Fanfic: Look Upon This Sky.
Rating: PG, for language and themes.
Fandom: Doctor Who.
Synopsis: Mood piece; Rose Tyler begins settling onto the TARDIS, and discovers the legacy that she's become the latest heir to. No knowledge of the greater series required, spoilers for the Ninth Doctor, season one, episode one, 'Rose'.
Look and remember. Look upon this sky;
Look deep and deep into the sea-clean air,
The unconfined, the terminus of prayer.
Speak now and speak into the hallowed dome.
What do you hear? What does the sky reply?
The heavens are taken: this is not your home.
-- Karl Shapiro, 'A Travelogue for Exiles'.
She wakes up in a bed that isn't hard enough in a room that isn't hers -- not yet, anyway -- and she stares up at the ceiling and she waits to wake up for the second time, because this can't be real. Maybe he really came -- maybe; maybe the universe is big enough and crazed enough to include time travel and living plastic and boxes bigger on the inside than on the outside and some sort of a 'shadow war', whatever that was -- and maybe it wasn't a dream, but he left, didn't he? He got back into his box, and it choked like a dying blender, and he was gone, leaving her behind in a world full of people who didn't understand -- might never understand -- that they were falling through space every minute of every hour of their lives. Rose Tyler closes her eyes. He left.
The room lurches around her, buffeted by some random gust of time or space or some other relative dimension, and Rose opens her eyes again, staring up into the dimness. He left.
And then he came back.
The room lurches a second time, and Rose sits up, shoving the blankets out of the way with her feet, then grabbing them and pulling them tight around herself a bare moment later, as she realizes that she's wearing what she fell asleep in -- passed out cold in -- the night before, just her bra and slightly dingy slacks. Aliens in time-skipping boxes that come out of nowhere and turn your life upside down don't exactly wait about for you to pack, after all; she feels half-lucky that she's even been able to bring a coat along, as well as half-sure that she's gone purely insane. She can't decide whether insanity would mean she was catatonic in the front room while her mum sold the story of her tragedy to every paper in the country, or whether insanity is what puts her right here and right now, spinning through time and space with an alien; after a moment's reflection, she decides that it doesn't particularly matter. Either way, she hasn't got a thing to wear.
Still, there's this room, where the Doctor told her she could get some sleep and let things sink in; it's got a water closet, she confirmed that the night before, and there's a wardrobe. There may not be much, but there's bound to be something. Discarding the blankets, Rose rises, crosses to the wardrobe, and opens it.
Clothing greets her wondering eyes -- so much clothing, from so many, many eras, some of it pressed and hanging neatly from old-fashioned hangers, some of it jumbled in boxes or on the closet floor. Brown velvet dresses and long white lab coats; jeans that look almost new, T-shirts, blouses; frock coats and gentlemen's slacks and what looks like a stewardess's uniform. It's like looking into the costume storage of a particularly eclectic little theatre, where they bought out every thrift shop they could find, just in case they'd need it someday. There's a bundle of what looks like rabbit-fur on the floor, tied off with a thin leather cord, next to a pair of battered combat boots, a box of ace bandages, a rolled-up sleeping bag. She kneels, picking the fur packet up, and picks at the dirt-crusted knot on the cord until it comes free, the fur parts, and a knife, chipped and worn from years of use, slides out into her hands.
What sort of a place is this? There's blood on the blade, towards the bottom, caught in the imperfections of the metal. Too confused to be afraid -- and if she's being honest with herself, too curious by half -- she puts the knife down, straightens up, and brushes against the sleeve of a battered leather jacket with too many patches to be anything near weather-tight any longer. It rustles.
Rose slides her hand up into the sleeve, gingerly, half-afraid of what she'll find...but all her fingers touch is paper, and so she pulls it out, unfolds the note, and reads:
We haven't met, and that means we likely won't; none of the girls I've ever seen roaming around with the later incarnations of my Doctor have known what I was on about when I mentioned the wardrobe, so you and I, we've not met. By the time you're reading this, odds are fair that I'm long-since gone, and since I know -- I wish I didn't know, but I know -- that I out-live my best friend at least once over, the man you're travelling with both is and isn't the one I'm with today. You'll know what I mean by that soon enough. Don't let it worry you. Don't be afraid. He needs you more than he'll ever admit he does, and you need him, or you wouldn't be reading this. Take care of him. Do it for all of us. Do it for yourself, too.
You're going to hate him, so you know. You're going to hate him, and love him like a father and a brother and the man you always want but never have, and that's how it's got to be, and that's all right, because he's going to love you and hate you the same way. One of you is going to leave the other, and in the end, it's always you that leaves him, because he only stays long enough for us to learn to let him go. Sounds like rubbish, doesn't it? I suppose it is, rather, but it's still the truth. He saved me. Bet he saved you, too.
Wherever you come from, whenever you come from, you're going to be better than you could have been there and then, and worse, too. You're going to be something you never imagined, and if you're anything like me, you're going to love it. If you doubt it, take a good look in the mirror. You'll understand, when you do.
Good luck. You'll need it.
The handwriting was erratic, a little smudged, a little too large, like it had been left by someone who didn't write all that much down. Rose reads every word. Then she frowns, and turns to look at the bathroom door.
"Look in the mirror?" she says aloud, and there's no answer, because she really doesn't need one; she's standing shirtless in a strange room in a ship driven by an alien, and she's holding a mysterious note like something out of a bad television drama, and really, at that point, you don't need much of anything.
Before she can change her mind -- she's been doing a lot of that lately -- she turns, and walks into the bathroom.
It isn't large, but it's comfortable, and the fixtures are modern without being unusably streamlined; she appreciates that. The lights come on automatically as she steps inside, and she gets the feeling she couldn't burn herself on the faucet if she tried. The only thing out of place, really, is the mirror, some grotty, wood-framed thing that looks like it was bought in a charity shop. There's even a crack in one corner. She leans forward to study herself, trying to follow directions, but it's hard to focus on her own reflection -- the only thing utterly, boringly familiar in this strange new madhouse -- and her eyes catch on a smudge on the wall, instead. It's the only sign of truly poor housekeeping she's seen. It looks like charcoal. She peers closer.
It looks like an arrow. Pointing to the corner of the mirror.
Now convinced that she must have lost her mind, she reaches up, tugs the mirror's corner, and swings it smoothly away from the wall on hinges that flex without a sound. And there she finds the words. All the words, through all the years, in a dozen different hands.
It's going to be fun, but don't drink the water advises one ghost, and The best jelly babies are the red ones says another -- she can't argue with that, really -- and Pepper pots can't climb stairs, which someone has viciously underscored with YES THEY CAN. None of that makes any sense, really, and so she reads down further, where the words are smaller, falling over one another in their need to be expressed:
Take care of my grandfather, won't you?...he's a good man, he just tries too hard...the secret is the celery -- little things that seem like affectations, until they save your life...wear sensible shoes...try not to scream...screaming is good therapy...watch out for him...let him watch out for you...he'll never forget you...we'll never forget you...he can't do it without us...he can't do it alone...he always has a companion, because he needs us to remind him why he bothers, to be the small that means the large is worth fighting for...be good to him...yell at him when he's stupid...care for him...it'll be all right...make him make his own tea from time to time...be who you are...welcome. We're so glad you're finally here.
And below all the rest, written a little larger, in the hand that wrote the letter, is a simple statement that Rose knows was meant for her alone:
I was potentially here. Are you?
Swinging the mirror back flush against the wall, Rose looks at herself...
...and she smiles.