11/50 pictures of Billie Piper
It’s rubbish, being a mermaid in the North Atlantic Ocean. Rose has heard tales about the wild antics of the colonies in the Caribbean, and the notorious settlements in the Bay of Bengal. Shareen went to the Gulf of Thailand last year, and Rose got a letter six months ago, a few pictures enclosed. The blokes in warmer waters are definitely better than anything around here.
But as far as ocean living goes, the North Atlantic is the back-end of nowhere. It’s stifling, and cold, and full of loathsomely unfriendly creatures. No matter what her mum says, Rose knows for a fact she will never be able to settle into seaweed farming or phytoplankton harvesting, much less working retail and selling either one.
So when she sees the advertisement, it seems a reasonable trade – a year of her life, in exchange for legs. She doesn’t read the small print, not until after the deal is done. Which is a shame, really, because what she’s bargained her time for, it isn’t really an escape; it’s more of an excursion. She only gets her legs for one twenty-four hour period every seven days, and the deal expires within three months.
Jackie sniffs. “You ought to look before you leap, Rose Tyler. I’ll ring up Phil tomorrow, he’s a janitor in the legal department at Hatchery United, he’ll know what to do.”
That night, Rose’s curiosity gets the better of her disappointment, and she’s swimming to the nearest spot of land, just intending to get a feel for the whole ‘legs’ thing. Just to pop her head above water and maybe do a little jog, take a stroll, try hopping or wiggling her toes in the sand. Just to see what it feels like, at least once, before her mum has the whole thing fixed, like it had never happened in the first place.
The cottage on St Kilda is less of a house and more of a one-room shack. It’s perched closed to a sheer cliff that goes down into the sea, and it’s impressively isolated. But it’s got a working stove, and a bed, and one electrical outlet that will charge his laptop, and that’s all he needs. A blessed summer on a forsaken island, uninterrupted time to finish his book, before he goes back to Cambridge and back to teaching in the fall. To breathe. To get Romana out of his head, once and for all.
Two weeks in, and the storm hits. There’s water dribbling down one of the interior walls, the rain coming down in sheets. The temperature’s dropped, and he’s sitting at the little desk, on a creaky chair, wearing a jumper and a leather jacket, a blanket on his lap. His fingers are stiff from the cold, and he’s typing slowly. The lights have flickered a few times, but haven’t gone out yet.
He’s plowing his way through chapter three – this was a rough bit, the outline he’d made fairly sketchy on details, and he’s itching to get up and make himself more tea or see if the floor needs sweeping or turn on the telly. But there isn’t a telly, or internet, and the floor’s already been swept five times today, so there’s nothing for it – he’s going to actually get it written.
He’s been working on it for three hours, and he’s one sentence in, when someone pounds at the door.
His fingers freeze, his head snapping toward the sound and his forehead wrinkling. Because there are only a handful of people on this island at any given time, and none of them are anywhere near this cottage.
The knock comes again, along with a mournful wailing noise, and someone dragging their nails along the pitted wood outside.
If these are drunk campers who got lost in the gale and are looking for someone to rescue them, the Doctor’s going to pitch them right off the cliff into the sea.
He walks over and yanks open the door, his face a mask of disapproval, already gearing up for one of his professorial lectures about responsibility and risking lives. But the words stutter out on his tongue, don’t make it past his lips.
There’s a girl outside – a woman, really – her long blond hair plastered to her skull. She’s near-hysterical, and naked. “Help me!” she shrieks, and she tries to take a step forward, but her legs wobble like a colt’s, and she ends up toppling right into his arms.
The Doctor leaps back, half-dragging her along, and they’re both inside the cottage. She’s dripping all over him, all over the clean slate floor, shivering and sobbing hysterically and babbling nonsense: “They won’t change back! I just popped my head out and took one breath and poof there they were, useless for swimming, and I can’t breathe water anymore, and my mum’s going to be so worried – I’m supposed to be at work tomorrow at dawn, and –”
The Doctor reaches behind himself, gropes around until he finds the knitted blanket on the back of the armchair, and brings it around in front of himself. He shoves it at her, holding it out so he’s not staring at her naked body (she’s in distress, it’s not appropriate, the fact that he’s wondering how she could possibly be so tanned).
“Hold on, hold on!” he says, as she wraps the blanket around her shoulders, pinches it closed in front. “Just hold on a minute, there. What d’you think you’re doing, running around in a storm like this? Are you barmy? Or just stupid?”
Her stream of hysterical words trail off and she stares at him, her red, tears-streaked eyes narrowing. “Are you always this rude? Or is it something inherent to your species?”
The Doctor crosses his arms over his chest, glowering down at her. “Oi, now! Don’t try stereotyping men with me, young lady! There are problems inherent with general attitudes when applied across broad swaths of the population, and ‘men are pigs’ is one of the more overused tropes—”
“I’m in distress!” she shouts, sticking one arm out of the blanket and gesturing to her general waterlogged state. “I’m in distress, and you’re asking if I’m mental?!”
“Well, would you like some tea, then?!” he shouts back at her.
“What’s tea?!” she yells, and there’s no reason for it now, except that they’ve gotten to this volume and can’t seem to get back down from it. “Is it like kelpweed brew?!”
His eyebrows climb up nearly to his hairline. He extends his hands, palms down, in a sort of conciliatory gesture. “Let’s just step back a second,” he says, bringing his tone back down from a shout to a dull rumble. He reaches out, and she flinches away before he can take her by the shoulders to guide her to a chair. The way her legs were wobbling, he’s not sure she won’t end up knocking her head on the stone floor, if she tries to walk.
“Here, have a seat,” he says, gesturing to the armchair by the fireplace. The fire is getting low, and he steps over to the small stove, to the kettle already steaming there. The girl shuffles to the armchair, still shivering, and collapses. “I’m the Doctor, by the way.”
“That’s not a name,” she retorts.
“Well, it’s mine,” he says.
She cocks her head at him and frowns. “My name’s Rose Tyler.”
There’s only one mug, and it’s the one the Doctor’s been drinking out of, but if she’s been wandering around in a storm in the middle of the night, she’s certainly not going to be too picky about sharing. He pours the tea and brings it over to her. “Nice to meet you, Rose. No milk, no sugar.”
She stares at him like he’s speaking a foreign language, taking the mug from his hands. He’s in the process of pulling over one of the rickety chairs from the dining table to sit next to her, when she gasps, sitting bolt upright, her fingers wiggling around the ceramic. “Ooh, it’s warm!” She peers into the mug. “Will it be warm in my mouth, too? What about when it goes down my esophagus, and in my stomach? How long does it stay warm, once it’s in? Does it burn? How does it get hot in the first place? Is there a –”
“You’re Welsh,” the Doctor interrupts brusquely, plopping down in the chair. It creaks in protest, legs juddering against the floor.
Her attention swivels from the tea to his face like a laser targeting system. It’s uncanny, the force of her attention, the way it locks onto him like he’s an exotic species of something alien. Like she wants to pin him down, maybe dissect him. “I visited St. George’s Channel once, when I was a kid. With my mum. But I’m not from there. Why would you say that?”
“I’m just tryin’ to figure out a reason for” – he gestures in her direction – “the state of you. Blathering on like you’ve been kicked by a sheep one too many times, wandering around naked in a storm in the back-end of nowhere.”
Her bright, enthusiastic expression dampens, her dark eyebrows drawing together. “I’m still in the back-end of nowhere?” she asks, and it’s nearly heartbreaking, how crestfallen she is.
“Hey now, drink some of that tea,” he says, because he doesn’t like it, seeing her unhappy. Because as much as he’s said to the contrary, it’s obvious that she’s quite intelligent. Observant, and intelligent, and maybe a bit confused because she’s gotten turned around in a storm. The kitchen shelf is close enough that he tips his chair back on two legs, stretching his arm out and snatching a tin of biscuits. He offers her one. “This is a small island. Don’t you know where you are?”
“All I know is, I’m stuck. At least until tomorrow at nightfall.” She sticks out her tongue, licks the biscuit. Her expression brightens a little and she sticks the biscuit between her teeth, nibbles off a corner. “Ooh, what is that?”
“Ummm,” he looks at the package. “Banana-flavoured.”
“Lovely,” she says, smiling at the biscuit as though she’s made a new friend.
“What happened to your clothes?” he asks. Because there have been campers on the island intermittently. And she’s not acting like she’s been attacked, she doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about the fact that she’s sitting naked in his cottage.
“They, ah,” she crams the biscuit in her mouth, all in one go, and her words are muffled, “Dey don fit anymorf.”
The Doctor has no idea how to interpret that information. Spontaneous weight loss, in the wilderness, in the middle of a storm?
“Well, I’ve got something you can borrow, until the storm breaks and we can call somebody to pick you up.” He goes over to the dresser, peeling green paint and ill-fitting drawers. Hands her a crimson jumper and a pair of shorts.
She stares at the shorts for a very long time, as though she’s never seen anything like them before.
“Don’t worry, they’re clean,” he says, rolling his eyes.
She shrugs and shoves the tea mug into his hands before standing up without her blanket. “Oi! A warning next time, if you don’t mind!” he says, turning his head as she starts pulling on the jumper. It takes her an inordinately long amount of time to finish up.
“Is that right?” she asks. He turns around, looking at her through nearly-closed eyelids, just in case she’s not actually dressed. His clothes are huge on her, the jumper hanging off her petite frame, the pants covering halfway down her thighs. Her tan legs seem sturdier, for some reason, like she’s finally got proper command of them. Her toes wiggle against the floor. She’s got the pants on backward, but at least they’re on her body.
“Mostly. Close enough,” he says, and she beams proudly.
He gives her the tea again, and she takes a sip. “I’ll have another one of those banana things. That’s brilliant, a banana.”
“Bananas are fantastic,” he agrees. “And you aren’t getting another one until I get the full story about how you got out here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.”
“Then I get another banana biscuit?”
He nods. “Yes, that’s the deal.”
She takes a long swig of the tea. “Mmm, interesting. It cools down about right here,” she says, pointing at her sternum. She blinks, collects her attention. “About an hour ago, I had a tail. And I surfaced, and that tail turned into legs. And that would be all well and good, I could just hop around on the beach and have a bit of fun for once in my life, except for this bloody storm, and the fact that I have to wait this whole legs thing out, and I should’ve listened to my mum and just gone to see the lawyer about the whole thing. But I was curious. And isn’t that always the problem? Maybe you’re right. I might just be stupid. Or Welsh.”
“Oh well, nothing wrong with a bit of curiosity,” the Doctor replies, handing her a biscuit. And he’s just going to ignore the rest of that nonsense she just spouted, because obviously she’s read one too many fairy tales, or maybe she has really hit her head, or she’s got hypothermia, or something. She crams the biscuit into her mouth, crunching it loudly. He continues, “I like a bit of curiosity, actually. It leads to interesting places, I find. It’s what got me here. I was curious about the most remote, isolated place in all of the United Kingdom, and I found it.”
“Sounds lonely,” Rose says. “Better with two.”
“She’s all I need, really,” he says, gesturing at his computer.
“Still sounds lonely,” Rose says, leaning forward and snatching the tin of biscuits from his hand. “And all this solitude has made you a bit stingy, too. You got any more of these things? I’m starved.”
# HEY JAMIE # IF YOU WANT # THIS CAN BE A PROMPT # BECAUSE I TOTALLY STALLED OUT # but no pressure # only if your plot bunnies take off or something # Oh my god though y'all # I should go write something real # and quit wasting all this frantic creative energy # Doctor Who # fanfic # ficlet
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