A spray of wild black birds burst exploded like a cloud out of the silver leaves of a tall Cadonwood tree. Their shrill and alarmed cries matched the fervor of shrill and excited squeal from the forest floor below. It wasn’t the cheer of excitement that startled the flock, however, it was the loud, echoing howls of two large Dahrama wolves that followed in it’s wake.
Those crafty hunters that could climb a tree as easily as walking up the trunk, favoured the meat of a trunkike over the woprats and slender-throated Selputo crane. None of this flock would take any chance that they’d become their meal today, and so en masse they took to the skies above. Their broad wings with a length that far exceeded the length of their bodies, sent shadows racing across the ground, and beat a sound that was as whispy as it was thunderous.
Tugged by the hand held by the Doctor, and running at a rapid rate, Rose lifted her head with a gaped mouth of awe at the living cloud overhead. “Oh, wow,” she panted out with wonder.
“Trunkike,” the Doctor called out, not slowing their run. “They flock in tight formation when in flight and have been known to put the countryside in complete darkness when they take off as a group.” He looked back to the wolves at their heels with a toothy grin. The two wolves were thrilled to be at full run, both of them yapping, and howling as they leapt over and knocked against each other in excitement. “Looks like the kids may have scared them,” he offered with a laugh. “They are a Dahrama’s favourite snack.”
Although rushing with thrill and being tugged by the Doctor, Rose was able to narrow a glare of warning toward the two wolves. “Don’t you even think about it.”
“Oh,” he laughed. “I guarantee you they’re thinking about it.” He held her hand tighter. “Now chop chop, Rose Tyler.”
Rose pealed with delight and excitement as they ran across the unkempt red grasses that rose in and around the rocks and sand that lined the edge of a creek. “Where are we goin’, Doctor?”
He panted out a pair of secretive, yet excited breaths. There was a smile on his face that defied the man’s age and wisdom. He was like a young boy ready to open gifts on Christmas morning. He turned to face her, skipping a sideward stride to keep pace. “It’s a surprise, Rose. You’ll love it. I promise you.” He kept his stride but pulled her in against him in an excited hug that lifted her from the ground and spun her around. He placed her feet back on the ground, not allowing her to gather her wits and her balance before tugging her back again.
The terrain changed just slightly as what looked to Rose like a fruit orchard appeared in the distance. The banks of the creek started to rise into a jagged edge, and the Doctor steered them safely into the crystal waters that lapped gently on the rocky bottom. They ran with a spray of water in their wake, each droplet shining as diamonds in the heavy orange sunlight above them. Snakes hissed, and birds chirped angrily as they passed. The two wolves pranced and pounced caught up in the excitement of their mistress, howling to the skies and sharing their own language of thrill.
“Doctor,” Rose panted exhaustedly. “Doctor, please. Gimme a mo’, please? I’m not fitted with a respiratory bypass like you are.”
She was becoming exhausted by the run. Fit though she was from years of running with the mad man in a box, this was becoming a little too long of a run even for her.
“We’re almost there!” the Doctor cheered. “Just a little bit further now.”
“Will it be there in ten minutes?” she queried, wondering just why it was he was so insistent that they get there as soon as possible.
He began to slow, tugged backward by his waning companion. “Well. Yes,” he drawled with a small measure of disappointment. “It will be.”
“Then please, can we stop for a minute?” she pressed on. “Unless you wan’ me to have a heart attack and die before we get there…”
He stopped immediately, tugging her to as an abrupt a halt as him. He carefully checked her eyes, the pallor of her skin, and then stooped to scoop her up into a hold against his chest. “I most certainly do not want that,” he vowed as he tucked her head underneath his chin and began a far more slower walk.
Rose didn’t ordinarily like being held like a child in this manner – she was no damsel in distress – but in this instance, she was happy to he held and carried so she could catch her breath. She held her ear against his chest to listen to the thumping of his two hearts against her ear and found herself calming very quickly.
“Make sure you don’t strain yourself,” she warned him softly. “I’m not as strong as you, so I don’t know if I can carry you.” A yap of agreement from below made her giggle.
The Doctor merely sighed as he listened to the panting of the young female. “Your daughter has offered to let you tie me to her and she’ll drag me the rest of the way if it comes to that.”
Rose dropped her hand to scratch the wolf’s head. “Awww. Aren’t you a sweet little girl?”
“Dahramas across Gallifrey are covering their faces with their paws and shaking their heads.” He sniffed. There was a playful nip at his ankles, and the Doctor stumbled with a failed attempt at escape. “Sweet indeed,” he scoffed as he awkwardly jostled the woman in his arms in yet another failed attempt.
Rose touched her feet to the ground and stumbled to one side. She held at her belly and let out a raucous laugh – a sound of pure hysterics. The Doctor tried to remain stoic and display a sense of pure indignance toward the two ladies in his life having so much fun at his expense, but Rose’s laughter was contagious. He quickly fell into the same fit of amusement.
He settled himself just slightly and moved in close to her. Lifting his hands to cup her face, he traced her tears with his eyes and then drew their heads together. Their brows touched and he kissed her lightly on the tip of her nose. “You, my dear Rose…”
“Yes, Doctor?” she said with a smile of urging for him to continue. With her forehead still pressed against his, she stepped in a little closer and settled her hands on his hips. With tender movements, she shifted her hands around his hips and curled them toward his backside.
The Doctor licked his lip as he felt her pull him yet closer. Propriety nearly fled him at that moment, and it took effort not to seek out a good sized tree trunk to let her know without words just exactly what she was capable of doing to him.
…Brax was waiting for them. Brax was not known for being the most patient of men.
…But then again, neither was he.
He angled his head to one side to completely capture her mouth in a single swoop and walked them toward the deeper waters of the creek. His lips chased hers when she pushed her hands against his chest and separated their mouths.
“I thought we were in a hurry?”
His mouth chased hers again, but the little minx was far too savvy to be caught by Time Lord lips. “I can always make time for this, Rose. For us. For making love to you.”
“Oh make me throw up in my mouth, swallow it, and then throw it up again,” Braxiatel’s voice snarled in from the 1-foot high creek edge to their side. Although slightly hostile in tone, there was a certain measure of amusement hidden in his words.
The Doctor grunted out in faux annoyance and looked over his shoulder toward his brother. “I thought I said we’d meet you there?”
“You did,” he answered with a shrug. He gave Rose a tip of his head in greeting. “Hello, Rose. Good to see you again.”
“Hi Brax,” she answered with a waggle in her fingers as a wave.
Braxiatel looked back toward his brother with a somewhat tired expression. “And while, yes, we did agree that we would meet at the orchard at a very specific time, your incessant and habitual tardiness alerted me that I may have to move to intervene in some way, for some reason…” He huffed. “By Rassilon, Thete. This urge you have to mate with your beloved puts you at the same level of the beasts that walk at your feet.” He looked down toward the wolves, who were currently backed down on their hunches and snarling. “I am not scared of you, so stop it.”
The Doctor shrugged. “Don’t know it until you’ve tried it for yourself, Brax.” He remarked with a smile as he shifted Rose to his side with his arm hooked around her waist. “It truly is a remarkable experience to engage in.”
“And don’t be comparin’ it to the animals,” Rose added indignantly. “The animals mate to procreate, the Doctor’n me aren’t anywhere close to wantin’ that just now.”
“Well that’s not completely accurate,” the Doctor ventured, to the stunned surprise of Rose, but the amusement of Brax.
Rose stilled. This was a very unexpected revelation. Did she want to begin to consider anything like that with him? “A-and just what do you mean, Doctor?”
Braxiatel chuckled when the Doctor looked at him with wide eyes at realizing he just may have given a very wrong impression with his correction. He held up his hands. “I’m going to let you handle this one, Thete.” He put his hand out ahead of them in an invitation for them to begin to walk a very overgrown path away from the creek. “And do it while we walk, please. I do have other things that I need to attend to today, so if you don’t mind.”
The Doctor cleared his throat.
Braxietel smirked. “This will be fun…”
Rose looked worried. Braxiatel’s amusement wasn’t helping her any. “Doctor, are you sayin’ that you want,,, you know… with me?”
“In time, Hearts,” he answered with a kiss at the side of her head. “But not right now. You need to agree to marriage, first.” He gestured toward the wolves, walking very closely together at their side. “Your comment that the kids mate only for conception is inaccurate. They do actually mate recreationally in much the same manner as the rest of us do. Actually, with pretty much the same frequency as we all do.”
“Don’t put me in your category,” Braxiatel mumbled. “Reprehensible activity that it is.”
“Again,” the Doctor warned him. “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.”
Braxietel shrugged. “Well if it isn’t for procreative activities, then you aren’t really experiencing the true wonder of the act.” He looked at his brother with a smirk. “And as I don’t yet wish to sire a child, I see no point in wasting my valuable time experiencing it only half way.”
“I get wonder enough,” the Doctor groused through a curled lip of both annoyance and reluctance to carry on this conversation. “Thank you, Brax.”
“It could be better.”
Rose was officially confused. She looked up at her curl-lipped lover, then across to his brother who held the opposite emotion on his face. “I’m not followin’.”
“Nothing for you to follow,” the Doctor said softly. “This painful individual is only trying to get a rise out of you. Ignore him. Please.” He lifted his eyes to the sky. “Admittedly that is easier said than done. Rassilon knows I try.”
“Who is the Rassilon that you keep referencing?” Rose asked
“A Time Lord,” the Doctor offered with a shrug.
“More than just a Time Lord.” Braxiatel corrected incredulously. “He was – alongside Omega and the Other, the founder of our society: The First Time Lord. The single greatest figure in Gallifreyan History!” He glared toward his brother. “How have you not spoken to Rose about him?”
“The Doctor shrugged. “Easy. The topic’s never come up before now.”
“And now that it has,” he admonished indignantly. “You will. An I will be more than pleased to correct any mistakes.”
The Doctor looked toward his brother. He held that look a moment, and then turned his head to look at Rose with a glint in his eye and a sly smile on his face. “Rassilon,” the Doctor began with a wink. “Revered by some members of society as he greatest of all Time Lords and the one who singlehanded created our rather pompous and arrogant, and quite frankly boring, civilisation.”
“Thete,” Brax warned along a breath.
“However, those Time Lords with actual brains inside their heads know Rassilon to be a corrupt megalomaniac, who in a fit of jealousy over his popularity amongst my people, tried murdering his best friend Omega in order to steal the Hand of Omega, which he would then use to induce a supernova and give Gallifreyans the ability to travel though time…”
Braxiatel interrupted him with a moan of annoyance. “My brother the conspiracy theorist,” he growled. “That is not at all accurate to the texts within my collection.”
“Well, perhaps if your collection contained factual manuscripts instead of romance novels and pretty little trinkets, you’d have a much clearer image of old Rassilon.” He huffed. “If he were ever to be resurrected, Brax, it would lead to the absolute destruction of Gallifrey, and everything her children have achieved.”
“Resurrection is impossible,” Braxiatel snarled. “It’s never been achieved in the entire history of our people. Rassilon is dead and in his tomb.”
The Doctor shook his head. “And in the Matrix of the Time Lords,” he added. “Where he is still wielding his wants and desires upon society.” He flicked up a finger of warning. “Don’t you assume for a moment that resurrection isn’t part of his grand scheme of things.”
“You talk nonsense,” Brax snarled. “You speak of fantasy and impossibility. He wields no power in death. How can you spread misinformation and rumour in this manner? You blasphemous fool.”
“I just know,” he breathed out cryptically.
Rose watched the exchange between brothers with interest. When there was a break to interject, she did so with curiosity. “But you say his name like a deity,” she reminded him. “As we on Earth use the name of God.”
“As a sign of disrespect,” the Doctor answered with a shrug. “Using his name in vain and all that.”
“And yet, the rest of us use it as a mark of respect and wonder toward his gifts to our creation.”
“Aaaand on that note,” Rose sang out. “Let’s end the conversation. Mum always told me that we should never talk about politics or religion in pleasant company, so let’s not. Looks like you two might start a war about it.”
“Your mother is a smart woman,” the Doctor said with a kiss on her temple.
That made Rose chuckle. “You don’t think so in your future,” she laughed. “You and her, you fight like cats and dogs.”
Now it was Braxiatel’s turn to laugh. “You’ve met her mother?!”
The Doctor’s eyes flashed wide in horror. Rose just shrugged. “Met her plenty of times, actually. First time they met, she tried the pull on him. Then later she slapped him …” She giggled. “Now she hugs and kisses him.”
Braxiatel’s laugh rang out across the grasses. “That is absolutely brilliant. The best thing I’ve heard in a long while.” He wiped at a non existent tear in the corner of his eye. “Wait until I tell Romana that one! She will be in hysterics.”
The Doctor scowled a moment. His face then lengthened out into a curious expression. “Yes, and about Romana. Do explain to me your relations toward her.”
“That would be none of your concern, Thete,” Braxiatel muttered in quickly.
“I do beg to differ.”
“I totally ship it,” Rose murmured cheekily under her breath.
“I’m sorry, what?” the Doctor asked with high brows.
Rose opened her mouth to clarify, but sucked those words deep inside her chest when they broke through the treelines and came across a sight that completely shattered everything inside her chest in that very longing manner one has when presented with sheer beauty.
“Oh my God,” she breathed out in awe.
Oh my God indeed. The break in the trees and grasses opened up to a large and perfectly manicured wooded area broken just off centre by a babbling creek whose waters were clear and crystalline. Those clear waters ran helplessly over blue-lavender coloured stones and pebbles which faded into grey the further they were from the water. Red grass, clipped low but not short, wove around the edge of the creek spreading out and rushing partway up the white and crimson barked trunks of an orchard of full and vibrant fruit-bearing trees. The leaves were not as silver as the foliage of the mighty cadonwood trees at the edge of the property, but dark like aluminum, variegated with the crimson tones in the trunk.
Rose broke from the Doctor and surged forward to run her hand along the trunk of one tree. Her exhales were filled with whimpering sighs of astonishment as she lifted her hands up to cradle a bulbous pear-shaped fruit so large that it took both hands to hold it. She dared not pluck it from the tree, but instead let her thumbs trace along the leather-feel surface.
“This is a magnolia,” the Doctor murmured into her ear in English before switching into its Gallifreyan pronounciation. He waited for her to repeat the word and slid his arms around her from behind. He slid his hands up along her arms and cupped his hands over hers on the fruit. “Nothing like the magnolia trees on Earth, of course. There is no relation between the two. These are native to Mount Perdition in Southern Gallifrey, but have since expanded their range across all of the forested lands. Cultivation and farming…”
She nestled back against his chest and repeated the Gallifreyan pronunciation for the fruit.
“Perfect,” he whispered against her temple. He then flexed his hands over hers, and plucked the fruit from the tree. “Perfectly edible, and absolutely delicious. I used to sneak into the orchards as a loomling and snaffle the ripest fruits.”
“Theif,” Brax muttered with amusement.
“Connoisseur,” he corrected with a chuckle. He still cupped Rose’s hands around the fruit, and squeezed quickly, popping the skin of the fruit and exposing the amber-coloured meat of the fruit inside. “I can’t describe the flavour to you, Rose. You’ll have to try it for yourself. Expect to get messy, it’s as much juice as substance in there.”
His arms were still around her and his chest pressed up against her back, and she relaxed into him as she dropped her head forward to taste the fruit. The texture was quite similar to mango or peach, but the taste was nothing like either. There would be no way that she could compare the flavour, except to say that it had a stone-fruit quality to it. The juice was plentiful, as the Doctor had warned, and so she couldn’t help but make a wet sucking sound as she drew it in.
“Oh my God, Doctor,” she purred as she lifted her head and savoured this new flavour. “That’s amazin’.”
His arms tightened around her, and he dipped his head to have a taste himself. He licked his lips and hummed appreciatively. “It is, isn’t it?”
She stepped away from him and grinned, holding the fruit close to her. “This would be amazin’ in a pie, don’t you think?”
He frowned, looked at his brother who wore a similar expression of surprise, and then back to Rose. “As a whar? A pie? You would suggest wrapping it in pastry and cooking it?”
Braxiatel shook his head, a look of disgust on his face. “That would destroy the purity of its favour.” He flicked his hand. “You Humans and your need to tamper with what nature provides you with.” He pointed toward the fruit. “That’s perfection wrapped in a protective skin, you don’t do anything other than eat it straight from the tree.”
She hummed a chuckle. “Don’t knock it, Brax…”
He held up a hand. “I won’t try it, so don’t bother finishing that thought.” He gestured toward the north end of the orchard. “Now if you will follow me. Your mate has a surprise for his beloved on this, your six month anniversary of … of what was it, Thete?”
“I’m still not fully on board with this mate thing,” Rose murmured at the same time that the Doctor answered his brother.
“Six month anniversary of our first coupling,” he said with a grin. “In this timeline, of course.”
“Which then makes you – you and Thete – mates, Rose.” Braxiatel said with a sigh. “Please do keep up with Gallifreyan mating protocols.” He gave her a steeled look. “Mates, mate. You have mated, so therefore you and my brother – Rassilon help you for your foolish decision to embark on such with a cretin like him – are mates.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “You make it sound so damn business-like and unfeeling.”
The Doctor took her sticky juice-stained hand in his. “Ignore his ignorance, Rose. No woman would offer her timeline to him to become mates, so he’s bitter.”
“Yes,” Braxietel drawled with a roll in his eyes. “That’s it exactly, Thete. No respectable Gallifreyan maiden will take this bitter old soul as her mate. How very observant and clever of you.”
“I think Romana has a bit of an eye for you,” Rose offered. “And she’s very lovely.”
The Doctor snorted. “Romana’s far too intelligent to be caught up with this one.”
“Indeed,” Braxiatel sighed. He finally led them to the very top of the orchard and toward a small wooden home that looked wrapped in brilliant white and grey trunked trees and rustling silver leaves. “Here we are.”
Rose’s eyes widened at the quaint little home. Like a fairy tail, this home was deep inside the trees, a small pebbled path leading to the front door with flower beds either side. Oh, she could have drawn it herself as a child with how very simple it looked on the outside: A door in the centre flanked by two large square windows with a flower box underneath. The silver leaves that grew from the top of the trees that seemed to grow around it hung down to give it a thatched look on a roof angled up high into a triangle centre.
In a word: Quaint. In two words: Absolutely perfect.
“What a gorgeous lil’ home!” she squeaked with a skip in her step. “Straight out of a Grimm tale.”
The Doctor scratched at the back of his head, a furrow in his brow. “Well. I don’t know that I’d put it that way.”
“No,” Braxietel aid with a nod. “I completely agree with her. Hansel and Gretel without the lollies all over it.”
“Not the look I was going for,” the Doctor muttered petulantly.
“Well it’s the look you managed to get,” Braxiatel muttered with a rub of his thumb and forefinger on his chin. “Have to admit, Thete, that for all the things you’re good at, arboriculture isn’t exactly one of them.”
Rose twisted her head to look at him. “What’ya mean?”
Braxiatel made a rather facetious effort to present the small home to Rose with all the grandeur of a game show hostess showing off the night’s prize. “Rose Tyler. Allow me to introduce you to your brand new home!”
Rose dropped the fruit in her hand to the floor and dropped her jaw in disbelief. “My new what?”
“Home,” Braxiatel reiterated. “Thete considered your current living conditions – on a TARDIS of all things – and determined that your future together here on Gallifrey would be more confortably shared if you had a home of your own. He arranged for a seeding about six months ago, and with some care, pruning and training of the branch growths of the Cadonwood..” He pointed to the small cottage once more. “Voila! A home worthy of the Brothers Grimm.” His eyes narrowed at the pair of wolves who were wasting no time at all in sniffing around the property and marking it as their own. “Appropriate given the new occupants, I suppose.”
“A house?” Rose was shellshocked and speechless. “But…. But… The TARDIS?”
“Oh,” the Doctor cheered as he tugged on her hand and pulled her toward the front door. “She has her own space to park and recharge. Surely you didn’t think she’d be left out of this?”
“But how is there room?” she asked with her eyes wide on the small home. “It doesn’t look big enough to have anything more’n a kitchen and a bed in it.”
He belted out a laugh. “Time Lord technology, Rose. Please. How long have you been travelling with me now?”
“Bigger on the inside, then?”
He nodded and pressed his hand against the door. “Of course it is.” He pushed, but the door didn’t budge.
“On Gallifrey,” Braxiatel offere condescendingly. “You need to pull, not push, on the front door of a home.”
“Oh,” the Doctor sang out facetiously, with an arch in his back in a excessive gesture. “I am so very glad for that bit of information, Brax. Thank you so much. My next course of action was going to be to lift it from the bottom.”
“You are, of course, very welcome, Thete” Braxiatel said with a beaming grin.
“Both of you,” Rose huffed with a shake of her head. “Children. Absolute children.” With another shake in her head she walked around the Doctor, made an exaggerated effort to pull at the door and then rolled her eyes as she stepped inside the home. When she did, she gasped again at the bright and airy way the entire home opened up..
“Magnificent” was all she could manage.
Much like the outside of the home, the inner walls looked to be constructed from trees, all shimmering marbled grey and white tree trunks. Branches arched and twisted into high fractal ceilings from which orbed lights hung. Broad windows allowed in full natural lighting that cast rays across comfortable furnishings. She strode from room to room, gasping in awe, and muttering her amazement at this place.
Finally, she returned to the pair of Time Lords that still remained at the front entrance and looked at them with utter confusion as to how and just why?
The Doctor read her surprise and grinned. “So what do you think Rose? How do you like it?”
“This? This is for me?”
“Us,” he corrected gently. “You and me. And TARDIS, and the kids, and … well … anyone else that may come along. In time. Of course.”
She blew out a breath. Still shellshocked and really not at all knowing what to say, she tucked her hair behind her ear. “I really wanna joke about how you want me to move in with you an’all, but I just … I just can’t.”
He moved toward her, worry beginning to cross his features. “Rose? Are you okay?” He looked around him. “You don’t like it,” he muttered flatly. “Too Galifreyan? I did try for a proper melting pot between our two cultures, rather than a mosaic effect.”
“I love it,” she managed weakly.
He visibly relaxed, slumping in place. “Oh thank Rassilon. For a moment there, I thought…” He grinned. “Oh, but wait until you see… and then there’s this!”
He grabbed her hand and excitedly started to show her around.
“I really did work hard to put this altogether,” he admitted with a very large helping of self pride. “And really, it was time for us both. The TARDIS in indeed a very comfortable home, but it takes considerable effort for her to constantly maintain all of the living systems for us like she has been. It’s time she had a rest. And it’s time I finally settled down in a house. A proper house – with doors, and carpets…”
Rose’s expression fell toward sadness. “A mortgage?” she queried quietly.
One side of his face crinkled up into a crease. “Well, no. Not exactly. The land was already owned by the Lungbarrow family, and the house was seeded from…” he pinched his fingers. “A tiny little seed. Like this.” He spun in place. “But with some tender care and urging, and accelerated growth hormones from the local nursery, BOOM! A house!”
“With Doors and things,” she repeated quietly. “And carpets.”
Rose lifted her eyes to his. “You don’t want this,” she warned him. “Especially not with me.”
The Doctor looked thoroughly perplexed by that. “Actually, yes. Yes I do.”
She bit her lip and shook her head. “No. You don’t. In your future, you said that having this –” She held her arms out and spun. “All this. No. That would be terrifying. You’d rather die than take on something like this…”
“The same day you told ‘em that the TARDIS was the only thing you had in the entire universe, literally the only thing.” She looked at him again. “I was standin’ right there, Doctor, while you told them I was nothin’.”
His expression hardened with annoyance toward his future, which forced her to look away. His voice remained soft, tender, and caring. “Rose. That’s not me, not yet. Don’t. Please don’t judge me for something I haven’t even done yet…”
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Thanks. Thanks for all this, Doctor. But … I can’t…” She petted his chest and ran to the front door. She knocked by Braxietel in her haste to leave. “Sorry,” she muttered pitifully.
The Doctor knew better than to run after her. Instead, he waved his hands to the wolves to shoo them out after her. “Protect her,” he demanded of them as they tore off out the front in a blue of bluish white.
“Thete,” Braxiatel breathed out with concern. “What, exactly, do you become in your future?”
“Brax” he breathed out angrily. “I don’t know … but I damn well want to find out once and for all, just what that regeneration turned me into…”