Character/Pairing: Doctor (Nine and Ten), Rose
Rating: a very safe PG
Summary: In which we learn the very beginnings of a certain tradition, and how the beginning can take us far into the future. A 'Sonnets Writ in Skin' story.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: I took a bit of a step back with this part in the story, going to when the Doctor and Rose first started their inking tradition (I wanted to write with Christopher Eccleston's face in my head - a lovely thing to do, let me tell you!). I'm still a bit iffy about Nine's voice here, so any critical comments would be a great help to improve this piece. As always, prior knowledge of the Sonnets stories are a necessity, all available here.
And also as always, many many thanks to paiger1218 for her beta work and just in general for putting up with my fic rambling monday nights after chorus practice. Love you hon! :)
Cookies to anyone who can guess where the title came from...however be warned that it may reveal that I am a true dork at heart. ;) Thanks for reading, and enjoy the story!
Circles We Trace
Rose Tyler is not the biggest fan of libraries. If she was in one while in school, it very rarely had something to do with anything academic. She just always seemed to have better things to do with her time than spend it with some musty old books. So when they arrived at Alexandria, a 50th century intergalactic library named after the famed one of old Earth history, Rose leaves the Doctor in the basement, shoulder deep in some dusty old tomes conversing with some professor, and takes a wander to one of the higher levels.
Up above, the library is far more impressive than the gloomy basement. There is an atrium built from a shining white alien marble, gleaming in the sunlight that beams in from the massive arched windows. The atrium soars up at least seven stories, and attached to every wall at varying heights are a multitude of little platforms. Each platform has a different genre of book on it, and those platforms number in the thousands Rose figures at first glance. The platforms are linked by staircases, white marble staircases twisting and arching every which way, that would make M.C. Escher pant with delight.
Rose moves lazily to one of the computer catalogues, poking at the directory. A universe’s worth of information at her fingertips, but she can’t think of a thing to look up. As her hands hover over the keyboard, she catches sight of the faint ink marks on the back of her left hand – the leftover traces of where the Doctor had scrawled her name in his native tongue. And suddenly she knows just what to look for. She thinks it’ll be a nice treat for the Doctor, to see if she could find a book in his language, even if it is the Gallifreyan equivalent of Green Eggs and Ham.
She pulls up the language guide, scrolling through it to find the section for texts in Gallifreyan. Rose frowns, a bit puzzled. It should be right there, between Galliardo and Galmatic, but there’s nothing. She scans through it again, hoping to find something but to no avail. It appears that the language doesn’t exist. On a whim she heads back to the main menu and plugs ‘Time Lords’ into the search engine. To her surprise there are only a few texts about them, and all to be found in the ‘universal legends and myths’ section. She prints out the directions to that platform, and sets off to find it.
The platform she’s looking for is one of higher up ones, and by the time Rose reaches it her lungs burn with the exertion. It’s a lovely view though, she realizes, with the atrium and its platforms filled with a rainbow of books on her right, and a massive arched window on the left, letting in white sunlight that makes all of the white marble shine. “Glad I wore a white shirt today,” she murmurs, looking down at her white t-shirt with a small smile.
There is a table and chairs on each platform for the studious souls, but after Rose grabs the books referred to on her card she settles down on a chaise lounge, covered in embroidered white upholstery and framed in a pale beige wood, intricately carved. She leans back and cracks into the books, eager to learn a little more about the Time Lords.
Unfortunately the books are a bit of a disappointment. She’s learned more about the Time Lords during the Doctor’s rants after he nicks himself shaving. This is beyond legends, this is total fiction – at least legends have that vital element of truth in there that gives them their awe. And while she’s heard of the Daleks and knows that they did in fact exist (and has had the pants scared off her by one), she highly doubts that the Time Lords used interpretive song and dance to defeat them in the Time War. The Time War itself is relegated to legend status, a horror story to tell around intergalactic and futuristic campfires. All the books assume that it did happen at one point, but that all of the participants have long since passed into dust. It’s a chilling feeling, despite the bright sun coming in through the windows, and she puts the books down on the floor, taking a moment to rub her hands up and down her arms.
Rose glances out over the atrium again, her eyes landing on a patch of darkness on one of the platforms below her. She smiles, realizing that it’s the Doctor standing there in his leather and jeans and sticking out like a sore thumb in this place, and he’s looking for her. She waves her arm out over the banister, making sure to catch his eye. He nods at her and darts up the nearest staircase. She follows him with her eyes until he disappears from sight a few platforms below.
Eventually she sees his head bob up the stairs leading to her platform, with the rest of him soon following. He smiles at her, and drags a chair over from the table to sit down on. “What’re you reading?” he asks, sparing a bare glance at the stack on the end of the chaise.
“Legends about the Time Lords, or so they say.” Rose nudges the books a bit disrespectfully with her trainer, giving them a smirking glance. “Apparently you defeated the Daleks with interpretative song and dance.”
“I wish,” the Doctor commented, giving the books a sour look.
“And then there was the thing about the vampire…”
“Actually I think that one’s true.” Rose stares at him, watches as the manic grin spreads across his face. “So what spurred on this desire to know all about the Time Lords? Because I can guarantee you have a much more accurate source of information a lot closer.”
Rose grins at him. “You think you’re so impressive, huh?”
“I meant the TARDIS, but yes, I am that impressive.” He gives the books another disdainful glance. “Those things are the equivalent of Hello! magazine for this time period.” His eyes go back to Rose. “But seriously, why the sudden interest in Time Lord history?”
Rose chews on her thumbnail, slightly embarrassed to admit this one. Eventually she decides to just come out with it. The worst he could do is laugh, right? “I was trying to see if I could find a book – for you – in your original language.” She holds up her left hand, briefly flashing him the fading ink marks on the back of it. “Just thought you’d like it,” she shrugs.
“I appreciate the gesture but you’re not going to find anything here, even in this massive library.” The Doctor shifts in his seat, bracing his forearms on his legs as he looks at her. “The Time Lords were beyond insular – all most of them did were monitor the comings and goings of people, making sure they didn’t mess around with time too badly. They hated to get their hands dirty though, didn’t want to get involved with the so-called lesser species, so they didn’t mingle and none of their books survived, not even here at Alexandria. It’s just what I’ve got back on the TARDIS.”
“So no one else remembers the language except for you?” Rose asks.
“Give or take a few people, yeah.” Something inside of her suspects he’s lying. There’s a far off look in his eyes, a pained remembrance of something that has seared him right down to his soul. Maybe it’s that look that makes the next few words slip out of her mouth.
“Why don’t you teach me then?”
“Teach you Gallifreyan?” The look the Doctor gives her is undecipherable, however she suspects the words ‘stupid ape’ are floating through his brain right now.
“Yeah,” she continues, not quite sure why. “That way when I’m old as dirt and retired on some little moon off of, I dunno, some peaceful planet that’s far away from Earth, I can tell my kids and grandkids that once upon a time I knew a real life Time Lord, that they’re not just legends, and that I was lucky enough to learn a little bit of his language.”
(Rose has no idea about where the future is going to lead her. Little does she know it is going to be harder than she ever imagined, and more brilliant than she ever dreamed.)
She can’t tell if he’s flattered or not by her idea. His face is still a mystery, eyes boring deep into hers. “I don’t want to be remembered,” he eventually says, an edge to his voice. “I just want to go about my own business, doing what I can.”
“I’m not talking ‘bout remembering you specifically, although don’t think I’m gonna forget ya anytime soon.” An impossibility, she knows. Even in this short time he’s shown her so much, and she’s never forgetting him. “But someone’s gotta remember the Time Lords as being real, and not just these dusty old legends,” she waves a hand at the stack of books on the end of the chaise, laying there quite innocently. “And it might as well be me. Got first hand experience with ya, after all.” She smiles at him in that way of hers, tongue just poking through white teeth.
This time he looks so hard at her she almost shrinks back against the chaise, as if a storm’s coming her way. Finally, he says, “You’d really do that?” a strange glint in his eyes and she can swear that he’s almost smiling.
“Yeah,” she says, and can’t think of any reason why she shouldn’t.
The Doctor stands up, but still keeps his eyes on her. “I’ve got an idea. Stay here just a mo’.” He turns and runs back down the staircase, the big black bull barreling through the white marble china shoppe.
Rose, however, isn’t inclined to stay still. She hauls herself off the chaise and moves to the stairs, taking a few slow steps down. She pauses and glances around, seeing the Doctor on another platform. He shoots her a glare. ‘Stay there!’ he mouths, pointing at her. She rolls her eyes but can’t help smile just a little, and, feeling like a very petulant child sits down right there on the stairway. Well, he did tell her to stay put.
It’s a bit awkward, sitting on the stairs. She fields glares from a few scholarly sorts, who seem to think that she’s being disrespectful to these hallowed halls by staying on the stairs twiddling her thumbs. She grins nervously as they walk past her. She notices though that none of them stay on the platform that contains the info about the Time Lords – they just walk right past them on the way to somewhere else. There’s something symbolic in that.
Finally the dark form of the Doctor comes back into sight, with something clutched in his hand. He doesn’t say anything, just walks steadily towards her with an odd glint in his eyes. It unnerves her a slight bit, but she knows she trusts him more than anything, even after knowing him such a short time. “So what’s your idea?” she asks. The looks from the passing by patrons obviously don’t seem to bother him at all, he just grins and waves at them as he perches on the stair below her.
“This.” He places a small glass bottle on the step next to her. The glass is clear, and the bottle smooth and rounded with no sharp edges on it, and it’s filled with a viscous dark fluid, almost like nail polish, she thinks, but not as shiny. Captured shadows, that’s what it looks most like to her, she thinks rather whimsically. “There’s a tradition the Zidraxians have, instead of writing things down in books. They’re still more of a tribal culture in certain aspects. What they do instead of putting their stories in books is store them in a person.”
“In a person?” Rose repeats, thinking it sounds just a bit painful.
“Well, on their skin rather. The shaman picks out the chosen one, who is then marked with all of their stories and traditions. They use this – “ The Doctor picks up the bottle of ink and dangles it in front of Rose’s face “ – to record it there. It’s not your -normal ink, there’s –“ he pauses, searches for the right words but then shrugs it off “- well, it’s lots of technical stuff about genetic codes and things like that. It’s almost like a chameleon’s skin, you can make anything that’s written with this ink blend in with your normal skin tone until you want it to look like ink. Good for keeping secrets, that’s for sure. But it is permanent, once this goes on you it’s not coming off.”
“Could we make it so that you could decide when you want to see them too?” Rose asks. This is for him, isn’t it? It wouldn’t make sense if he couldn’t see them when he needed to also. She can’t tell, but the Doctor seems a bit taken aback by her statement. He shouldn’t be though; more than anything else she wants him to be able to remember his home.
(It’s not that. It’s that she would place such trust in him involving her body, the one thing that is all hers. She’s young and innocent in the eyes of the universe, and part of him feels old and lecherous to be presented with such an opportunity. Mostly though, which is even stranger to him, he feels honored by her request. Worlds could rise at his hand, be saved and fall by his words, but if he were to lose her? Strange didn’t even begin to cover it.)
“Yeah, it’s possible,” he eventually says, his face mellowing out and looking at her calmly once more. “So what do you say?”
Rose takes the bottle of ink from his hand and stares at it as if it held the secrets of the universe. Maybe it does, she thinks with a mental giggle. It’d be a risk, for certain, but isn’t that all part and parcel of being human? The desire to run, jump, fly, and fall, damn the consequences. She hands the Doctor back the bottle. “Yes,” she says, a soft smile on her face. She holds out her hand to him, the left one with the faded traces of biro on the back.
(Somewhere in the trousers of time a small split develops, a thread leading to a new leg, and the future, ever changing, changes again.)
The Doctor takes her hand and, with the other, pulls the metal stopper from the glass. He dips the stylus in the ink, as if it’s an old fashioned feather quill, then removes it, shaking off a stray bit of ink. He holds the stylus right above her skin, and his eyes dart back to hers. “Last chance to stop,” he says.
She shakes her head again, still smiling down at him. “Go on,” she drawls, “or are ya scared?”
(Oh yes, is he scared. But when she looks at him with that trust in her eyes he can’t even think to tell her about the slightest bit of fear.)
“No turning back then,” he quips, and brings the stylus to meet skin.
The ink is cool and slick on her hand, but there’s a slight tingle, and she holds back the urge to shiver. The ink glitters in the light reflecting off the marble, like stars in the dark night of the universe. The Doctor traces over the old biro marks of her name and she sees the ink soak into her skin, melding with her and becoming permanent. His writing is so strong and so sure, as if he knows exactly who he is and what he’s doing. Within moments he’s done, and the stylus moves off of her skin. “There you go,” he says. “Flex your hand.”
Rose curls her fingers into a loose fist and watches as the ink fades and shifts to look like her skin, so much so that she can’t see the slightest trace of it. She knows it’s there, can still feel the slick tingle on her hand, but no one can see it anymore. Now that’s cool. She stretches her fingers out and sees the ink marks flourish back, and grins down at them.
“Eventually you’ll be able to make them visible with just a thought,” the Doctor says, watching her as she watches the ink. “When we get back to the TARDIS I’ll do things up so that I can make them visible as well.”
(He won’t tell her just yet that the only way to make it so that he’s able to see the marks whenever he wants is by touch. He’ll give her some time to think about it. She’ll accept it though, he finds out in the future, without hesitancy and with, dare he say it, possibly great love. But it’s far too early for that. He’s only known her barely a few weeks, she couldn’t feel like that already. Why would she feel that way about him anyway?)
“Okay.” She’s still staring with fondness at the marks, stroking a fingertip over the circles.
“Come here,” he says, grabbing her hand back once more.
“Hey!” she cries, so absorbed in staring at the ink on her hand that his sudden movement makes her jump just a little bit.
“One more word,” the Doctor grins at her, that slightly manic grin that makes her doubt his sanity for the briefest moment. “Bit of a puzzle, give you something to figure out when we’ve got a bit of downtime.”
(Is he taking liberties with her already? But he wants to do this, wants to give her this gift of a word. It’s a nonsensical word, has no meaning at all to them, but it’s pretty. Maybe that’s enough.)
“Downtime? Us?” Rose says, a healthy and well-merited dose of skepticism in her voice. She meets his glare with a cheeky grin of her own, and just watches as he scrawls on her skin again. This time the circles are a little looser, clustered together to make a shape like a comet’s tail right below the larger circle of her name. It swoops across the back of her hand, like a ribbon of black lace.
“There,” the Doctor says, dropping the stylus once more and tracing the fresh marks with his index finger. “It says ‘La Serenissima,’” he elaborates.
“That’s lovely,” Rose sighs, eyes once more glued to her hand. “What’s it mean?”
“It translates as ‘the serene one’, and it’s a place on your tiny little planet, but that’s all I’m giving you. You’ve got to use your ape brain to figure the rest of it out.” The fond look on his face belies his sharp words though, and Rose knows it.
“The serene Rose,” she murmurs, putting the two marks together. She isn’t a serene person by nature, never has been, but it’s worthwhile advice.
(She’s changing already, becoming someone different than who she was the day before she met the Doctor. Maybe she’s becoming the person she was always meant to be.)
She smiles at him, face shining in this place of marble and glass and books. “Thank you,” she says, grasping his bare hand with her inked one and squeezing tight.
* * *
That night – or what passes for night on the TARDIS – Rose dreams.
She’s sitting on another stairway, influenced, no doubt, from their visit to Alexandria earlier that day. This stairway looks far different from Alexandria as well, dustier and older and, dare she say it, almost more Earthly. The stone steps and walls are more of a brownish sand color, with a sluggish golden light shining through the gothic arches that line the wall to the right of her, stretching the entire length of the stairway. Her dream imagines that those arches overlook a great hall, maybe a dance hall in a magnificent old palace, and that soft light is from thousands of candles that chase the shadows away.
As she sits there on the steps, she can feel yards and yards of fabric pooling around her legs. The bottom flows like a ball gown, but she knows she’s wearing a sari, just like the ones Mrs Reddy always wears at the corner newsstand, but far more elegant than the older woman’s every day wear. The fabric is a rich gold, brighter and more vibrant than what’s coming from the great hall, and embroidered with small cocoa brown blossoms. What intrigues her about this outfit is the edging on the sari, a deep blue that reminds her of the TARDIS. Maybe that’s why she picked out this specific outfit. She has a carnival mask lying across her lap, a riotous mass of black and brown feathers shot through with metallic gold lace and delicate beading.
The most intriguing thing is the man sitting a couple of steps below her, staring at her as if there’s nothing more important to him in the universe than her. She doesn’t recognize the man. He’s skinny, possibly tall, and is wearing a slim-cut tuxedo. His legs are curled up a bit, and she can see that he’s wearing the most god-awful pair of trainers with the tux. Must be a costume ball then, she thinks. He’s got his own mask on, simple black satin that obscures most of his eyes and nose. Pale skinned, he is, with dark brown hair poking out in all directions. Rose looks down again, and sees his hand grasping her left one, his thumb stroking over the very visible ink marks on the back of it.
Rather suddenly the man whips his mask off, revealing more pale face with big brown Bambi eyes staring right out her. His lips move, saying something, but there’s a sound like rushing wind in her ears and she can’t understand. There’s something so familiar about those eyes though, something she hasn’t seen for years in stuck in that universe so far, far away, deep and old, and all she wants to do is fall right into them and keep falling.
The urge to fall...
And then she wakes up. She shakes her head blearily, images of the dream fading back into muted colors and lost images. It’s no matter though - the Doctor’s planning to take her somewhere amazing today and she’s looking forward to it more than anything. She gets absorbed in the morning routine, getting ready to go on another adventure. She’s so focused on what’s coming ahead of her that she forgets the little task the Doctor set to her the day before, slipping out of her brain just like the dream.
* * *
Years (many, many years, new faces, new wrong universes, losses and gains and all of the fears and pains and loves and joys that make up life) pass before Rose realizes the significance of that second word the Doctor inked on her. She’s leaning over the edge of a vaporetto, with her sister Gemma on one side of her and a few friends on the other (it’s amazing that even with all of her travels she still finds friends, and these women are some of the best friends she’s ever had. It’s a lovely feeling) with the cold salt-spray from Venice’s Grand Canal blowing back into her face. There’s a feeling in the air, one she hasn’t felt in a long while, but could never forget it. She may be wrong, but her intuition is telling her she’s right on the mark – he’s close. So close, and finally it’s time. She smiles into the wind.
One of her friends looks out at the city, sees the blue sky speckled with a few wispy clouds like one of those artistic pieces of glass Venice is famous for, and then turns to Rose. “What are you grinning like a loon about?” she asks, faint puzzlement written on her brow.
“Can’t you feel it?” Rose says, just loud enough to be heard over the engines of the vaporetto and the clamor of people on the boat with them. Her grin grows wider and she laughs, a laugh all full of joy, as she turns her face to feel the sun’s rays on it. “There’s a storm coming.”