More than Flesh and Form
The creature shook off a lingering lethargy and stretched, disengaging itself from the wall of rock; and it was as if a full third of the side of the cliff had broken away. Free of its bed of stillness and silence and rock as grey and cool as its own hide, the creature stretched again. A rotted, worn-out fence that had been erected upon what was in fact the body of a sleeping monster shook, and three more of the broken posts toppled and rolled off the edge. Nearby, an abandoned inn shivered dangerously, its arthritic bones too weak to hold the dilapidated structure fully erect much longer.
The behemoth had no idea how long it had been sleeping. Centuries? Aeons? Battles had been fought above it; fleets were launched off the shore below. Harsh nor'easters and sweet breezes and hurricanes had swept over its body as it slept, scouring its sharp silhouette with sea salt, caressing it with spring fragrance, battering it with storm and sleet and hail. Sculpting the coastal cliffs, time and nature's wilful fancies had blanketed it with soft earth then washed it clean. Rolling hills had subdued the wild land around it; forests grew and were cleared by newcomers who built abodes around it and over it, planting flowers and raising families, seeing it but not seeing it as it slept, more than part of its rock abode.
It stretched itself, from its massive head and heavily muscled neck, through the full length of its ponderous body, into the thick, swift legs and long powerful prehensile tail. It exercised its vertebral plates; the breezes they stirred up cleaned and cooled them, and the diffusion of the oxygen into its bloodstream roused it to full awareness. It had woken hungry. It shook itself again and started off to find food, and others of its kind.
The TARDIS landed, as usual, someplace sorely in need of garbage pick-up and maid service. The Doctor locked down the controls and turned to his companion with a slightly mad grin.
"Here we are."
"Where are we?"
"You wanted a Halloween party, Rose; I asked the TARDIS to take us to the biggest, grandest, scariest masked ball you'll ever experience."
"Meaning you have no idea where we've landed."
"Sorta, yeah." He grinned.
Rose looked at the Doctor sceptically. "You don't like parties…"
True, he thought.
"…. You hate masked balls…"
He'd give her that.
"… and the idea of having to dance with me scares you more than Daleks."
"Yeah, catch me doing that again–Daleks always try to lead." His companion rolled her eyes at him; his eyes sparkled at her and he felt his grin grow even wider somehow. Rose was three out of three–but he had faced down Daleks, hadn't he!
"Why are we here?"
The Doctor's eyes travelled over Rose Tyler, admiring her in her costume. She was a beautiful woman and the costume gave him the opportunity to enjoy her on the sly. He shrugged and smiled. "Just wanted to make you happy, Mrs. Peel."
"Thank you, Steed." Grasping the Doctor's arm for balance, Rose stepped up onto her toes and kissed his cheek self-consciously. She was sure the black leather cat suit showed every unfortunate destination of every chip she'd eaten since joining the Doctor; she only hoped that all the running they did had helped work some of it off. But the embarrassment of her costume was more than worth it, to see the Doctor in a perfectly tailored, form-fitting, bum-hugging suit.
The Doctor's eyelids fluttered at Rose's tentative kiss, and the smooth slide of warm Rose-scented leather against his arm. "My pleasure." He retrieved the brolly and popped the bowler on his head and threw a silly face. "Go on, then."
As Rose preceded him out the door, the Doctor indulged himself in another appreciative look: the toned muscles of Rose's shoulders and arms, the way her figure tapered sensuously from her back into a waist his hands could fully encircle, then flowed with mathematical perfection into the most sensual hips and bum he'd ever seen, her muscular yet completely feminine thighs and calves and ankles. Pity he couldn't talk her into wearing the stiletto boots. Even so, he decided that Halloween was his favourite day of the year.
They left the TARDIS in the mudroom of the servants' building and followed the sounds of partying, chatting, and teasing each other, and holding hands as usual. The estate covered a huge tract of land that included the manicured grounds and beautiful buildings upon the top of a scenic cliff, a wildflower meadow and the private road that led to it, and the pristine beach and boat launch below. A decorative fence ran along the entire perimeter of the property, culminating at the manor-side entrance in a one-storey hand-forged gate flanked by lion and unicorn. As they walked along the cliff the short distance to the party, Rose climbed the fence for a view of the moonlit bay and surrounding cliffs. The Doctor wrapped his hands about her waist and held her lightly; but he quickly pulled her off when he saw the unweathered rock that bespoke of a recent rockslide below them. Rose pretended to sulk at him, and the Doctor picked a flower not unlike a wild geranium and threaded it into Rose's hair behind her ear.
"Emma Peel did not wear flowers in her hair," Rose reprimanded the Doctor with an offhanded wave of her hand.
"Emma Peel did not wear trainers."
"Emma Peel did not hang out with you."
They passed formal rose and Japanese gardens, stables, outdoor pool, and two tennis courts, and several gazebos fully as large as Mickey's flat. The gazebos were filled with couples and small groups in various stages of undress, engaged in various activities upon boisterously upholstered chaises. Tables groaned beneath bottles of champagne, plates of duck breast and caviar, and writhing revellers . Rose mumbled something about eyes wide shut.
"Rose, do you want to leave?"
"No, I'm fine. It's nothing I haven't seen in the pub after a football match."
"That's my girl," he grinned, threading his fingers through hers.
The manor house was resplendent inside and out, with festive banners and coloured lights. The scores of guests were all in costume; many were masked as the Doctor had promised. Rose discerned characters from folklore, vampire and other tales of suspense and horror; people who would look at home at a Renaissance Faire, in the East End, Greenwich Village, or a Kiss concert. From the look of the refuse bins, liquor had been flowing freely all afternoon and evening, and the inhibitions of a good many of the partyers, not just those in the gazebos, obviously had followed. Excitement and expectation hummed through the air.
They approached a series of three marble terraces that flowed up to a brightly lit ballroom in the east wing of a grand manor house. The first terrace was set with a splendid buffet and linen-covered tables and chairs, most of which were already filled. The next held a small orchestra, and the final overflowed with couples dancing beneath a canopy fairy lights and festive lanterns that threw a blanket of colour and fantasy over the dancers and the white marble floor. At the door into the ballroom, they were greeted by their hosts and enjoined to dance and sup and enjoy a wonderful time. The Doctor didn't even have to show his psychic invitation.
The Doctor bowed to Rose then extended his arm. "May I have this dance, Mrs. Peel?"
He walked them up the steps to the marble dance floor and spun Rose into his arms. The Doctor was used to hugging Rose Tyler; but he was not used to having her encased in skin-tight leather, and himself without his own heavy leather armour. As they danced a slow sultry foxtrot, the warmth of Rose's body radiated through her supple cat suit, into the lightweight cloth of his unbuttoned jacket and silk shirt thence into his skin, where it seemed to move insistently through his veins, heating his blood and his imagination. He pulled Rose closer than foxtrot should allow. With a whispering sigh of contentment, Rose slipped inside his open suit jacket and melted against him. Lowering his face into Rose's hair, he drowned himself in the fragrance he would recognize anywhere, contentedly cherishing the woman he would follow anywhere, as he expertly spun them through the crowd, thence away from the crowd, to the far end of the terrace. Images of the activities they had witnessed in the gazebos filled his thoughts; he remembered the location of every empty chaise, knew exactly to the second how long it would take them to walk there, how long it would take him to sweep Rose into his arms and carry her there.
"Rose," he whispered hoarsely against her cheek. She shivered, and it was the most erotic sensation he'd ever felt. Her hand slid along his shoulder, up the back of his neck; her fingers whispered against his sensitive skin and threaded lightly into his hair as she tilted her face up to look at him. Her eyes sparkled with something he was sure was assent and her lips formed his name. His breath caught, and as her eyes held his with naked intent his hearts swelled. His cheek found hers smoother than the supple leather that wrapped her breasts, almost as warm… not a sin to openly enjoy. His cheek glided over hers, his lips plotting a less than straightforward route to a meeting with hers.
From the terraces came the mingled aromas of meats sweet and spicy, seafood in exotic sauces; the melodious tinkling of crystal and china and wind chimes, the cacophonous chatter of diners above the dreamy yearnings of a virtuoso oboe; thence the crash of furniture, terrified screams, the thunder of stampeding feet. As the Doctor and Rose rushed toward the source of the mayhem, he was hit by a physically palpable wave of panic and terror, and then the sight of scores of guests fleeing from direction of the gazebos pursued by a huge black lizardlike creature. The creature was sleek and nimble, more swift than a cheetah and as adroit. As the fearsome hunter reached the fleeing guests, its taloned forefeet scooped them up effortlessly, and it feasted on its preys' flesh and bones as eagerly as they themselves had feasted on delicacies and fancy tidbits only minutes before. The Doctor and Rose jumped down off the terrace and moved behind a tall mermaid-shaped hedge.
"Is it a dragon?" Rose asked as he trained his sonic on the creature.
"Not any I've met." He studied the readings, shook his head in consternation, and reprogrammed the sonic, his focus narrowing to the giant reptile as routed partyers raced past them.
"I don't think so," he said as he scanned the creature again. He watched it pace beneath the coloured lights that overhung the dining terrace, move out into the naked moonlight, then rise up on powerful hind legs to study its hunting territory. So far the sonic had given him nothing he could use to stop it without harming the others, which was troubling, of course, but unfortunately not so unusual. "C'mon you," he encouraged the sonic. He sensed something more to the predator than its natural flesh and form, something that made it seem bigger than its body, somehow. The Doctor had witnessed too much in his life to simply dismiss offhand a perception that seemed illogical, or at odds with data from a scan, or amounted to what humans might label gut feeling. Something about that creature– its strength; its fierce single-mindedness; the way its sleek grey hide took on a blue cast when it stepped off the terrace, shimmering like mica in the moonlight; or possibly just its disgusting way of scooping up the people it caught and eating them like handfuls of jelly babies–lent it a bigger presence, an additional unseen mass that impacted subtly on the Doctor's Time Lord senses.
"Huh," Rose said as it turned, searching in the moonlight. "A transformer."
The Doctor gave her a surprised glance. "Rose, get everyone into the house."
Rose grabbed the hand of a bruised and bleeding, but very lucky Cat Woman that was stumbling desperately away from the creature. "Everyone follow me!" She man-handled a numbly terrified Batman ahead of her as she rushed the party-goers into the manor house. Stopping at the door to the ballroom, she yelled over her shoulder to the Doctor. "If the sonic doesn't stop it, don't you dare do anything stupid without me," she ordered.
The Doctor ratcheted through settings swiftly–changing frequencies and amplitudes of sound, heat and light intensities, whatever he could think of–searching for a way to stop the creature without injuring the people. "Come on… come on!" he growled at his sonic screwdriver. "Go! Get into the house!" he growled at the stragglers.
Through the stampeding people, the creature focused on the Doctor. It had no discernible eyes, only two hollows of burning darkness as intense as the Doctor's own controlled storm; but it resolutely fixed those on him… the Doctor was certain of it. It dropped the broken bodies of a princess, clowns, and a warlock and moved through the dead and dying toward him.
"Come on, come on!" he whinged at the sonic. He programmed highly speculative combinations of functions, rushing the resulting effects against the creature one after another, hoping to find one that would slow it down before the sonic had a tantrum and burned out.
A voice separated itself from the cacophony of screams and shrieks coming from the manor house. He would have known that voice even if she hadn't called out for him by name. As he turned to run to her, two other creatures approached the house, one from the cliffside gardens and one from the farthest wing of the house. He cursed his sonic screwdriver, ratcheted through the settings again, then gave up, ran up the steps of the terrace and followed Rose's shouts into the house.
The ballroom and halls beyond were completely deserted: no victims to save; no bodies to mourn; no creatures to fight. Good. His clever Rose must have found someplace to hide everyone, buying him time to get to the TARDIS. He raced back to his ship, not stopping to examine the victims on the terraces or lawn that lay like life-sized dolls broken and thrown away in a tantrum.
The Doctor brought the TARDIS to the manor house, hiding her in a stand of evergreen. He was ready to throw everything he had at the creatures, including a tightly beamed sonic burst that would temporarily disrupt neural function and a spray of tranquilizing chemicals. He had a gun he had not used since his fourth body, and one he'd taken from Henry van Statten's bunker.
Scans showed him that the creatures were no longer on the estate. He told the TARDIS to go to Rose. The TARDIS whistled back that Rose wasn't there. He asked her twice again to find Rose; when she balked he kicked the console then jumped back when it lit up like a string of those damn fancy porch lights and sparked at him.
The TARDIS insisted there were no signs of anything alive. He started to kick her again, stopped himself and rushed to the ballroom. He called out Rose's name. There was no reply. Except for his voice and its echoes through the halls, there was no sound at all.
But there were bodies, now–oh, but there were so many bodies!
He searched the ballroom and surrounding halls frantically, turning over every black-clad lifeless body with uncontrollably shaking hands, forced himself to look upon the vacant faces. He raced through the hall to the dining room, thence the library, repeating his single-minded search. He found the way to the cellars, leapt down the steps three at a time. By the time he ran back up, the ember of hope he had clung to was cold as ash. He searched the top floors and returned to the terraces fighting back tears. He walked the terraces and stables and tennis courts in a haze of detached pain and wretchedness. He realized he had to track the creatures, stop their carnage. Instead, he searched the house again, calling her name.
Through the waning moonlight and a light, cold rain the Doctor searched the grounds for Rose. He saw a large mass moving swiftly through the gardens toward the cliff. He followed it. After several yards, however, he stopped and looked around him in puzzlement. What had earlier that evening been formal gardens was now but barren ground littered with ruined construction and strewn with rock.
Ahead of him, beyond the cliffs, the setting moon gave perfect clarity to the form of a giant lizard stretching up and turning on its hind legs, looking across its hunting territory. The Doctor couldn't tell if it was carrying anything, but he followed it to the edge of the cliff and then over. The sonic's blue light illuminated the slick path (if indeed path it was) as he made his way down through the cold, damp rockfall, toward the beach and the shore. But forty feel below, the boulders and slabs of the rockfall were impassable. He climbed above the rockfall and trained the sonic over the area, seeking another way down. The readings told him that entire section of the cliff was unstable. "Unstable," he laughed sharply. At that moment he was certain the geology was far more stable than he. As if to prove that hypothesis to himself, the Doctor lost his focus then his balance, and fell. Slipping and rolling down the rocks, his fingers found a deep running crack in a boulder and took advantage. Bruised and winded, he held fast to the rock until his heartsrate slowed and his mind cleared, although at first the Doctor could think of nothing more than Rose and loss and death.
The Doctor told himself he couldn't spend the rest of his life hanging from the side of a cliff. Moving gingerly, he felt around with two legs and an arm, found a solid perch and got himself onto the embedded slab. He leaned back heavily against the near-vertical flank. Then he gave himself up to the self-indulgent luxury of physical discomfort as the rock face scraped and lacerated his skin and the cold damp bled into his jumper and down his back; and he savagely castigated himself for irresponsibly bringing Rose to this damned and dangerous place, and stupidly letting her go off alone, leaving her, and losing her. After a time he became aware of a shifting in the atmosphere, as if something was forcing space to bleed out of its natural time around him. Turning carefully, he ran his palm over the cold rock face and had a sense of comforting warmth that his other senses belied. Certain he was being earnestly ridiculous, he laid his cheek against the rock. "Rose," he whispered.
Rose rolled up onto her knees, pushed her hair back behind her ears, and looked around. She was in a cave with no memory of getting there. "Doctor?" she tried quietly, then louder. She heard a slight echo and no reply. She picked herself up off the cave floor, did a quick inventory and found no real injury and a remarkably intact cat suit, considering. She shook her head and sighed. "This, my dear Steed, is the reason one does not wear stiletto heals no matter how much one wishes to impress and entice."
The cave was neither particularly cavernous nor distressingly claustrophobic. Diffused moonlight found its way into some parts of the cave; other sections remained blacker than a starless night. The rock was cold and rough and almost uniformly boring, but Rose spied a band of quite lovely colour dripping like hardened taffy from the ceiling, down almost to the floor. She recognized the colours, high gloss, and extremely smooth texture of calcite flowstone coloured by minerals present in the rock. The section of wall was currently dry and there was no sound of water currently seeping in. "Buried alive, but not about to drown." She chuckled, but it turned into a shuddering sob despite her best intentions. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. "Sod it, Rose, if water and fresh air can get in, you can get yourself out, and find the Doctor."
As the moon set it amused itself, though Rose only slightly, by playing with the interior of the cave, altering appearances with sometimes whimsical and sometimes rather reprehensible deceit. Rose warned herself not to imagine deadly mechanical spiders in the web of cracks growing blacker; or monsters behind the algae; or demonic mutterings in the phantom tongues of cold damp air against her face.
Phantom tongues… Muttering… Tongues of fresh flowing air! They weren't threatening her; they were telling her that there had to be a decent opening to the outside!
She closed her eyes, extended her arms, palms pushing ahead of her, and held her breath; enjoined her skin receptors and her ears to work harder; forced those senses to push further into the cave, to track the whispering cool breezes on her face and hands to the source. It was the logical thing to do, the rational, Time Lord, scientific way to get an answer; so of course she tripped over a chunk of fallen rock, bruising her shin, skinned her side and arm on the way down, and landed hard on her palms and knees.
"This is all your fault, you bloody git! You'll do anything to get out of having to dance with me."
Disgusted, frustrated, dirty, thirsty and tired, Rose decided to remain where she'd landed–on a hard, sharp, freezing, bloody chunk of rock. But she might as well make herself comfortable, chill out and wait for sunrise and the git to come. The wall was actually quite nice, smooth and warm, as cave rock went.
But she knew that the Doctor would be really worried by now, maybe frantic, as he searched for her. He wouldn't give up; so neither would she. "Get off your arse, Rose Tyler! You know there's a way out of the cave, so find it."
She opened her eyes, wiped her scraped, dirty palms on her clothing. As she started to get back up, new patterns of shadow and light caught her attention. She fancied two roundish shadows close together on the wall above her were the Doctor's eyes, sad and searching and getting fed up with her for wandering off (which, technically, she supposed she'd done), for being jeopardy-friendly and needing rescuing again. What're you waiting for, Rose Tyler? the cave-Doctor's unblinking eyes were asking; Rose knew if she could see them clearly they'd be rolling. "You, you twit," she answered.
Given the day she'd had, there was nothing wrong with a little suspension of reality. Below the black shadowed eyes, the ridge that still reflected moonlight would be his cheekbones, yeah; and the rough, chunky…. well um, sorta large and pointy, that is to say protruding…. prominence would do fine for his nose. Yup, that was her Doctor: rolling his eyes and looking down his nose at her. "I'm waiting for you, always, Doctor; 'cept when you're waiting for me." Rose smiled, suddenly warm and secure in the strength of her feelings and the Doctor's track record of finding her. She stretched up to lay her cheek against the smooth plane of her cave-Doctor's cheek. She brushed her thumb over a burnished, slightly convex horizontal bulge where she decided his lips would be.
Rose closed her eyes, remembered the feel of the Doctor as they danced, imagined him inclining his head into the kiss she thought they'd been about to share just before the monster came. Instinctively she stretched up to meet his lips with hers. Uh... no, she'd better not kiss her cave-Doctor; she didn't want to have to lie to the Doctor when he found her and asked what she'd done with her time.
"Just how productive were you, in that cave, Rose Tyler?" She mimicked the Doctor's deep, Northern voice questioning seriously. "Very productive, Doctor," she replied with a grin then gave in to the urge after all, laying the briefest kiss against the burnished rock that made his lips feel so silky. Because it was also easy to give in to this fantasy of her cave-Doctor's almost perfectly smooth and warmly alive face, she gave him another kiss, one that lingered just a bit. She closed her eyes and leaned into the comfort of his double heartbeats, caressed his lips with her fingertips and his cheek with hers. "Oh, my Doctor; right now I am thinking about being so very much more productive... with you."
"Yeah, Rose Tyler– are you?" a husky Northern voice whispered against her cheek.
Rose's eyes flew open. Her cheek was against the Doctor's cheek, tickled by a light stubble through the warmth of skin and his cool breaths; her fingers lay lightly at his smooth soft lips. One of his hands caressed her face, the other cradled the back of her head. He smiled at her with eyes that were more than normally vivid, then his arms came around her.
They made their way down the cliff cautiously, the Doctor never completely letting go of Rose. When they reached the point where loose rock and boulders had kept him from continuing down, the Doctor stopped Rose from going any farther. He told her it was time to go back to the TARDIS and took her hand,. He wasn't nearly as surprised as he should have been that the lower cliffside was whole and solid.
Their steps back to the manor house paralleled the broken fence, but they never ventured close enough to touch it, never looked over the edge to the shore. The Doctor never tried to catch a clear view, in the morning sun, of the cliffside, or search for where he and Rose had found each other. As they walked, he pulled her closer, kept her body pressed against him.
There were no manicured lawns, no flower gardens, just soil and rocks. There was no sign that marble terraces had ever existed above the naked basalt scoured by the winds. Like the rest of the opulent estate, the magnificent manor house was gone, and with it the bodies of the dead. A dilapidated old building stood nearby, more lost than found. The TARDIS was just beyond, next to the broken, rotted-out base of an ancient pine
The Doctor unlocked the TARDIS, and he and Rose entered silently. He sent the time ship into the vortex, and they they collapsed silently onto the jumpseat. The Doctor still hadn't let go of Rose's hand.