Characters: Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness
Spoilers: none.Summary: A supposedly harmless planet holds unexpected dangers, and disturbing revelations about the Doctor's past.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N:This is another story in my unnamed series about Rose, Jack, and the Doctor traveling together as partners and lovers. It takes place sometime after Changes. Thanks to garpu for reading and reassurance, and to wendymr for beta-reading.
"Go away, Outsider! This is my place!"
Rose whirls around. The young male facing her is humanoid, but not human. She thinks he's young, but for all she knows, he could be older than the Doctor. The spiky crest of silver-white hair makes it hard to tell. Still, there's something about his tall, gawky figure that says he isn't fully grown, and the resentful scowl on his tawny face is one that she's seen on every thirteen-year-old boy she's ever met.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know." She gestures vaguely at the carving behind her. "Did you make that? It's beautiful."
"It's not finished yet." He adds, almost defiantly, "It's a ghrazi flower."
"It's beautiful," she repeats. "Do they grow around here?"
"No." Apparently she's just asked the stupidest question in the history of the Universe.
Her thoughts are racing. The Doctor said nobody lives here, nobody would choose to live here... but that carving isn't the sort of thing you knock off in a couple of hours while the water tank is filling. Could be his ship is on the blink. Or even crashed. "Is your ship far from here? Do you need help? My friends are good mechanics--"
"My ship?" He sounds genuinely puzzled.
Maybe he does live here? Jack said this planet is the backside of nowhere. Maybe these people came here to hide 'cos they're political refugees or something. Or one of those religious groups that likes to be away from everyone else.
"Merron! Get away from the Outsider!"
Now she knows for sure that the carver -- Merron -- is young. The newcomer is only a little taller, but broader in the shoulders and more muscled. His voice is deep, authoritative. Like Merron, he wears a handwoven tunic and trousers, but his clothes have intricate patterns of colour and texture swirling through the fabric.
"Kiy? What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same, little brother. In fact, I will ask you, once we get home. Now move away from the Outsider." He flicks an appraising glance over Rose. It isn't what she'd call a friendly look, but she doesn't get the feeling he's about to attack. "There was no report of a ship landing."
"Our ship is... quiet," she says. "And small." It looks small, anyway. "I'm Rose Tyler. From Earth."
"Go back to your ship, Outsider." The older alien turns, and starts to lead his brother away.
"Wait!" She doesn't like him, but that won't keep her from doing the decent thing. Even if his people want to be here, it's still likely they could use some assistance. "Do you need any help?"
He looks back, frowning. "Help?"
"With repairs, supplies, medicines, or... anything."
Kiy laughs. "The A'atra need no help from Outsiders."
You're very welcome, Mr. High-and-Mighty. She takes a deep breath. "G'bye, Merron. Nice to meet you. And I do think your flower is lovely."
Both aliens spin around. Merron looks frightened; his brother, suspicious. Kiy scans the rock-face. He stares at the flower carving, then at his brother. "You idiot!"
"I need to practise!"
"You need to have some sense beaten into your head. A ghrazi, Merron? What in Havru's name were you thinking?"
"I thought it would impress Master Raffin. He only takes two apprentices at a time -- you know that, Kiy."
"We will talk later about what I know -- and what I should have known." Without a further word, Kiy pushes Merron in front of him, down the narrow trail to the far end of the gorge. Within a minute, the two aliens are out of sight.
Rose takes a last look at the carving, then heads upstream towards the TARDIS, leaving the dark gorge and the delicate, unfinished ghrazi flower behind.
Jack tosses down his shovel. Time for a break. The Doctor continues digging. Jack has always been a competitive kind of guy. The fact that the Doctor is his lover doesn't prevent him from trying to outdo the Time Lord in almost every area from sexual technique to rewiring circuitry to Rigellian haiku. Jack keeps himself fit. His 51st century genes and body mods (not all of them precisely legal) give him an advantage over most humans. But when it comes to sheer endurance, he can't outlast someone with a binary cardiovascular system. It doesn't bother him any more than it would bother him to lose to a Jotun in a height contest. Everyone has advantages and disadvantages. You've just got to figure out the most strategic way to use your advantages and the other guy's disadvantages.
He's just about ready to resume work when he sees Rose running towards them. She's excited about something, but this isn't her being-chased-by-monsters, full-speed run. The Doctor stops digging. Jack can see the exact moment when he relaxes, recognising that there's no immediate crisis.
Rose skids to a stop, Her face is flushed, and her hair ruffled by the wind, and she's breathing fast. Looking at her makes Jack think about things they really don't have time for right now. The sidelong look that the Doctor throws at him says that he knows exactly what Jack is thinking about. The look that Jack throws back says, You're thinking about it, too.
"Jack! Doctor! There are people living here!" She pours out a jumbled tale of rock carvings and not-quite-friendly aliens.
"They can't be native to this world." the Doctor says. "Mus' be a small settlement, or someone would've noticed."
Jack frowns. "Obviously, they don't want company dropping by. I suggest we leave them alone, and we keep an eye open to make sure they leave us alone."
"What if they need help?"
"You offered, they said no," the Doctor reminds her.
Rose nods reluctantly Kiy and Merron had looked healthy enough. Their clothes were clean and in good repair -- aside from the stone dust smudged all over Merron's outfit -- and very beautifully made. Not exactly starving beggars in rags.
"I can't identify their species," Jack muses. "I mean, humanoids with golden skin and white hair could be from a dozen different worlds. Did they say anything about their home planet?"
"The older one -- stuck-up git! -- said that the A'atra didn't need help from Outsiders."
"A'atra... why does that sound familiar?" Jack muses aloud. "Oh, yeah! Lyonnesse." He chuckles. "Rose, the stuck-up bastard was having you on. Or else he's nuts. A'atra is the name of the race that supposedly lived on the planet Lyonnesse."
"Huh? Why s'possedly?"
"Lyonnesse doesn't exist. I've heard legends about it. Beautiful planet -- peaceful, prosperous, a perpetual golden age of art, science, medicine, poetry, blah blah blah. The sort of world that everyone would like to believe exists." He shakes his head, grinning. "I used to know guys who specialised in art cons. Some of them included 'antiquities from Lyonnesse' in their merchandise. They'd buy cheap trinkets on Keldorn or Sarhila, make 'em look old, and peddle them for outrageous sums."
"You getting nostalgic about the good old days?" Rose asks.
Only a few months ago, Jack would have bristled at this reminder of his shady past. Now he just shrugs, and accepts the jab as friendly teasing. "Nah. Never saw much fun in bilking the gullible. I always preferred to go after the greedy."
"What did the flower look like?" It's not until the Doctor speaks that Jack realises how quiet he's been.
Rose tilts her head to one side, thinking. "Sort of like a daisy, 'cept the petals were shorter and rounder. And the centre was bigger. It wasn't painted, so I dunno about the colours."
"Did he tell you the name of it?" The Time Lord's voice is hushed but urgent.
"Yeah. Didn't I say? Merron called it a ghrazi flower. His brother was really--"
The Doctor interrupts her. "You're sure, Rose? You're sure of the name?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. Ghrazi. Why?"
Jack has a more immediate concern. "You okay, Doctor? You're not looking so great."
The Doctor doesn't answer either question. He picks up a bucket filled with chunks of clorinthium. "Time to process the first batch." As the Time Lord heads towards the TARDIS, Jack and Rose exchange looks and hurry after him.
Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. Even before the three of them arrive in the lab, she can see the warning signs in the Doctor's quick steps and his rigid shoulders. Without a word, he sets the bucket on the glossy black counter and begins opening cupboards and drawers. The previously-empty counter fills with all sorts of scientific odds and ends: flasks of coloured liquid, coils of plastic tubing, an old-fashioned mercury thermometer (marked in Fahrenheit), a pair of tongs, and a silver-plated corkscrew.
Rose hasn't seen him so closed off in a long time. She's reminded of their first trip together, when she asked about his planet and he became as prickly as a hedgehog. She hadn't known until later how much of his anger had been disguised pain. She's thinking about the best way to get past his barricades when Jack jumps in.
"Doctor, are you going to make us do this the hard way?"
"Thought you liked the hard way, Captain."
Jack ignores the quip. He doesn't usually pass up a chance to joke about sex, even in life-or-death situations. "As I see it, this can go two ways. Rose and I can keep coaxing and badgering you until you lose your cool, explode like a barrel of dektrasolene, and tell us what's going on. Alternatively, you can save us a lot of time, stress, and worry, and tell us now."
"No reason for you two t'worry," the Doctor replies immediately. He sets a large plastic sieve in the sink, and half fills it with clorinthium.
My turn. "Oh, no, Doctor. You don't get to say that. You don't get to tell the people who love you that they shouldn't worry about you. We want to help."
The Doctor picks up a flask of clear liquid, and pours five drops into a clean beaker. He adds a pint of water, watches carefully as the mixture fizzes and turns green, then pours it over the clorinthium. "There's nothing you can do to help."
You silly, stubborn git! "We can listen. That's what partners do." The Doctor's right hand is pressed against the counter; she strokes it lightly with her thumb. He tenses, but doesn't pull away.
From the other side, Jack wraps an arm around the Doctor's shoulders. "If what's on your mind is old business, we won't push you to talk about it--"
"Yeah." Least, not right now.
"But if it's got something to do with the current situation," Jack continues, "we need to know. Who are those people? Are they a threat?"
Rose starts to protest, then bites back the words. I don't think Merron would hurt us, and his brother didn't seem too bad, but we don't know what the rest of them are like.
The Doctor is still for a long moment. He disentangles himself from his lovers, then turns to face them both. His blue eyes are clouded and weary. "Old business doesn't always stay in the past. You should know that, Jack. An' it's particularly true for me. Time Lord, remember?" He shoves his hands in his jacket pockets. "I think those people are exactly who they say they are. The ghrazi is-- was -- the sacred flower of Lyonnesse. Nobody else would know that."
"But--" Rose can only manage the single word.
The Doctor finishes her sentence. "But Lyonnesse doesn't exist. It never existed. An' that's my fault."