Omicron Station is the shopping destination of the 34th century, Jack assures her. The Doctor grunts assent. He isn't showing much excitement. No surprise there. The Doctor has limited patience for any kind of shopping that doesn't involve technical doodads or spare parts for the TARDIS. Oh, he'll pop in and out of shops, give them a look-see, and then move on, but serious hardcore shopping? Not his thing.
And that's just too bad, because Rose is not going to be rushed. She is a woman on a mission. Her mum's birthday is coming up, and Rose intends to buy her the perfect gift. "I want something that suits her, something that she'll really love."
The Doctor mutters, "A gift that Jackie Tyler would appreciate? I could jus' take you to PoundStretcher."
Rose gives him the patented Death Glare of the Tyler Women. He rolls his eyes, but immediately starts talking to Jack about the micro-magnetic thingummy on a nearby display. She ignores them both and eyes the next shop, which is labelled with an elegant grey and white sign. Select Splendours: Fine Art, Fashion, & Antiquities (Torv Chojede, prop.). She steps inside and a soft chime sounds.
A young woman looks up from behind a sleek metal counter. Her skin is blue, and she reminds Rose of Raffalo, the cheerful Crespallion plumber she met on Platform Five. The resemblance ends there. Instead of a boiler-suit and a cap, she's wearing a formal gown that looks like a sari made from yellow snakeskin, and her smile is not sweet and shy. "May I help you?"
Rose knows very well how those four words can be used to mean all sorts of things, including their exact opposite. Mrs. Morrison at Hendrick's had it down to a fine art. "No, thanks," she says brightly. "I'm looking for a gift for my mum."
"I don't think you'll find anything here that suits your. . . tastes," Blue Girl replies coolly.
Rose silently translates that remark: 'I don't think you can afford us.' She'd like to take the credit chip the Doctor gave her and wave it in Blue Girl's face, only that would be really naff. She could walk out, but that would make the stuck-up cow think she won. Besides, Rose has spotted some lovely pieces that she'd like to examine more closely. There's more than one way to demonstrate that she can afford to shop here.
Before she can reply, she hears the entry chime sound twice. "Is there a problem here?" the Doctor asks. She doesn't have to see his face to know that he's scowling. He must have heard what Blue Girl said.
"No problem," Rose says promptly. "Was just about to look at some jewellery." She turns to the shop assistant. "Have you got anything with flame-opals?" she asks, and is pleased to see Her Blue Bitchiness startle. Back in her room in the TARDIS, Rose has a hair ornament with a flame-opal on it. It's a pretty, sparkly thing the size of a small apricot. The Doctor won't say anything about it, but Rose has seen Jack staring at it, and she suspects that it's worth a fair bit - perhaps as much as two hundred quid.
"Flame-opals?" Blue Girl squeaks.
"You heard the lady," the Doctor says firmly. "She'd like to see some flame-opals." The two blokes step forward, one on either side of Rose.
Jack gives the Doctor a funny look. "Flame-opals? For Jackie?"
The Doctor shrugs. "If that's what Rose wants."
Rose smiles. Despite his gripes and grumbles and jokes about PoundStretcher, the Doctor doesn't dislike her mum. He'll pay for her to have flame-opals, if Rose wants them.
She doesn't want them. The only flame-opals in the shop are tiny ones, no bigger than raisins, and they don't sparkle like hers does. She takes one glance and waves them away without even asking the price. Mum 'ud rather have something more colourful.
"We could look elsewhere," Jack suggests, but there's something in his expression that he doesn't expect to find better flame-opals than these on Omicron Station. Maybe they're not fashionable in this galaxy or this century. That would explain why Blue Girl looked so gobsmacked.
Another blue person steps out of the back office. This one is a bloke in a dark grey suit with narrow, silver-edged lapels and a sleek silver skullcap. "I am Torv Chojede, the proprietor. May I help you?" He says the last four words as if he means them. He dismisses Blue Girl with a peremptory flicker of his fingers, and she retreats behind the counter, pouting.
Rose introduces herself and her partners, and explains about the birthday gift. No, it needn't be jewellery - something like a blouse or a scarf might be nice.
"But of course." Chojede leads them to a display marked 'Eilunas'. Just as Hendrick's used to arrange clothing by designer, not type of garment, this shop displays items by world.
Rose has never been to Eilunas. She doesn't know if its people are purple or green, if they have arms or wings or tentacles, one head or three, but she knows that they like bright colours. She reaches out for a silky pleated scarf that looks like the aftermath of an explosion in a flower shop. "I bet Mum would love this."
Jack strokes the scarf. "I don't know what your mother likes, but the Eilunasi are renowned for their textiles."
"What do you think, Doctor? Doctor?" Rose looks around, and swallows a sigh. The Doctor is standing just inside one of the shop's many niches. She heads in his direction, Jack at her side. They're only a few steps away from the Time Lord when they see that he's staring at a small grey sign. Lyonnesse.
"What the-" Jack exclaims. Rose is too gobsmacked to say anything.
Torv Chojede appears beside them as smoothly as if he teleported. "Ah, the Lyonnesse Collection. Marvellous, isn't it?"
'Marvellous' is a very good word. The shelves and racks in this section hold every conceivable kind of artisanry: clothing, wall-hangings, jewellery, ceramic bowls, stained-glass, and sculptures in stone and metal and clay. Small, freestanding holographs represent items too large to fit into the shop. The style is very familiar, though she doesn't recognise any specific design.
"Where did all this come from?" the Doctor demands.
Chojede smiles like someone who knows a delightful secret. "Not a planet you'd have heard of. It's an artist's colony beyond the back end of nowhere. They call themselves the Lyonnesse Artisans' Cooperative because their work is inspired by the ideals of beauty and perfection that were said to have flourished on the mythical world of Lyonnesse. They don't welcome visitors. In fact, most of the artists never leave the colony. They have a small fleet of trading ships that bring artworks to a few select galleries-" He performs a self-deprecating bow. "-and carry back supplies and raw materials. Really, it's hard to imagine how sheer loveliness can come out of such desolate bleakness."
He gestures at a painting - or maybe it's a sculpture, because parts of the image are three-dimensional and jut out of the frame. Rose stares at a familiar landscape of high, layered cliffs and red rocks. Familiar, but not, because in the distant background she can see a row of ten or more sleek shapes glinting in the bright sunlight. They're clearly metallic, and yet somehow the artist has created the impression of a flock of birds perched on the ground and ready to take to the sky at a moment's notice.
"Spaceships," she murmurs. "So many of them- how long's it been?"
"About eighty years," Jack says.
"Eighty-three point seven," the Doctor corrects without looking away from the picture.
Tove Chojede might be confused by their conversation, but he's too good a salesman to show it. "If that theme interests you. . ." He gestures at another painting. It's a closeup of the same row of spaceships. Each one is shown in enough detail that Jack and the Doctor could probably identify the model and the engine specs, or whatever details outer-space petrolheads obsess over.
She's looking for an artist's signature when Jack takes in a sharp breath. He points a shaking finger at the wing-like fin of the nearest ship. The silver metal is marked with a stylized bright blue rectangle which is divided into eight smaller rectangles - five in a deeper blue and three in a blurry mixture of pale grey and white. "What is that?"
"The blue pattern?" Tove Chojede asks. "I don't know. It's not the emblem of the colony, which is a sort of holy flower. That blue pattern is actually marked on all of their trading ships - at least, it's on all of the ones that have docked here at the Station." He smiles encouragingly at the three visitors. "Is it important? I suppose I could ask their representative the next time a ship docks."
Rose shakes her head. "No- but thanks for offering." She glances at Jack, and he nods. Her eyes aren't deceiving her - that geometrical pattern is a sort of abstract-art version of the TARDIS.
They look at the Doctor and then at each other, and though Jack isn't much of a telepath, and Rose isn't one at all, they hold an entire conversation without speaking a word.
Rassilon! It's a pity that the Intergalactic Olympic Committee doesn't count shopping as a sport, because Rose Tyler would be guaranteed to win several gold medals. She buys the gaudy Eilunasi scarf for her mum, but that's just the beginning. This event isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, and Rose is running strong.
He's not quite sure how it turned from 'buy Jackie a birthday present' to 'nearly buy out the whole shop'. Part of it is Jack's fault. When he and Rose set each other off, whether it's bad jokes or sex or shopping, the momentum created seems to defy the normal laws of physics. The energy just keeps growing. Rose selects the scarf; Jack finds a brooch that matches it. He talks Rose into trying on a slinky, hand-embroidered gown, which then needs all sorts of accessories. They find other things: a crackle-glazed milk pitcher for the TARDIS' kitchen, pink feathered earrings, a pair of titanium cufflinks set with sapphires that match Jack's eyes, a picnic basket, and a flower vase that sings in three-part harmony.
The Doctor doesn't mind. They've more than earned a bit of fun, his humans. And it's just money, after all. He'd be more cautious if he thought it could corrupt them, but Rose is still an innocent in so many ways, and Jack's brief career as a con man was based on revenge, not greed.
The only item he refuses is a ring they want to buy for him, set with pale blue chalcedony that matches his own eyes. He doesn't wear jewellery in this incarnation. His third self would have appreciated it, but he's not that man any longer. He can't be. That man was an exile, forcibly planet-bound to one primitive world. He was angry and bitter - and he had the luxury of a home to be exiled from.
They exit the shop weighed down by twenty-eight carrier bags of iridescent grey silkiplast marked with the Select Splendours logo. Tove Chojede offered to have their purchases delivered, but the Doctor didn't want to explain why their ship is in a maintenance access tunnel rather than a proper berth.
Halfway to the TARDIS, Rose lets out a soft curse. "I forgot a bag - the one with the whatsit."
Jack offers to run back and fetch it. They're near an ice cream shop which seems like a good enough place to wait. Rose settles at a table with the bags. He goes up to the window and orders three milkshakes: banana for himself, chocolate for Rose, and passionfruit-mint for Jack.
When Jack returns with a large carrier bag, he gives Rose a look. She doesn't respond, exactly, but he can sense a message passing between the two humans. A harmless secret of some sort. Most likely they've bought him a gift. He hopes it's not the ring, because he won't wear it, not even for them. And it will hurt him to tell them so.
Once inside the TARDIS, Rose announces that she wants a quiet night in. She wants to admire her purchases, wash her hair, and paint her toenails.
Jack adds his vote of approval. "We could help," he suggests. "I'd love an opportunity to decorate you. Doctor, are you feeling. . . artistic tonight?"
The Doctor chuckles. Trust Jack to find an excuse for sex in almost any activity. He doesn't mind. Whatever they want to do is fine with him, so long as it doesn't involve leaving the TARDIS. That shopping spree might have put them into a mood to celebrate in public: dinner at the Station's finest restaurant, maybe, or dancing at a club. Another time it might please him, too, but tonight he wants only the privacy of his ship, the company of his lovers, and some time to think.
Rose's eyes flash indignantly. "Oh no, Jack Harkness - you are not gonna mess up my nails by painting them with dirty pictures, or with nasty words in some alien language. You can just wait until I'm finished." She pauses, and there's a wicked promise in her smile. "Three coats of colour and one of clear." Now that mischievous smile is aimed in his direction. "And no sonicking them dry, Doctor. Just doesn't look right when you do that."
Awakening the next morning is slow and sweet and leisurely. That is, the humans are waking. He's been awake for hours, but he stayed in bed with them, busying his mind by running through plasma mix formulas. Among other things. Jack stirs first, and his movements awaken Rose. She grumbles, burying her face in the pillow. Humans spend a ridiculous amount of time sleeping, but Rose has made an art-form of it. Eventually he lures her out of bed and Jack lures her into the kitchen with promises of Castabiluid waffles with grindleberry syrup.
After breakfast, Rose reminds him for the third time that they need to bring Jackie her birthday present. Jack catches her eye, and she nods. "But first, there's another gift that needs unwrapping."
The Doctor raises both brows. "Oh?"
"I'll fetch it," Jack offers. He walks out the kitchen door, returning almost immediately with a carrier bag and a startled expression. The Doctor relaxes slightly. If the TARDIS expedited the retrieval, then she approves of it - whatever it may be. Or at least she doesn't think it will fuss him.
When Jack re-enters the kitchen, Rose moves to his side. "We thought you'd like this, because- well, you'll see."
Jack holds out a large, flat box tied with a silver ribbon. The Doctor hesitates a moment, then takes the package and sets it on the table in front of him. He glances from his partners to the box and back again.
"Open it, Doctor," Jack says.
"But no sonicking," Rose commands with mock sternness.
The Doctor unties the silver ribbon and tosses it aside. He lifts the top of the box. He stills. No breath, no movement, not even a blink.
"They remember you, and what you did for them," Jack says. "They will always remember you."
"And you need to remember them." Rose leans forward. "Doctor? Do you-? Is it okay?"
The Doctor lifts the painting from the box as if it is as fragile as a snowflake, as ephemeral as hope; as if a sudden movement might startle those silver ships with their blue tails into taking flight from the weathered red landscape. He looks up, studying his lovers with that same intense, wondering gaze. They understand. They know what this means to him. It's forgiveness, absolution made tangible. "S'pose so," he says in a casual tone that fools no one. "Yeah, it's okay."
Two smiles light the room, as sudden and dazzling as a binary star flaring into a supernova. Two foolish human hearts blaze into joy.
In a mercurial shift of mood he jumps to his feet, grinning. "Come along, you two! No time for lollygagging - we've got a birthday party to attend. Next stop, Powell Estate! Rose, do you want to get a cake? I know this little bakery on Beta Ophiuchi VII that has fantastic birthday cakes. No candles - you set the whole cake on fire, right there at the table. It makes a caramel glaze, sort of like gooey lava-" By the time he gets to 'bakery' he's out the kitchen door, heading towards the console room. Rose and Jack run after him, and the corridor echoes with their laughter.
-THE END -