Life in the TARDIS had a rhyme and reason of its own. While there was no such thing as mornings while riding in a sentient spaceship flying through time and space, Rose and The Doctor had come to some agreements about the human's need for sleep, and it was generally assumed that after saving a planet or watching Earth explode or chasing kids in gas masks across London, his companion would need a bit of shut-eye before they set off for the next fantastic adventure. The alarm clock she'd pilfered from her tenement tended to blare at seemingly random intervals throughout the day (night?), so she'd removed its batteries, and now the only time she held as truth was her body's own rhythm: she slept until she was rested and assumed it was enough.
Her bedroom was a tiny, cozy affair right off the control room of the TARDIS, papered with a peppermint-pink Victorian design that seemed to radiate light even though there was no switch or toggle to turn it on. It just seemed to know when she was ready to sleep and dimmed itself accordingly, bringing the room to the most comfortable pitch-blackness she had ever encountered. A peaceful humming sound always followed and pushed her into pleasant dreams; she liked to imagine it was the song of the planets, though perhaps it was just the TARDIS murmuring an ancient Gallifreyan lullaby just quietly enough for her to hear.
That morning (or evening, or afternoon, or – whenever), Rose sprung out of bed as the wallpaper warmed to a pleasant glow and blearily scampered to the bathroom, catching a piping-hot shower (and wondering, as always, where the water came from) before riffling through the dresser to find a new outfit (and wondering, as always, where all these clothes came from). That attended to, it was time to face the day – and The Doctor.
He was standing, as usual, at the consoles of the TARDIS, speaking softly to her. His long, aquiline nose caught the light just slightly and it threw his sharp cheekbones into darkness, giving him a slightly ominous look despite the warmth of their surroundings. Rose watched him for a moment – man speaking to machine – before he noticed her and a bright smile lit up his face.
"Ah, Rose! Morning to you! I've just the place we can go today!"
She smiled, brushing her hair back from her face as she skipped down the gangplank to join him. "Yeah? Where's that?"
"London, 1914! I've got a lovely woman I'd like you to meet, Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy, or Emmuska to her friends. We're going to see something extraordinary."
The Doctor laughed, rolling his eyes. "You'll see." With that, he set the TARDIS in gear, and soon enough the familiar groaning sounds filled the air.
"Doctor, I've been meaning to ask … why do we go to London so much? I mean, whole universe, big load of planets and all that … why London?"
A sad cast came over his bright blue eyes, and he turned away for a moment, studying the coral-like support beams of his TARDIS. The whump signaling the ship had landed made him start, and he turned back to Rose, another cheerful smile fixed on his face. "Come along, Rose! People to see!"
London 1914 was not quite what she remembered growing up within its limits. Smaller, definitely; dirtier, absolutely; but just as crowded as ever. The smell of unwashed bodies, sharp perfume, and extremely close proximity made her gag, but The Doctor didn't seem the least bit phased, strolling along and smiling at anyone who crossed his path.
"How can you bear the smell of it?" Rose whispered, tugging on his leather jacket. He shrugged, turning to her with a laugh.
"Once you've been to Farm World, you stop noticing it. The smell of the horses there would pickle your nose on the spot, Rose Tyler. And it's nowhere near as bad as the earlier centuries. You should have gotten a whiff of Da Vinci – would have made you faint! I've heard Van Gogh was no better; a little later on, though, obviously. Far later on, actually. Haven't had the chance to meet him yet."
She smiled and looked closer at their surroundings. Hanging everywhere were propaganda posters urging citizens to enlist in the army and do their service for the country. One, a drawing of the cavalry against an olive green backdrop, screamed "EVERY FIT BRITON SHOULD JOIN OUR BRAVE MEN AT THE FRONT – ENLIST!" A few stray snowflakes speckled the air, and she looked up: some things didn't change, she guessed. London would always be bitter cold and snowy, no matter the century.
"What month is it anyway?"
"December 1914. This country's been at war for about five months now, but you wouldn't think it, looking at all these happy faces. The worst of the war hasn't hit them yet; it won't for a few more months. They're still operating under 'business as usual', though a lot of their men are off at war. Well, good for them. Don't begrudge them their happiness."
Rose smiled up at The Doctor, her eyelashes catching snowflakes as they fell. "It's like a living history book, really!"
He gave a hearty chuckle, his eyes squinting into two tiny slashes. "Don't let them hear that, they'll think you're batty. Probably think you're batty enough, wearing that jacket." His nimble fingers playfully plucked at the sleeve of her blue jacket, and they both laughed, Rose linking arms with her Doctor as they strolled down the streets.
"Where are we going, anyway? Do you know how to get there?"
"Of course I do. Emmuska's a good friend of mine. And we're in for a treat, Rose Tyler: a meeting of the minds!"
"Is that so? Whose minds are we meeting?"
"Other than the Baroness? You'll just have to wait and see!"
Rose twisted her lips in a mock-pout, but The Doctor wasn't dissuaded from his secrecy, merely throwing her a smile over his shoulder as he led her down the streets toward a cozy burrow near the outskirts of town. Rose contented herself with watching well-dressed women bustle through the streets, wrapped up in their stoles and warm coats, and marveling at the beautiful houses. She remembered some from modern-day London – her London – but they looked so much fresher and well-appointed, not yet sagging under the burden of nearly a hundred more years. There were even older houses than she remembered, with high gables and gorgeous scrollwork, and her heart gave a sad twitch when she realized they must have been torn down before she was born.
All these people, living out their lives with no cognition of the future: their future, her nation's past. They had no idea of the end of the Great War and the start of another, the emergences of the great bands and the great artists of the Fifties and Sixties … all of that was completely unknown to them. They lived in uncertainty of whether their nation would win this war they had just plunged into, if their homes and lives would be safe for another day. Of course, she'd visited other places with The Doctor, and she knew how time worked. But here, in her own city nearly a hundred years before she knew it, it seemed so much realer, so much sadder and bittersweet; she looked up at the handsome face of the seemingly-human alien she traveled with, and wondered if this was how he felt, every second of every day. It seemed like such a horrible burden, but also such a wonderful one.
Shaking her head to rid herself of the thoughts, Rose looked back up at The Doctor, who was busy hailing a hansom. "Where are we headed exactly?"
"Croydon! South Norwood, to be exact. We have a dinner date with a close friend who just got back from the States. He's starting work on another book, very busy, and I had to beg him to let me bring a plus-one – that's you!"
"Wait – I thought we were seeing Baronness … whatever her name is."
"We are." The Doctor was positively beaming.
"But then who else are we seeing?" Rose huffed as a sleek black carriage pulled up beside them, and The Doctor pulled open the door, helping her in.
The ride from central London to South Norwood zipped by as Rose engrossed herself in watching the beautiful buildings and beautiful people flashing past. Halfway through she found herself distractedly holding The Doctor's hand, and looked over to see him smiling contentedly.
Soon enough the carriage jolted to a stop in front of a huge three storey house in a mock-Tudor style with white gables and trimmings. Each segment of the house had a different brick pattern, all in the same dusty red color, which gave it a crazy-quilt look the likes of which she'd never seen. Two white rampant lions guarded the blue door, and cheery lamps lit up each of the windows. Clearly they were expected at this eccentrically-plotted home. Rose felt a grin overtaking her face, and just then, the door opened and a respectably dressed servant ushered them in.
The Doctor leaned over to whisper in his companion's ear, "Welcome to the house of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."
"You mean to say … you mean … Sherlock Holmes and all that?"
"None other." She could hear the smile on his face from his hushed words, and she leaned back incredulously, nearly laughing.
"You can't be serious!"
"I'm always serious," he replied, and she could have sworn his ears wiggled as he stuck his tongue out at her.
The servant led them into a modest but warmly furnished dining room, where a man and two women were sitting at a gleaming cherry wood table and animatedly discussing something in hushed tones. The man, a stocky but well-built gentleman in his fifties with a full handlebar mustache and thinning hair, leapt up at their arrival and rushed forward, clasping The Doctor by the hand and shaking firmly.
"Doctor! Same man, different face. So nice to see you. And who is your lady friend?"
"Rose Tyler, sir," she replied quickly, stepping forward. Doyle took her hand and kissed it gently before returning it to her.
"So pleased to meet you, Miss Tyler. One of The Doctor's stowaways I presume?"
She looked, alarmed, at the Doctor, who merely laughed. "Don't worry, Rose, you're not going to cause a paradox. He knows enough."
Doyle rumbled in assent. "It was quite a laugh the first time he met me. Convinced me to bring back Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson for a few more turns of the page. Not even popular opinion could do it; it was him. Talking about Dr. Watson with The Doctor, as a doctor myself … enough to make your head spin, all right." He winked at Rose before turning back to the two ladies seated at the table. "But I forget my manners! It is my honor to introduce to you my beloved wife, Jean, and the esteemed Baroness Emma Orczy, who, as you may know, has found tremendous success in the literary world."
He swept his hand at each in turn; Jean, who nodded back shyly, and the Baroness, who gave a broad smile and stood to approach them. She was a small and rather plain-looking woman, wearing a simple silk dress and a single strand of pearls with her dark hair piled carefully atop her head, but her charisma seemed to give the room a glow of good cheer. Rose could feel the warmth from her personality rushing all the way to her toes.
"And so nice to meet you both," she said, taking Rose's hand between her own and giving it a firm squeeze. She had a soft accent, but her words were perfectly clear as she turned to The Doctor. "We were just speaking about you. Dr. Doyle was telling us all about how you saved Sherlock Holmes, and for that, the world thanks you. I can't say I would have been so tenacious in The Scarlet Pimpernel if it weren't for his works."
"Baroness, don't discredit yourself," Doyle shot back. "How many manuscripts are you working on at the moment? And I am only chugging away at one!"
"Four, but A Bride of the Plains is the jewel of my heart at the moment, being divorced from the trivia of The Scarlet Pimpernel. A novel steeped in the lore of my native country, it will surely make a respectable sum."
"Ah, but the baying hounds of the press will push you right back into the detective novels before long, you mark my words. My historical books have barely raised a flutter and before long they're all back to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson – bah!" Doyle settled himself back into his chair, taking the hand of his wife and petting it lovingly. They shared a warm smile before turning back to their guests as two servants set out the first course of their meal.
"I should hope you are not vegetarians?" Jean asked, accepting a platter of veal cutlets from the servant with a smile and passing it around the table. Rose and The Doctor both shook their heads, and she nodded approvingly. "Good. I should hate to see such good meat go to waste."
The majority of the conversation was dominated by the Baroness and Doyle, who talked about their current manuscripts with evident passion and excitement. Watching Doyle animatedly discuss his time in America – with special emphasis on the seamy underbelly of that criminal city, Chicago – brought clear joy to The Doctor's face; he bore the expression of a proud father or a doting uncle as listened with rapt attention to the author's discussion of the California mining communities. Jean nodded and commented occasionally, but since she had remained at home with their children (who were upstairs sound asleep at this time of night), most of the commentary was provided by the author-physician himself.
Orczy was no slouch either: she talked at length about her research regarding Lajos Kossuth, to whom the aforementioned novel would be dedicated, as well as the various troubles her home country which currently consumed her home country. The Doctor contributed little to the conversation, and Rose, having barely paid attention during history class, had trouble keeping up with the flurry of dates, names, and locations that Doyle and Orczy threw at one another throughout the conversation, so she instead watched The Doctor watching the two novelists.
She'd never seen The Doctor so quiet, or so attentive, so … passive. Sure, there were times when she talked and he merely listened, but it was rare: usually he was the charge that made the lightbulb go, the spark to the explosion. Genuine admiration and respect for these two humans was stamped all over his face, and he looked almost – would she even say it? – starstruck. It was definitely not a bad look for him, not at all, just strange. Of course she'd seen him look at others with interest, curiosity, even a little bit of respect, and he did had a clear fondness for the human race as a whole, but to see him look so positively awestruck over someone else was infinitely surprising, especially as she knew that he and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had met before.
Perhaps he was just proud of how much the author had developed since they spoke last? Or perhaps he did honestly admire both him and Baroness Orczy in the way that that only a Time Lord could. The two authors certainly did embody some of the best traits of humanity; maybe seeing the two intellectuals passionately discussing their work was simply reminding him why he sacrificed so much, time and time again, to save this dinky little planet and this backward, often savage race called humankind. Rose smiled at thought. Maybe that's why they came here tonight – maybe that's why The Doctor begged for a plus-one to this intimate dinner party – because he needed a fresh reminder of why he tried so hard to protect this planet, and he wanted Rose to be reminded as well.
Nearly two hours had flown by before Rose even knew it, and the five assembled people were soon wolfing down some of Jean Conan Doyle's blackberry crumble with relish. Baroness Orczy praised it emphatically while Doyle and his wife merely smiled.
"You really must give me the recipe, Jean. I'm sure my husband would love it to no end."
"Of course. And it's a pity he couldn't join us tonight; he always has the most charming tales of the art world to share."
Doyle chuckled. "I'm particularly fond of that one joke he tells about Monet and Manet – how does it go again?"
"Oh, I can't even remember. I leave that to him, silly old goat he is," the Baroness replied, but her gentle reproof was tempered with an affectionate laugh as she licked her spoon. "Would you mind if I ruminated on our lovely dinner by doing a quick portrait of Miss Tyler? I brought my own supplies but for an easel."
"Of course, of course," Doyle acquiesced with a smile. "I'm sure we probably have an easel lying about: the children are quite fond of painting, as well. Jean, would you be so kind as to take a quick look for it? And Doctor, would you like to join us in a small séance?"
Rose glanced at the Time Lord, waiting for him to laugh or discredit such a silly idea, but to her surprise he smiled and gave a resounding, "Yes, of course!" Then again, she considered, it would probably be the height of rudeness to refuse their host's offer.
While Doyle set up a carved wooden Ouiji board and the Baroness unpacked her painting supplies, Rose whispered to The Doctor, "You don't really believe in that silly occult stuff, do you?"
He smiled. "The universe is full of mysteries, Miss Rose Tyler. And Arthur's a good man. There's no harm in indulging him. He's had a rough life: lost one of his sons, his first wife, and a close relative all in a short time period. If it makes him feel better to try to call them back from the dead, then let him. And I've seen far too many strange things in this lifetime to be any sort of skeptic." He swatted her shoulder playfully. "Go sit for your portrait!"
By this time, Jean had returned with a plain wooden easel for Baroness Orczy, and the authoress settled herself down on a stool, arranging her canvas on the stand and positioning it carefully so that she could see all of Rose without straining her neck. When she was satisfied by her set-up, she bustled over to the girl and began gently pressing her into a suitable arrangement. While she did so, she chattered softly about current events, and Rose simply nodded and smiled, figuring it was best not to say anything incriminating.
"My, you're a quiet one," the Baroness smiled, carefully pushing up Rose's chin with a finger.
"I'm a good listener."
"I would hope I'm not boring you?"
"No, no, Baroness, not at all. I just prefer to listen, is all."
Emmuska gave a knowing smile and nodded. "Because you're from another country, or another time period even, and don't know about the going-ons of this era."
Rose blushed and bit her lip, but the Baroness just laughed. "I won't tell a soul. But I should hope I won't cause a paradox or some sort by painting your portrait."
"I don't think so. If The Doctor said it was okay, it should be fine."
"Well then, let us get on with the painting!" She sat down at her easel and began to mix the paints, taking cues from the surroundings. First she started with a light sketching of the proportions, including Rose, occasionally stopping to adjust the paints as she looked more closely at the hues of the room. Finally she began to daub at the canvas with light but confident brushstrokes. As she worked, Rose listened to The Doctor, Jean, and Doyle chattering about their séance with clear excitement. Jean was busy lighting the candles and arranging them around the room while Doyle and The Doctor discussed his past successes and misses with the Ouiji board.
Soon enough Doyle was calling out for his brother Innes, whom Doyle and his wife had been attempting to summon since his death several years prior. The three sat with their fingertips lightly brushing the black wooden pointer as it whizzed across the board, spelling out a vague sentence that seemed more nonsense than message. Several times Doyle asked the supposed spirit for clear answers to posed questions, and each time no genuine response was forthcoming. Disappointed, he sighed and shook his heavy head, adjusting his shirt. "It's no use. He's stubborn as a mule in death, apparently."
"Why don't we try calling someone else? Or just asking for anyone to join us?" Jean suggested.
"That's a bad idea. You never know what sort of, err, spirits will join you if you open it up to anyone," The Doctor replied with a frown.
Doyle shrugged and wiped his hands on his trousers. "There's no harm in trying."
"But there is."
"Doctor, you know I trust your judgment immensely, and regard you with the utmost respect. And for that, with you here, I doubt we can come to any harm. Let us just try it, just this once, and see what comes."
The Doctor frowned deeper, his blue eyes glowing with concern, but ultimately he gave a heavy sigh, shot a look toward Rose sitting still for the Baroness's portrait, and motioned for Doyle to go ahead with it. The physician clapped him on the back with a hearty guffaw and re-positioned his hands on the pointer. "My good man, I knew you'd see the fun in it."
No sooner had Doyle beseeched the spirit world to "bring forth a ghost of the finest mettle" when all the lamps in the house flickered out with a groan. Rose screeched in surprise and the Baroness gave a startled yelp, but Jean grabbed a box of matches hidden in her pocket and swiped one, quickly dropping it into the glass globe of the nearest lamp. The area was drawn in an eerie half-light, the high ceilings entirely lost in shadow, as the one lamp was hardly adequate to illuminate the dining room and adjoining sitting room. Jean stood and pulled out a candle from the sideboard to light the rest of the lamps in the room, and Doyle reached out to pat her arm, murmuring his thanks.
"What was that, exactly?" Rose asked, not daring to move her head lest the Baroness shower her with disapproval.
"Not sure," The Doctor replied with a grim shake of his head. He rose and pulled out his sonic screwdriver, creeping to the sideboards and flicking through its settings.
"What a marvelous device!" Doyle watched the Time Lord aiming the sonic, admiration and interest gleaming in his eyes.
"Time Lord technology."
"If only I were a science fiction writer," the Baroness muttered as she stained to see the guide marks she'd drawn on the canvas. "This one night, and I should have enough source material for a novel to rival the works of Jules Verne." She gave a wry smile and looked to Doyle, who was still entranced watching The Doctor work. "That would be a thought, Mr. Doyle. You should have called Mr. Jules Verne. He could have offered you some criticism on your latest novel: not enough submarines!"
"Harrumph," the author replied. "Fancy that – Holmes and Watson traversing the seas in some fantastical machine. It should never work. Mr. Holmes would tear the contraption apart to determine how it worked before it ever left the dock! And what about you, then? Perhaps the Scarlet Pimpernel could solve a mystery under the ocean?"
"Absolutely not. I work exclusively with realistic themes. No conjecture of future inventions for my Percy. He shall always be saving courtesans without the aid of fanciful devices." As she spoke, the Baroness continued painting Rose in careful strokes, layering the pigment to create a richly textured image. She switched between drawing the figure and the background as the colors demanded. It was still dark as Jean was struggling to light one of the taller lamps, and so she barely noticed the subtle changes taking place in the foreground of her image; a foggy shape filtered slowly into the corner of the canvas as she labored to capture the color of Rose's hair.
"I can't figure out what creature came through when you summoned the spirits," The Doctor announced, straightening and nearly colliding with Jean, who was busy lighting a heavy floor lamp beside him.
"What exactly do you mean?" Doyle stroked his mustache out of a nervous habit.
"Well, it means that we could have a Vashta Nerada or a scribble beast or some other sort of terrible thing wandering around the Doyle residence right this moment. Sorry to be a wet blanket."
Doyle's expression grew severe, and he reached his hand out for his wife, who padded over and took it solemnly. "Jean, my love, would you ask one of the servants to check on the children?"
"Of course." She pattered out of the room.
As the room was now bathed in light, the Baroness could more clearly see her canvas, now nearly finished; she gave a sigh of relief, and then a gasp of surprise. "Doctor! Please, I beg of you, come look at this portrait!"
"Have you made my Rose look just as lovely as she is in real life?" He strode over, resting a hand on Rose's shoulder before leaving her to stand behind the authoress.
"I should hope so, but look – look at this dark smear in the corner. I surely did not place that there, for I am not working with any color nearly so blue."
He peered closely at the canvas, searching it over; his eyes were dark with concern before his head jolted back, and he laughed heartily.
"What the devil are you laughing about?" the Baroness asked severely. Doyle looked up, a reproving frown firm on his face.
"It looks as if your portrait has another subject as well – an ebernathy!"
"A – apologies – a what?"
The Doctor smile, rubbing his hands together. "An ebernathy. They're two-dimensional creatures living in the three-dimensional universe. You can imagine this would give them some trouble, so they travel endlessly, looking for a good place to live, and when they find one, they never leave. They can only place themselves in a two-dimensional space while it's being created, and, being the politest of aliens, they can only come when they're invited. Fortunately for this little fellow, Sir Doyle's open invitation to 'spirits' happened to include ebernathies, and you, my lady, happened to be right in the middle of making a two-dimensional space perfect for this one."
The Baroness looked at him with surprise, as did Doyle. "You mean to say that this … creature will merely dwell eternally in this painting?"
"Exactly. They don't hurt the painting in any way, and they live off the gaze of others – not in a vampiric way. Some of the most famous paintings in the world have ebernathies: the Mona Lisa has a whole host of them, actually. They have low-grade telepathy and can encourage people to look at their habitat, and then live off the energy of being seen. It's quite a lovely arrangement for everyone involved."
Satisfied with this explanation, the Baroness continued to work on the portrait as Doyle, the Doctor, and Jean worked to put away the Ouiji board. "I think we've summoned enough for the night; would you agree, my sweet?" Doyle kissed his wife fondly on the cheek, and she smiled, wrapping an arm around him. The Doctor merely watched, the starstruck gaze returning to his eyes.
It was well past midnight when the portrait finally concluded and Rose stood up, shaking out her stiff limbs. Jean, Doyle, and Emmuska were relaxing with small glasses of absinthe in the dining room, Doyle explaining how the tiny bottle of spirits was an early Christmas present from Oscar Wilde, of whom he was very fond.
The Doctor drew Rose close and whispered, "It's just about time to leave. We've got to catch a hansom back to the TARDIS, after all."
"Why couldn't you have just parked the TARDIS right outside?" she whispered back.
He gave a jaunty smile. "Because it's more fun this way! But if you insist, I'll call her over."
The noise of the TARDIS could be faintly heard outside as the Time Lord and his companion said their goodbyes. Doyle and Jean shook his hands fondly, begging him to call back soon, and Jean enveloped Rose in a warm hug.
The Baroness pulled out her clutch and presented The Doctor with a white feather, which he accepted. "I am beyond certain that you are not eligible for service in our country's military, but take it as a gesture urging your solidarity with our cause in this great war upon us."
His cerulean eyes glimmered with regret for a moment. "I have seen war, my dear, far too much of it. But if you insist." He pocketed the white feather, nestling it with his sonic screwdriver in his pocket, and kissed the Baroness' hand. "Best of luck with your next novel, Emmuska. The Bronze Eagle will be an enormous success, I'm certain."
She looked at him with surprise. "But how did you –"
He simply laughed and turned back to Doyle. "And you – don't let Mr. Holmes get too harsh to his army doctor."
Doyle nodded, his multiple chins wiggling, and raised his hand in farewell as a servant turned to let Rose and The Doctor out.
"Well, that was interesting," Rose giggled, looking up at the swirling snow while The Doctor fiddled with the key to the TARDIS.
"Where to next?"
"Everywhere and anywhere!"
The Doctor threw back his head and laughed, stripping off his jacket and throwing it over one of the coral beams of the TARDIS as he strode toward the controls. "That's my girl!"