FOREVER: THE BROKEN FRAGMENTS
"[...] the higher they flew the more slippery the glass became,
and they could scarcely hold it, till at last it slipped from their
hands, fell to the earth, and was broken into millions of pieces.
But now the looking-glass caused more unhappiness than ever,
for some of the fragments were not so large as a grain of sand,
and they flew about the world into every country. When one
of these tiny atoms flew into a person's eye, it stuck there
unknown to him, and from that moment he saw everything
through a distorted medium, or could see only the worst side
of what he looked at, for even the smallest fragment retained
the same power which had belonged to the whole mirror."
Hans Christian Andersen 'The Snow Queen'
'Mum, I know it's dangerous,' said Rose for what seemed to be a thousandth time over the last year. 'Do I really have to remind you we're both grownups, and he's partly Time Lord?'
'Makes him worse than a child. Thinks he can do anything!' retorted Jackie, and Rose had to admit she was right to some extent. 'Just look at yourselves!'
Rose sighed. She really hated that last argument. She hated looking at her reflection in the mirror. Her face had grown old and tired. Nothing like she remembered from the times she was young; nothing like she felt inside. It was fair to say she looked like Jackie's sister, not daughter.
It was probably a side effect of her pace of life or doing dangerous things, and it didn't matter much in itself. Time did not seem to spare him either. On the contrary, it seemed to be catching up with both of them faster than expected. He had aged. He didn't look healthy. Well, they weren't leading a healthy life, and there probably wasn't much of it left even if they stayed in Pete's universe. Not for the Doctor. Not since he absorbed all the radiation in the accident they had two years ago in the lab. Well, she had the accident. He just came to the rescue and got trapped. The lab had an elaborate safety device and it didn't work the right way. He knew it when he came for her. They never talked about it again. He didn't let the Torchwood physician check him up. On the outside, he seemed untouched. But he started aging faster, and sometimes when he thought she wasn't looking extreme fatigue showed on his face.
Or perhaps it was the price for dabbling with the fabric of time. Perhaps it was work in hazardous environment. Perhaps it was just meant to be. She thought there was some universal justice in it — she once had all of time and space at her feet; but seeing it from a distance now, it did not seem fair that one person should be given that much. Everything had its price.
Whatever the reason was, she didn't bother. Her face was so unimportant comparing to the universe. Her Doctor loved her the way she was. She just didn't like being reminded, that was all.
She was also tired of arguing and defending what they did. The Doctor took no notice of Jackie except for an occasional shrug of shoulders but Rose thought she owed her mother some explanation. A lost cause, she should have known. Jackie was not moved by any explanations. She had lost her daughter too many times in the past and no arguments would convince her that losing her once again was worth it. Even though the couple lived in their own small flat (yes, with the mortgage, to feel independent of Pete's fortune which he managed to keep almost untouched through the Cybermen wars), and even though Rose's visits in the Tyler Mansion had become scarce, there was no way to keep Jackie silent. Every phone call was bound to end with bitter words, and Rose wondered how much longer she would have to bear it.
Probably not long, she reflected. The universe was cracking and it was only a matter of months, maybe years, if they just sat there waiting.
Or days, if they went ahead with their plan.
'Let it go, sis. She's your mum, and that's what mums are like. Can't persuade them. You just do your stuff,' said Tony, and this was perhaps best advice Rose could get. 'In the end, this is your life, you know.'
It felt weird to have a teenage brother on the verge of adulthood. Even weirder when he seemed so much wiser than she was at his age. Nineteen. Good old days — one moment she worked in a store, another moment all the universe lay at her feet. Tony was born into a different world, a world where fighting and danger was daily bread. He grew up quickly. It was sad to know this was, perhaps, one of the last times they talked.
'Gonna miss you, sis, and Bill, too,' he said as if replying to her thoughts.
Don't call him Bill. That's not his name, she thought with irritation but didn't say anything. No use arguing over such trifles. Not now.
'So... is there any reason why you want to go?' he ventured.
Her blank expression told him she had no idea what he was talking about. No idea what Bill actually tried to do all those sleepless nights. Tony was sorry he had asked. Big Sis was inquisitive, and he had no intention of betraying Big Bill.
'Well,' he tried to give himself more time to think of a good lie to say. But then it occurred to him that half-truths were better than lies. 'Nothing, I kinda thought you were hoping to find… never mind, just a thought.'
It took her a while to catch her breath. The sudden articulation of something she had hidden at the most remote corner of her heart nineteen years ago was unexpected and felt like a blow deep inside.
'I don't…' she hesitated, 'I don't wanna talk about it, Tony. It's… just… too complicated.'
Tony's mischievous smile told her he had no idea how hard the blow really was.
'Well,' he said, 'I figured there's always a chance, right? If it's cracking here, it may be cracking on the other side, too, and, well. Though I think that's quite a risk, I mean, they change, don't they?'
The way Tony talked about it was refreshing and quite straightforward; no one around Rose ever hinted at the Time Lord Doctor. After the initial shock Rose felt more at ease and let her thoughts run free for just a moment.
'Yeah. He may have changed. He may have two heads,' she said softly as the memory came back to her. 'Still, even with two heads, he'd be my Doctor.'
'Two heads?! Wow! Can they do that on his home planet?!'
Rose took a deep breath. For a moment she almost felt the Doctor's presence. His old sassy self. The one who taught her never to give up. He was a good teacher. She didn't give up even when he did. Back then, she saved the world for him and saved him for the world. Back then anything was possible. But now? When her old life was shattered into pieces, and the pieces scattered across the universes? Did she still remember his lesson?
She shook her head. It was no good daydreaming.
'No, Tony. His planet burnt a long time ago. He helped it die to save the world. Just forget I said it. We've got work to do. Are you coming to the lab?'
Tony loved going to the Torchwood lab with his big sis. He was just starting uni but already had great plans for the future. He was to be an astrophysicist, and he would be able to do anything with the help of Big Bill.
Bill was not the real name. The guy passed as John among co-workers, and liked referring to himself as the Doctor. Rose always called him 'Doctor', which was kind of strange to Tony before they told him the whole story and the name 'Doctor' began to make sense. Still, Tony preferred calling him Bill, a nickname he forged as a child from the words 'brother-in-law'. Although Rose and Bill were not married, Bill didn't seem to mind being called that name. He just returned the favour by calling Tony "Little Bill". Fair enough, being brothers-in-law was mutual, so between themselves they became Big Bill and Lil' Bill.
Now that there were weird things happening in the world, Tony's future was not so sure anymore. For one thing, according to many scientists, it was only a matter of time when the Earth was going to be sucked out of the universe into some sort of nothingness. Similar to a black hole but far more complicated. It was Bill who found the first indication that something was wrong but at that time everyone was still busy with the Cybermen. So he started working on the solution at nights, stealing into the Torchwood lab, and sometimes taking Lil' Bill with him. Then they were caught by Rose, and she joined their night time crusade. It was almost a year before Torchwood recognised the importance of Bill's observations, and two more years before the top scientists of the world came to the same conclusions. But when they did, it was already late. If they were correct, there was no future at all.
But, Tony reflected, even if the disaster could be averted and future saved, it was not likely for Bill and Rose to be part of that future. They were the ones to save it. The mission looked suicidal from the start and the first reactions they got in Torchwood were disbelief and horror. It took people time to realize that it may well be worth the risk.
'Well, this world existed without us,' said Bill bluntly 'and so it will continue. Perhaps the only purpose of us being here is to do what we want to do right now. Let this world live on. The fabric of the world is cracking, we can fix it, that's all there is to it.'
Of all the people, Tony found it easiest to accept. The stories Rose and Bill told him when he was a kid were full of adventures. He knew that was a different Doctor, a different world. But it still seemed like one more adventure. Nothing could go wrong. They would return safe — either to this, or to the other universe. That was how things always went.
Besides, he knew Big Bill had his own agenda and he fully supported it.
'Sure thing, gimme a mo, sis! Final tests before you launch, right?' he beamed at her.
Then his expression changed.
'Erm, Rose? Just wanted to tell you...'
She stopped motionless, with a scarf she was just putting on sweeping the floor; he never called her by her first name. Always "sis". Now he looked terribly confused, trying to back off.
'Erm, nothing really, it was silly. I just thought, when you and Bill shoot yourselves into the void… then, well, whatever happens, wherever you end up… you won't forget us, right? You let us know? We'll be waiting. Mum will be waiting. Promise?'
'Promise!' she said trying very hard to look brave and smile. 'But you have to promise me something too. If you don't get our message, don't give up on us, ok? We may be far away, with no way of getting through to you. Just… believe in us!'
'Sure thing, sis!'
As they hugged, Rose's eyes filled with tears. Her life in this world was coming to an end. Most likely her life in general was coming to an end. The inevitability of what was going to happen took her breath away and made her want to hide in the corner, waiting for the scary things to disappear. She was glad Tony could not see her face. In this way hugging was good.
'Rose? Are you sure you want to go? See, we're not coming back, ever,' said the Doctor when they were putting on the spacesuits they had designed for the mission.
The spaceship they were going to use could hardly be called that name but the spacesuits were real. More than real: upgraded. Theoretically they could be used by astronauts on Mars; that is, if there were space missions in this universe. Also theoretically, they should help them survive in the void long enough to detonate the ERID bomb. ERID stood for Electromagnetic Retrograde Inter-Dimensional bomb. Or something. Rose never bothered to learn the name. She wasn't into the scientific jargon. She was there to help the Earth, even if it wasn't exactly her Earth. And to be with her Doctor, even if…
Well. She brushed the thought aside and looked at the Doctor quizzically. It seemed a bit late to ask now, when the final countdown had begun. She cleared her throat.
'Well, if you wanna quit…?'
'Nope, I meant… I meant you. I promised Jackie I would keep you safe. This is like deliberately breaking the promise. Rose. I know I won't be able to help you when the systems finally fail. We just die.'
Rose smiled softly, clinging to the way he pronounced her name. She loved it. He always said it as if it was the most important word in the world. He did back when he was a Time Lord, ever since their first adventure and he still did now. And after all these years it still helped her be brave.
'Pfff, don't be silly. Like I would let you go on your own!' she raised her left brow in a mock surprise. 'You know I'd rather die with you than stay trapped here forever.'
'Rose. This is your home. You're not trapped here, you've got your family, you've got people who…'
'You know it's not. My home is with my Doctor. It's always been. That decision was made a long time ago.'
He looked away, his lips suddenly clenched.
'Yeah, but which Doctor?' he said in an almost casual voice. 'Me or him? It's never been very clear, has it?'
There was a long silence. Very long. Rose didn't look at him. As if she didn't hear. She zipped up her suit without saying a word, then put on and strapped up the backpack containing the oxygen cylinder.
'Rose, I didn't… I'm sorry… I'm just… stupid. Rose?'
He held her hands in the spacesuit and turned her around. She didn't look angry. Just sad.
'Yes, Doctor, you're right. It's never been clear. You know that fairy tale, of a mirror smashed into fragments. It's all just shards and splinters. Except ours was a good one. You can have a splinter in your eye, or in your heart, and it forever changes who you are. But the mirror will never be whole again. You'll never get all those broken fragments back, or glue them together. So all you can do is collect the ones you can find. If you can still hold one in your hand, that's more than you could hope for, so you just hold on to it, even if it cuts your fingers.'
Rose smiled as she watched the wrinkles on the Doctor's pale yellowish face. So tired. And so very much the same man.
The hug in the spacesuits was awkward and made them both giggle. She ran her fingers through his hair.
They put on the helmets and helped each other fasten them. A Torchwood assistant came up shyly to check the tightness of zips and straps, and to test their oxygen supply.
'Commander Tyler? Let us know when you are ready, ma'am!'
Rose smiled at the man trying to remember his name. Then she saw her mum and Pete, and Tony, waving at them from behind a fence.
Shards and splinters. Broken fragments. She did her best to keep them together. Now it was all coming to an end. Did she manage to leave a splinter of the mirror in any heart? It was a good mirror, after all.
As she held the hand of her human Doctor, she closed her eyes and imagined the Time Lord Doctor being there, too, holding hands with them. The tears blurred her vision and the two shapes became one for a moment.
'Now!' said the Doctor. His voice seemed light years away. Rose nodded at the Torchwood assistant, who stepped away and signalled someone in the control room. The reinforced glass dome closed around them.
It was happening.
The Doctor pushed the button. There was deafening rumble and whistle, the pressure pushed her into the seat, making her feel sick, and the last thing she saw were millions of glittering pieces, piercing through her eyes and brain — or was it only her skin? The broken fragments.
I found the broken fragments…
It was her last conscious thought.
Just as it crossed her mind, a violent blast pulled her off the seat hitting her limp body against a hard surface. Blinding light exploded in her mind.
Author's note: There won't be any more chapters in 'Forever: The Broken Fragments' but it is intended as the first part of a series. Any reviews and comments are welcome, including criticism (I just hope I'll manage to take it with dignity: I'm new here and my response to criticism has not yet been tested ;) )