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 Post subject: Doctor Who fic: "Madly in Love" (AU, All Ages, complete)
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 12:43 am 
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Title: "Madly In Love"
Author: dameruth
Characters/pairings: Nine/Rose/Jack
Series: "Bliss" http://www.whofic.com/series.php?seriesid=708
Rating: G
Warnings: Won't make any sense of you haven't read the rest of the series, but other than that, none.
Disclaimer: None of it's mine but the fluff.
Summary: The Bliss team is still trying to get married; they think they may have found the place, but their relationship is about to be tested . . . officially!

A/N -- Finally, my auction fic for isabelle is complete (including the promised knotwork illustration, illustrating the three characters' engagement rings, which appears a the end of the story)! She was very kind about allowing me to run (way) over the deadline, but in return she got a fic that ballooned out to almost 9,000 words, instead of the promised 1,000, so I hope I gave good value for her kindness. ;) She was also very kind in opening this fic up to public posting. Beta'ed by aibhinn, who was, as always, wonderful about dealing with my funky sense of punctuation. ;)

This may not be the most readily-accessible story for someone outside the DW fandom; among other things, it's set in a very involved, very-Alternate-Universe series of my own creation, though I guess the fast summary is that three of the show's main characters have developed an OT3 romantic relationship, complete with psychic linkages, and have been trying to get married, but having a terrible time of it. This continues their adventures on that front. It posted originally in 5 chapters on Teaspoon, but I've edited it together into a one-shot here.

Though a full-out romantic relationship between these three isn't canon, the interactions between the characters didn't exactly rule out the possibility, either; I submit this YouTube clip (which edits together some of the most OT3-ish moments from an episode of the series) as evidence:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1H0K7Y_AFQ

Anyway, enough from me -- hope everyone enjoys the story, and thanks again to isabelle for her generous donation!



Rose leaned against the TARDIS, taking comfort from the familiar thrum running through the wooden paneling. She scanned the busy, peaceful street scene for threats that weren't there and tried to settle her nerves. So far she wasn't having much luck. She crossed her arms and rubbed her hands along her biceps, trying to warm the inner chill she felt.

I can do this, she thought. They're counting on me. We'll be together. We can do anything together. Nobody will be shooting at us. It'll be nice and easy, just like Jack says . . .

The TARDIS doors creaked open, and she jumped a little, even though she'd been expecting the others. Jack slipped out and stood next to her, taking in their surroundings with cheerful confidence. Rose wished she could steal a little of that attitude.

"I've got a good feeling about this," Jack announced to the air in front of the TARDIS. "This'll be a nice place to get married."

It was a nice place -- even on such short acquaintance, Rose could tell that. She was getting good at making speedy evaluations, and this city had all the hallmarks of a stable, prosperous society. The streets were clean; the people walking by were relaxed, healthy and well-clothed (those belonging to species that favored clothes, anyway); machinery and buildings were well-kept; doors and windows were wide and unguarded (at least to the naked eye); and members of different species mingled with cosmopolitan ease.

No, the setting wasn't what gave her the jitters.

When Rose didn't respond immediately, Jack shot her a sidelong glance. "You're quiet today," he said, and she knew he wasn't just referring to her lack of verbal response. She was shielding psionically with every ounce of her mental strength -- which probably wasn't helping her mood any; it took an effort to keep herself so closed off.

She managed a small smile. "I'm okay, just a little . . . nervous. I'm not used to being somewhere with a lot of telepaths around. It feels like everyone'll be looking inside my head. Like bein' on the Planet of X-Ray Vision and thinking everyone's looking at my knickers." Which was perfectly true, even if it wasn't the main source of her unease.

Jack rested his hands reassuringly on her shoulders. "Nobody'll be looking at the inside of your head. That'd be rude, and besides, there're laws against it." He gave her a warm, heart-melting smile. "Besides, your head and your knickers are both lovely -- nothing to be ashamed of there."

He was trying to tease into a better mood, Rose knew, and it was working. She couldn't help the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, even as she shot back, "You're just sayin' that because you like getting into both of 'em."

"I am not! You really are a lovely person, all of you." Jack reached up with one large, warm hand to catch her chin between thumb and forefinger. "People here will actually be able to see your manifestation -- you should show off a little. It's striking, and we're gonna be playing up the whole link thing, so it'll help the cause. C'mon, let's see that light . . ." He rubbed the point of her chin gently with this thumb, sending wheedling little pulses at her through their empathic link. (Pleasepleaseplease?)

"You're such a manipulative git," she told him affectionately. He was so cute and sexy and shameless, he managed, as usual, to get her to smile outright. As she relaxed, her mental shields cracked open a tiny bit, radiating the sunlight of her inner self.

"There you are," Jack said with a grin, pleased and smug. His eyes sparkled, and so did his manifestation: bright, cheery water like the surface of the summer ocean. In such close physical contact with her shields relaxed, she could sense it now. Jack was definitely not being shy. "They'll never have seen a couple of humans like us before," he continued, confident and proud. "We'll get that exemption in nothing flat . . . assuming Himself ever deigns to make an appearance. Where is he?"

As if summoned, the Doctor slipped out of the TARDIS doors, pulling them closed behind him. He was radiating his <i>big bloody waste of time</i> aura, along with a typical whisper of looming storm clouds and restless air currents . . . but Rose noticed that he'd changed from his bottle-green jumper into a clean navy blue one and his hair was pulled back in a fresh, tight knot. For him, that was being outright fussy about his appearance, and he didn't fuss unless he was on edge. Of all people, the Doctor was nervous, too.

Somehow, that did more to cheer her up than all of Jack's blazing confidence.

---

It was, according to Jack, going to be a piece of cake.

He'd settled Rose and the Doctor on the control room jump seat and pitched Novus Five with every ounce of his persuasive skill, including expansive hand gestures, flirty smiles, and bright sparks of enthusiasm flying down the link. That was nothing unusual; Jack had become very passionate about describing possible wedding locations. What was more unusual was that Rose and the Doctor had managed to sit through the entire performance without once having a major, deal-killing objection.

"All right then, the catch -- let's have it," the Doctor said, when Jack finally paused for breath.

"You're such a cynic," Jack told him with exasperation.

"No, just a realist. There's always a catch," the Doctor drawled in reply, sounding very Northern indeed. Rose privately agreed with him, but bit her tongue and waited for what Jack would say. After all, she'd been the one to push for a wedding in the beginning. She wanted one, too, really . . . but she'd had no idea how <i>complicated</i> it was going to be.

"It's not a catch exactly -- just a little extra something we need to do beforehand," Jack began. He noticed, but ignored, the Doctor's cocked eyebrow at that statement. "See, multiple and cross-species marriages are legal, but rare, and they're only allowed if you can get a written permission of exemption . . ."

"An' how do we do that?"

"Let me finish, will you? We just have to pass a couple-three tests." He held up a warning finger and the Doctor closed his mouth and subsided. "One's a simple physical -- not so different than a lot of places require. Then there's a verbal examination by a public official, to prove we're all serious and know what we're getting into. Then -- and this is what I think'll cinch it for us -- since there's a high percentage of psi-gifted species on this planet, we can opt for an additional test of psionic connectedness. That sort of thing is taken very seriously there, and I mean, just look at us."

He opened his portion of the link more widely for emphasis, as if there could be any doubt about his meaning. His conviction and enthusiasm were complete and infectious.

"A full Class Two empathic linkage? Partial telepathic linkage, complete with blended manifestations? Hell, we'd already be common-law married there -- we only need the exemption for the whole dog-and-pony show of a public ceremony . . ."

"Please tell me that 'dog and pony show' is a euphemism," Rose interjected, trying not to get swept away by the emotions her fiance was projecting.

"Yes, that was a euphemism," Jack told her, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, I'm learnin' to never be too careful here," Rose shot back, earning a small flicker of grudging acknowledgment.

The Doctor's cool hand slipped over hers where it rested between them on the jump seat, creating a deeper and more immediate empathic connection between the two of them.

(Thoughts?/Agree-disagree?) he asked her, shooting her a sidelong glance.

Rose nibbled her lower lip. (Sounds good/agree/let's do it!) she sent back with a tiny nod.

They turned to Jack, who was -- with no success whatsoever -- attempting to suppress an enormous grin. He might not have been able to catch the psionic whisper between them, but he could read their body language as well as anyone.

"We'll do it," the Doctor told Jack.

"Yes!" Jack crowed, smacking his fist into the palm of his other hand in triumph. "I'll set the coordinates and make an appointment!" He spun on his heel and began attacking the controls with a will.

---

Jack took the lead, heading down the wide, well-swept sidewalk with a spring in his step. Rose couldn't quite bring herself to match his bouncy speed, and ended up lagging. She ended up walking side-by-side with the Doctor, whose long, rangy stride seemed more muted than usual. Automatically, they clasped hands, twining fingers together. Rose absorbed what comfort she could from the contact, which wasn't lost on the Doctor.

"Nervous?" he asked her in a neutral undertone, keeping the conversation between the two of them.

"Yeah," she admitted. "Not used to bein' around this many people who can . . . see us."

Even as she spoke, a person who looked rather like a sleek, black, bipedal salamander gave the three of them a dubious glance and moved to one side to provide a wide berth. Rose suspected that between them they made a fairly odd "sight." The Doctor, in particular, did tend to loom, psionically speaking.

"That's not all of it, though, is it?" the Doctor asked, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.

"No," Rose said, and looking up into his understanding blue eyes, she found herself telling him what she hadn't said to Jack earlier. "I'm scared to death of tests," she said in a low-voiced rush. "Couldn't deal with 'em in school, even though I knew everything fine. I'd sit down and my head would just go empty." She looked down at her walking feet for a moment, blushing slightly. "I know this isn't the same thing, but I'm still worried -- what if I mess this up somehow?"

The Doctor responded with a low chuckle. Surprised, she looked at him. He sounded more relieved than teasing, for one thing, and the empathic sensations she was getting supported that.

He was grinning his big, daft grin down at her. "Me, too," he told her, in a conspiratorial undertone. "Never did well at that sort of thing. Didn't graduate from University till my second try, and then only just."

"You're kidding!" Rose said, starting to grin back in spite of herself. "You, Mr. Know-it-all, you're scared of taking tests?"

"Terrified," he whispered, still grinning like a lunatic.

Rose leaned into him and giggled with giddy, shared relief.

"We're a pair, aren't we?" she asked, rhetorically. "Well, if you can get through this, so can I."

They both looked ahead at Jack, striding along with the attitude of someone expecting complete and utter victory, oblivious to the conversation behind him.

"So can we," the Doctor corrected, and the warmth in his voice and mental tone made Rose hug his arm in agreement.

---

Rose's resolve nearly failed when the Novarian West Provincial Legal Building hove into view. It was big, imposing, built of greyish-blue granite, and every line of it screamed authority.

Tests weren't the only things that made Rose Tyler nervous -- she didn't do well with authority in its more aggressive forms, either, not since she and Mickey had been picked up for shoplifting as young teenagers. Looking back on it, the police had mostly tried to put a scare into two young kids without prior records -- and it had definitely worked, even if it was nowhere near as scary as Rose's mum and Mickey's gran descending in unison on the police station to pick up their errant youngsters.

She reminded herself forcibly that the people in this building had no memory of Rose Tyler, Attempted Juvenile Delinquent, and followed Jack up the broad stairs and through the tall doors, borne along by the supportive strength of several hundred feet of (equally nervous) cumulonimbus clouds at her side.

Jack was already talking to the receptionist at the front desk -- a human man who handed across a lightpad and stylus so they could sign in. He raised his eyebrows slightly at Rose's English-alphabet writing and the Doctor's sketchy circle-glyph. but made no other comment. Then they each got their own lightpad loaded with a standard questionnaire to fill out, and moved to the waiting area benches to work. With some help from the Doctor, Rose shifted her mental connection to the TARDIS's translation circuits so she could write her answers in the local language. It felt very, very odd, which helped take her mind off her nervousness.

The prosaic questions helped, too -- name, gender, species, parents' names (there were four blanks, which made Rose blink and remember that humans were in the minority here), planet of origin, current address (she used the one Jack had told them to, which he'd declared was at least mostly legal), names of requested marriage partner(s) . . .

Writing Jack's and the Doctor's names on that line was even odder than writing in Novarian. Seeing the words in black and white (well, matte grey and glowing blue, anyway) made what they were hoping to do somehow more real. If this works, I'll have husbands -- two of them. Strange. Not bad, just strange. The words "married" and "Rose Tyler" still didn't go together in her mind, no matter how strong and permanent her attachment to the Doctor and Jack.

When she'd hit the download button and got a confirmation of receipt from the main data system, she tapped the edge of the pad to clear it and walked it back to the receptionist. As the others finished, she noticed that even Jack was more subdued than he had been, while the Doctor looked irritated again. Neither of them was communicating much just then, on any level; she wondered what they were thinking. Neither gave any indication of cold feet, however.

The receptionist checked their information on his screen, doing few a double-takes, but all he said aloud was, "The med offices are two levels up, room 43 Tau-Alpha."

Rose was surprised. “They have their own medical offices? In a registry office?”

“It’s a little different than a registry office back on Earth,” Jack explained on the way to the lifts. “They handle more types of things here. Also, all the non-traditional marriages for the Western Continent go through this building. People travel from all over for the exams, so it's more efficient to do the medical part on-site, too -- gets it done all in one shot. Also makes it harder to fake results, if you're inclined to be suspicious."

They were expected by the med staff, who whisked them efficiently to individual examination rooms. The medical exam wasn't something Rose had been looking forward to, either, though she was fairly certain the tech level would keep things mostly non-invasive.

She'd been right -- she didn't even need to take her clothes off, as it turned out. The medtech was a surprise: a dry-land cnidarian, like a large, blue, ambulatory anemone with several stalked eyes, introduced as Nurse Grace. She wore a uniform consisting of several white arm- (tentacle-?) bands emblazoned with the near-universal green crescent and nothing else. Despite her alien-ness, there could be no doubt of her gender; everything about her, from the gentle, graceful movements of her tentacles to her sweetly gracious way of speaking, was tremendously feminine. She was also a telepath; Rose caught the unmistakable sense of it, like invisible swirls and water currents sweeping around the slender, blue form in a faint, barely-there manifestation.

After a moment feeling awkward around someone so completely non-humanoid and psionically aware in the bargain, Rose found herself relaxing. Nurse Grace had an impeccable bedside manner and excellent people skills. Rose relaxed even further as the exam progressed -- mostly she stood or sat as directed while various machines ran colored lights over her, or beeped and hummed while taking readings. The blood micro-sampler didn't even sting like the one in the Doctor's medkit.

"Rose," Nurse Grace mused, while carefully running a wand-like sensor around Rose's body while Rose stood upright with her feet together and arms held out at her sides. It was surreally like getting checked over with a metal detector at an Earth airport. "That's a sort of flower, isn't it? It makes a pretty name."

"Grace is a nice name, too," Rose replied politely. "It really suits you." She meant it -- the fluid ease with which the nurse moved was both lovely and soothing.

Grace chuckled. "So it should -- it was picked for me when I entered medical school; most species can't even come close to pronouncing my given name . . . You really are remarkably fit for a human, according to these readings, you know."

"Yeah, well, we live an active lifestyle. Lots of, um, jogging," Rose said, managing to keep a straight face as she said it.

Grace set aside the scanner wand. "I wish more people were so diligent about their health," she said in a wistful tone, sounding like nurses everywhere in Rose's experience.

"We look at it as running for our our lives," Rose said, completely deadpan, though the way the two stalked eyes blinked at her made her wonder if her inner amusement was leaking out through her manifestation. She tried to damp down her "visible" emotions, with no clue if it was working. That was the problem with psionics -- it wasn't something you could practice in front of a mirror, like learning to sit down in a short skirt without flashing anyone.

All Grace said, though, was, "Now, if you'll lie down here with your hands behind your head, we're almost done; just the reproductive scan left. You can relax for a moment. I have to re-calibrate my equipment -- we don't get many humans applying for exemptions."

Rose lay on the comfortably-padded low table, letting Grace tinker with yet another scanner in peace, and considered asking how many humans <i>did</i> apply for marriage exemptions, and of what sorts. Although she was curious about what Grace's real name sounded like, too . . .

"There! All set," Grace said cheerfully, and holding the scanner at a handspan's height above Rose's body, began a slow, smooth scan starting at the collarbones and moving downwards.

All Rose felt was a slight, warm tingling. It intensified briefly when the scan reached her breasts, but she managed to keep from being too embarrassed. After all, she was an adult, and this was far less personal than an equivalent exam back home. She drew breath to speak, having decided to ask about Grace's real name; she felt completely safe and relaxed, with no expectation of anything other than another few minutes' worth of pleasant chitchat . . . which was why the pain took her completely by surprise.

The scan reached her navel, and then out of nowhere an agonizing spasm tore through Rose, forcing the air from her lungs in a strangled gasp; it hit too hard and fast for her to even scream. Rose's muscles seized up and her body arched up off of the table in reaction. Grace jerked the scanner back and away, but Rose was barely aware of the nurse as a series of aftershocks racked her. She rolled halfway onto her side in a partial fetal ball; she couldn't breathe . . .

Distantly, she heard running footsteps in the corridor, and the examination room door burst open, spilling Jack and the Doctor inside, along with an impression of raging wind and water, so closely intertwined as to form one unstoppable force. They separated and the Doctor bolted to Rose's side while Jack yanked the offending scanner from Nurse Grace's grasp. The Doctor touched the bare skin of Rose's wrist with his fingertips, and the link flared to life, easing the pain and loosening Rose's muscles to the point where she could pull in a deep, desperate breath.

As she gasped, she saw Jack toss the scanner in the Doctor's direction without looking; the Doctor, all his attention focused on Rose, caught it easily, also without looking. He was staring down into Rose's face with his steel-blue eyes wide and scared and angry.

Another gasp, and Rose found her voice again. "I'm all right! It just hurt, a lot. I wasn't expecting it . . ." The Doctor helped her into a sitting position, and she saw that Jack had Nurse Grace backed into the farthest corner of the room. He wasn't touching her, but he outmassed her at least three to one and had his arms partially spread in a threatening, blocking gesture. His manifestation was full of boiling black water, razor coral, jagged rocks and things with very sharp teeth. Grace looked justifiably terrified. Right that moment, Rose couldn't feel too sorry for her.

"You could've warned me," she snarled accusingly, leaning gratefully into the Doctor while he loomed protectively over her in a pillar of leather and lightning. <i>Not even an insincere little "this may sting a little."</i> "I could stand it hurting, if I knew." The shock had been the worst of it; she probably wouldn't have seized up nearly so badly if she could have prepared herself.

"But it shouldn't have hurt!" Nurse Grace shot back, rallying enough to muster her own outrage. Half her eyes glared at Jack and half at the Doctor. "I had it on the correct setting for humans, I swear . . .!"

The Doctor looked at the scanner in his hand, and expertly punched a few buttons with his thumb. The scanner beeped, and blinked with small green lights. "Well, you got your reading," he said, visibly getting himself back under control. "You can stand down, Captain." Jack stepped back to be closer to his shipmates, his body language and manifestation easing but remaining protective.

"Perfectly healthy, not pregnant, everything you need for your report," the Doctor continued, running the scanner through its paces quickly. He glared at the rattled nurse, who was wreathing her tentacles in a way that made Rose think of hand-wringing. "Next time, check your settings a little more carefully, yeah?" The rebuke in his tone was sharp and obvious, almost insulting. Nurse Grace shrank in on herself a little, facing the daunting combination of the Doctor's scorn mixed with a dash of Oncoming Storm.

Rose was feeling much better, just some faint, residual cramping left, and found herself feeling bad for the gentle nurse who -- she was fairly sure now that she was thinking more rationally -- hadn't intended any harm. "I'm all right," she repeated, squeezing the Doctor's hand and swinging her legs off the examination table so she could stand. She reached and touched Jack on the arm with her fingertips, trying to send soothing impulses.

"They're ready for us down in the psi testing facility," Jack said stiffly, still watching Nurse Grace with suspicion. "We were just waiting for you, Rose."

"That scan was the last thing, wasn't it?" Rose said, addressing Grace. Now she was starting to feel a little embarrassed; the three of them had been through so many life-threatening ordeals, their defensive reactions were set on a hair trigger. It had saved their lives more than once, but in a safe and civilized situation that combat-readiness wasn't necessarily appropriate.

"Yes," Grace replied, coolly, regaining her composure. "You're free to leave -- in fact, I'd greatly prefer if you did."

"Um. Thanks," Rose said with an attempt at an apologetic smile as she steered her fiances towards the door. Grace didn't respond, just turned began straightening her equipment in pointed silence. Rose winced inside, but there didn’t seem to be anything more she could say.

"Well, that could have gone better," she sighed when they three of them were in the corridor. She wrapped her arms around her men's waists, and they responded by each draping an arm across her shoulders. "Still, thank you. If I'd really been in trouble . . ."

"If you'd really been in trouble," the Doctor rumbled, "we'd've sorted it, with interest."

"Compound interest," Jack qualified, with a hint of his usual humor beginning to return.

Rose laughed. "My two brave heroes," she said, giving both of them an affectionate squeeze. "Spreading terror among our enemies with your detailed knowledge of accounting practices. Where are we headed now?"

"The basement. All the psi reading equipment is underground. Better shielding from background interference that way," the Doctor told her as they reached the lift and disengaged so they could fit through the doors. He was in a much better humor now -- all of them were.

"This'll be the easy part," Jack said, perking up into a close approximation of his original bright cheer. "You just watch."

---

Rose took a deep breath. Don't think of this as a test, she told herself. It's a . . . performance. Like a gymnastics competition. She'd never been scared of competitions; in fact, she enjoyed them. Putting it in those terms helped. A little.

The three of them were standing in a chamber that reminded Rose of a soundproof recording studio, down to having one transparent wall looking into the technician's booth, an even smaller adjoining room lined floor-to-ceiling with banks of mysterious equipment. The walls of the evaluation chamber were plastered with an impressive array of wires, sensors, and blinking lights, giving Rose an acute sense of technological claustrophobia.

The technician in charge of evaluating their psionic bond was a distant relative, Rose decided, being a primate, but given that he looked like a giant vervet monkey in a suit she wasn't sure he qualified as "humanoid." He had the familiar bored/superior attitude of a human technogeek, though.

The tech (who hadn't bothered to give them his name) tweaked one last control and then slumped back in his chair. "Right," he said into a microphone connected to a speaker in the sealed evaluation chamber. "Whenever you're ready." His tone conveyed that a) he doubted they'd ever really be ready, and b) he didn't particularly care.

Rose faced Jack and the Doctor, and the three of them took hands, forming a closed circle. The link flared with the physical contact, sending a current of shared energy through the three of them, grounding and stimulating at once. Grinning, Jack threw his end of the link wide open, broadcasting his happy excitement in a vivid pulse. (We'll show them/off the charts/let's do it!) Rose and the Doctor responded reflexively in kind, opening fully to the link, and Rose couldn't hide her tension any longer, embarrassed as she was to "admit" it.

(Easy/Jack's right/give 'em a show they'll remember.) the Doctor sent in reassurance, picking up the thread of Jack's emotions and intensifying them in resonance. Underneath his comforting surface feelings was a rising hint of the wild, goofy delight the he took in carrying out some crazed plan. His empathic presence was huge, as always, and he and Jack together were irresistible; Rose felt her worries crumbling as she was buoyed up by their shared enthusiasm.

In the adjoining room, Rose was vaguely aware, the tech was sitting up straighter in his chair, no longer bored and detached, but working his machinery with concentration. Clearly, something was registering already.

"Okay, gang," Jack said aloud, his grin going wicked in anticipation. "Don't hold back. Ready?"

The affirmative sang through the link in a perfect chord and they moved closer, into a three-way embrace that allowed the Doctor to press his fingertips into the contact points along the sides of his partners' faces, touching Rose with his right hand, Jack with his left. A collective breath, and the physical world dropped away, leaving Sea and Sun and Storm interwoven. (Joy/laughter/bright/dark/blending/synergy/harmony/LIGHT! . . .)

Their concentration was broken by an audible <i>BANG!</i>, accompanied by a faint vibration through the floor. They fell back into the physical world in time to hear the technician's creative and heartfelt swearing -- coming, like the bang, though the open microphone channel.

The Doctor dropped his hands, and the three of them pulled apart enough to turn and look through the glass wall, where the tech was fanning wildly at clouds of smoke rising from his controls.

"Everything all right in there?" the Doctor called out, frowning.

More swearing, followed by, "No, it's not, you've just shorted out the whole bloody panel!"

"But that's good, right?" Jack called, starting to slip free of the others. "I mean, it had to have been a really strong reading to do that, didn't it?"

The technician didn't get a chance to reply, because just then the floor to ceiling banks of equipment behind him exploded into flame.

The Doctor didn't hesitate. In half a heartbeat, he had the sonic screwdriver out and aimed at the ceiling. A single burst of sound, and the fire suppression system engaged, spraying cold, white fire-retardant foam into both the evaluation chamber and the technician's booth. Rose squealed, Jack shouted, and the technician screeched . . . reactions echoed throughout the West Provincial Legal Building as every floor was doused in response to the Doctor's signal.

---

There was a slight break in the testing sequence as the building was evacuated and windows were depolarized and propped open to help the foam evaporate more quickly. Passers-by and traffic slowed to take in the sight of a couple hundred bedraggled bureaucrats lining the sidewalks and alleys.

Rose, Jack and the Doctor stood across the street, leaning against the opposite building and watching the milling, unhappy crowd.

"Did you have to set off the whole thing?" Jack asked.

The Doctor glared at him. "It's not like I had time to fine-tune the signal. By the time the system went off on its own, it would've been too late -- the sensors aren't built to register a split-second fireball like that. I wasn’t even sure where to aim. Best I could do was take a guess at the frequency and send it off at maximum volume. S' not my fault granite transmits sonics so well . . ."

"Saved the tech, anyway," Rose said. "That's what's important." She flapped her arms and fluffed her hair, to speed up the drying process. She was impressed in spite of herself: the foam might be unpleasantly clinging and clammy, but when evaporated it did so completely, without leaving any residue or even staining their clothes. It had worked wonders on the flames, too; the technician had barely been singed. That hadn't stopped him from giving them a very dirty look after they'd evacuated the building, though.

Some gratitude . . . Rose thought.

The three of them heaved a mutual sigh and slid closer, so their shoulders were touching in a line as they leaned against the wall.

---
After the drying-out interlude was over, they were directed to the office of the Regional Secretary of Registry for the final step in the exemption process: the personal interview.

This was the part Rose had been truly dreading. She sat with her fiancés on the low multispecies-compatible bench in front of the Secretary’s imposing desk and couldn’t help feeling like a naughty child called into the Headmaster’s office. The urge to fidget was overwhelming, so she laced her fingers together and squeezed her hands between her knees.

The Headmaster analogy was strengthened by the Secretary’s disapproving expression. Rose tried to tell herself he wasn’t <i>really</i> frowning at them, that was just the way his face was made. He was Yashon, one of the black-skinned salamander people, and the corners of his mouth had a natural downturn that primate species often misread.

It seemed an awfully pronounced downturn, though.

The Secretary cocked his head and flicked the third eyelid across his wide, golden eyes as he studied the supplicants before him.

Rose gritted her teeth. Okay, now he’s just trying to make us sweat. It was working, too: she could feel a trickle between her shoulderblades. Her nervousness wasn’t helped by the fact that the Secretary was a telepath and she was holding up every mental shield she possessed, including a few that seemed to have built themselves out of sheer terror just for this occasion.

Moving deliberately, the Secretary picked up a lightpad and studied it, flicking through a few pages.

The Doctor, frowning thunderously, cleared his throat.

The Secretary glanced up over the top of the lightpad without otherwise moving, then returned his attention to the screen. The air pressure seemed to increase exponentially.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw Jack, on the other side of the Doctor, slip his hand over the Time Lord’s – trying to prevent the inevitable explosion, Rose had no doubt. Steeling herself, she did the same on her side, and risked cracking her shields open.

It was as bad as she’d suspected. Ever since the link had developed to the point where Rose could appreciate the phenomenon of telepathic manifestation, she’d come to recognize it as the source of the Doctor’s overwhelming personal aura and his almost uncanny ability to take control of various situations. He radiated a powerful enough mental presence that even many non-telepaths, with their natural shields and general psi-blindness, still picked a subliminal sense of that vivid internal storm and tended to react accordingly. The Doctor was very aware of the effect and employed it for deliberate leverage.

He was trying to use it now, in fact, raising an intimidating wall of black clouds that filled the room and beyond, though Jack was attempting (without much luck) to get him to damp it down.

For his part the Secretary gave off an aura of . . . data: constant streams of numbers and characters, flowing like sand through an hourglass. It was orderly, unwavering, and completely disinterested in the looming Storm.

We’re up against the Ultimate Bureaucrat, Rose thought, and her heart dropped down into her trainers. This was not going to go well; she knew it before a single word was spoken. She felt a little dizzy.

Without looking up from his lightpad, the Secretary fired the opening shot.

“So. You are seeking a certificate of exemption for a three-person, cross-species marriage?” he began, tone cool and pedantic and absolutely guaranteed to drive the Doctor to distraction.

There was a brief, rather fascinating mental tussle in which the better part of an ocean tried unsuccessfully to heave itself off its seabed and wrestle a hurricane to the ground. Rose crossed the fingers of her free hand and prayed it wasn’t as obvious to the Secretary as it was to her.

“S’ what it says on every page of the bloody great pile of forms we’ve filled out,” the Doctor replied, voice dripping with sarcasm, “so I’d call that a safe bet.”

Rose squeezed the Doctor’s hand, which was cold, solid, and completely ignoring her. The odd, dizzy feeling was increasing; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been nervous enough for it to affect her that way.

“I do not gamble,” the Secretary said, distantly. “It is my job to evaluate the evidence presented to me and make the most appropriate legal decision possible.”

Jack, giving up the battle on the psionic level, attempted to take control of the verbal playing field. He managed, barely, to get the next word in before the Doctor could reply.

“We’ve proven a viable psionic link between the three of us,” he said, in his most persuasive and charming tone. “I’m sure you have a readout of our examination results on your ‘pad . . .”

“Oh, I am well aware of your examination results,” the Secretary said in a desert-dry voice, cutting Jack off. “As is everyone else in this building.”

Jack, disconcerted, closed his mouth and fumbled for a response.

Smoothly, without leaving an opening for the Doctor, the Secretary continued. “Psionic linkage aside, there are some serious inconsistencies in your application material. In particular, the results of your medical examinations were most irregular . . .”

“That’ll be me,” the Doctor cut in with a tight smile. “Don’t guess your people have seen anything similar before. There’s a reason for that.”

“Indeed. That brings me to your species declarations. It says here that you are two humans and a Time Lord.” If possible, the Secretary’s voice became even drier on the last two words.

“That’s right. Time Lord, right here, pleased to meet ya,” the Doctor said with brutally false cheer. He probably would have made a sarcastic little wave if he hadn’t had a human firmly attached to each hand.

“Time Lords do not exist. They are a myth,” the Secretary responded flatly.

“In your narrow little viewpoint, maybe. The real world’s a different matter,” the Doctor shot back. The looming storm clouds threatened to go completely black, even though Rose did everything she could to inject them with soothing sunlight. She traded a desperate glance with Jack.

“Still, though, can’t expect much thinking outside the box from someone with a tidy desk and a mind like an abacus, can I?” the Doctor continued, starting to hit his stride, and Rose groaned inwardly. She risked a glance in the direction of the Secretary, expecting to see some sort of reaction, but his expression was as neutral as the shifting flow of his manifestation. He was, however, making notes on the lightpad.

“Got enough of that back home, on . . .” the Doctor’s mouth snapped shut on the name, and his eyes widened. So did Rose’s. Gallifrey was a private matter to him; she’d never heard him name his lost home anywhere outside the walls of the TARDIS.

Rose and Jack exchanged another glance, startled this time.

The Doctor’s manifested storm clouds, contracted, swirled disconcertedly for a moment, then snapped back out in a wider spread than before. “Tomez field,” he declared, sounding appalled.

“What?” Jack interjected.

“This entire interview is being conducted inside a Tomez field,” the Doctor said. “Don’t know why I missed it before.”

“Wait, what’s a . . . Tomez field?” Rose asked, worried at the others’ reactions.

“Magnetic oscillation,” the Doctor told her in a clipped voice. “Stimulates certain centers in most sentient species’ brains, loosens your tongue and makes you say things you normally wouldn’t. Like a truth serum, without the serum.”

Rose slammed her psionic shields back up so fast it was nearly painful.

“That won’t do you any good,” the Doctor said, sounding exasperated. “S’ not psionic, s’ magnetic. Works on a different mechanism. You can’t block it that way anymore than you could block an MRI scan.”

“Oh.” Rose loosened her shields again, feeling silly. “Is that what’s making me feel dizzy?”

“Yeah, it’d feel that way to you. Only a few races are immune,” the Doctor told her. “The Yashonoi are one.” He jerked his head in the direction of the Secretary, and Rose, reminded that they were still under examination, shot a worried glance towards the desk. The Secretary was taking notes steadily on his lightpad.

Rose tried squeezing the Doctor’s hand for attention again, but he ignored her and turned to Jack. “So why didn’t you mention this little wrinkle?” he asked.

Jack sputtered. “I . . . I didn’t know! It must have been in the fine print . . .!”

The Doctor rolled his eyes and growled. “Typical! Just bloody typical. That’s the same sloppy approach got you in trouble with those Chula nanogenes . . .”

“Oh, right, bring that up again!” Jack shot back, stung. “Whose bright idea was Kyoto? I mean, because dropping a bunch of Caucasians down in the middle of Medieval Japan is going to go so well, isn’t it? And who got us thrown in jail the last three times?”

“Ix-nay on the ail-jay,” Rose hissed, desperately. “He’s still taking notes . . .” But Jack and the Doctor were well into their Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object mode, completely ignoring her and the attention-seeking impulses she was sending down the private, empathic portion of their link.

That made Rose frustrated, and more than frustrated: angry. She had the sense of things slipping out of control, as they did after one drink too many (including the terrible feeling that she couldn’t be entirely sure what words would come out of her mouth next), but that same sense did wonders for bypassing any psionic inhibitions she had left.

“Will you both shush?!” she hissed between her teeth, accompanying the words with a flash of telepathic light like a split-second nova.

She was rewarded with total silence and the complete attention of two very startled pairs of blue eyes.

A little throat-clearing and shuffling followed, as Jack and the Doctor rearranged themselves to be facing their interviewer again, rather than each other.

“Most impressive,” the Secretary observed dryly. “And that brings us back to the subject at hand. Young mistress, you and the young master –“ the sleek black head nodded in Jack’s direction, “have given your species designation as ‘human.’” The Secretary steepled his twelve digits in an almost human gesture and studied Rose with large, golden eyes. “I would be very interested in hearing how you intend to reconcile that with your performance just now.”

Rose blinked at him, then burst out, “Are you sayin’ you don’t think I’m human? What else would I be?”

“I have no idea, but I would appreciate being enlightened on the matter – including the reason you felt the need to lie on your application,” was the cool reply.

“It’s him,” Jack said, indicating the Doctor somewhat desperately. The Doctor glared and started to speak, but stopped himself with a visible effort. “It’s because we’re linked to him and he’s a Time Lord. It’s letting us develop psionic abilities humans don’t usually have.”

“Indeed.” The word was spoken with nearly subzero chill. The Secretary unsteepled his fingers and picked up his stylus again. “I have heard many hatchling-tales about the supposed powers of the Time Lords, but that is . . . original. Now, in regards to the current address the three of you list, a database search has uncovered an interesting lack of correspondence to any actual physical location. I trust your explanation for that anomaly will not involve mythology . . .?”

“I say we just leave now,” Jack said in a tired voice. The three of them were back in the ground floor waiting area, sharing one of the low, backless benches. Jack and the Doctor were seated on opposite sides of the bench, leaning more or less back-to-back; Rose, straddling the bench, leaned back against both of them, the end result being a somewhat sloppy triangle of support.

“No way,” Rose said, trying not to sound as tired as Jack did, no matter how she felt. It had been a seriously draining interview. “We got this far, we’re seein’ it through.”

“Rose is right,” the Doctor said, surprising her. “We agreed to do this together. And we will.” He didn’t sound any more cheerful than Jack did, but there was a layer of solid conviction beneath his words.

Jack groaned. “Don’t prolong the agony on my account, just because it was my bright idea,” he said. He took a deep breath, which Rose could feel clearly against her back, and added, “I’m sorry about the Tomez field. I really didn’t think to read beyond the basics . . .”

Rose felt the Doctor sigh. “Don’t,” he said, cutting off Jack’s flow of self-recrimination. “I shouldn’t’ve made that comparison. It wasn’t life-threatening, the world didn’t almost end, and everybody lived – in body, anyway.”

That earned a worn little chuckle from Rose. She knew exactly what the Doctor meant. All three of them were radiating flat, grey emotions through the link, and listless versions of their usual manifestations. “Maybe they’ll give us the exemption just to get rid of us.”

“Could be – stranger things’ve happened, and I should know,” the Doctor said in an aside to Rose, then continued, “Take it as a learning experience when all’s said and done, and move on.”

It was Jack’s turn to chuckle. “’Oh, no, not another learning experience!’” he said, quoting a bumper sticker he’d seen in Rose’s time that had amused him.

“We keep having those, don’t we?” Rose asked, leaning her head back and studying the interestingly-vaulted ceiling above, keeping her voice light. “Operative word being ‘we’.”

“Better with three,” the Doctor agreed, tilting his head to follow Rose’s gaze.

One of the unexpected advantages of the link, Rose thought, was that it allowed three people to hug each other while all of them were facing in different directions. The thought made her smile, and she felt a little light creeping back inside. The flat surface of Jack’s internal seascape picked up into tentative whitecaps, and cool, fresh air stirred becalmed clouds as the Doctor’s manifestation began to shift and change again.

There was a low, musical chime from the vicinity of the receptionist’s desk, and Jack’s back muscles tightened. “Data download,” he translated. “Wanna bet what it’ll be?”

There was no need to answer him. The three of them shifted and stood, then made their way to the front desk.

The current receptionist was one of the blue-skinned people Rose had first met on Platform One – some of the first aliens she’d ever seen, and she hadn’t realized till just then that she’d never learned what their species was actually called.

The receptionist gave them a sympathetic smile . . . which told Rose first that the woman probably hadn’t been in the building when the Doctor had triggered the fire retardant system, and second that their case hadn’t exactly been kept secret; probably the whole thing was common knowledge throughout the office by now. She started to cringe at the thought, but then gave it up. Her cringe muscles were all worn out or something.

The Doctor accepted the single-use lightpad (a rigid square of what looked like thin, smoky-translucent plexiglass the size of a sheet of paper) with an expression solemn enough to border on grim, and the three of them made for the door – not quite at a run, but at a healthy pace all the same.

They didn’t make it back to the TARDIS; by mutual agreement, they stepped into the first semi-private alley they encountered, and the Doctor tapped the edge of the ‘pad with a fingernail to activate it. Lighted text sprang to life within the translucent plastic, scrolling down until it filled the “page.” Rose and Jack, looking around the Doctor’s shoulders, barely had a chance to register the text at all.

“What?!” the Doctor exclaimed, sounding aggrieved. He began tapping the edge of the ‘pad in a rapid-fire sequence, reading each successive pageful of text at eyeblink speeds.

“Hey!” Jack cried at the same moment Rose said, “Wait! Slow down!”

At first Rose didn’t think the Doctor would pay attention, but he stopped and double-tapped to send the document back to its first page.

Rose re-focused her eyes and began reading, as did Jack. It came as no surprise that their request for a certificate of exemption had been denied; that was clearly and simply stated on the first half of the first page. The surprises came in the attached documents and appendices.

“What the --?” Jack burst out. “I’m being charged with assault?”

“By Nurse Grace,” Rose read off, surprised.

“But I never even touched her, just grabbed the scanner!”

“Says here you made ‘threats of a non-physical nature,’ and ‘invaded her psionic space,’” the Doctor said. “Looks like here, you don’t have to touch someone for it to be assault.”

Rose remembered the black wall of water that had been Jack’s manifestation during the confrontation. “You did say there are laws against unwanted telepathic contact,” she said looking across the ‘pad at Jack.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” he replied, glancing back at Rose with grudging acceptance. “I think we should sue her back for malpractice, though.”

The Doctor tapped the lightpad again and growled. “They’re also charging us for the damage to the psi scan facility,” he announced. “Like I’m payin’ that. Just the three of us shouldn’t’ve been able to burn out that system, not if they were looking after it properly to begin with.” His tone spoke volumes about his lack of respect for people who didn’t have the mental capacity to take care of their equipment. He tapped the ‘pad again, beginning the portion of the document he hadn’t reached in his earlier page-through.

“Domestic violence!” he exclaimed, in a tone (and volume) that turned the heads of a few passers-by at the entrance of the alley.

“That’s from when you went off about Mum slapping you,” Rose predicted.

“Probably didn’t help that you offered to pop him another one if he didn’t stop harping on your mom,” Jack observed, flashing her his crooked grin. “You’ve never gotten over that, have you, Doc?”

“Scarred for life. I’ll never recover,” the Doctor agreed, absently, tapping for the next page.

It turned out to be a densely-written addendum by none other than the Regional Secretary, who argued that potential charges of species declaration perjury should be mitigated by the subjects’ clearly unbalanced mental states, notably their delusional belief in Time Lords. Mandatory psychiatric evaluation and treatment were recommended . . .

“Hold it,” Rose said, brushing a strand of hair back behind her ear. “Did we just get sectioned?”

“Damn near,” Jack said. “Guess that proves it, we really are crazy about each other.”

Rose started giggling. She couldn’t help it – it was all so far beyond simple failure, it bordered on the ridiculous.

The last pages were a legal summary, indicating that an official hardcopy of the document was being sent to their given address (which Jack, in a truly astonishing feat of fast-talking, had managed to convince the Secretary was valid after all), and that they would have one (1) month of twenty-four (24) standard days in which to report to the appropriate authorities regarding criminal and psychiatric matters, or multiple warrants would be issued authorizing their forcible arrest and detention . . .

Without another word, Jack turned and walked to the nearest wall. Leaning on the palms of his hands, he began to mime beating his head against it. “Aaaaaarrrrrgh . . .” he snarled in an undertone.

With an unhappy look at the Doctor, Rose followed and laid her hand gently on Jack’s arm, trying to radiate soothing energy.

“I’m sorry,” she told Jack. “It didn’t work out this time, but we’ll find somewhere to get married, really we will . . .”

In response, Jack pushed off from the wall and smoothed his hair back one-handed. “Oh, I know,” he said, sounding far less frustrated than Rose would have expected, given his performance. His emotional tone matched his voice. “I just had to get that out of my system.”

The Doctor rested an affectionate hand on Jack’s shoulder for a moment, offering support. “For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have wanted to be married anywhere that it’s legal to wave magnetic fields around people’s brains in a routine civil interview.”

Jack grinned at him. “Yeah, you made that pretty clear. I’m surprised they didn’t slap you with a charge of sedition, the way you were going on about sapients’ rights in iambic pentameter at the end there, right before the Secretary booted us out of his office.”

Rose couldn’t help laughing. Now everything was over and done with and the tension gone, she had to admit that had been a highlight.

“Speakin’ of which, we should probably get back to the TARDIS while the Powers That Be still think we’re safe walkin’ the streets on our own recognizance,” the Doctor reminded them, with an illustrative jerk of his head in the direction of the timeship. “Or before they decide to slap a parking fine on us. Wouldn’t put it past ‘em, here.”

As escapes went, it was one of their more low-key efforts, conducted at an amble, rather than a dead run. The Doctor tapped the pattern for a self-wipe into the lightpad, then tossed it in the first skip they passed.

“Back to the clipboard,” Jack said, by way of farewell.

Rose slipped her arm through the Doctor’s. “When you said you didn’t do domestic, you really meant it, didn’t you?” she asked with fond amusement. “It’s like kryptonite to you. Or you’re like kryptonite to it . . .”

“Told you. Free spirit, me,” the Doctor said, looking and sounding smug. Another Yashon crossed the street to avoid the unfurling swirl of anvil-shaped thunderheads that filled the psionic aether around them.

“Don’t get too hung up on that freedom, Doc,” Jack said warningly, taking the Doctor’s other arm. “I’m gonna make an honest sentient of you someday. ‘Till then, though I guess we can keep on living in sin.”

“Ooo, sin! I like sin,” Rose chirped.

“Might not be a bad way to end the day,” the Doctor admitted. “Fire up the hot tub, break a few commandments . . .”

Laughing, the three of them finally broke into a run for the TARDIS.

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