On any other occasion Rose Tyler might take offence to boisterous and drunken shenanigans occurring within eyesight of her two children. Well. Admittedly she had started to take a slight offence to it right now as the volatility of the Moonshine distilled by the Southern Mountaineer’s started to take its toll, but she was loathe to try to put any form of stop to it. These were men and women victoriously celebrating the salvation of their home and the end of a war that had raged on for almost half a millennium. They’d tire out soon enough. As it was, the bulk of the staggering, song singing, slurring drunken Gallifreyans had found a decent spot on the grass, at the kitchen table, or inside a capsule to pass out. The still-sober members of the medical teams were dutifully making the rounds of the unconscious to ensure that all of them were rolled into recovery positions. The war was finally over, and none of them wanted to have to deal with any regenerations or medical emergencies of an alcohol-induced nature…
…although Lord Phiroi had indignantly suggested that if any of them did get themselves in to such a state, then Rassilon be with them – they were on their own. He was ready to shut down operations for his team. Ready to repatriate those men and women who waited in silent stasis in the coolest part of the capsule. Ready for all of them to return home.
It was after his third annoyed rant within an Earth hour about how he hadn’t spent two centuries at the academy learning medicine to have to deal with a bunch of brainless drunken idiots too stupid to partake in their cheer responsibly, Rose hooked her arm through his and dragged him out of the capsule. She navigated him away from an unidentified putrid puddle on the floor and led him into the living room.
Romana had done her absolute best to clear out as many people as she could, but it was still bustling with excitement and cheer from the more senior members of the outpost. They were much more subdued in their cheer than the celebration beyond her kitchen door. Whiskey was still being freely poured over ice that didn’t want to melt, and wine was on offer, but their conversations fell more toward the more tactical discussions of where they would move from here, rather than simply revelling in the immediate victory.
Rose offered the eight-strong gathering with a smile as she led in her charge. Her eyes scanned the room for an appropriate place to settle the exhausted, frustrated Lord that led the medical team. She spied a space on the cushion beside where the Doctor was seated. Their daughter was slumped on his lap, with her ear against his chest in a sleep deep enough that she remained unconscious despite her father’s excited yapping and gesturing toward a fellow Time Lord seated on an armchair across the coffee table. She gave him a tender smile when he looked up at her with a grin of his own and petted the seat beside him with invitation for her to join them.
Instead of accepting his invitation, she led Phiroi toward the vacant seat. “Sit,” she urged him with a smile and a pet of his shoulders as she pushed him down onto the couch, onto the only available seat left in the room. She kept one hand on his shoulder and cupped his cheek with the other. There was a gentle look in her eyes as she gazed upon his exhausted expression. “If my kitchen is still intact and there aren’t any bodies blocking my way, I’ll put on a pot of tea.”
“That would be very much appreciated,” Phiroi breathed out thankfully. “If it’s not too much bother, of course.”
“Of course not,” she assured him. “Making tea is actually very relaxing for me.” She looked toward the corridor. “It’s the trek to the kitchen that’s the tricky part. Drunken male Gallifreyans are unfortunately very much like drunk blokes here on Earth.” She looked back to him with a smile and a shake of her head. “Very handsy. Lost count of how many slaps I’ve gotten on my backside this afternoon.” Her finger flicked up quickly at a growl from Phiroi’s side. She cast her gaze toward the Doctor and offered him a look of warning. “I can sort them on my own, Doctor. No need for you to get all territorial.”
“Do you need an escort?” he asked with a glare toward the hallway door.
“Not while you’re acting as the bed to our daughter, Doctor,” she answered with a wink. “Stay here. Cuddle with her. Chat with your fellow Time Lords. Enjoy.”
“You haven’t gotten off your feet all day,” he remarked with a pinch in his brow. “I’ve barely seen you.”
She straightened up and gave him a small smile. “Plenty of time for that, yeah? Not planning a trip in the TARDIS any time soon, are you?”
He seemed a little taken aback by that. His brows dropped into a slight frown and he spoke slowly. “Not without you, at any rate.”
“Good to know,” she said more to herself than to him as she stepped away from Phiroi and manoeuvred around the coffee table toward the hallway door. She paused beside where Romana was seated with their orphaned infant asleep on her chest. “Need anything, Romana?”
“Nothing I can ask of you,” she breathed out slowly. “But thank you.”
Rose set her hand on her friend’s shoulder. She gave her a weak smile of understanding. “He’ll come home soon enough. His hearts can’t function without you.”
Romana touched her hand to Rose’s with thanks. “I hope you’re right, Rose. I really do.” She exhaled and looked down to the snuggly little bundle against her chest. “We’re going to need him.”
An elder Lord seated next to the Doctor gave a firm nod of his head in agreement. “Indeed, Lady Romana. We are going to need his ruthlessness on our side if we are to succeed in moving forward.”
Rose lifted her head, her mouth open with understanding. “And this looks to be part of the conversation I don’t need to be part of.” She petted Romana’s shoulder with support. “Not even 24 hours to enjoy the victory, and you’re having to make plans for the next phase of things.”
“Such is the life of a former President,” Romana said with a sigh.
“Who will be President again,” the Lord declared firmly. He looked across at the gathering. “And we do need to move sooner, rather than later. Rassilon will only be distracted by this victory for a short moment.”
Rose leaned down to take the child from Romana’s arms. “I’ll put her to bed for you.” She lifted her eyes to the group as she settled the child against her chest. “You discuss what you need to. I’ll bring back tea and grab Alirra in a moment.” She looked to the Doctor. “You okay with her for a couple more minutes?”
“Yeah,” he drawled out breathily with a tilt of his head at her. “Course I am.”
“Good, be back in a minute.”
He watched her leave with a pinch of concern in his brow. His gaze shifted toward Romana, who had dropped her chair from it’s lounging lean with a flick of the lever and was now brushing off her knees with her fingertips. Her shoulders were forced high and she rolled her head on her neck. Her eyes caught his glance and she shook her head at him. “Rose is exhausted,” she said after a moment. “As we all are. Don’t read too much into her apparent aloofness toward you.”
“Hard not to,” he muttered. “When she seems to comfortable and not aloof toward the rest of you.”
“We’ve been working together for some time now,” Phiroi offered him. “Every waking moment for more than a year in her timeline. The experiences we’ve shared in that time have provided a strong bond of comradery between us.” He wasn’t at all kind nor sensitive toward the situation. “Despite you now taking stand as her mate, you’ve been gone a while. Until the two of you had your rather spectacular argument last evening, she hadn’t seen you for near-on three years.” He looked at him with a shrug. “Makes you a relative newcomer to this group, really.”
“You really don’t have that good of a bedside manner, do you?” The Doctor growled out. “Insensitivity, thy name is Phiroi.”
“At your age, I wouldn’t expect that I’d have to sugar coat it for you, Lord Doctor,” he answered flatly. “Although if you would prefer, I can certainly pet you on the head, offer you a candy stick, and tell you that it will all be okay, like I would a child.”
“Patronising as well,” he snapped in reply. His eyes slid toward Romana. “These are the types of people that you’ve had living around my wife and children during my absence?”
Her eyes shot up with warning as she sensed scathing comebacks being formed in the minds of others. “If any of you dare to make comment or continue this line of conversation, I will punish the lot of you,” she warned with a curl in her lip. Her eyes shifted to the Doctor. “At a more appropriate time, I expect you’ll have that discussion with your mate. It won’t be discussed amongst those outside of the Lungbarrow family unit.”
“Oh trust me,” he answered flatly. “There will be discussions between the entire Lungbarrow family unit.”
“I expect no less,” she breathed out impatiently. She looked toward the elder of all of the Lords. “Lord Elrald. What can you tell us about Gallifrey’s victory, and just what timeline we expect to safely start to return our refugees and outpost members?”
His brows lifted high and he looked toward the Doctor, who seemed to be more interested in the discussion than his disinterested posture suggested. “The Lord Doctor, I think, is in a better position to explain what led to the victory than I am. The actual details filtering down from the Capitol – at least what’s left of it – are spotty at best. I’ve heard several rather magnificent tales, few of which are in any way believable.”
“I don’t know that you’d necessarily believe my tale,” the Doctor offered. “I barely believe it myself.”
“The one recurring theme is that it took all Thirteen of you to pull it off,” Elrald remarked with a lift in his brows. “Which sounds utterly terrifying for me to consider.”
One side of the Doctor’s mouth curled up into a tight smile of pride, but he said nothing.
Elrald shifted his gaze back to Romana. “As to the safe return of our people…” he shrugged and shook his head lightly. “That’s still uncertain at this juncture. I might recommend temporal coordinates consistent with a forward shift of at least a year in Gallifrey’s current timeline.”
A Time Lady seated on a loveseat toward the rear of the small room lifted her hand in a delicate gesture to be heard. “With apology, Lady President,” she began. “If you don’t mind my interruption. Lady Qantilmiarilan of the Arcalian Chapter.”
Romana gave her a nod. “Please, Lady Qantil, go ahead.”
“Members of my chapter had created models to project and anticipate the damage to the ecosphere and provide an estimated recovery time.” She swallowed and drew in a breath. “Our models show a modest recovery period of ten years to a half century.” She held up her hands in a shrug. “Gallifrey’s surface is completely barren right now. Without a concerted effort to try and revitalise the lands and surfaces, nothing will survive. We’d end up a society living in bubble domes trying to to survive on hydroponic farms.”
“That’s if the waters aren’t contaminated,” the Doctor offered. “Which is unlikely.”
Lady Qantil smiled at him. “Some of our scientists have been working on a solution to that here at the outpost. They are close to a solution.”
The Doctor leaned forward, carefully repositioning Alirra on his lap. There was pure excitement and curiosity in his eyes. “Oh? Really?” His brows flicked eagerly. “I’d love to take a look at your work so far. If I can be of any assistance at all, then please ask.”
“I think I can arrange a meeting between you and my team, Doctor,” she offered with a matching smile. “It’s very exciting…”
“It is,” he agreed. “Very. Think of the possible future applications of a solution of that nature across the rest of the Kasterborous and beyond.” His eyes lifted as he considered the possibilities. “We can help counteract the damage done during the war.” His head shook slowly as a smile stretched across his face. “Brilliant.”
Elrald held up his hand in warning to the Doctor. “I wouldn’t get ahead of yourself, Lord Doctor. Rassilon isn’t going to allow the use of Time Lord technology outside of Gallifrey.”
“Who says I’d be looking for his permission?” He looked back to Qnantil. “I’d definitely love it if you could set me up with a good old thinktank session with your scientists.” He looked to the door. “Are they located here?”
“They are,” she said with a nod. “They were brought to this sanctuary very early on in the war effort, when council cancelled all scientific research in favour of the war effort.”
“Yes, yes,” Erald huffed. “Most exciting, of course, for the scientifically minded among us.” He held up his hand and twirled his finger in the air in a somewhat condescending gesture. “For those of us concerned with real issues, such as the return of our people to their homes, do your models and projections also offer insight and plans for returning almost two hundred thousand people to the surface of Gallifrey without detection – half a century after the war ended?”
“I don’t consider that to be an issue,” she argued with a smile on her face and a voice filled with sugar and honey. “Not when our Lady Romana has her seat back at the head of the Council table.” She looked to Romana. “In fact, I would expect that our Lady President will be at the materialisation pad to welcome them back home.”
Romana’s voice was soft. “While that is the preferred eventuality, we do have to set our plan for the return of our people with the possibility that Rassilon will still be President of Gallifrey,” she said with a sigh. “I can’t allow these capsules to leave this premises and be sent into the vortex if there is any risk at all that it will be Rassilon and his forces at the materialisation pad instead of me.” She passed her gaze around the room. “We all know how Rassilon feels about the outerworlders, and those not designated as Time Lord.”
Elrald agreed. “If Rassilon feels he has the opportunity to rid Gallifrey of the Outerworlders and recreate the planet as a Time Lord only society, then he’ll take it.” He shook his head with disgust. “I have no doubt at all on that.”
“He’s likely to arrange intercept and destruction of the capsules before they even leave the Vortex,” Phiroi offered darkly. “More than 80% of the people here are Gallifreyans without Time Lord designation.” He exhaled. “He’d accept a 20% collateral damage of Time Lords without a second thought about it.”
Elrald leaned back heavily in his chair and crossed his legs at the knee. “Is there any way that Cardinal Braxiatel can use his influence to mask the return of the capsules? He’s good at distraction and interference – such a deliciously deceptive Lord of Council.”
“For the time being,” Romana said with a quiet, yet firm voice. “We have to eliminate Braxiatel from any such plans.”
“For what reason?”
“Reasons that are none of your concern,” she shot back quickly. There was a flare of warning in her glare. “And he will not be brought up again without my permission, am I clear?” She shifted her eyes, noting a look of concern from the Doctor. “I am sure that you agree, Lord Doctor.”
“For the moment, yeah,” he answered. “However, when he chooses to return, I certainly wish you luck in holding him back.”
“Luck will have nothing to do with it,” she remarked with husk in her tone. “I am as unwilling to allow him to face Rassilon in his current condition as you would be with your own mate.”
“I don’t expect you’ll have much of a choice in it.” He shifted his eyes to Elrald, and then looked back at Romana. “Brax is most dangerous and unreasonable when he’s angry. Right now he’s absolutely furious. Furious and upset. If he hasn’t already rushed back to Gallifrey with Rassilon in his sights, he’s certainly not going to let you or anyone hold him back if you intend on going in yourself.”
“He hasn’t,” she replied. “And he won’t.”
“Are you quite sure of that?”
She thumbed over her shoulder toward where his capsule sat silently in Rose’s hallway. “She’s still here, Doctor. Braxiatel won’t return to Gallifrey without her.”
Elrald narrowed his eyes and looked to Romana with worry. “Just what condition has the Cardinal found himself in that he’s unable to assist?”
“I’d much rather not…”
“No longer Time Lord,” Phiroi answered, overtalking Romana with a shrug. “No longer Cardinal.”
“How in the name of Omega did that happen?”
Phiroi looked toward Romana and jumped just slightly at the aggrieved glare she had on him. He swallowed thickly. “Was that a secret? I didn’t think it was given that he made a rather spectacular scene of it when he came into my medical capsule to check on Lady Rose.”
Romana’s face tightened up into a grimace and she huffed out a breath of complete annoyance. “I expect Rassilon will make an announcement of it shortly. Use him as an example of the power he wields over us all.”
Elrald rolled his eyes and exhaled a disgusted breath. “Well, regardless of what the resurrected fool has ordered, Braxiatel is still Time Lord, and still Cardinal to all of us here.” He looked around at the gathering. “Am I correct?” He heard the sounds of agreement and looked to Romana. “So you’d best be reinstating his titles and his Time Lord status when you resume your role as President. That Lord has done far more for Mother Gallifrey than the idiot current president has done.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Romana stated softly, although there was an appreciative smile on her face. “Rassilon and his current members of council aren’t going to be that easy to usurp from power.” She looked toward Elrald with a deep inhale picking up her chest. “Are our numbers still strong? Do we still have support?”
Another Lady, one that had remained quiet, yet observant, finally joined the conversation. “My Lady President,” she said in a light voice and a cheeky smile. “The numbers that make up the resistance movement have only grown over the past century. Rassilon’s Ultimate Sanction plan really did ruffle a few feathers amongst the non-elite members of the Time Lord society.” Her eyes shifted toward the Doctor, and she did have a little bit of the hopeless expression of a dedicated fan on her face. “And with the Lord Doctor on our side, I can only anticipate a higher number of Lords and Ladies alike wanting to join.” She shuffled forward in her chair and held out her hand to him. “My Lord. We haven’t had the opportunity to meet. I’m Elriaffondichel of the Dromeian Chapter.”
He offered her his brightest smile and shifted forward to take her fingers in his. He dipped his head politely in greeting. “Elriaffondichel, it’s a pleasure.”
“Elria, please,” she offered him shyly.
“A beautiful name,” he offered her. “Statistician for the resistance, then?”
She shrugged. “Numbers,” she said with a sigh and a lift in her shoulders. “What can I say? I love numbers.”
“Oh, me too.”
Rose’s voice filtered in with light amusement as she set a cup of tea in front of Phiroi. “Oh look out,” she breezed softly to Elria. “He’ll be asking you to join him as his TARDIS companion in a minute.” She stepped in between the two, not enough to separate the hold of their hands, but enough to stand in front of the Doctor. She leaned down and wrapped her hands around her daughter’s waist. “Here, let me take her, Doctor. She should be in bed.”
He released Elria’s hand and looked up to Rose with a light tic in his eye. He shifted in his seat and pushed one hand back on the cushion of the couch in a manner to suggest he was going to stand. “Let me help you,” he offered.
“It’s okay,” she assured him with a shake of her head as she drew Alirra into her arms. Her young daughter didn’t quite wake, but she stirred enough to turn to her mother and put her arms around her neck in a practiced movement that suggested being pulled from someone’s chest was a rather regular occurrence. She bounced just lightly to settle Alirra’s legs around her hips and offered the Doctor a smile. “I’ve got it. Plenty practiced at this. Aly won’t go down unless she’s listening to her Uncle’s hearts beat under her ear.” She tucked Alirra’s head under her chin and leaned down to retrieve the Flubble Teddybear. “Good thing you showed when you did. Otherwise, I’d be dealing with a temper tantrum of cosmic proportions.”
She looked at the rest of the group with a smile. “I’ll say good night here. It’s been a long day, and I really need some sleep. Please don’t stop your plotting and planning on my account. My house is your house.”
She looked at her little girl snuffling against her collarbone in her sleep and slowly walked up the stairs toward her room. She sang a light whisper of a Gallifreyan lullaby against her hair. She kept singing it softly as she leaned down to pull back the duvet. The soft song turned to a light groan of song as she struggled to maintain her balance and draw back the blanket.
“Let me get that for you,” the Doctor offered at her side with a lean around her to pull back the duvet. He remained at Rose’s side as she gently lay their daughter in her bed and pulled the blankets up to her shoulders.
Rose dropped to place a kiss on her daughter’s temple. She spoke a gentle series of Gallifreyan syllables against her hair and then rose to a stand and watched the Doctor do the same. The words he whispered against his daughter’s hair were slightly different to the ones said by Rose, but they were just as precious. She waited for him to rise back up to his full height and touched him lightly on his arm. “They’re glad to have you home,” she said softly.
He watched his sleeping daughter and let Rose’s words swirl for a second inside his mind. He replayed the rest of the evening in his mind and spoke quietly without looking at her.
“Of course I am,” she whispered in reply far too quickly for him to take total comfort in her affirmation. He inhaled a breath and held it a moment. “Are you? Glad to be here, I mean.”
He turned to her then, looking at her face shadowed in the darkness of the room. He couldn’t read her expression, but he saw that she was looking at Alirra and not him. “It’s all I’ve wanted since the day you left.”
She exhaled lightly through her nose and gave a light nod. Without further words, she turned to walk from the room. He was close behind her, much closer than she was currently comfortable with. She waited in the hallway for him to close the door behind then to just a small crack and then turned to him. There was sadness in her eyes.
“In our case, it was you who left us,” she admitted. “Well. Were taken from us at any rate.” She inhaled deeply. “Semantics, I suppose you’d say.”
“I really wouldn’t,” he corrected her gently. He held off remarking on how her leaving him was her decision, his leaving was something completely out of his control. He had no desire to start a row with her right now – and he knew beyond all doubt it would start one. She didn’t exactly appear to be in quite the euphoric condition that he had expected her to be when he returned. If anything, she appeared almost numb to it…
“I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she interrupted his thoughts. At his look of surprise, she tapped her temple. “You’re a bit out of practice in shielding,” she advised him. “Not used to the marriage bond and how much it reveals.” Her eyes lifted. “Been more than four hundred and fifty years since you were held to one of these.” Her eyes fell back to him. “Where I’ve been bound by it since the day we forged it.”
“And you’re shielding?”
She shrugged. “Had to, really. The pain of the tear, it was …” she exhaled with a shudder. “Brax taught me how to suppress it. Suppose it’s instinct now to keep myself shielded. Takes more effort now to drop the shields than to hold them up.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” he pleaded softly. “It would help me know how you feel.” He held out his arms either side of him. “I’m trying to sense it, to know how you feel right now, but Rose. I’m floundering here.”
She looked at him. “Yes, Doctor,” she said with a slight waver in her voice. “I am happy that you’re home. For them…” She looked at the children’s bedroom doors, and then back to him. “And for me.”
He stepped toward her with a somewhat timid forward movement and touched his hands to her waist. She flinched just slightly at his touch, and immediately he snapped his hands away. “When my touch makes you do that,” he said sadly. “I struggle to believe it.”
She sniffed wetly against the butt of her hand and swallowed thickly as she looked upward. It was clear to him that she was fighting off tears. After a moment of obviously thinking about what to say next, she lowered her head. “I’m just scared right now, Doctor,” she admitted. “And I don’t even know why. All I’ve wanted is for you to come home to us. And now that you have…” She looked at him and let a tear fall from her lashes. “I don’t know what do to.”
“Need to sleep on it, I suppose,” he croaked out as helpfully as he could.
“Yeah,” she drawled on a whisper. “Think it might be a good idea. Much as I want to rip all your clothes off, throw you on the bed and make up for lost time…”
“I really don’t see anything wrong with that particular course of action,” he ventured with a cheeky smile and a waggle in his brow in the hope to draw a smile from her.
She gave him a smile and a roll in her eyes. “Tempting.”
“I’m right here,” he offered her. “Yours for the taking.”
Her amused expression shifted back to pain and she let out a breath. “I really don’t think I’m ready for it right now,” she admitted. She circled her finger around her ear. “There’s still so much goin’ on up here. I’ve still got questions, Doctor. So many of them.”
“You’ll let me help you answer them, yeah?” he asked her with a pinch in one brow. “You won’t try and struggle through it alone.”
She smiled weakly and gave him a nod. “Yeah.” Her eyes drifted to the stairs. “You can park the TARDIS next to Brax’s capsule. Probably the only spot left to park yet another time ship in my house.” She let out a quiet laugh. “Best you get Romana to set the coordinates the first time and set it on, like a speed dial or something in the old girl. With your piloting skills, we might not see you for the next year, then another year, then another one after that.”
He couldn’t even halfway laugh at that. “I’m not planning on going anywhere, if that’s what you’re worrying about,” he vowed as he set his hands on her hips again. Thankful when she didn’t flinch this time. Boldened to move closer when she lightly curled her hands around his arms, he stepped closer to her. He lightly dipped his head, moving in close so that his whispered words puffed out against her lips. “Stuck with me, Rose. That’s not so bad, yeah?”
Her hands tightened around his biceps, holding him back from closing the distance between them. “I – I’m going to bed,” she managed to say in a voice that showed confidence in her decision. “Let’s talk in the morning when I … when I’ve slept on it.” Her eyes lifted to his. He hadn’t yet moved from the position of nearing to kiss her. “That okay?”
“Yeah,” he drawled on little more than a whisper. “Just. First. Come here.” He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her in for a quick hug. He tucked her head underneath his chin and looked through wide eyes, to scared to let them blink closed and maybe release a teeny tiny tear that he knew was gathering strength in the corner of his eye. “I’ll still be here when you wake, Rose. I promise you that.”
She chuckled against his chest. “With plotting and planning and evil governments to overthrow, Doctor? I don’t imagine they’d be able to get rid of you.”
“It’s a minor incentive, I suppose,” he said with a sniff and a shrug when she pulled out of his arms and petted her hands on his chest, one set of fingers against each of his hearts. He brought his hands up to hold her hands flat against his chest. “They’re still yours. They still beat for you. Like they always have.”
She rolled up onto her toes and kissed his cheek. “I love you too, Doctor.” She stepped back, her hands still on his hearts. Slowly she pulled back her hands and held one at her chest and used the other to open her bedroom door. “My heart – inferior though it may be compared to the Time Lord one – beats for you. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Rose,” he replied softly when she disappeared around the door and closed it behind her. “It’s the Time Lord one that’s inferior,” he breathed to the door. He walked forward and pressed his forehead against the wood, letting out a solemn sigh. “So much so they had to give us two of them.”
He remained in a lean against the door for a few moments, just contemplating the brief conversation they’d had, and fearing the one that would come the following morning. He had to exhale his worries. Whatever path tomorrow took them, he’d handle it. If Rose needed time, he’d give her that time…
…And if really wanted to be honest with himself. He didn’t know if he was quite ready for it himself. He said as much to Donna a little over a day ago. He and Rose – they had a bit to work through together before they could steamroll themselves back into complete marital bliss.
His mind snapped toward a low-toned argument taking place downstairs. Oh yes. That’s right. Plotting and planning and evil governments to overthrow… Best he get back to it, then.