Story: Hearts and Moons Recall the Truth
Previous Chapter: Fourteen
Edited by: the incomparable buckaroobob aka dr_whuh. Thank you, love.
Previous Chapters: Prologue and One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen
Summary: A cold and beautiful world, a market, a bolt of silk, and three people walking through the doors of their memories.
Author's Notes: In which the Doctor falls, and Rose rises; the one strangled and muffled by silk, the other prodded by stubborn determination.
I am beyond abashed, racing headlong into sick embarrassment, as I note it has been one year and four months since I last updated this story (surely, surely that's wrong; surely it was only a month or so ago) and four years, four months since I started the story for a long-ago ficathon. All I can say in my defense is that I have never, ever, entertained the thought of giving up; Jack, Nine and Rose deserve far better of me, and so do you, Patient Reader. Wait, are any of you still out there?
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play (and create the occasional original character) in their sandbox.
"Well ... this is quite delightful. You really do seem to be an alien."
Renhald Inverno smiled.
"Depends on where you're standin', doesn't it?"
The Doctor had just about enough focus left to get that out clearly, but that was it.
Time swirled and he knew that Time should not swirl, he knew what it was, all angles and points, nexuses and loci and fractured lines skipping but never, ever, ever, curving, even the curve of the universe is just an awkward necklace of tiny jointed lines of time, from point to point to now and then and only cheating allows a return to once upon a time and it was so important to remember tenses because they are or were or will be a road map to the straight, straight lines of Time—
He was clamped to a surgical table, and was no longer sure how long he'd been there. The silk suspension that Inverno was infusing into the saline drip was far more effective than whatever Fahrar had used. It had completely muddied his time-sense and short-circuited many of his regular Gallifreyan biological self-defense systems. What the Sontarans wouldn't have given to find something like this he thought muzzily. Or the Daleks. Or the bloody Timelords, damn them. Take the Rani. She'd have — he tried to lick his lips, to blink, to keep himself in control, inside his own head, but the Rani shook her head.
Thought curved in a way that Time never did, but it was just as precipitously linear, leading to places best not visited and impossible to escape once entered. Thoughts moved in great, deep tidal surges, forward and back, from concept to memory to imagination to image and contemplation of image; sight and smell and echo and feel, each image a signature of memory, place, a thing of importance, faces, portraits of strong jawlines and long-lashed eyes, cheekbones and flushed skin and full-lipped smiles, the pepper-musty smell of an old wool great coat, the bright and unexpectedly sweet smell of flower petals fluttering from a tree onto her face —
"I imagine I might be in your shoes, were you in mine," Inverno said, with an approximation of conversational interest. His eyes moved steadily between his captive's face, readouts on the bank of medical monitors, and the two technicians — large, hard-faced men who obviously did double duty as security — working in the background. "The point is moot, however. Your species doesn't necessarily preclude Imperial status. God knows David's court is riddled with pro-xeno types ... has been for decades ... still, I rather think you're an anomaly and not an agent."
"That's ... that's ...."
The Doctor look about the room, aware that he was back from somewhere and not sure how long he'd be staying. He tried to think about what that meant, and then remembered that he was actually trying to think about what Inverno meant ... but it was easier to think about the Rani, for some reason.
It's the silk, the thought finally came, and he could have shouted with joy because it was a thought in the right order, but it was too hard to shout or speak or ... Oh and wouldn't she just have loved working with the stuff ... damn it. Has to be cumulative in some way my system isn't used to, else I'd have begun building up ... oh, she'd definitely have done a lot to get her hands on silk.
Things blurred into grey and white just then, both time and the space around him. He couldn't spare anything of himself to worry about not thinking because it was important to tie himself to something, but it was so hard—
It came back to him in a rush now, remembering how he tried to keep up with her in classes, tried to show her he understood just as much biology, and botany, and chemistry, as she did, furious with himself that it even mattered to him. How angry he'd been when she publicly ridiculed him, that day in the laboratory — couldn't even remember what year it had been, which of the classes, he just remembered the hot embarrassment as she laughed and others laughed with her — until his best friend sauntered across the room and airily dismissed both of them as also-rans, waving the finals results—
He blinked, but his vision didn't clear; she hovered over him, next to Inverno, and she was just as real as Inverno, and that isn't good at all. — He closed his eyes, or thought he closed his eyes, and was afraid that if he opened them he would see so many hated others there, standing by him as he lay pinned to the table like a butterfly, everyone who poked and prodded and looked at everything and everyone as exercise, experiment, raw material, forgettable and ultimately expendable. He hated it, desperately wanted out. Needed to find his center, the safety of warm coral and Her comforting presence, his people, his people, his friends, his Rose and his Jack ... Rose, Captain, I'm ... I'm ....
"I'm afraid we're going to lose him. This is the problem with xenos; you never know when you're going to run into telepaths, and silk always treats them badly."
The Doctor was back in the lab, or thought he might be. His captor loomed over him, with a look of concern that mimicked real sympathy.
"'Mmmm ...." He couldn't make words anymore. But he could still hear them. Inverno was speaking.
"Still, research would never go forward if we couldn't adapt to unexpected circumstances. And I think it's prudent to find out what he knows before we lose him. So ... transfer protocol I think."
Inverno's words, and those of his assistants, buzzed and whined into meaningless noise as Time slipped around them. The Doctor fought with all he had left to catch on to when he was ... Now the man seemed to be talking to himself, although his assistants listened attentively. One of them spoke and Inverno appeared to answer. The Doctor watched his mouth because it seemed important to track the pattern of how those lips opened and closed in varying shapes. What seemed like ages later, he translated pattern into words for himself. He thought they might be what had been said.
"Regular print interrogation's been useless past a certain point. We were very close the last time we tried the transfer. Even if it doesn't work, we'll have his print ... a true xeno print, a prize all by itself. Do we still have that last one, Meirelles, or did we send her back for final processing?"
The buzzing and whining — not the right words to describe or explain but all he had left, stupidly incomplete human concepts — swelled again. The lips still moved, and the Doctor could sense a pattern, but he could no longer translate them into specific words. It seemed as if the man was disappointed, asking his assistants to find a fresh wipe as a receptor ....
He could, if he chose, see those around him as they stood in Time. He could watch them within the shifting auroral ribbons of potentiality and eventuality, like short-lived saints imprisoned by their own temporal halos. He had always been able to do it.
There were years, though, and centuries, when he refused to do so. He loved them all, and to see and know the end for them, to see the rivers and streams, the explosions and joys and disasters of time fade into chaos as their lives broke off or wore down to nothingness ... he would, as Bartleby did, prefer not to.
So he became used to not seeing; he even prided himself on it, and threw it in the faces of his brothers and sisters. They turned from him in distaste, the most of them. Some recoiled in disgust, seeing him as unnatural and willingly blind. But they walked in Time with only each other, without love, and didn't understand that what he did was because of those he traveled with.
He gloried in his blindness, and rejected his people. It might have been in spite. Pride certainly. But mostly it was because the weight of love could crush you with memories. His people had forgotten that weight.
Once he told Victoria that he held his family within him and that they slept, and that he forgot them. It was a horrible truth, cleaned and shined to raise the heart of a beautiful, tiny-spanned creature who was precious to him for her brevity. Horrible nonetheless, because he hated endings and forgetting was easier — even then when he was so very much younger than he was now — than remembering, just as not seeing was easier than seeing.
But now he couldn't stop seeing the currents and rivers they were, the beginnings and endings of the ones he loved now. As the anchor holding him to one spot in reality and time loosened, he saw visions in time with increasingly cruel clarity, was drawn against his will into anamnesis. The weight of love threatened and he had no defenses left.
He watched the nimbus of light around Inverno's mouth close like a lens to a pinpoint being eclipsed by things that only a Time Lord could see.
He tried to find his anchor again, but it was too tiring. Even as some part of him screamed not to, he lost his grip and was swept away.
Inverno smiled. So did the Rani.
Coming out of an exhausted slumber with a gummy mouth and a pounding headache is bad enough in your own bed but it doesn't half beat waking up in an alien alley, Rose thought.
It was the first coherent thought she'd actually had since opening her eyes to the pale blush of Lizhbau's morning sky. Luisa was snoring softly into the crook of Rose's arm, where she'd pressed herself the night before in a half-successful effort to warm both of them against the knife-like blasts of cold wind that had periodically gusted up the alley through the hours of darkness.
They hadn't stopped in the first alley to which she'd directed Rose. Instead, Luisa had led them on a halt and wary journey through a maze of narrow streets fronted by increasingly older and more deteriorated buildings — all dark, all the rude doors shut more or less firmly against the world, and them — until she stopped in a tiny square barely illuminated by one flickering lamp on a rusty post. Once Rose could make out shapes through the darkness, she saw what could only be called a jumble of dilapidated shanties. Rose hadn't been sure whether they had stopped because Luisa had found where she wanted them to hide or because it was too dark to go on.
"That alley over there," Luisa had nodded to an almost unnoticeable sliver of deeper darkness. "Let's stay there."
Rose hadn't argued. They might have put the chaos of the crash scene behind them without having caught anyone's eye, but Rose trusted nothing and no one in this unfamiliar city, with the possible exception of the confused and injured girl she was with. She didn't quite know who was leading who by the time they'd stumbled into the darkness, since the adrenaline rush that had kept her going for the past hour had petered out shortly before Luisa spoke.
Once they had made it to the narrow recess, and tried unsuccessfully to cover themselves with some trash to keep warm, they had both succumbed to sleep. She had no idea how long they'd been out.
"Ghnnn ..." She ran her tongue over her teeth and grimaced as she smelled her own breath. First thing I do when I'm back in the TARDIS is brush my teeth and gargle a hundred times.
With that second full thought, she knew she couldn't put off full wakefulness anymore.
"Luisa? Luisa, sweetheart ... wake up. Wake up."
"That's not my ... ghnnn" The girl interrupted herself with the same sound Rose had made a moment earlier, and opened her eyes, blinking rapidly. "Rose?"
Luisa pulled her head away from its resting place, and looked over Rose to the end of the alley. "Oh. We're not home."
"Not yet. Can you sit up?"
"My leg ... yes, I can sit up."
Luisa said it firmly, and Rose gave a silent cheer. After they limped into the alley and before they slept, Luisa had again devolved to the childlike incoherence she'd first shown, something Rose hoped could be attributed to weariness and shock. When Luisa's whimpering repeatedly woke her during the night, Rose would fall asleep worrying about how to handle her charge in the morning.
Luisa rolled over, then hoisted herself to a sitting position next to the wall. Rose followed her example gingerly, feeling every muscle protest.
After a minute of silence, during which Rose considered the positive aspects of banging her head against the wall to make her head feel better, Luisa turned to her and asked, "What do we do now?"
What Rose really wanted to do was head for the TARDIS, her toothbrush, and some painkillers, but other things had to come first. For one, she realized abruptly, she desperately needed a place to go to the bathroom. Which, she guessed gloomily, she would have to handle behind a pile of trash here in the alley.
Almost as pressing, she needed food. Her stomach growled in agreement. When she was hungry, she couldn't think, and she already had enough stacked against her in that respect, she thought; her thoughts felt as gummy as her mouth right now. She wondered if it was the lingering effects of the drug. Not for the first time since they'd left the juggernaut, Rose lamented the loss of her mobile. In the heat and horror of the moment, she'd left it in her jacket. And that now covered a corpse back in the prison. At least she'd thought to keep the screwdriver.
Finally, she needed someplace safe to get her bearings, because she couldn't find her way back to the TARDIS while dodging potential recapture on the streets. That left nothing to do, she decided reluctantly, other than to get started.
"Do you think it's safe to get out of here?"
"I think so," Luisa said slowly. "And ... I think I can get us home. Home to where—" she stopped. Her mouth opened and closed, and she started to breath faster.
Oh no, please, not what I need now. "Where's home, Luisa?" She said it gently, hoping to steer her companion away from whatever threatened to upset her.
"Where Vella is," she finally said. "I need to talk to him, ask him why ... why he pretended he didn't know me." Her voice wavered, and she was trembling, but she hung on. "I know he had a reason."
The reason, Rose knew deep in her gut, was that the little wild-eyed man she had seen reject Luisa last night truly didn't know her. Or rather, he did know a Luisa but not this Luisa. That much had been clear, even in those crazed few seconds of meeting. The whole thing ate at her; it felt wrong in a way she knew somehow was important to pinpoint. She promised to return to it as soon as she had a spare half-second, but right now, she had to consider Luisa's preferred destination. One thing Rose knew for certain; she didn't want another run-in with Vella. She thought quickly.
"Luisa, I think you're right. I think he was pretending not to know you. I think that means he didn't want to put you in danger. I mean, he was part of the (please god, sorry for the lies) rescue mission, yeah? It must have been a secret mission, and maybe he didn't want to put you in more danger. And maybe it would be dangerous for you to go home." Her argument made little sense when considered closely, of course, but Rose was counting on Luisa's scattered state to miss that flaw.
"So maybe it would be safer to go somewhere else, and not your house," Rose repeated, then held her breath.
Slowly the young woman nodded, although she still looked doubtful.
"Then we could go to my father's. Maybe he and aunt Laowhra would know what to do. She and Daddy may fight, but they're both smart ... and I'm so tired, and I want a bath, and I want to ... to for-for-forget everything I saw, it was all-all-all so terr-terrible, oh my god—"
Rose hugged Luisa, letting her cry herself out on Rose's shoulder. She hid her own shock. Luisa could be the book monger's daughter! Couldn't she? She has an aunt Laowhra ... but maybe that's a real popular name around here and, besides, he didn't answer us when I asked if it was her real name. Wish I'd thought to ask him what his daughter's name was. Or am I just being too hopeful? Or is it a reason to worry more? Come on, Tyler, think!
When Luisa was a little less agitated, Rose asked, "D'you mind my asking about your father? Is he a book seller?"
"Yes, he is." Then she looked at Rose with a puzzled frown. "How did you know?"
"You .. you, erm, talked in your sleep. It sounded like your were talking about family," Rose improvised.
"Oh. I don't remember dreaming, but I guess I must have."
"Do you have any idea where we are, or what time it is?" Rose was eager to change the subject.
"Not from here," Luisa said. "We need to get out of here."
The two of them helped each other up, and they limped to the opening of the alley. In the light, the tiny square and the houses surrounding it looked even more disreputable. It was empty at the moment, which was good but made Rose wonder just what time of day it was. It also made her eager to get out of the area before someone passed by and noticed two filthy women coming out of the alley. Somehow they would find their way to Luisa's family home. She would decide what to do when she got there, how to deal with the same people who had betrayed her and the Doctor. "Let's go, Luisa."