don’t like being low, Rose.”
She bent over the hole. “Hang on, Doctor. I’ll be back before you know it.” She wanted to say something else, something more, but didn’t know where to begin. “I can see your right foot.”
He wiggled it at her, and she laughed.
“I’ll be right back,” she said again, and then ran.
The Rose Garden was beautiful in the early dawn light, but she saw nothing but the white line of string that led her back to those wonderful blue doors, which she gave a huge smacking kiss as she put her key into the lock. She nearly kissed the time rotor (with tongue) when she saw the heap of supplies laid out on the console room floor.
“You amazing, amazing machine!” she cried as she gathered up rope and blankets and a bottle of water. “You wouldn’t happen to have a hammock or a net or something, would you?” Knowing better than to wait for an answer, Rose sprinted to the hallway and opened the first door she saw. There on the floor waited one large hammock and a chocolate biscuit. She nearly swooned at the sight.
“I mean it,” she said, still chewing the biscuit as she hauled the rope and other supplies out the door, “that H.G. Wells junker has got nothing on you. And that car from Back to the Future? Pitiful, really.” She closed the door behind her and pressed her bandaged hand against the wood. “I’ll bring him back soon, I promise.”
Weighted down as she was, it took longer than she liked to return to the clearing. “The TARDIS wants you to get your arse back home,” she said by way of greeting when she reached the opening to the Doctor’s pit and began to unwind a coil of rope.
“Funny,” he replied weakly. “I forget you’re funny.”
She tied one end of the rope securely around the trunk of the tree and dropped the other into the pit. The TARDIS had given her a second rope, and as she attached it to the metal rings at either end of the hammock she smiled at its alien smoothness. It took a few tries to loop the rest of the rope over the low-hanging branch above her, but she managed. She pulled the end through a large hole made by a protruding tree root and tied it off firmly to another.
As she loaded the rest of the supplies into the hammock, a pair of blue gloves fell out from between the folds of a blanket. They were made of a thick, entirely unfamiliar fabric, and when Rose pulled them onto her injured hands, she grinned. They fit perfectly.
“In-coming,” she called down to him, before easing the laden hammock to the floor of the pit. Then, grabbing hold of the rope tied to the trunk, she followed it.
Rose only had to abseil about half-way down the wall before her feet touched the massive pile of stone slabs that had fallen during the earthquake. She nearly stumbled more than once as she navigated the crumbling rocks down to the floor where the Doctor lay sprawled.
She couldn’t help but touch him when she reached his side, pressing her hands to his chest, feeling right heartbeat and left, passing gloved fingers over the beaded sweat on his forehead.
“Hello,” he murmured through the chatter of his teeth.
She brushed her lips against his bruised temple. “You’re so cold,” she said and clutched his hands in hers. “Your skin is like ice.”
“Never…” he took a rattling breath, “had any complaints before.”
“I’ve blankets,” she said, rising to fetch them. “Hang on.”
His grip on her hands tightened and he pulled her back down. “Wait.”
“Doctor, I have to–”
“Just wait.” He reached for her face, his fingers hovering above her lower lip before moving to the curve of her throat. His touch was cold, but she leaned into the pressure until she could feel her pulse throb around his fingers. “One little heart,” he said reverently. “Just the one. Beating.” His mouth widened into a beautiful, delirious grin. “Rose Tyler, my hero.”
Then his eyes closed and she knew they wouldn’t be opening again any time soon.
For a moment, she panicked. “No,” she said, grabbing fistfuls of his suit jacket and shaking him gently. “No, not yet. Wake up. Please, you can’t, not yet. I can do this, but only if you’re here. You need to wake up.”
She felt him shiver under her hands and remembered his hair against the pillows on her mother’s bed, his face unfamiliar and pale with regeneration sickness. She’d felt betrayed and helpless from the first moment she’d seen him wear this face.
Rose looked down at him now, at his filthy, wonderful features gone still and slack, and got over it.
She sprinted for the blankets and wrapped them around him as tightly as she could, making sure to support his head as she moved his disturbingly limp form. When her gloves came away from his neck flecked with blood, she didn’t pause. No time, she repeated to herself, no time.
Then there was the small matter of carrying him to where the hammock lay by the far wall. He was heavier than he looked, as she well knew, and she worried about jostling his head and spine.
“Sorry about this,” she said, pulling him into a sitting position by his armpits. “Not exactly dignified, but you didn’t leave me much choice.” She dragged him across the rocky floor, wincing as his head sagged to one side. The only remaining sign of whatever damage he had suffered during the earthquake was the blood in his hair and the stains on his shirt collar — the surface wound had healed, as she had suspected it would. The surface wound was not the problem.
She tied him into the hammock and smirked at the thought of his reaction to this treatment had he been awake. “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your lap belts,” she tightened a knot, “and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.” She leaned over him until her cheek was directly above his mouth, holding her breath so she could feel the brush of his. “Hang on,” she whispered before she got up and walked away.
Then she was climbing out of yet another hole in the ground, pulling herself to the surface as the muscles of her arms shrieked in protest. “Ow,” she muttered under her breath as she collapsed onto the grass. “Ow, ow, ow, ow. Ouch.”
She was almost surprised when her makeshift pulley system worked. With one smooth loop of rope over the tree branch and another under the root, she was just strong enough to hold his weight and slowly (too slowly) pull him up. He and the hammock were just visible over the rim of the opening when she froze.
Later she would think it funny that, when what she’d been dreading all night finally came to pass, she would smell the beast long before she heard it. At the time, she just knew that something was burning.
The acrid stink stung her nose and when she looked over her shoulder to find the source, she saw that the nearby labyrinth wall was smoldering. And towering above that wall was a giant manatee.
No, it was definitely a giant manatee. Hulking and grey-skinned, with flippers that were just enough like feet to walk upright on but too much like flippers to be anything else. It wobbled closer to Rose and then howled, a sound which had been bad enough from a distance but was far worse up close. Its breath smelled like rotted flowers and smoke.
Her knuckles went white as she clutched the rope, the only thing between the Doctor and another long fall.
The manatee squinted her for a long moment with small, glassy eyes, and Rose remembered the darkness of the tunnel and the Doctor’s casual mention of this planet’s supposedly extinct ‘nocturnal nasties’. The sun was still low in the sky, but perhaps, Rose thought, perhaps…
The manatee opened its mouth and a jet of flame consumed one of the branches on the other side of the tree. The branch fell to the ground, nothing left but smoking ash.
Rose looked from the Doctor’s prone form, snug in the hammock, to the pile of ashes, to the colossal beast waddling ever closer.
“Oh, fuck,” she said.
If the man-eating fire manatee had had any sort of sentience at all, it probably would have wondered why she was speaking Japanese.
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