It would be a risky mission, destined to determine the course of their futures in one of two ways:
Freedom from their constant oppression and a resounding blow to the tyranny that bound them, or harsher confinement and regulation bordering torture.
It was already unbearable for nearly half of their waking lives, confined for hours within four, barren walls, and nothing but the company of each other in a small jail cell and silence. No stimulus. No diversion. Nothing to stop or slow the monotonous descent into nightly madness.
Oh, they had a few boring, ridiculously infantile books the kinder jailer condescended to leave them, but it was almost insulting when such childish diversions would be read in seconds, and they had infinite soporific hours to kill, while the two ruthless overlords slept peacefully in their bed of injustice.
Tonight, they would enact their weeks of careful planning, and waiting for the perfect opportunity.
Tonight, they would make a break for liberty, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. They knew, whatever the outcome, nothing would be the same.
When their sister had seen the male warden absently discard his coat and forget to retrieve it, they knew the time had finally come, and that the despot’s carelessness would spell the downfall of his regime.
Sister had crawled into position beneath the chair on which it rested, while Brothers created the perfect diversion, consisting of one them loosening a table leg with a chubby, bare foot, followed by a few well-timed kicks, and the other crying out in what the powers would assume was pain or fright. Ethically, his cry could not be ignored if the table had come anywhere near him when it fell, and the unwitting fools gave him a thorough examination.
Finding the sabotage didn’t take long, but their motives remained well concealed in the depths of Sister’s clothing.
Of course, the diversion earned them more time in solitary — and without even having any of the good part of the slop they were fed nightly, which always had to wait for the end after the disgusting mushy-pea-and-pasta part had been finished.
But no matter.
As soon as they had been locked up again to face the torpor of solitude, Sister brought out the key to their impending liberty…
…and it whirred and glowed with pretty, blue light.
All that had been left to do was while away the hated hours until their captors, with their inferior bodily construction, required sleep.
Finally, the moment came when Sister gave the all clear from her post at the locked cell’s entrance. Breathing had regulated. Hearts slowed slightly, and none of the strange, noisy play-wrestling would happen that night.
In other words, their parents slept peacefully just down the corridor.
The possibilities were intoxicating.
Brother had been wanting to get the shiny, bread-crisping thing for as long as he could remember.
Sister had methodically plotted her course for the No-books on the high shelf for months.
Little Brother was finally going into the room which made the air, with the trees, and the birds, and insects.
And they all wanted to get into the singing room. They always wanted to be in the singing room, and they were never allowed in alone — which wasn’t fair because the singing thing wanted them there, or it wouldn’t be singing to them all the time.
But now they had the key.
Little Brother climbed on Brother’s back before Sister climbed up both to reach the locking mechanism next to the door.
Their male captor, more commonly called Daddy, had removed the keypad the first time they’d made a bid for freedom, and now it only worked from the inside with the whirring glowy-tube he always kept in his pocket. When they asked him about it, he hid it, and pretended like he didn’t know what they were talking about.
Maddening old man.
Sister fiddled with the button, making little whirrs, until the pad sparked, and the door slid open.
Brother couldn’t contain his joy and cheered as he sat up, unbalancing Little Brother and Sister so that they fell in a heap behind him with little grunts, and Sister pinched his arm.
Brother apologised to them repeatedly, until Little Brother pinched him too, and motioned for him to be quiet.
They listened intently for any indication that their ruckus had woken their jailers.
Only soft breathing, and the whispering sounds of The-Most-Dangerous-Thing-in-the-Known-Universe, or Mum, rolling over floated back to them.
They grinned at each other, and toddled cautiously on traitorously noisy feet out of the prison called The Nursery.
Rose woke languorously to the smell of something cooking. She smiled.
The Doctor was rarely up before her, his part-human body required more and more rest as he aged and the human vascular system struggled to keep up with Time-Lord regulatory requirements. She never minded being the first to wake with the children. He didn’t slouch the rest of the day when they needed running after, and it often meant that she had a few minutes alone to get in a cup of tea before she had to be patient with anyone.
The Doctor usually only got up first and made breakfast when there was an apology to be made, but every once in a while, he surprised her. Granted, it usually happened now when the kids had actually fallen asleep during the night and he was feeling frisky, but she enjoyed those occasions just as much as he did.
So, she grinned to herself, and stretched beneath the duvet awaiting his bustling entrance and the mischievous gleam in his warm brown eyes… but… her hand bumped into a warm, solid, Doctor-shaped object beside her.
Confused, and still in her morning, pre-cuppa haze, she sat up expecting to see a tray by the bed with tea and toast… only to find the room toast-less and tea-less, and her Doctor still softly snoring.
She shook her head to clear her senses of the olfactory lie that had pulled her so tauntingly from slumber.
Only, it didn’t go away.
As her head cleared, it intensified.
Someone had made toast.
Had the Doctor gotten up early and snacked, only to fall back asleep?
No tell-tale jam jars cluttered the bedside table.
No half-completed tinkering (thankfully) littered the duvet.
His slippers were still next to the wardrobe, and his dressing gown still on its door. Pillow creases still graced his cheeks, and he was drooling slightly.
He hadn’t been up.
None of the implications of this smell were good.
Her good mood entirely gone, and the adorable picture her husband once made now absolutely irritating, she hauled herself out of bed, and stalked out of their room without being bothered to put on her dressing gown.
The Doctor woke to the smell of chemicals. He frowned.
It wasn’t the usual smell of eggs and sausages, or kippers, or even toast. It was harsh and astringent, and suddenly he was overcome with a feeling of foreboding.
Rose’s side of the bed was cold and empty.
The room silent, but for the purring hum of the ship’s engines.
Her slippers remained next to his by the industrial metal wardrobe, and her dressing gown hung in its place on the door as well.
The room felt frigid and desolate, and his feeling of ill-ease increased.
It was then that he began to hear the stream of curses, and litany of frustrated mutterings coming from deeper in the cobbled-together ship they called home.
His wife was quite awake, and in a bit of a strop.
He wondered what could possibly have her so upset this early. His time senses told him he hadn’t had much of a lie-in, in fact, he was up earlier than was usual… but Rose was distinctly dischuffed at only half seven in the morning.
And she was cleaning. Quite a lot. With strong chemicals.
Turps, Friptonian non-ammonia soft-scrub, orange-wood oil, and… hints of soldering flux? And traces of acetylene?
What the devil?
He hesitated before sitting up.
Should he roll over and wait out the storm? He may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. He might be able to feign ignorance, and she would lose steam… eventually.
Then again, leaving her alone to deal with the children, and… whatever had happened— and by happened, he meant whatever they had destroyed and/or gotten into… for longer than necessary wasn’t very generous, and there was a high likelihood she would come stomping in and shriek at him until he wished for an impending asteroid field in their flight path, or a ship sent by the Shadow Proclamation on their tail — anything to take the focus off himself and her anger.
He liked his bed. He liked his wife. He liked his wife in his bed, and being present with his wife in his bed at roughly the same point in time. He liked sleeping in the library much less than his current simultaneous-wife-and-bed accommodations, and didn’t fancy giving them up for a lie-in.
Better to get it over with than risk the wrath of Rose Tyler.
With a long-suffering sigh, he rolled out of bed, and armoured himself in his woolly, blue slippers and dressing gown, then cautiously made his way down the corridor to the galley where his wife was nursing a cup of tea and scowling at everything.
He didn’t ask her why or try to get her attention—
Actually, he rather wished he’d made a break for it, and hidden himself in the engine room to tinker.
The impulse to flee began when he saw the Marmite on the ceiling in the corridor, and only intensified as he soberly trudged the remaining distance to the galley.
Bits of electronics, and random nuts and bolts littered the floor, along with swirling trails of yellow paint. Small, sticky hand prints seemed to be in impossibly high places, and a dusty air-vent cover lay on its face on the paint-splattered grating, making sweat break out on his brow.
Yes, the urge to find shelter from the impending explosion had been strong.
And now he stood behind the love of his lives, and mother of his children, and tried not to breathe too loudly.
He might still make a hasty retreat…
…and possibly get lost in the engine room for a week.
His suit jacket was resting on her lap, however, (their utilitarian metal dining table was in pieces, and strewn about the room) so he had no sonic with which to tinker— and half his tools, he knew, were likely in Torin’s toy box in the nursery. How that boy nicked them when he was never even allowed near the engine room (he was bloody three, and barely walking for Pete’s sake!) never ceased to baffle him, but he still found himself having to root around in dolls, plush toys, and building blocks a few times a week for a spanner, or pliers.
He was just about to back up — and maybe run — when she spoke, startling him into a wince.
Her voice was much gentler than he’d been expecting.
She held up his jacket, and sipped her tea without looking at him. He gingerly took it from her outstretched hand, and stared at it without moving.
“Water’s still hot,” she advised calmly.
“Right,” he replied, not daring to move from his spot in the doorway behind her.
He’d have to move into her field of vision if he went for a cup and the electric kettle. From his position, he still wasn’t cornered.
“‘S no toast, though.”
“O-Oh?” he croaked. “Alright. Do… you want me to—“
“Can’t,” she shrugged, all nonchalance. “Toaster’s been turned into a cat.”
“What?” he spluttered, unable to keep a note of impressed giddiness from creeping in.
He schooled his features into what he hoped was stern disbelief and parental resolve while she still couldn’t see him. It wouldn’t do to poke the sleeping bear with his delight over such antics.
“A robot cat,” she nodded. “Tha’ an’ the cooker as well, so no hot food at all, really. Except cup of soup. Thank God they didn’t take apart the bloody kettle, yeah?”
She grinned and looked back at him then.
“There may’ve been a bit of marmalade in, but at least it wasn’t slugs, an’ it washed out easy.”
He didn’t know if this was an invitation to make light of the situation, or a sneaky, sneaky trap.
She really seemed to have calmed, and, ever the fan of Option A, he put on his manic grin and nodded.
That seemed safe.
“So, cup of soup?” she offered, sipping at her tea. “Or, as I found a blowtorch in the refrigerator, we could always make toast tha’ way, yeah?”
“Naaah,” he grinned more genuinely, “you rest, and I can cook us something with the sonic!”
He gave her a small, cheeky bow, and pecked her jaw with smiling lips, delighting in his ability to come through and provide support in the bleakest of times with his genius.
It seemed, deciding not to be shiftless was the right choice. Crisis averted. They’d clear it all up together and laugh about how brilliant and curious their children had become.
He was about to ask where said children were, when he noticed the tension in his wife’s shoulders, and the whiteness of her knuckles on the fingers clutching her teacup. Her grin had become mask-like and she nodded stiffly.
His stomach dropped, but he carried on smiling, and set to working on making breakfast.
He searched his jacket pockets for his screwdriver… but came up empty.
That was strange… He was sure he’d left it in the right inner pocket last night. Wherever did it get off to?
He scanned the room as he moved in deeper, just in case he’d absently (please, no) left it on a counter, or…
“Rose, do you have my sonic?”
Bugger, bugger, bugger.
They couldn’t… They’d had no opportunity! They had spent the entire evening together, in which time he definitely had the sonic in his pocket, before the kids nearly upset the table and were sent to bed…
How could they have gotten it?
Rose stood, daintily sipping her tea before moving to the spot he’d just vacated, effectively blocking the exit. All five feet, five inches of her, a formidable barrier between him and the rest of anywhere in the universe.
“Erm… Rose?” he asked as innocently as possible. “Have you, er… seen my sonic screwdriver?”
“No, luv,” she replied in a dangerously soft voice. “Not since las’ night. I believe you left it in your coat.”
She sipped her tea once more with a calm he no longer trusted in the least, and stared at him with a tiny, predatory smile playing on her pouty, pink lips.
Oh, yes. He should’ve run.
“…And… And I…I left my coat lying about… didn’t I?”
“Did you now?”
“Yes,” he waffled as he faffed about with a loose string on one of his sleeves, “I’m quite sure I didn’t even take it into our cosy, very ours and I-shouldn’t-be-chucked-out-of-it bedroom last night. How, er… thoughtless?”
“Hm,” she nodded in mock contemplation. “I s’pose, yeah, might’ve been if one of the kids’d somehow got it.”
“We might’ve woken up to, oh, I dunno, chaos? Rebel toddlers armed with a sonic device?”
Her voice tended to rise in pitch as she gathered steam, and he couldn’t help wincing.
“Bats in the nursery?”
“What?” his eyes went wide, and his heart stuttered. “How did they get them out of— I mean, h-how did bats get on this ship?”
“Doctor,” she sighed, deflating like a popped balloon. She pursed her lips together, and he knew she was trying not to laugh. “Li an’ I have been feedin’ the bats for months.”
He could work with that.
“I call them Basil and Mortimer,” he told her as she rolled her eyes. He took a few steps, closed the distance between them, gingerly put his arms on her shoulders, then tenderly kissed her forehead, “—and they’re really, very friendly, Rose, they eat fruit— well, I guess you know that, but they make really excellent pe… Er… Surprise?”
“Still don’t want ’em in the nursery.”
“Of course not.”
She pushed him back from her a fraction, narrowing her eyes, and knitting her brows. “An’ leavin’ the damn screwdriver about?”
“Won’t happen again!” He held up his hands in a placating gesture, and she leaned back into his chest. “I’ll be more careful.”
She gently fingered the lapel of his dressing gown, grinning once more in her predatory manner. “Oh, I know you will.”
“You do?” he winced, suddenly very concerned he’d counted chickens before they’d hatched. “Er… good?”
“Oh, yeah,” she nodded, and continue to trace the line of the lapel with one finger. “An’ d’you know how I know tha’, my Doctor?”
“Erm… yes? No. No! Yes! Of course, yes! …No… tell me?”
“‘Cos I’m goin’ back to bed, an’ when I get up again, none a this will ever’ve happened.”
“It won’t? That’s a bit optimistic, Rose. It’s a big mess—“
“No-pe. It was all a bad dream I had, an’ when I wake up, I won’t see fluterberry jam — ‘the stickiest of sticky jams in all of five galaxies, Rose’ — on the ceiling—“
“Actually, that distinctly smelled of Marmite, which, frankly, belongs there more than the pantry. I’ve told you, it’s dis—“
She held up a hand in warning and he shut his mouth with a click.
“—nor the walls. I’ll ‘ave a clean galley, the worms and banana slugs will’ve been removed from my vegetable crisper. My table will not be in pieces, my kids will be outta the vent where they’re hidin’— an’ bathed ‘cos, you know tha’ load of yellow paint you picked up on Crespallion? Yeah, well, they won’t’ve gotten into tha’ an’ painted each other either. An’, nothin’— nothin’ will be a millimetre outta place.” She ceased her tracing, and poked the once-gentle finger into his chest. “Anywhere.”
“Also,” she continued sternly, “a wooden door’s gonna be on the nursery.”
“An’ I’ll have breakfast waitin’.”
He looked around at the destroyed galley and deflated entirely, arms falling to his sides from their holding-his-wife position.
He hated wasting the day and his now limited energy doing domestic work. Having a ship that did it all for centuries may have spoiled him. A bit.
“Yes, Doctor?” She poked him again. “Husband of mine, whose vastly superior biology is responsible for the offspring who’ve destroyed my home with their curiosity, an’ lack of a need for sleep, wha’ exactly were you gonna say?”
“Not fair, Rose, that’s not entirely my fault—“
“Doctor, I been up for over an hour scrubbin’ an’ sortin’.”
“Yep. I’m knackered. An’ you don’t really wanna know what it was like when I woke up, do you?”
“No,” he sighed and put his arms around her again, “actually, I really don’t.”
“…Are they really in the vent?”
“Mm. An’ they’re playin’ at bein’ wolves.”
“They’re howlin’ when you get too close, an’ Selene’s bitin’.”
“Rose, Time Tots don’t—“
“Oh, tha’s good then. You won’t get bit by one of ’em when you reach your hands in. But tha’ does leave you a mysterious, bitin’ animal in the air vents to sort.”
Rose pulled herself free, set her cup in the sink, and kissed his stubbly cheek before calling, “G’night, Doctor,” as she left him alone in the chaos.
Rose didn’t go back to bed. Instead, she ran herself a hot bath with lavender-scented salts, and listened to the Doctor curse in Gallifreyan as he almost certainly got a bite on the hand.
She relaxed, laughing to herself as she heard his struggles and felt the amusement of her children as they eluded their very frustrated father.
After only twenty minutes, she drained the tub, and pulled on some natty clothes to go and help him.
She was tempted to swat his (still rather spectacular as an older man) bum as she passed him waist-deep in the air vent in the corridor.
The children’s laughter eerily floated toward her from inside the walls, and she heard the soft sounds of the sonic screwdriver being activated by inexpert hands.
She shook her head with a grin, and pulled out the unremarkable Yale key, which she still wore around her neck.
Only one thing would coax those three out now that this was all a very fun game.
She unlocked the door to the closet which housed the TARDIS coral, and went inside.
The wooden door showed obvious signs of repeated assault; she suspected this was why they’d wanted the blowtorch, though they obviously hadn’t had the dexterity to properly light it.
Wooden doors and coral locks on the engine room doors then too.
“Hello, little one,” she cooed and stroked the rough surface. The coral glowed slightly under her touch, and she waited.
In no more than thirty seconds, she heard a sonic whirr, the loud, metallic clatter of a vent cover falling onto steel grates, and bodies scuffling, before three dusty, yellow forms appeared in the doorway.
She turned to her little terrors, and arched an eyebrow. They grinned back at her without the least bit of shame.
Torin held his father’s screwdriver firmly in one plump hand, and his sister’s hand in the other. Selene’s golden curls were matted with brash, yellow paint. As she inched further into the room and closer to the TARDIS coral, she pulled Torin with her while Lios hung back despite his clear desire to rush in.
As soon as Selene and Torin were half way inside, the Doctor came from behind, swept little Lios into his arms, and closed the door behind him. He plucked the screwdriver from Torin’s grip, and in one fluid motion, tucked it into his pocket, and his daughter under the arm.
Rose scooped the giggling Torin into her arms, and grinned triumphantly at her husband.
Neither boy fought, but Selene shot her father a look of utter betrayal. He frowned back at her, and she quickly dropped the wounded attitude in favour of good-natured submission.
“Rose Tyler,” he said with admiration as he kissed her cheek, “you are brilliant.”
“Took me long enough to think of it though, yeah?”
“Weeell,” he blustered.
“Oi!” she laughed. “You didn’t at all, did you!”
He kissed her again, and adjusted his hold on his squirming toddlers. “No-pe. I didn’t. Which is why I said you’re brilliant! And, why you’re half to blame for the mad-genius of these gorgeous little nightmares.”
“Flattery’s not gettin’ you out of anythin’.”
“Rose Tyler, you are cruel.”
They carried the children into their bedroom, and he sonicked the door while she ran a bath. They’d have yellow paint in the tub for ages.
He slumped into the squashy armchair, knackered from the stress of the morning, and immediately had three small bodies climbing up on his lap. He grunted as sharp elbows poked and prodded him while they jockeyed for position, but soon they had settled, and slumped against him. The rapid pounding of six heartsbeats against his one soothed his anxiety, and he smiled as each child sent him waves of love and adoration. Selene silently gave a sheepish apology for biting — it was only supposed to be a game, she didn’t really want to bite him — and he hummed in contentment, mentally singing them the happy-primes song he’d made up when they were infants.
Another two minutes and they were, all four, out like lights.
Rose watched them sleeping for a while from the en-suite doorway. As maddening as having a bath go cold in deep space with weeks before they could replenish water supplies was, nothing she’d ever seen rivalled the picture they made.
She dragged her own chair closer, curled up next to them, the Doctor’s hand closed in her own, and allowed herself to drift off in the contentment of her chaotic, but altogether fantastic life.
My babies and my inspiration.
L to R baby Lios, Selene, and Torin (a.k.a. Gav, Ash, & Li)
And this is my Gabs! Look at that badassery. The boys dared her to ride a sled like a snowboard on the big hill, and she didn’t even hesitate. You should see her on a skateboard or climbing trees! This girl is amazing.
Each of the triplets is roughly based on the personality traits of my sons and my nieces. They inspire me every day with their wit, intelligence, charm, heart, and adventurousness!
None of them is this little any more, but they still manage to keep me on my toes.
Thankfully, the sonic screwdrivers we own just light up and make noise.
Love you kids. Stop growing up.
Next in the Pete’s World adventures: