Beta'd by Anjirika.
Happy birthday, LadyKate24!
You can thank the OctoberProject (search authors) for this update. The only reason I'm able to write is because it's got me glued to my computer, waiting to see the next post and contribute where appropriate...
And here we go. This is me, blowing the original episode storyline completely out of the water - the ending, at least.
Chapter 4 - Consequences
Rose closed the TARDIS' doors just as the first police car came into view on the school grounds. The Doctor was already moving around the console as she climbed the ramp and she expertly caught hold of a support strut when the ship shuddered to life with the dematerialization.
"Just a quick little sidestep..." the Doctor said, throwing a couple of levers and spinning a dial in the haphazard way that he always did. The ship rematerialized almost before he had finished speaking.
"You're sure, right?" Rose asked, not yet moving towards the doors.
"'Course I'm sure," he said confidently. "He won't have been waiting more than an hour."
They exited the TARDIS together, and Rose was relieved to discover that the Doctor had been right. They were just outside the cottage, and the door opened before they had reached it. Tim stuck his head out, eyes wide, but he visibly relaxed when he saw who it was.
"I thought I heard something," Tim began, stopping suddenly when he saw what was behind them. "That's... is that..."
"The TARDIS," the Doctor supplied, glancing back over his shoulder at the ship. "And she's quite ready to get moving again, after sitting around for months. What do you say, Timothy?" he asked. "Care to visit the stars? Explore the past? See the future?"
The boy smiled, but then his face grew serious. "But I already have," he said. "Seen the future, I mean. And... I'd better just say goodbye," he told them.
"Why's that?" Rose asked. She couldn't help the disappointment in her voice. She had grown quite attached to Tim in the short time since she had learned the part he had played in saving the Doctor from the Family.
"Because I know what has to be done," Tim said. "It's coming, isn't it?" he asked them both. "The biggest war ever."
Rose thought of all those scared boys at the school trying to fight off the Family. The thought of Tim, of any of them, going off to fight in the war that was to come broke her heart. She had learned enough traveling with the Doctor to know some events were fixed, but still. One boy... "You could still come with us," she offered. "You don't need to fight -"
"I think we do," he said with conviction.
Rose bit her lip, not really able to argue with him.
The Doctor let the matter lie. "It's safe for you to head back to the school, now," he said, nodding his head towards the grounds. "And Tim," he added, stepping towards the boy, "I'd be honored if you'd take this." The Doctor pulled the fob watch from his pocket and handed it to Tim.
Rose was truly surprised. She hadn't yet gotten a chance to ask the Doctor about it, but that watch had had Gallifreyan symbols on it. He might actually have a whole room full of them on the TARDIS for all she knew, but she doubted it. The Doctor was giving Tim one of the few remaining pieces of his home. She wondered if Tim had any notion of what it meant.
The boy took it and held it, then looked up at the Doctor. "I can't hear anything," Tim said, surprise evident in his voice.
"No, it's just a watch now," the Doctor told him. "But keep it with you. For good luck."
Tim smiled again, and Rose moved forward to hug him. "Stay safe," she said, still conflicted about leaving him to such an uncertain fate.
"I should say the same to you," Tim told her, returning the gesture. "I don't think I'll be in nearly as much danger as the two of you."
Rose pulled back from him, worried that he was being prophetic or something. But he was still smiling. "Whaddya mean?" she asked.
"It sort of follows you around, doesn't it?" Tim asked. "I know you don't exactly go looking for it but it's like what happened here with the Family." Rose looked to the Doctor but his face was unreadable. "You've got to move on," Tim continued, "and we've got to stay and deal with the consequences. But it's better this way. We all have a job to do."
After a moment, the Doctor said, "Yes, we do." Then he shook Tim's hand and stepped back towards the TARDIS.
Rose gave Tim a quick kiss on the cheek. "So long," she said, then she turned towards the Doctor and took his proffered hand.
When they reached the ship, the Doctor called back to Tim. "You'll like this bit," he said, then crossed the threshold and closed the doors behind them.
As they entered the Vortex, Rose was reminded of when they had left Charles Dickens. Thinking of that, she dreaded her next question. "Will he be alright?" she asked the Doctor.
To her relief, he smiled. "Yeah," he said. "He'll make it through the war alright." Once the TARDIS was drifting steadily, he came around the console and wrapped her in his arms. She let out a relived sigh at his words as well as the comfort of his physical presence. "We can even go see him again, if you'd like," he offered.
"I'd like that," she said, and hugged him around the waist. She took a breath. "But first," she began.
"The Family," the Doctor finished for her, kissing her hair before stepping back to lean against the console.
Rose let herself fall into the captain's chair. "How long've they got left?" she asked. "We were s'posed to be hidin' for another week and a half..."
"Well," he said, "the chains will keep them alive indefinitely. But apart from that..." the Doctor raised a hand to his neck. "Not long," he said, not quite meeting her eyes. "I actually wouldn't have expected them to last as long as they have," he admitted, resting both hands on the console again. "It might have to do with the life energy of their victims. This is the second set of bodies we've seen them in, and we don't really know how long they'd been on the run before we met them on Villengard."
Rose's jaw dropped as she realized the implications of what he was telling her. "So, you're sayin' that even if they hadn't found us and I'd waited the whole three months and then opened the watch, they'd still be out there huntin' you?"
"Possibly," he said, meekly.
She closed her eyes and dismissed the matter with a shake of her head. What was done was done, and exhaustion was rapidly creeping upon her. "So that still leaves what to do with 'em now," she said. "Have they got some sort of police or somethin' on their planet that'll take them?" she asked, looking back up at the Doctor.
His brow furrowed. "Not as such," he said. Instead of elaborating, he turned to the scanner and began working the console controls. After about half a minute he continued. "We know what time period they're from, since they probably didn't have the vortex manipulator before they got to Villengard," he said.
"Makes sense," Rose agreed from her place on the captain's chair. As animated as the Doctor was becoming, she wasn't about to get back to her feet just to look at the unintelligible symbols on the screen.
"So we could just bring them home," he said, grinning at her over his shoulder.
"Is it safe?" she asked. "I mean, the rest of their people, you said they're not like them?" She couldn't see the wisdom in delivering their captives if they'd also be delivering a Time Lord to a planet full of hungry mayflies.
"Not in the least," he answered, and Rose gaped at him. "Like them, I mean," he said, hands raised. "It's perfectly safe. I've been there before, which, actually, is probably why they were hunting me to begin with."
"And that makes it safe?" Rose asked. He flipped a last switch, then turned to face her completely again. "If they went huntin' after you the last time you visited -"
"It wasn't like that," he interrupted gently and suddenly serious.
Rose gave him a silent, "Then what was it like?" shrug and he continued.
"I was... really tired," he sighed, suddenly withdrawn. He seemed to shake himself and continued. "And it was a few centuries before the time this Family is from. Their people are sort of spiritual-ish, yogi-esque, well... you get the picture."
He didn't elaborate and Rose didn't ask any more, despite her questions. It was a few centuries before the Family, but when was it for him? Was it just before she'd met him, after the Time War? Was it even before that, just being tired from living his long life? The Doctor was watching Rose, and she at last nodded. "Let's try that, then," she said at last.
The Doctor sent Rose off to bed before setting the coordinates for Tharnadur.
He remembered the last time he had been there. He had been in his seventh form, and had been oh, so tired. Tired of living. Tired of losing. He hadn't known just how tired he would be and just how much he would lose a few centuries down the line, but still. He had thought a vacation was quite in order, a vacation from being a Time Lord. He had just acquired the Chameleon Arch on Gallifrey and was flitting about time and space looking for a nice place to spend his break (he had earth in mind, but he was admittedly nervous and purposefully delaying) when he came upon the Family's home world.
It was probably the most genuinely Eden-like of any world he had visited. Oh, there were plenty of planets with lush vegetation and plentiful fruits and such, but this was different. It was as if the world was made for its people, and they lived in perfect harmony with it and with each other. Animals were peaceful and never hunted. All of the inhabitants' physical needs were met by their environment: food, clothing, shelter. Fruit could be harvested year-round. Single, large-bladed leaves served as a toga-like garment when the mornings or evenings were cool, or when off-worlders were especially prudish; otherwise, the people were comfortable in their naked form. The roots of a large shrub grew into thickly-woven nests, providing natural huts to ward off rain or sun.
It wasn't everyone's idea of paradise, but it was the Tharnadee's.
The slender, translucent humanoids had welcomed him when he had arrived. They had a sort of empathic knowledge of his needs, and he discovered it was an extension of the intense psychic abilities they shared among their own kind. The Tharnadee were primarily interested in why the Doctor was so lost and despairing, but they were happy to teach him about themselves if the knowledge could ease his mind.
He could hardly get his head around their extraordinarily brief life spans, especially considering how he had been bemoaning the supposedly brief lives of so many of his past companions. Human companions, limited to less than a century. But three months... and they were at peace with it.
He wasn't surprised that they had a firm belief in an afterlife.
The Tharnadee had an innate knowledge of the nature of their lives seemingly from birth. They could communicate psychically with their children, and believed that they could commune with their Creator and with those who had gone before them as well. The Doctor attributed it to ritualized superstition combined with some form of genetic memory.
In his brief stay, the Doctor had witnessed several of the Tharnadee villagers reach the end of their lives. The closer they were to their end, the brighter green they glowed. Until, with family and community gathered, they stood and literally breathed their last. A brightly glowing sphere of green light escaped, shone, and then dissipated above the expired body. No tears were shed by the onlookers who celebrated the deceased's union with the spirits.
He had inquired whether everyone on their world was so at peace with their short lives. They weren't cut off from the rest of the universe; there were other off-worlders visiting the same village the Doctor was in. Surely someone had wanted to leave or to try and extend their life in some way, to experience the worlds beyond their own.
They explained that the Tharnadee were not forbidden to leave their world. They were happy to serve where they could, acting as guides or trackers throughout their galaxy. They had the ability to smell out different species - smell was as close as the Doctor could come to understanding it.
Then he felt the weight of the Tharnadee's great sadness as they explained the Fallen, those who had tried to continue their worldly lives by consuming the lives of their neighbors. But whenever such a horrific act had been discovered, the community was able to bind the Fallen, psychically, until they met their natural end. Such deaths were, unsurprisingly, not as peaceful as those the Doctor had witnessed. The Fallen would fight against death, holding on to their body until it was utterly spent, releasing their consciousness only after they had lost all control over the flesh.
"We pray for the Fallen's repentance," they had said. But it was enough to the Doctor that they had the means to stop them.
The Doctor brought himself back to the present, thinking of the Family that were at that moment imprisoned on his ship. Repentance was the last thing he had had in mind for them. He hadn't been joking when he had suggested to Rose that he might grant them the immortality they had been seeking. He had wanted revenge for their even being alive at all. If he had been himself, rather than John Smith, when Rose had had a laser blaster pressed to her temple...
No second chances. But Rose had a way of defying his finality.
"I can't believe this is where they came from," Rose told the Doctor, as they looked back at the Tharnadee village before entering the TARDIS. "It's so beautiful, and peaceful, and... just not them."
She looked over at him, and was happily surprised to see his face so relaxed as he, too, surveyed the village. "Well," he said, "I wouldn't worry about a few bad apples spoiling this bunch." He gave her hand a squeeze, and then turned to face her. "Thank you," he said simply.
Rose shrugged. "What for?"
He looked at her for a long moment, but then seemed to shake himself. "For reminding me of this," he told her, gesturing at their surroundings with his free hand. "Of these brilliantly simple people who I almost forgot even existed."
She decided to play it off as if she had a clue as to what was really going on in his head. "Eh, no problem," she allowed, grinning back at him when his full smile appeared.
With one final look at Tharnadur, they turned and headed back into the TARDIS.
The Doctor felt like a new man as he and Rose piloted the TARDIS away from the planet. Much as had happened when he last visited Tharnadur, he now had a fresh outlook on his life and the lives of his human companions. Or, in this case, companion. It was so easy for him to forget to live while being caught up in the challenges of life. He had already shared how many Tharnadee life spans with Rose? Why should their time together be wasted, especially when no one knew how much more they had?
There was so much he wanted to do with her, to show her, to tell her. And in less than two weeks she would have his forever, for as long as it might last between them.
Tune in for the next installment, "03 10AU Blink".