Title: Their’s But To Do and Die
Spoilers: Tooth and Claw
Summary: He was just another extra in her big adventure.
Reynard? Roberts? Riley?
It was something beginning with ‘R’, she was sure of it. She really wished she could remember.
Rose shivered and immediately got up, scraping the large backed chair another foot closer to the fire. She had no idea what time it was. After all, time was relative when you were travelling through it. Every fifteen hours or so though the Doctor would dim the lights in the TARDIS and tell her to go and get some sleep. She’d been a little annoyed with the ritual at first, irritably pointing out that she wasn’t a kid and she didn’t need a bed time. He had insisted though that she’d thank him for it later and, frustratingly enough, he was right. It was hard to keep a normal body clock going when you were jumping all over the place like they did and the routine helped keep her body in check. And, to be honest, by the time they returned here after each adventure she usually was knackered enough to just fall asleep exactly where she stood. Right now though, try as she might and tired as she was, sleep just wouldn’t come.
Without really knowing it, letting instinct make her decisions for her, she had found herself wandering the TARDIS corridors with no particular destination in mind. Seeing an unfamiliar door, some impulse had made her open it and she had found herself peering into an old fashioned library. Trusting that the time machine knew best, she had gone inside and sat herself down on the only seat, studying her surroundings. The room was odd, that was for sure. It looked like something out Dickens with its high bookshelves, battered green leather chair and grand fireplace. The books themselves appeared to be ancient and Rose suspected that most of them were. Many were well used too. Hardly surprising really; the Doctor was over 900 years old and he did seem to be the reading type. He clearly wasn’t very good at tidying though as evidenced by the piles of books dotted randomly around the floor in a careless fashion that would make any librarian worth their metal weep.
Stretching out her feet towards the fire, warming her chilled toes, she wondered just how safe it really was to have an open fire in a room dominated by wood – doors, shelves, walls, floor all made of the same dark material. She wondered also how, with such a large fireplace, the room could still feel shadowy and oppressive. And why did she like it so much when every surface instinct told her she shouldn’t, that she should feel intimidated and small? It certainly wasn’t because it reminded her fondly of the Torchwood estate, that was for sure.
No, that wasn’t it either. She remembered a moustache, a medal and a red coat but the name kept escaping her as though she had never really considered it important enough to commit to memory in the first place. The thought made her feel sick. It made her feel like she belonged here in this library, hiding in the shadows, not worthy of coming out.
Shivering again, although this time not in cold, she reached out to the nearest pile of books and pulled the top one up, opening it at any page, determined just to read. To occupy her mind away from such miserable thoughts that hit too close to home.
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
He hadn’t even thought about it, that’s what struck her so much. Saving himself hadn’t even crossed his mind. He’d just done his duty, more worried about that and his honour than his own life. Even when the Doctor had told him that bullets couldn’t stop it, his resolve hadn’t wavered. Did he know he was going to die? Did he mind? Was he afraid?
She wondered if he had a family and what they thought of his decision. Were they proud of him? Did they hate him? She wondered if they did okay after his death, if his wife got some kind of widow’s pension or something to help them get by.
Was doing his duty really worth his life? Did it make him brave or a fool?
A deep shudder ran through Rose and she snapped the book closed, looking at it accusingly.
‘Poems of Alfred Tennyson’.
Placing it aside she took up another, this one from a completely different pile and opened the pages quickly, almost in desperation, needing the distraction as she began to read once more.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood,
She had heard it; the slam of the wolf’s body against his, the sickening impact of flesh on flesh. She had seen the blood fly, had watched chunks of flesh torn loose. It was really little worse than some of those sick horror films Mickey had always seemed to think were so cool. Yet this time she could smell it. This time it was real.
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
She had heard his scream, had heard the cries turn odd as his lungs began to drown and his throat was ripped. It was the sound of someone dying. She’d heard it too often.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
“It is a sweet and fitting thing to die for one’s country.”
Rose dropped the book, startled, her heart thudding almost painfully from the shock of being pulled so violently from her own thoughts.
The Doctor emerged slowly from the shadows behind her, kneeling down beside her carefully, retrieving the book.
“Or words to that effect, anyway,” he finished in a gentle tone as he placed it back on its pile.
She nodded absent minded, feeling almost guilty in a way, like she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t. “Yeah. I read this in school. I remember it. Wilfred Owen right?”
“Didn’t he die?”
“A week before the war ended,” the Doctor confirmed with a regretful shake of his head, “Tragic waste.” He paused a moment before laying a hand on hers, “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”
Rose remembered his touch. She remembered how it stung her ribs as he grabbed her too hard, manhandling her back into the room when her own mind was shut off in horror and her legs did not have the sense to run of their own will. She remembered the comfort of his hug and how, even though she had been shaking through a mixture of adrenaline and fear, his embrace had stilled her.
She remembered all of that yet she still couldn’t remember his name.
“Rose?” The Doctor prompted, concerned.
She nodded too sharply, in the most unconvincing manner, trying to force thoughts away. “Couldn’t,” she replied simply in response to his half forgotten question.
He smiled a little. “It’s not like you didn’t get enough exercise today, eh? That walk back to the TARDIS knackered me out for a start. And all those bloody stairs in that house…”
“Do you think she was right?” Rose asked with a frown, his attempt to lighten the mood utterly lost on her, “Cos I think she might be.”
“Queen Victoria,” she explained, an unhappy, thoughtful expression on her face, “She was right, wasn’t she? People die when we’re around.”
The Doctor paused for a moment and regarded her with an almost disapproving look on his face, as though he wondered if she were telling him off the same way the Queen had. As though he was disappointed in her for thinking such things.
“People die all the time,” he eventually reasoned firmly, his voice a little tight, “She’d be dead herself right now if it wasn’t for us. As well as Lady Isabel and all her servants.”
“I know,” Rose agreed, not wanting to get into an argument with him, not disputing that fact, “But the thing is I’ve lost count.”
He looked genuinely perplexed. “What?”
Rose took a deep, sighing breath as she spoke, distaste for her own self evident in her tone. “How many people have died, Doctor? Since I met you, how many people have I known who’ve died?”
The concerned frown that had begun to play across his face deepened, looking even more severe in the jumping shadows of the firelight. “Rose, look, I think you’re-“
“Cos, you’d think I’d remember that, right?” she interrupted, not interested in his attempts to make her feel better or to brush the matter aside, “It’s important cos it’s peoples’ lives we’re talking about here. But I’ve got no idea. I can’t remember faces. I can’t remember names. It just feels like they’re bit characters in my big adventure. But they’re not, they’re people and they died.”
“Are you blaming yourself?” he asked softly.
He looked almost afraid of the answer.
“Course not,” she quickly reassured, “It’s just…the least I can do is remember their names.”
He smiled slightly, understanding and sympathetic, brushing his hand across her cheek in comfort. “You’re a good person, Rose Tyler, but I never took you for the glass half empty type. People die and it does hurt even if you didn’t know them. Believe me, I understand. But why don’t you think about it this way – how many people have you helped save since you met me? How many went on to live wonderful lives and have kids and grandkids and great-grandkids? How many people are alive in this universe right now because of the things you’ve done?”
“I s’pose…” she muttered, not entirely sure she wanted to be convinced. It seemed awfully like brushing the matter under the carpet to her.
“In the end that’s the way of the Universe,” he reasoned, “Balance. Equilibrium. Black and white, male and female, ying and yang, a 14 ounce rump steak and those little bowls of peanuts you get in pubs. The universe wouldn’t work without it.”
She half smiled, “Peanuts?”
He grinned in return, “Balance. And don’t worry about what the Queen said, okay? She’s just superstitious and didn’t understand. I mean, she thought it was all magic, right?”
“I guess,” Rose muttered, seeing his point although still slightly disturbed by it all.
“Here,” he said, picking a different book and handing it to her, “Read this. It’ll make you feel better.”
She smiled when she saw it. “’A Dragon in Class 6’?”
“It was your favourite book when you were 8.”
“You been stalking me again?”
He smiled too but refused to answer that. “Try to get some sleep later, yeah?” He squeezed her hand in reassurance before standing up and walking away.
Rose had just gotten herself curled up nicely in the chair when his voice called back again.
“His name was Reynolds.”
She held the Doctor’s gaze for a moment, wondering how he knew that she had been thinking about that. That it was what had been disturbing her all along. But he just knew. He always knew. She nodded at him in simple thanks, and he walked away, leaving her to herself.
There she sat, repeating the name silently in her head, committing to memory the moustache, the medal and the red coat. This time she wouldn’t forget. It was the least she could do.