The Doctor quickly realized why he tried to stay away from Easter. On the one hand, chocolate was plentiful. On the other, it meant having to deal with a friend of his, who happened to be a priest. A priest who had a bad case of stage-fright, was sleep-deprived, and running a bit too low on blood sugar.
"Everything's frigging wonderful," Mike snapped. "I've got the entire Citadel--or most of it--coming tonight, they can't get the interior dimensions adjusted properly on the chapel, and the sacristy is now in the women's bathroom on the seventh floor in the temporal records department in the Patrexian sector. The sacristy is the least of my problems right now. I've got to somehow remember the Exultet, because I'm stuck doing it tonight."
"Bit of a problem with the dimensional stabilizer, then?" the Doctor asked.
"Yeah," Mike responded. "Vardan's helping them out."
"He's an old pro with that sort of thing," the Doctor said. "Knowing him it'll be sorted in no time."
"Lovely," Mike said. "Only other thing that would make my day complete is if we had a bossy music director insisting on 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel'."
"For Easter?" the Doctor balked.
"Don't ask. You really don't want to get me going," Mike said.
"Fair enough. So how come you're singing the Exultet this year?"
Mike sighed and leaned up against a wall out of exhaustion. "You know Penrose? Prydonian? One of the two who served at the extraordinary form at Otherstide? Yeah, she asked, learned it on her own, and I said 'sure.' She's got a great voice for it. Who knew?"
"A female, pagan alien singing the Exultet?" the Doctor smirked. "There are some back on Earth on your time who'd crucify you for that."
"Yeah I know. She was so psyched for it, too. I mean, I was actually looking forward to the Vigil this year."
"So what happened?" the Doctor asked. "Her instructors?"
"They're fine with it, so long as the crew around here keep their marks up, which they do. They're all good students. She received the Rassilon Imprimatur on Holy Thursday, so she's been on bed rest for the past few days."
The Doctor counted on his fingers. "Kind of a strange time for that to happen, isn't it?"
"And in a case of complete cultural misunderstanding, they thought it would be a neat thing, given her involvement here," Mike responded.
"You know what they say about the road to hell...How's she doing now?" the Doctor asked.
"Physically better," Mike said as he pulled himself away from the wall. "Mentally she's pretty down in the dumps. Maybe it's better she's not singing it."
The Doctor was momentarily taken aback. "Meaning?"
"There's a group--mostly isolationists--who're looking for an excuse to kick me off the planet. I know I'm a guest here, and I'm grateful for the hospitality, don't get me wrong. But if they thought I was converting kids, they'd toss me onto the first cargo freighter off Gallifrey. And rightly so, you know?"
"Is she...?" the Doctor began.
"Nope, your gods," Mike answered. "I'm cool with it. Like you said to me before. Who's she got to talk to about this stuff?" The ground lurched, and Mike poked his head inside of a door. "Follow me. I want to see where the sacristy is."
The Doctor followed Mike to the back of the church, momentarily taken aback that Mike didn't genuflect to the tabernacle. Mike opened a door in the back of the sanctuary and let out a whoop of delight.
"Thank Christ, the sacristy's back. Otherwise, I would've had to grab Maggie to keep a watch on the door while I vested. Here," Mike said as he thrust a large jar of oil at the Doctor. The Doctor opened it, and the stench of rancid olive oil filled the space. "Don't open that! Go hand it to Damon, who's taking care of the bonfire. Those are the old oils to be disposed of."
The Doctor studied the choir of the sacristy for a moment, handed the jar back to Mike, and grabbed the nearest chair.
"Um, where are you going with that?" Mike asked the Doctor, as he dragged a heavy chair in front of the ambo.
"You never use it," the Doctor said.
"It's the bishop's chair, which means it's technically mine, even if I don't use it," Mike responded.
"How long until you start?" the Doctor asked.
Mike looked at the sky through a window. The first sun had set, and the second wasn't far behind. "About forty minutes. You aren't going to leave that there, are you?" Mike asked.
"Naw, I'll move it out of the way." he replied.
"That's fine," Mike said. "Hang on, why is it here?" But the Doctor had already run off.
Penrose glumly turned away from the window. In her dormitory, she could just see where the bonfire would be, and she couldn't bear to think about how her friends were involved in the chaos of the Easter Vigil. She knew they meant well, when they processed to her room on Holy Thursday to wash her feet as one of the twelve, but it had only succeeded in making her feel worse. While this time should have been a special moment in her life, it felt empty.
She burrowed underneath quilts, blankets and pillows in an attempt to block out the bells she knew would be coming from down below. Sniffling to herself, she could hear the unmistakable sound of a TARDIS engine. At first she thought it was just her newly-augmented senses going haywire, but it kept getting louder, until it stopped with a thunk just outside of her door.
There was a knock at her door, and after it opened with a creak, the Doctor's head peeked out from behind it. "What are you doing under there?" he said. "Come on, get dressed, if you feel up to it. Do you think you can manage?" He pulled a foil-wrapped egg from a pocket, which he deposited on a table near her bed. "And happy Easter, by the way!"
"I don't know if I could walk there," she said, poking her head out of her lair of pillows and blankets.
"Let me worry about that," the Doctor said. "I'll just wait outside while you dress."
The Doctor shut the door behind him and waited across the hallway. After a few minutes, the door opened again and Penrose wobbled in the doorway while wearing a black cassock and white surplice that matched the one he saw Damon wearing earlier.
"You've got your own?" he asked.
"It wouldn't be proper for me to wear an alb," Penrose stated.
"No, 'course not," the Doctor said.
Just then Penrose noticed the blue box parked outside of her room. "Is that really her?"
"Well, I wasn't going to nick another one just for the occasion," the Doctor said, as he opened the door. "Been there, done that. Anyway, in you go. Doesn't do to be late."
Mike jumped, as he heard the sound of the Doctor's TARDIS materializing in the back of the sacristy. Above it, he yelled, "For pity's sake, Doctor. It's a tight enough squeeze in here. You're gonna have to move that thing when we need the sacrarium!"
"Hi Mike!" Penrose beamed as she exited, leaning carefully on the wooden frame.
"Heya, kiddo. How are you feeling?" Mike said, while noticeably in a better mood.
"Still a bit tired," she admitted. "Can't wait for tonight, though!"
"Nervous?" Mike asked with a grin.
"Maybe just a little."
"Doctor, can I speak with you for a moment?" Mike walked into the TARDIS, and the Doctor shut the door behind them.
"We talked about this..." Mike said, letting his fatigue show.
"Yes, we did, and this isn't about you, Penrose, or those who'd like nothing better for this planet to go back to the way they thought things were before the Time War," the Doctor mused.
"Enlighten me," Mike said.
"This is about hope," the Doctor began, "and something bigger than any of us or how we choose to conceive of our gods. Sure, the words and surface concepts may be different, but underneath it all is the message that hope is invincible. You have an entire planet still hurting from the Time War, and there isn't anyone out there who hasn't seen a loved one or friend be killed. Everyone here tonight needs Penrose to sing the Exultet, and I'll tell you why: symbols matter. Those isolationists are scared, as is everyone else. We've almost seen our entire way of life, our planet, and our species go extinct. We need to see, hear, and know that the war we fought for the sake of creation wasn't in vain, that darkness didn't triumph after all."
Mike was uncharacteristically silent, as he exited the TARDIS. Studying Penrose for a moment, he said, "I'll make sure Damon and the other servers are holding candles--like they would be for the Gospel--up where you're going to be sitting. That should give you enough light, I think."
"I don't need the notation, anyway," Penrose beamed.
The Doctor offered Penrose his arm with a bow and a flourish, and the three of them walked through the darkened church to outside of the vestibule, where the bonfire was already burning. With a nervous flutter in his stomach, Mike realized that the lights in their sector of the Citadel had been dimmed or extinguished. Mike thought he recognized some of the isolationists in attendance, but put the thought out of his head, as he blessed the fire and lit the Easter candle. From it, those around him lit their candles, and tiny points of light fanned out from the bonfire, stretching far into the walkways and alleys. He winked at the Doctor and Penrose, their faces illumined by the candles they held. Then Mike turned and, while holding the Easter candle, walked into the darkness.
End note: The Exultet is the big, 10-minute chant used during the Easter Vigil after the Easter candle is lit, before the first reading, and it's not something you want to find out you have to chant a few days before. Sacristy: Where stuff is kept, including vestments and everything needed during a liturgy. Generally not a good idea to clog traffic in it with a police box. Ambo: like a lectern. Alb: white garment symbolising one's baptism, so Penrose is right in not wearing one. Sacrarium: special sink in the sacristy that leads directly to the ground. It's used to wash stuff used during communion and to dispose of some other things (the oils could be disposed of down it, too.)