Rose sat in front of her large vanity mirror, trying to create a constellation-like pattern in her hair with a handful of silver baubles. The Doctor had promised her an alien festival, and she had rushed to her room to see what fancy garb the TARDIS had in store for her.
"It's the stars like you've never quite seen them before, Rose! Imagine," the Doctor had said, leaning his elbows on the console and gesticulating excitedly, "to walk amongst entire star systems, planets, quasars, it's brilliant! Blimey, the amount of time the Bhisvians spent cataloguing the sky to get it just right, it's truly an appropriate ode to the beauty of time and space."
She had to admit, their adventures where she got to dress up in exotic local clothes always made her giddy. She pursed her lips, tucking the last pin into the coil of hair looped around her ear. Turning her head side to side, she admired the intricate halo of stars wrapping around her head. The design perfectly matched the comet-trail earrings she had found in the drawer.
‘Wonder what he'll think this time around…’ she smiled to herself, recalling the Doctor's ear-to-ear grin when she stepped out of the TARDIS in her fluffy pink dress. That outfit paled in comparison to the rich gold and purple chiffon dress draped across the foot of the bed, metal accent pieces gleaming in the lamplight.
Beside the dress, an elegant wire mask sat atop a folded piece of paper. Rose lifted the mask up to eye level, admiring the intricacy of the delicate metalwork. It reminded her a bit of their trip to Venice during Carnival, but daintier - it wouldn’t cover her whole face, just around her eyes. ‘This absolutely was not part of the party description,’ she mused, a smile tugging the corners of her mouth again. She unfolded the rough paper, and the TARDIS began to translate the sprawling spiral designs into text.
To confine ourselves to the ground below would be to limit our intrinsic connection to the infinite.
The cosmos is within us, and through this lens, you shall know the universe as it knows you.
Some kind of poem? Rose frowned, trying to make sense of the enigmatic statements. Curiosity mounting, she stepped into the dress, fastened on the metal accessories, and tied the ribbons of the mask to her belt. Heart beating almost uncomfortably fast, she stepped out of her room and made her way to the console room.
In the console room, the Doctor fiddled with the controls idly, mind wandering to the night ahead. Oh, how he hoped this wasn't too ambitious of him. Alien festivals were hardly strenuous, compared to the adventures they'd been on. But the words from the little invitation echoed unbidden in the back of his head - you shall know the universe as it knows you.
Well, he already knew the universe more intimately than most creatures in the cosmos, but the stars did not play to any man’s agenda. He was far more afraid of what the stars might find hiding in his heart - or worse - what they might reveal if he wasn’t careful.
The Time Lord adjusted the lapels of the burgundy-and-bronze-swirl vest (the TARDIS had insisted), combed his hand back through his hair once more for good measure, and stared up at the ceiling. Anticipation, eagerness, and apprehension battled for dominance in his chest, nearly kicking in his respiratory bypass. "This is just another tourism stop, nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary, absolutely not," he muttered.
He was a terrible liar even on his best days.
His train of thought was shattered as he heard Rose's footsteps tentatively on the grating into the console room. The Doctor wheeled around to look at her, and he felt his jaw slacken. Shimmering waves of fabric hung like auroras around her arms and down her sides, and delicate embroidered swirls crept up the bottom of the dress. Elaborate, swirling gold pieces adorned her shoulders and waist, reminiscent of shoulder pauldrons. Azure jewels hung from looping chains along the shoulders and neckline.
His heart caught in his throat; she looked absolutely ethereal with the stars adorning her from head to toe. Gratitude washed over him when she broke the silence before he could make a fool of himself.
"You've actually changed!" she beamed, rushing forward to get a better look at him - if she noticed his reaction, she wasn't showing it. "Doctor, 's gorgeous, you've been holding out on me," Rose giggled through a tongue-in-teeth smile.
"Weellll," he started, breaking back into a wide smile, "this is QUITE the occasion on Bhisvar’aa! Have to look the part, come on!" He held out his hand, wiggling his fingers, hiding his own apprehension and nervous excitement behind his usual bubbly facade.
Hand in hand, they stepped out of the TARDIS and onto a lawn of lush sky-blue grass. A massive building that Rose could only describe as a cathedral rose up before them, with columns and arches weaving together as though they were made of blown glass. It seemed almost opalescent - in the fading light, it seemed to glisten every color at the same time. Hundreds of figures were pouring in through the immense silvery archway at the front, a low, pleasant chatter in the air.
The Doctor moved his arm gently around her waist, holding her a bit closer as they navigated the crowd to join the throng of humanoids and other creatures entering the expansive chamber. Rose gasped at the sight; the high ivory arched ceilings were gilded with copper and turquoise, fading to deeper and deeper royal blue the higher it rose. The inlaid stars almost seemed like they were truly in part of the sky, and the ceiling seemed to reach the infinite. Huge chandeliers floated above their heads, casting a warm, soft glow over the entire atrium. At the far end of the room, a stone staircase rose up to a doorway with a shimmering veil that seemed to wink in and out of existence.
"I didn't get to finish telling you about the festivities," the Doctor said softly, steering her toward one of the glassy columns at the edge of the room. “It’s more than just a visual marvel, it’s a celebration of our place in the universe. The Bhisvians gather once a year for a day of remembrance, reflection, and re-connection to the great beyond.”
The Doctor paused a moment, and looked out across the congregating crowd. A trace of wistfulness crossed his features, softening the creases at the edges of his eyes.
If only he had the courage to admit to Rose how special this was to him. This was his one chance to show her his view of the universe, if only for one shining moment. For once, she too could observe the quantum entanglement of atoms, tethered together by the gossamer threads some societies called fate. Tiny flecks of matter, dancing through spacetime - some meant to be together, others forever destined to drift apart.
Other threads, much like dark matter, remain veiled in mystery. It is only when observed under the perfect set of circumstances do they reveal their secrets.
For a moment, he dared wonder how their quantum lines might cross today.
Rose tilted her head, squinting slightly as she tried to decipher his expression. It wasn’t unusual for the Doctor to wax poetic about the beauty of the universe, but Rose was finding herself too well acquainted with that bittersweet smile passing his lips, lately. Just when Rose felt they were growing closer, that far-off expression served as a harsh reminder just how distant she and this incredible man truly were, and how much she would never truly understand.
Realizing he had been standing silently for several seconds, he broke back into a bright smile, giving Rose’s waist a playful squeeze. “Now, of course, most off-worlders are just here for the phenomenal after party!”
The Doctor stepped to face her, quickly closing the already small distance between them. “It’ll start soon,” he breathed softly. “Allow me?” He gestured tentatively towards the mask hanging against her skirt, now focused on her eyes with burning intensity.
Rose nodded, finding words a bit more than difficult. Carefully, the Doctor turned her around to tie the silky ribbons in a bow around her head. Rose’s breathing hitched as he carded his fingers gently through the flyaway strands, smoothing them back into her careful handiwork of curls.
“Perfect,” he murmured on a ghost of a breath - Rose was almost unsure if he said it at all.
The music rose in the distance, a deep hum of strings and panpipes. The choir’s otherworldly harmony drifted through the glass spires, and a hush fell across the attendees. Rose looked on in awe as the shimmery curtain up the staircase parted, and she caught glimpses of supernova sparks casting glittering silver light into the dusky twilight of the ballroom. Coupled with the iridescence of the walls, the beauty of it all stole their breath for a moment, and they simply stood and watched the curtain.
Rose glanced at the Doctor, and was dismayed to find his expression had become distant again. Rose couldn’t figure out what was weighing on his mind so heavily at such a carefree event, but he seemed to be vibrating with tension.
“You’ll find your feet attached to your legs,” she giggled, elbowing him lightly. Whatever awaited them inside the grand hall, she knew it would be yet another adventure - for better or for worse. Not taking his eyes off the entrance, he took her hand and squeezed tightly, finally giving her a warm smile, then led them forward.
Rose took in a sharp breath as they stepped into the ballroom. The woven glass of the outside halls coalesced into an enormous bubble of a room. The entire hall danced with light, and through the iridescent lenses set into the mask, the night sky rendered in razor-sharp clarity in every direction. Newborn planets glimmered in the half-light, while neutron stars pulsed bright enough to blind anyone who looked for more than a moment. Dusty trails of galaxies danced into dainty tendrils, pulled together by nothing more than their own gravity.
Ignoring the other attendees moving past her, Rose knelt down to brush her fingers across the floor. It twinkled and wavered, like a stone skipping on calm water. The closest star made an incredible thrumming, resonant noise as the fabric of her sleeve dipped against it.
“How…” she whispered, excitement bubbling in her chest. Rose quickly stood, gathered her dress, and hurried over to the sprawling spiral galaxy suspended at eye-level a few feet away. The long wisps of sparkling dust hugged her like a fine mist, lifting the layers of her dress into a halo around her. Rose felt the breath leave her lungs as the air crackled around her with that same tribal-sounding music that she had heard in the atrium, growing louder as the light bloomed at the core of the galaxy before her eyes.
Rose’s heart clenched at an emotion she had never quite felt before. Standing not above, but within the cosmos in this way, she felt so tiny yet at the same time, larger than anything in all of time and space. She had seen so many incredible corners of the universe, and yet this allure was deeper, stirring in her bones, guiding her reach deeper into the unknown. For a moment, she fancied herself a goddess, in such a beautiful dress, in this beautiful place, mingling with the very heavens. An intrinsic connection to the infinite.
“Is this… what it always feels like… for you?” she whispered shyly, not looking away from the galaxy. Finally, she turned, expecting the Doctor to have launched into an explanation by now.
But the room behind her was only filled with stars.
As Rose let go of his hand to explore the scenery, the Doctor simply smiled and put his hands in his pockets. He felt a deep affection blooming brighter in his chest, seeing how she took in the experience with nothing but reverence. What on earth had he done to deserve this little pink and yellow human?
He wandered from Alpha Centauri to the Pleiades cluster, a grin now creeping across his face. The wonder of it all, it never got old. The first binary black holes that Earth would ever discover spun in perfect synchronicity far at the end of the hall - he heard the eerie sound before he caught sight of the massive black orbs. Careful to keep an eye on Rose, the Doctor continued to drift deeper into the room, carefully navigating the other attendees.
The benefit of being a Time Lord, at this festival, was not needing one of the perception filter masks provided to the guests. For everyone else, reality faded away behind the lenses of the masks, allowing for deeper meditation and immersion. Quite clever, he had to admit.
The Doctor turned to come back around the other side of the hall, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the truth he’d hoped so desperately to hide, laid out in plain sight. Between him and Rose, were two glowing worlds - one in serene blue and green, the other deep crimson and copper. Brilliant golden threads stretched taut between the planets, flashing and humming - demanding his attention.
The stars cared for no man’s agenda, indeed.
Rose was still searching for the Doctor when she found herself looking down on her own home planet. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, a pang of homesickness overtaking her. Little shining threads wrap around Earth like halos, hugging it in a blanket of warmth. A few feet away, an incredible metallic-looking planet hovered, held close to Earth by the same spindly strands.
As Rose reaches for the fibers, the sound of someone clearing their throat broke her trance. Alarmed, she spun around, but through the haze of the stars, this other figure seemed to remain just in the corner of her peripheral vision.
“That’s my home planet, there.”
The voice didn’t sound like a voice, nor did Rose even think she’d heard it aloud. It sounded like lilting wind instruments and deep cello strings, woven together and punctuated with soft notes of a harp. Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment and shaking her head back and forth, the young human concentrated harder on the incredible sound.
"Some cultures believe that two can be joined by fate, in where their atoms originated. The quantum pull, the draw to be together once again, perhaps… where they are meant to be." Rose noticed the discordance of the beautiful music a bit in the middle of the statement; in a way it sounded like hesitation.
“What… are you?”
The laughter tinkled like chimes in the wind. “I’m just another visitor, like you. Passing through with a wish to admire the infinity beauty of creation, in all its forms.”
They spent a quiet moment, watching the two planets dance around each other. The orchestra quieted, a slower hymn-like song filtering through the air now.
“It would be an honor to have this dance,” the melody sung. Rose could make out the shape of a hand, extended toward her, but all the details were still muddled and oscillating through the mask’s lenses.
She allowed herself to be led closer to the light of the planets, until she and the flickering shadow stood in the center. As the choir grew louder, Rose found herself pulled into a warm, strong embrace. A step forward, two steps back, a gentle twist to the side, back to center, then mirrored. Rose had been to very few formal dances, but it was obvious that her dance partner had an incredible, controlled mastery of each step.
In a powerful motion, the figure spun her out into a twirl, and perfectly on beat, pulled her back again, catching her gracefully. Yet rather than stopping, they continued the fluid motion, two celestial bodies in perfect equilibrium, in orbit about each other. On the next turn towards each other, Rose held on tighter to their waist, bringing their motions closer together. With her free hand, she reached up to undo the threads of her mask, and get a better sense of her surroundings.
The stranger’s firm grip stopped her.
“Few moments in time can be as pure as this, you know. To walk among the stars, and see only the beauty of the universe. None of the war, the pain, the hurt… the fire and rage. Please… let the dream last a little longer?” They tugged her a bit closer, almost desperately, falling into a slower rhythm like a waltz, slowly migrating now from star system to star system. The heavens parted in their wake, stirring up clouds of iridescent dust.
“You have no idea how incredible you are, you precious human. So full of light - those golden threads do not shine that way, for those without immense hope... faith in the untapped potential this universe contains. I must say, from the moment I saw you, I could see nothing but beauty. The way your touch echoes sparks across the sky... as you trace through, you heal. Fate has made me a lucky man, this night, to have crossed your path in this way.”
The incredible music of the hall began to blend with the music this alien seemed to be emanating. A joyous, heart-stirring melody, shining bright and clear, hummed through Rose’s entire being - through her mind. The tune had such a tinge of sadness to it, and realization started to dawn on her - the familiarity growing, the feeling of longing, of wishes unfulfilled, of hopes that she could only dream of.
“You said some cultures believe in some kind of… cosmic fate,” Rose began carefully, allowing her mystery partner to push her into another followed by a delicate spin outward, then back to their hands entwined together, “but what do YOU believe, Doctor?”
With trembling hands, she finally undid the soft ribbons laced behind her head, letting the mask, the stars, the dazzling lights, all fall away, until she was face to face with a red-eyed, open-mouthed Time Lord.
“Rose,” he croaked, quickly releasing their quite intimate embrace of the dance by a few inches. “You weren’t supposed to-- what I said--” the Doctor ducked his head away, face burning. How could she forgive him for being so forward? For taking advantage of the illusion, to pretend for one glorious moment that they could be something more? Shame burned in his throat, thinking he could fool time and space into doing his bidding - hadn’t he learned his lesson on that far too many times already? And now he’d jeopardized everything.
In that moment, all of time and space hung suspended around them. No longer moving, the two stood locked in a frozen waltz - each afraid it would shatter if they dared move even an inch.
And as usual, Rose was the first to dare.
He felt a soft hand on his face, turning his face back towards hers. The Time Lord blinked away tears, trying his best to face her bravely. “I asked what you believe, Doctor,” she smiled softly, her thumb rubbing delicately across the round of his cheek.
Before he could let his gob get the better of him again, the Doctor instead pulled her back close into the sweeping, fluid motion of the dance, telepathically willing the starry illusion to fall back into place for the two of them. Her hand on his shoulder, his grip tight on her lower back. Hands clasped tightly, lest she slip right between his fingertips.
A thrill swept down Rose’s spine, with this newfound fervor in his steps. The gentle push against her back, when he sent her twirling away, was stronger now. When he pulled her back, now, he was Gravity itself. Their waltz grew closer, their chests nearly touching, angled just such that he looked over her shoulder, and she couldn’t see his face. She knew without a doubt he would be able to feel how her heart was racing, the heat emanating from her cheeks.
“How did you know?”
Rose hummed softly - she had anticipated his deflection, in honesty. Resting her head against his shoulder a bit, she let her weight against him slow down into a sway.
“It’s like… dunno, you sounded like music. In my head. I didn’t quite know what was happening, at first, I figured it was part of the magic of all this. But then… the longer we danced, the more it started to sound a bit like the sounds I hear on the TARDIS sometimes, I suppose. It’s daft--”
“Rose, you… you… you shouldn’t be able to understand Gallifreyan, not even with a perception filter like this,” he stammered, holding her even tighter now, as though she was all that was keeping him afloat in the vastness of space they were standing in.
The Doctor gently eased them back out of the close embrace, just enough to open their stance to one side. Rose found herself looking back at the Earth and the burnt-bronze planet, each spinning in their own sort of dance.
“That one, there…" he spoke quietly, holding her close with one arm, pointing with the other, "is Gallifrey, Rose. I meant it, when I said it was my home planet." He finally turned to look at her, eyes searching and bright. “Do you see how they are twined together like that? All those little golden threads?” He asked the question with a quiet fervor that Rose rarely heard, and she nodded immediately.
He sighed, pulling her back into a hug, as they simply watched the planets move slowly. “Time and space are inherently twined together. One cannot exist without the other. Every atom, every string, every multifold reality - each is bound together in some way in a quantum tangle of musts, and shoulds, and could-be’s.”
Pausing a moment, he glanced down at Rose, and was relieved to find her still watching Gallifrey. Smiling gently, he continued.
“You’ve asked about what it means to be a Time Lord before, and I never… I couldn’t give you a proper explanation, since it’s hard to visualize. But here -” he gestured again to the threads wavering midair, “- here you can see it. The way I see the universe. The entanglement inherent to our very being, all the possibilities. And Rose… I believe… I believe most of all in the ‘could-be’s’.”
The blood rushed in Rose’s ears, unable to believe what she was hearing. All the dreams, the desires, the desperation for something more - tiny atoms, compared to the magnitude of the Doctor’s statement. In that moment, the air felt like lightning, every breath like thunder. A perfect, beautiful storm of hope and promise.
Wordlessly, Rose gently took the Doctor’s hand, pulling him forward into the light between the spheres. She twirled slowly, letting the tiny dancing strands wrap around her, weaving their way into the purples and blues of her dress. The Doctor pulled her back into his arms, rivulets of energy flowing around his waist and arms now, too.
“I think perhaps this has been ‘could-be’ for long enough, my Doctor.”
The Doctor swallowed hard, eyes locked to hers. Tentatively, he reached out tenderly to cup her cheek, thumb stroking softly. “Oh, Rose…”
Gravity is one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. The intrinsic draw of atom to atom, body to body, soul to soul. The innate need to step closer, to hold tighter.
When the Doctor’s lips finally met hers, the cosmos stopped for a moment to witness the beauty of gravity in action. Still cradling her jaw, his other arm snuck around her back to pull his precious companion flush to his chest. Almost desperately, he captured her lower lip between his, laving his tongue along it, aching to taste her. Rose couldn’t help but whimper quietly, as she twined her fingers into his hair. When she teased the tip of her tongue to his, a deep rumble rose in his chest, and he dipped her lower to explore her mouth with an ardor that made Rose’s cheeks burn.
Breathless, Rose slowed their passionate kiss, panting. The Doctor gently rested his forehead against hers, still clutching her close, their breath mingling where their open mouths were still just brushing against each other. Murmuring softly to her, the Doctor continued to pepper small, reverent kisses to her cheeks, her temples, her nose, and back around to her lips. An eternity of promise, wrapped up in a singularity of golden silk.
“Rose Tyler, I believe I owe you a proper dance,” he beamed against her matching smile as the orchestra began again.
Rose couldn’t think of a more perfect night. The magic and wonder of the celebration, coupled with the realization of how inextricably their lives had become - no, always had been - so perfectly entwined, made every dance step light, every movement full of joy.
As the sky finally grew lighter with the break of dawn, the drums beat louder, and the room shone with fractals of opalescent light. The air fizzled momentarily, and then Rose noticed her sleeves floating up and away from her arms, and the Doctor’s hair looking even more unruly than usual.
“Mmm fancy that, gravity polarizer,” he grinned, waggling his eyebrows. “I did promise you an unforgettable festival, didn’t I?”
Laughing, Rose took his hand. “You daft alien. You already made good on that promise.”
Connection to the infinite, he chuckled to himself as they floated up into the morning sunlight. He allowed his telepathic barriers down a bit, letting the music spill out for her once more, “You are my infinity, Rose. I should have known, so long ago, that this was intrinsic, inevitable.”
With smiles brighter than any star or galaxy, their lips found each other once more.