Rose gritted her teeth as she clambered over another massive boulder, clinging to the Doctor's hand as her foot slipped on the surface. The storm they had encountered upon their hasty exit from the Shrine was greatly hampering their progress across the harsh terrain, and only intermittent flashes of lightning illuminated the barren landscape. The Doctor had told Rose that they had exited on the opposite side of the hill from where the TARDIS had initially materialized, but she hadn't realized it was quite so far away.
"C'mon, not so far now. The city is just over there."
Rose tamped down her rising urge to strangle her companion. A steady drizzle was still falling and the rocky landscape was extremely slippery. "You said that five minutes ago and I still can't see the city. You sure you know where you're going?"
The Doctor tapped his forehead. "Extra Time Lord senses. If I'm close enough, I can feel the TARDIS. And we're close enough. We'll be there in a jiff."
"Too bad we had to take the scenic route." Rose muttered under her breath.
"What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing. I could use a breather, though." Rose found a convenient, gnarled tree to lean against, ignoring the exasperated look on the Doctor's face. "Feels like we've been walking for days."
"It's only been an hour, and we're not nearly far enough away." The Doctor surveyed the darkened landscape, his eyes lighting on a small, sheltered outcropping. "Over here - if we have to stop, let's at least get out of the rain."
Rose gratefully allowed herself to be ushered over to the small opening in the rock. It was cold, but at least it was dry. She began to wring the water out of her hair.
The Doctor sat heavily beside her. "I'd offer you my jacket, but I'm afraid it's soaked through. Are you cold?"
"'S all right," Rose lied. "I'm warm enough. What do you mean, we're not nearly far enough away? I thought we were going back to help them."
"There's no 'we' here, Rose. You're staying in the TARDIS. I'll go back to the Shrine. Alone."
"Oh no you don't, Mister!" Rose sputtered indignantly. "You did that to me once before and you ended up dying - you're not gonna do that again." She could feel his eyes on her as she muttered, "Someone's got to keep an eye on you."
The Doctor shifted, leaning against the rocky wall behind them and sighing. "You don't understand, Rose - I can't let you go back there."
"Then help me to understand." She caught his gaze and held it as another flash of lightning briefly lit up the sky. "'Cause I'm not staying in the TARDIS this time."
The Doctor sighed, shrugging his shoulders slightly. "The Sisterhood is dangerous, Rose. Their combined mental capacity is nearly unmatched - we're fortunate that they're weakened by lack of Elixir right now. They're able to implant false thoughts and visions in your head, enough to drive you mad. I'm able to close my mind to them - well, when they haven't decided to drug me, that is. But you're human, Rose. You don't have the capability or the training to shield your mind."
He leaned forward, tugging on the sleeve of his suit jacket, and Rose had to strain to catch what he was saying.
"I won't risk you. I want you protected - the TARDIS can shield you to some degree."
"Can you teach me?" Rose asked quietly. "How to close my mind? Lyra said that you were half human, and if you can do it, then maybe I could try...."
The Doctor abruptly stood up and reached for her hand. "Time we were off, I think. I really don't fancy a telekinetic visit from the Sisterhood right now. Lyra's going to be in a lot of trouble if we don't hurry." He waggled his fingers at her. "Coming?"
Rose grabbed his hand and allowed herself to be pulled up. "I guess that's a 'no' then," she muttered.
"Does it matter?"
Rose was briefly taken aback. "What?" She could barely see the Doctor's features in the darkness and swallowed hard at the intensity of his gaze.
"Does it matter to you if I am half human?"
Rose paused, the tension palpable in the air. "No. It's just...you're always being so mysterious and all that. I'd really like to know more about who I'm traveling with, that's all." She shivered from the cold, waiting for his response.
"You're cold - we'd better get moving." He pulled at her hand and they set off again across the craggy landscape.
Serves me right for asking, Rose thought. She was indeed getting colder and the drizzle had soaked the thin fabric of her hoodie and jeans. After plodding along for some time, listening to the Doctor expound on the many, many virtues of moss, she was starting to become sleepy. She couldn't feel her fingers and hadn't felt her toes for the last few minutes.
"Rose? You all right? You're slowing down."
The Doctor had stopped suddenly and Rose almost fell in her attempt to avoid crashing into him. "'M okay - just c-can't feel my feet, that's all."
"We're almost there. Look - you can see the lights of the city. The TARDIS isn't far."
He turned to face her and Rose swallowed as he took her face in his hands, peering into her eyes, which were dangerously close to drifting shut.
"C'mon Rose, it's not much further. Stomp your feet a bit - that'll help."
"'M freezing...and I'm t-tired." Rose's teeth were chattering full throttle now. "Are you s-sure we c-can't stop for just a bit?"
"Tell you what," the Doctor offered. "You keep moving and I'll answer whichever questions you want. Until we reach the TARDIS, anyway," he added hastily.
Rose perked up immediately. She wasn't about to waste an opportunity like this. The Doctor was always so reluctant to tell her anything about himself that the likelihood of this happening again was pretty much nil in her opinion. She briefly touched her face, wondering how awful she must look to garner such an offer.
"Move first, then you can fire away, ok?"
Rose slipped again on the uneven, rocky terrain, finding herself suddenly devoid of questions. "Are you really half human then?" she asked.
"Yes. On my mother's side. A little faster, please."
Rose stuck her tongue out at his back. "I'm doing the best I can - it's slippery!" She plodded along behind the Doctor, momentarily enjoying the view as he clambered up another small rock formation. She grasped his proffered hand and he hauled her to the top. "So how'd that happen?"
"Now, Rose." The Doctor was grinning at her. "I would have thought that a young lady like yourself might know a little bit about the birds and the bees."
"That's not what I mean and you know it," Rose retorted. Her cheeks were burning and she was suddenly glad for the near darkness around them. "How did they meet?"
The Doctor slowed his pace as they began to pick their way through the rocks again. "Well, it's really a long story. And we don't have much further to go to get to the TARDIS, so if you're content in just asking one question...."
Rose sighed, exasperated. "OK - I'll take the short version then."
"The short version it is," the Doctor replied. "My father worked for the Celestial Intervention Agency on Gallifrey. He was called to your little planet for an...well, an 'incident'. What happened next was strictly forbidden in Time Lord society then - thank goodness they had relaxed the rules a bit when I took Leela there...."
"Strictly forbidden?" Rose interrupted. "What happened?"
"Well, if you must know....he fell in love. With a human."
Rose's thoughts were whirling...if his father, a Time Lord, was capable of falling in love...then maybe the Doctor.... Her thoughts were interrupted as her foot caught on a rock and she pitched forward, the Doctor turning to catch her before she fell against the rocks.
"Not that shocking, is it?" He grinned at her, setting her back on her feet. "Mind you, it was completely unheard of in those days - mating with an un-Gallifreyan, that is. Punishable under Statute 694 of the Gallifreyan legal code, 'Interference with Other Species'. My father had to hide my mother - she lived in a very small house that he built for her on the slope of Mount Lung. Very close to a hermit's cave, incidentally."
Rose squeezed his hand tightly in encouragement. "So that's where you were born then? In that house?"
"Born? Nah. Well, not really. Gallifreyan children are loomed. There's strict quotas, you know - on the number of loomlings that a house may contain. My house - well, my former house could only have 45 members at any one time - "
"So how," Rose interrupted before the Doctor could continue his ramble. "How is it that you're half human then? If you came from this 'Loom'?"
The Doctor veered to the right, leading Rose through a small open passage through the rock. Rose had to strain to hear his voice. "My mother wanted children, I suppose - and my father, being the sort that he was in that regeneration...indulged her." Coming out of the passage, the Doctor paused, peering through the near darkness to determine the best route. "On the tombing day of one of my ancestors, he smuggled her into our house - the 'Ancient and Noble House of Lungbarrow' and hid her near the plinth of the family loom - close enough for it to pick up her DNA and his...."
"Resulting in you." Rose smiled as she allowed herself to be pulled along again after the Doctor selected another fairly rocky path. "But Lyra told me that your looms only work with mated pairs...."
"Not entirely true," the Doctor said, coming to a stop. Rose looked down at the barren landscape below. They had come to the edge of a cliff in the darkness. "Drat. I should really be paying better attention. C'mon - back down. We'll try the other path. If that's no good, we may be in for some rock climbing. Or another delay."
They started back down the narrow path, reaching the passage again. The Doctor selected another route, this one continuing downhill. Rose had to walk slightly sideways to keep from falling. "What do you mean, 'not entirely true' then?"
"Well, the DNA of a mated pair is optional, of course. If there aren't any around at the time of a tombing, the family loom can create a child completely from its reservoirs. And there wasn't a mated pair - at least, not that anyone knew about - on my name day."
"So what happened?" Rose paused in her descent as the small rocks beneath her feet shifted ominously. "With your parents? Did you stay with your mum or your dad?"
The Doctor took Rose's hand to steady her, then led her down to a more stable area. "Both, actually. My mother's house had to be kept a secret, so I couldn't spend much time there. There was a cave nearby that I did spend quite a bit of time at when I was very young. K’Anpo Rinpoche lived there - he kept my mother company when my father was called away, which was quite frequent if I remember correctly. K'Anpo was an exiled Time Lord who chose to spend his days on Gallifrey in quiet reflection, as a hermit. He'd traveled to so many places and had the most amazing stories. Maybe that's why I had such difficulty at the Academy - I'd rather listen to K'Anpo's stories than study...."
Rose clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. "You didn't do well in school?"
"Oi! At least I passed on the second attempt. With a 51%, no less!" The Doctor's smile broke into a full-fledged grin. Rose rolled her eyes at him.
The drizzle was starting to clear, and Rose was surprised to note that she could once again feel her toes within her trainers. "So why did you leave Gallifrey? It sounds like a wonderful place."
"Not so wonderful if you've been brought up on tales of travel and adventure and you find yourself stuck in a dead-end government job."
Rose couldn't hide her mirth any longer. "Government job? You left so that you wouldn't have to work?"
There was a long pause before the Doctor answered her. "No. It wasn't quite that simple - I wish it had been."
Rose, sensing that the mood had changed, sped up a bit so that she could walk alongside him. "What happened?"
The Doctor wouldn't look at her, keeping his gaze firmly on the lights ahead of them instead. "It was around the time of the tombing of the Kithriarch of my house, Ordinal-General Quences. He'd reached the end of his thirteenth span, and it was widely speculated amongst my cousins that I would be the one to replace him." The Doctor paused briefly before continuing. "My cousin Glospin, though, had other ideas. He'd somehow found the anomalies in my genetic coding - very un-Gallifreyan anomalies - from the Bureau of Loomographic Records. I'd never realized just how ambitious Glospin was - or what lengths he'd go to to become Kithriarch of the house. He threatened to expose my background, which quite frankly didn't bother me. It was when he said it would also affect my child and grandchild...I agreed to disappear. At least long enough for him to establish himself as Kithriarch. When I returned, I discovered that Glospin had me declared 'rogue', or a renegade in my absence - I had been disinherited and replaced. I would have contacted my family, but they had already mourned my loss and moved on. They didn't need to be put through more grief on my account - they had their own lives to lead."
Rose sniffed in the cold, remembering that Lyra had told her that he was a mated Time Lord. She squeezed his hand and summoned up her courage. "Did you love her very much?" she asked in a small voice.
"Yes," the Doctor said simply. "I loved my family with all my hearts. That's why I didn't fight Glospin. After all the work that my parents had gone to to hide my background and get me into the Academy, I managed to muff things up quite spectacularly. C'mon, we need to get moving again."
Rose allowed herself to be pulled along again. "Couldn't your father help?"
"No. He wasn't there. My mother had died some time after she'd reached her eighty-second year, and my father was devastated. When his time came to regenerate, he...he chose not to."
"Not even for you?"
"No. Not even for me," the Doctor said quietly, continuing alongside a rocky hillside.
"I'm really sorry. I wish you'd told me," Rose started. "All that carrying on I did about my dad and I had no idea...."
"It's all right, Rose. Really. It was a long time ago and now it's over. Finished. Done. No need to waste any time or energy thinking about it. I always found the Time Lord society too stodgy and stuffy anyway. Besides," he added, "I did meet up with my granddaughter again. She traveled with me for a time - she decided that someone needed to look after me while I was on the lam from Glospin and his cronies on the High Council. It was great fun while it lasted. Still - gone now, though." He squeezed her hand as they continued toward the lights ahead.
Rose sighed. The Doctor had been both a father and a grandfather. She wondered how young she must seem to him. It was difficult for her to conceptualize, as he definitely did not look to be as old as he claimed. She decided to change the subject to avoid thinking about the massive age gap between them. "So just how did you 'disappear' then?" she asked, feeling the chill start to seep into her again.
"Glospin had it arranged so that...well, an 'opportunity' arose. One that he knew I couldn't refuse. I had a chance to leave the planet and travel like my mentor K'Anpo had."
The Doctor began to increase his pace and Rose hurried to keep up. "The TARDIS?"
"Yes. She was to be decommissioned. Like myself, really. I liberated her from drydock...."
"You mean you stole her!" Rose exclaimed.
"Well, more or less. She was on the schedule to be cannibalized for spare parts. She needed me, I needed her - we make a good team."
"I think we make a good team too," Rose said as she made out a familiar rectangular shape in the distance.
"Rose." The Doctor's voice had taken on a concerned note. "I need you to run - fast as you can."
Rose's arm was jerked and she struggled to keep her footing as she ran toward the TARDIS. A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky and she was shocked to see a flash of reddish-orange at the mouth of a cave at the base of the rock formation near the TARDIS. She realized too late that their absence from the Shrine had finally been noticed. Sudden pain jarred through her temples and she came to a screeching halt, grasping at the sides of her head. She screamed....
Pain, horrible pain. She saw images swimming before her mind's eye...terrible, horrible images. Mickey being blasted by a Slitheen...her father being consumed by a Reaper. Her mother lay dying and she couldn't reach her. She could hear the flapping of massive numbers of birds...the sounds ringing hollow in her head. Now she could see the Doctor's lifeless body, lying on the jagged rocks below. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. Someone was screaming....
The flapping was getting louder.
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