Unfinished Business, Doctor Who, Dr. Who, Chris Eccleston, Christopher Eccleston, Doctor who Fiction

Christmas was just a memory as December 31st rolled around but the TARDIS was still parked by the back wall of the yard by the flats. Even the local kids no longer thought of it as strange any more. It was part of the scenery, as was its owner, who they just thought of as the nice bloke with the funny accent that likes to kick a football about with them.

It hadn’t been such a bad couple of weeks, The Doctor reluctantly admitted. Domestic wasn’t so bad when it was on his own terms. Rose stayed up late every night watching cheesy movies and drinking cheap wine with her mum. But at bedtime she always kissed Jackie goodnight and came down to the TARDIS, where she slept on the cabin bed with the console’s green glow as a comforting nightlight.

The Doctor rarely slept. He renewed his body with periods of deep, slow meditation. For much of the long nights when she was asleep he sat up on top of the flats looking out over London and letting his mind drift among the sleeping consciousnesses of the city. It was something he used to do a lot when he was a young Time Lord and had spent some time in Victorian London. He didn’t read minds. Rather he read the emotions of the people as they slept or lay awake, excited, worried, aroused, sleepy, happy, sad, angry, content. Humans still intrigued him even after seven hundred years of studying them. He loved them, all humanity in general, and one Human in particular.

That particular Human, his Rose, was still sleeping when he slipped in after spending the night up on the roof. He went to check on her and, knowing that she was asleep he dared to kiss her on the lips in the slow, lingering way he rarely did when they were both awake.

“You’re so cold.” He was shocked when she stirred in her sleep and reached out her hand to touch his face. “You’ve been outside all night. And you didn’t even notice how cold you got.”

“I didn’t feel it,” he said.

“I can.” She replied. “Come here, come beside me and let me warm you.”

“Rose….” He pulled back from her cautiously.

“Just to hold you,” she said. “Come on, you soppy article.” She squeezed his hand and he made his mind up. He kicked off his shoes and threw off his jacket before slipping between the blankets beside her. She was very warm as she enclosed him in her arms. He WAS very cold and hadn’t even noticed. It wouldn’t do him any harm, of course. His body could take it perfectly well. He WASN’T human, after all. Even his normal body temperature was nearly twenty degrees cooler than hers, but she didn’t usually notice. When they cuddled together, he regulated his skin temperature so that he felt ‘normal’ for her.

“We were at the North Pole not so long since,” he reminded her. “THAT was cold.”

“So Time Lords don’t catch pneumonia?” Rose asked as she hugged him close and shivered a little when her bodily warmth was exchanged with his icy coldness.

“No, we don’t. We don’t get any human diseases except measles for some reason. And I had that when I was seventy-nine.”

“Serve you right if you caught your death of cold, you soft effort.”

Although, she thought, being able to look after him while he was just ill enough to need her, without being so ill as to scare the living daylights out of her, would be rather nice. It was nice now, holding him, when he was a little vulnerable and needed her comfort. She snuggled close to his chest. His hearts were so slow. That was how he did it - his body just sort of took a time out while his mind roamed free.

That was some kind of freedom. She envied him that much of his strangeness. The things he was able to do just with his mind.

“I wish I still had the psychic connection with you. “It was nice knowing what you’re thinking.”

“Dangerous knowing what I’m thinking. I think too many things.” What he was thinking now as he pressed himself close to her he definitely didn’t want anyone knowing, least of all her. “This is dangerous, too,” he said. “Because I like it too much.”

“So do I. We can’t make a habit of it. We might start to think we’re in love.”

“We ARE in love. I just don’t dare make love to you.” He did as much as he DID dare, putting his arms tight around her and holding her close. She responded in kind. “We’ll always be together, my Rose.”

Of that he was far more confident these days. The fact that they had been ‘parked’ for so long now and she still regarded the TARDIS as her home was a big indicator that he had nothing to fear. She was his. Nothing and nobody could take her from him.

He didn’t kiss her much, even though they were cuddled so intimately together. He pressed her head against his shoulder and kissed her on the forehead once. But even if his lips were out of bounds there were other places she could reach. She pressed her mouth against his neck where the v-necked sweater left it exposed. The honey taste of his Gallifreyan skin fascinated her. Leisurely she kissed all over his neck and pushing the sweater back a little she licked her tongue over his shoulder and closed her lips over the flesh, sucking at the sweetness until she had achieved a rather interesting love bite. He laughed at her disappointment when it disappeared almost straight away.

“You can’t put your mark on a Time Lord that easily,” he said.

“I just love the way you taste. It’s like candy floss.”

The Doctor laughed and ruffled her hair with his hand as she buried her face in his neck and shoulder again. What she was doing felt nice. Her tongue against his flesh was delightful. It was another classic irony that his most stoic and self-restrained race were more ticklish when touched in that way than the most sensitive human.

They were still cuddling up together, lazily and self-indulgent, half an hour later when the console suddenly blew up. The Doctor covered Rose protectively as pieces of circuit board flew through the air. She heard him mutter a string of words the TARDIS was not in a position right now to translate but which may have been Gallifreyan profanities.

“Oh, WHAT!” he cried, leaping from the bed and crossing the floor in a few strides. Rose emerged slowly, picking up his jacket and bringing it to him. He put it on and reached, as he always did in a crisis, for his sonic screwdriver.

She looked at the console and was seriously alarmed. One whole section of the hexagon was a burnt out mess. He was already pulling pieces of motherboard and circuitry from it in a kind of frenzy. Rose went to get dressed. Bunny pyjamas just didn’t seem the right clothes for the occasion. When she returned he had the entire side of the console in pieces, many of them burnt pieces, and was writing a long inventory of the damaged parts.

“We’re lucky,” he said. “This is expensive rather than terminal. If the time-space drive or navigation were damaged the TARDIS would be going nowhere. It’s the computer hard drives that have fried. Along with every piece of circuitry that connected them.

“What made it do that when we’re just parked up and the engines OFF?” Rose asked. “What could do that?”

“No idea,” he said. “Might find out when I fix it. Come on, get your coat. We need a trip to Gary’s Electronics Boutique!”

“You’re kidding!” Rose laughed. “You can really fix the TARDIS with components from a computer nerd’s shop?”

“Well, I don’t think Gary would have a logic circuit or a replacement chameleon chip, and I know for sure he hasn’t got a spare Eye of Harmony. But I can fix the onboard computer with ordinary stuff.”

Gary clearly thought Christmas had come around again when he viewed the list The Doctor handed him. He blinked at it and seemed to be calculating the cost in his head.

“It’ll take a while to find everything, Sir.” The Doctor smiled at the “Sir,” bit. Gary was one of the people he had been friends with in the alternative universe where he was the life and soul of the Lamb and Flag pool team.

Gary disappeared into his back room and they were left standing by the counter. Rose amused herself for a while by looking at the range of new plasma screens Gary had on display along one wall and wondering if she could persuade The Doctor to buy one to replace the old viewscreen.

The shop door opened and she saw Mickey Smith come in, slightly clumsily as he was carrying the ‘tower’ from his computer, the one he had once used to hack into Britain’s defence systems and save the world, Rose remembered.

“Rickey,” The Doctor said. He was bored hanging around and so slipped into tease mode as soon as he saw Mickey. “What brings you here?”

“Computer blew up,” Mickey said, ignoring the ‘Rickey’ bit. “Where’s Gary?”

“He’s a bit busy at the moment,” The Doctor said, “What do you mean it blew up? What did you do to it?”

“I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t even NEAR it. I was in bed about half past nine. And suddenly it went bang.”

“About half nine?” Rose looked at The Doctor and he raised an eyebrow. He was definitely thinking the same as she was. That was the SAME TIME as the TARDIS computer blew its fuses.

“Here, let’s have a look,” The Doctor took his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and unfastened the side of the tower. Rose smiled. “What?”

“Its not often I see the sonic screwdriver unscrew something.”

The Doctor laughed. But when he had the panel off his eyes turned serious. “You’re right, Mickey. Nothing you could do would create this much damage. This was caused by a massive power spike. EVERYTHING is fried. Motherboard, processor, drives, even your floppy is melted.”

“I can’t even get the data off my drives?” Mickey looked very upset. “Every picture I ever took of Rose is on there. My only reminder of her when you’re away gallivanting around the universe.”

“I’m afraid the moral of that is ‘back-up’, Mickey,” The Doctor said, not unsympathetically, although it was news to him that Mickey still cared enough for HIS Rose to keep pictures of her in his computer. He was about to say something else when the shop door opened again and a man came in carrying another computer tower. Gary was still busy in the back where he kept his inventory, so The Doctor lined it up on the counter next to Mickey’s and opened it up. The damage was identical. When two more people struggled into the shop he began to suspect a definite link. By the time Gary emerged with a large box there were a dozen customers, none of whom he would be able to help. Not one single component inside their computers was going to be salvageable.

“Do you want a lift?” Mickey asked them as they emerged from the shop presently. He pointed to a mustard yellow late 1990s Ford Fiesta parked nearby. The Doctor wondered when Mickey managed to get his life and his finances together enough to own the nice Audi he had in the not too distant future. But he accepted the offer. He didn’t REALLY fancy lugging the box all the way back to the TARDIS. He put the box on the front seat while he and Rose sat in the back together. He wanted Mickey to be QUITE clear about who was with whom.

The radio was on and the local DJ was rather over-excited about the news coming in of what they were calling ‘the millennium bug come late’. Apparently over a five mile square area of North London EVERY computer, whether home, business, or more worryingly, ambulance control and the fire department, blew their mother boards at nine-thirty this morning.

“What the hell could do that?” Mickey asked. “Doctor…do YOU have any idea?”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “Lightning sometimes does that, but it wouldn’t do that MANY and anyway the skies were clear this morning. An Electronic Magnetic Pulse would kill the microchips but wouldn’t FRY things like it has. And anyway, that would do everything. You’d be sitting at home in the dark watching your deep freeze defrost. BESIDES, the TARDIS wouldn’t be affected. We’ve been through plasma storms and supernovas without even a scratch to the paintwork.”

“Something that can affect the TARDIS – that’s a scary thought,” Mickey said.

“I agree,” The Doctor replied. He WAS worried. Mickey had put his finger on the problem. WHAT could damage the TARDIS as well as cause so much localised devastation.

“You got a street map there, Mickey?” He passed him one from the glove compartment. The Doctor opened it out a little awkwardly and pencilled in the locations of the businesses and emergency services the radio had mentioned and the addresses he had overheard being taken at Gary’s for the unfortunate personal computer owners.

“Oh *&$£%*.” Rose giggled at another choice example of Gallifreyan profanity from him, but when he showed her the map she stopped laughing. The damaged computers were all in one localised area, and at the centre of it was the back-yard of Powell Street flats.

“I think I owe you a new computer, Mickey,” The Doctor said. “It LOOKS as if what caused it BEGAN in the TARDIS. Which actually makes more sense than the TARDIS being affected by an outside force. It’s still worrying, because I don’t know WHY it happened and as far as I know – after piloting the TARDIS for over seven hundred years – it SHOULDN’T happen.”

Mickey took it all fairly philosophically, especially since it sounded like he could get a new computer out of The Doctor. He even came with him to the TARDIS and helped him to fit the new components.

“Blimey, it made a mess, didn’t it,” Mickey commented as he screwed a new keyboard in place with a conventional screwdriver while the doctor was underneath with his sonic one doing technical stuff that even Mickey, who knew a few things about computers, didn’t understand. Even so, within an hour they had rebuilt the computer databank console from scratch entirely using ordinary earth computer components and interfaced it with the TARDIS’s more alien and futuristic sections.

“A job well done, Mickey,” he said as he fired the computer up. “Now, let’s run a diagnostic. I want to know what caused this.” He watched the screen carefully for a long while. He frowned.

“What’s up?” Rose asked, recognising his expression as one that usually preceded trouble.

“The TARDIS is detecting the presence of ANOTHER TARDIS.”

“I thought this was the only TARDIS in the universe?” Mickey said.

“It is,” The Doctor said. “Which means we’re mixed up in a bloody paradox.” He darted off into the corridors beyond the console room. Rose and Mickey ran to follow him.

“Well, that’s maybe not so bad really,” Rose said as she caught up with him. “The last time that happened, I really liked meeting the seventh version of you. He was sweet. And Chrístõ is a great guy – as well as being Drop Dead Gorgeous.”

“Paradoxes are dangerous,” The Doctor said, realising how fast he was going and slowing to match Rose’s more comfortable pace. “We’re better off NOT doing stuff like that.”

He stopped dead. They all did. They stared at the end of the corridor where the Coke machine ought to be. ANOTHER TARDIS stood there. A blue police public call box. There was a loud banging noise coming from it and the door was rattling.

“When was I ever so thick I couldn’t open my own TARDIS door?” the Doctor asked as he stepped forward taking out his sonic screwdriver. He ran it along the door frame for a few minutes before it opened inwards and a man slipped out. The Doctor stared at him for a long moment. He FELT the psychic connection that told him this was HIMSELF in another incarnation, but he did not know this one at all. He was a good-looking man if you were into that sort of thing, the same height he was, but slimmer built, looking ten or fifteen years younger by earth standards. He had an open, cheerful looking face with a fringe of hair falling over his brow and deep brown eyes. He was dressed in a snappy looking brown suit with a collar and tie and white canvas shoes that seemed at odds with the rest of the outfit. But before he could take in anything else all his senses were enveloped by Rose’s sudden hysterical scream. He knew she wasn’t somebody who screamed for no reason and he turned to her immediately.

“Get him out of here,” she cried through tear-filled eyes. “Get him away from me. Doctor… don’t let him… don’t.…”

“Rose?” He reached out for her but she was too hysterical to respond to his touch.

“He’s the one,” she said. “The man in my nightmares… the one who’s here instead of you.” She turned and ran away down the corridor. The Doctor looked at his other self who was looking nearly as upset at the encounter as Rose was, and decided that SHE needed him more.

“Mickey, take this guy to the console room and make sure he doesn’t touch anything, please. You’re in charge.” He barely registered Mickey nodding his acceptance of the responsibility before he was away chasing after Rose.

He found her in the kitchen, holding a long sharp knife. When he entered she raised it defensively.

“You going to kill me?” he asked.

“Not you, HIM!” she said. “If it gets him out of our lives.”

“He IS me, Rose.” The Doctor said. “If it’s any consolation I think he looks a bit too much of the fashion victim. But you CAN’T really hate him that much. Not if our love means anything.”

“He’s not you,” Rose said. “He tries to be, but he’s not. He’s not a shadow of you. I don’t want him here. I want you, forever.”

“Rose!” The Doctor took the knife from her and enfolded her in his arms. “He is not here to replace me. That’s NOT how it works. He’s stuck in a paradox just like we were a while back. You didn’t want to knife the seventh me, did you.”

“He was nice. Like a really sweet uncle. But this one…. He’s there because YOU are dead. And I can’t bear the thought….”

“Oh Rose,” he said. “I understand that. I don’t WANT to die. But I told you ever since you’ve been having these nightmares, they’re just echoes from another timeline where things have happened differently. Just like the memories I have of the timeline where you and I were married and I was a mate of your dad’s. I need to help him get back where he came from so WE can get on with our lives. Can you help me, Rose, as you ALWAYS help me?”

“I don’t want to have to talk to him.”

“You don’t have to talk to him,” The Doctor promised. “Come on, Rose.” He took her by the hand and they headed, first, to the other TARDIS. He looked quickly around it. Rose stood by the open door and would not cross the threshold though he assured her there was no need to be scared. The only differences he could see was that the picture of their alternative reality wedding was missing from the navigation console and Rose’s cabin bed was no longer pulled out from the wall as it was more or less permanently in HIS console room. The lack of evidence of her presence worried him more than if there was a duplicate of her floating around.

One thing absolutely identical was the damage to the computer database in this TARDIS. A close examination told him that THIS was where the problem originated. The damage here had resonated in his TARDIS and then outwards, affecting all the computers in the area.

He closed the door and returned to his own console room. Rose stood the other side of the console to HIM. Mickey found himself in between the two of them, keeping a suspicious eye on the stranger, who clearly hadn’t ventured any explanations.

The Doctor said nothing in explanation either. But he went to the drive console and pressed some switches. The TARDIS growled and groaned into action for a few seconds and they felt movement before it stopped again. There was a sense of having moved but not far. The Doctor patted the console and smiled.

“Come on, everyone,” he said heading to the door.

“Come on where?” All three asked at once. He looked back.

“It’s Christmas again for Gary,” he said. “Mickey, you drive. You…” he pointed to his other self. “You’d better have your wallet in the pocket of that suit somewhere. As well as the kit to fix your TARDIS you owe this lad here the best new PC Gary has in the shop. And by the way, hands in pockets is NOT cool and trendy. Don’t kid yourself.”

He reached out his hand to Rose, as he always did when they left the TARDIS. She came to him and he put his arm around her waist and pulled her to him. He kissed her quickly on the lips as if making it clear to BOTH of the other men that she belonged to him. Then he grasped her hand tightly and opened the door. The other Doctor looked at him, then at Mickey, whose expression was pretty much inscrutable, and then he followed, Mickey bringing up the rear with initiative enough to close the door behind him.

“Hey!” Mickey looked around. The TARDIS they had come out of was about eight yards to the left of where it had been and another TARDIS stood in the original position.

“He can’t get out of here while the two TARDISes are inside each other like a pair of Russian dolls. So we moved while his is still out of action,” The Doctor explained. “Besides, we can’t get to the Coke machine with it in the way.”

He made his other self get into the passenger seat of Mickey’s car and he and Rose got into the back, he still holding her hand proprietarily.

“I am grateful for the help,” he heard his other self say to him telepathically.

“I’m not doing it for you,” he responded irritably.

“I am sorry for the difficulties I may have caused.”

“Too damn right! Do you know what damage you’ve done?. Computers in fire stations, ambulance control, medical centres, schools, businesses for FIVE MILES.”

“I AM sorry.”

“What else do you have to be sorry for?” The Doctor asked. “I GET that you’re from an alternate reality. But WHY is Rose not with you in YOUR reality?”

He told him.

“I am going to pretend I never heard that,” The Doctor said, barely controlling his anger and sorrow. “Because I will never be able to look her in the eye otherwise. Don’t you say another word about it to me… and definitely not to her. She is off limits to you.”

“I am sorry,” he said again.

“You seem to be sorry for a lot of things. Just shut up and we’ll get this done quicker and get rid of you out of our lives.”

“You died because you loved her too much to let HER die,” his other self told him.

“I said shut up. I don’t want to hear it. Not that I don’t doubt that’s true. I would die for her any day. Although maybe NOT if it means I turn into you. How stupid DO you have to be to get stuck in your own TARDIS?”

“I AM you. How can you hate me?”

“Never heard of self-loathing? I’m not crazy about some of my past lives either. Number six totally creeps me out. And you never learnt what SHUT UP means.”

“You know, you REALLY don’t have any right to order me about,” his other self said. “I’m SENIOR to you technically.”

“In your dreams, wide boy,” The Doctor answered. “At least I know how to look after the woman I love.”

“That’s not fair. I loved her as much as you did. I had all your feelings.”

“Not enough, or she’d be with you, still.” He closed his hand around Rose’s and she looked at him. He smiled reassuringly at her, but she was still too upset to respond in kind. One good thing at least, he thought. Perhaps this will bring it to a head and she won’t have those nightmares any more once she’s faced up to him.

They reached Gary’s. He had given up taking in fried computers and had put a sign up saying ‘no repairs until further notice.” When he got a repeat order for some very expensive components plus a top of the range new PC, AND the big plasma screen that The Doctor had noticed Rose taking a liking too earlier he began to feel a bit better about HIS day.

When they got back to the flats, Mickey brought the car right into the yard so they had less far to lug stuff. Rose actually laughed to see that the local kids were using the two TARDIS’s as goalposts in their football game.

“I’m not having that,” his other self said jumping out of the car. The Doctor sighed and followed him. Mickey and Rose gave each other a look that said “Time Lords!!!” and stood by the car to watch events unfold.

“Hey, stop that,” his other self shouted. “That’s valuable equipment.” But the boys took no notice. One went to shoot for goal and hit The Doctor’s TARDIS. The ball rebounded and smashed into his other self’s face as he stood fuming. The Doctor laughed and chested the ball to the ground as it came off him, skilfully dribbled it around two defenders and kicked it neatly into the centre of the goal past the keeper. All the boys cheered him. His goal brought the game to an end anyway and he reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. He sent all the boys off to the shop for sweets then turned to look at his other self who was still nursing a bruised face.

“Don’t be so soft,” he said. “You’re supposed to be the one Daleks are scared of. The universe is in your hands!” Then he opened the second TARDIS and he and Mickey brought the replacement components in. Between the three of them, and seeing as The Doctor and Mickey had already done the job once, it only took half the time.

Rose sat outside while it was going on. She didn’t want to be in there and her own TARDIS felt too quiet. She felt calmer now. She DID trust HER Doctor. He WAS somebody Daleks were scared of. And much that was worse than Daleks – though it was hard to think that was possible. And he was totally in control of the situation here. Even so, she would be glad when HE was gone.

They all came out of the TARDIS and she stood up and looked at them. HER Doctor came and stood by her, his arm around her waist. She put one arm around his back and the other she placed over his hand as he held her. They were one. They were an ITEM. They were together and nothing and nobody could take that away, not Mickey, her past life, nor this ‘future’ she didn’t want.

“Ok, you’d best be on your way,” The Doctor said. “I don’t know how you’re going to get back into your own timeline. I think you might trust your TARDIS to sort that out for you. It’s smarter than you think.”

“Look…thank you…” he said. “For your help.”

“I only did it to get you out of our lives,” The Doctor almost snarled. “I don’t like you. I don’t like what you represent. I don’t like the way you make Rose feel.…”

“Rose….” His other self looked at her and for a moment The Doctor actually did feel sorry for him. After all he had LOST the most precious thing in his life. “Rose, I never stopped loving you. At least I have the chance to tell you that now.”

Rose looked at him for a moment and then turned away and buried her face in HER Doctor’s chest. He closed his arms around her.

“Go, now,” he said, simply. He stood and held her as his other self walked away, shoulders hunched sadly, into his TARDIS. A moment later it dematerialised. Rose didn’t look up until the sound and the rush of air were gone.

“Come on,” he said. “Time you got changed. We’re supposed to be going to your mum’s for tea and then the big bonfire and fireworks down the park to ring in the New Year.”

The bonfire was fun, the more so because they went to it together, and Rose loved the fact that he had his arm around her the whole time, never letting her go. She loved the envious glances from people she knew before her life with him, especially two girls from school who used to tease her because she didn’t have a regular boyfriend. She saw them both, pushing prams, ALONE. Their men had not stuck around after all.

But The Doctor had.

As midnight approached, although it was nice to be in a crowd they, by mutual and unspoken consent, they drew away and found themselves a quiet spot by the trees at the edge of the park. They could hear the countdown to midnight being chanted around the bonfire and in the pub across the road with its late licence. They heard the church bells chime and saw fireworks fly up into the sky, and somewhere more distant there were cannons firing.

Then The Doctor turned to Rose lifting her face up to his in order to kiss her, and the fireworks in her head were better than those around them.

“Happy New Year, Rose,” he said. “Make a wish.”

“I wish we would always be together,” she said.

“No problem. We WILL always be together. I promise you.” It was a promise he meant to keep. The intrusion of that alternate reality where he HADN’T kept it had shaken his confidence but he would never let her know that. Nor WHY his other self had failed in that promise. That was a secret he would NEVER tell. He pushed it to the back of his mind, living only for the present moment as he kissed her again. He didn’t get the chance to do that too often. Until he could find a way to make their relationship real in the way he recognised he didn’t DARE do it too often. But today they both needed the reassurance the intimate gesture offered.

“Tomorrow,” she said, “Let’s go somewhere. Another planet, another galaxy, just you and me, somewhere in the universe.”

“If that’s what you want,” he said, surprised. “I thought you liked being near your mum.”

“I told mum we’d probably be off soon. She knows we can’t stay here forever. You’ll get a council tax bill if we stay here any longer,” she giggled. “I don’t care where we are as long as we’re together. But let’s just be somewhere.”

“No problem,” he said. He held her at arms length for a moment. “Rose Tyler, did I ever tell you, you are FANTASTIC?” Then he pulled her close again and smiled as he watched the fireworks obliterate the real stars in the sky. He had a feeling of triumph. He had won, over Mickey, over her mum, her world, even his other alternative universe self. He had won her heart completely and she would NEVER want to be anywhere else but with him.