“Isn’t it brilliant!?” The Doctor laughed as he led Rose through the darkened natural history museum, circa 1956. “Humans and your beautiful obsession with preserving the past, even when it’s your fault that it isn’t there anymore!”
“It’s a bit creepy, though, yeah?” Rose said, even as she smiled. Her arms tightened around the Doctor’s and her head rested against his shoulder as they walked. “Night in a museum, and all. Things that used to be alive, aren’t anymore, but are still standing here like they were.” She stopped to peer into a display case. “Like this. ‘Tasmanian Tiger’. Looks more like a sort of dog to me.”
“Ah! Also known as the Tasmanian Wolf, the “Tiger-wolf,” or by its scientific name, simply the Thylacine.” The Doctor peered at the mounted creature in the case, and his voice grew softer. “This was the last one seen alive by humans. Kept in a zoo in the last years of its life, they called him Benjamin.”
“He looks so sad,” Rose said softly. Her eyes followed the unmoving line of the creature’s long snout up to the dark eyes that reflected a bit of the security lights that surrounded them. It gave the eyes a depth that no soulless thing should have. It made her feel like crying.
“Well, he’s got reason to be, I suppose.” The Doctor’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet. “The last of his kind, and all. Had to be lonely for him.” No one to hear him cry out for companionship, for a mate, for another of his own kind. No like hearts to beat near his in the darkness. The Doctor drifted into a silent reverie for a moment. He was pulled out by the sensation of a different heartbeat, though – a single one, against his arm as Rose hugged his arm to her chest.
Rose was looking up at him, worry clear in her eyes. She knew where his thoughts had gone as clearly as if he’d continued that train of thought aloud. “Doctor?”
He blinked, and it was as if a switch was thrown in his head. This one girl, this precious, precious girl… She was the only thing that kept him from losing himself in his grief. She’d brought him back from his darkest, and literally given him new life. When he smiled at her, it was genuine. “Alright, then. Alons-y! More to see!” They started walking again and he found himself still smiling as she snuggled into his side again.
More expounding, more exploring, more laughing and talking. This night was turning into a lovely chance for him to show off his knowledge of human history for his attentive companion. A good distraction from thinking about how much he had in common with that one creature, back in the display case. The last of it’s kind, that had died alone in a cage.
They rounded a corner into a cavernous room and all speaking suddenly stopped. There they were, confronted with a massive pile of reconstructed skeletons. The sizes ranged from giraffe, down to smaller creatures like antelope. These skeletal creatures weren’t in cases – they were open to the air and some were even within arm’s reach. At the far end, a towering mammoth skeleton trumpeted trunklessly to the night sky through the domed roof. The two travelers just stood in the corner and stared.
Rose bit her lip. It felt almost sacrilegious to be the first to speak, but she turned her head into the Doctor’s sleeve and whispered, “All those animals…”
The Time Lord nodded slowly. “Museum specimens, the lot of them. Mostly donations from hunters… or zoos… or the like.” There was something about this room. It was like a mausoleum – it felt wrong to speak loudly. Disrespectful, somehow, to the creatures whose remains were contained within. He stared up at an eighteen foot tall giraffe skeleton that loomed over them. Random facts passed through his forebrain, but unlike in the other rooms – he couldn’t seem to get it out. Giraffes have the same number of neck vertebrae as humans – they’re just much larger. The Giraffe has the longest tongue of any recorded Earth creature. The Giraffe, when sparring for mates, uses its long neck and tiny horns as a kind of club to knock into the other competing male and tries to drive him away from the female. But none of those facts, as fascinating as he was sure Rose would find them, would come out of his mouth.
Rose released her hold on her Doctor’s arm and moved through the forest of bones slowly. Most of these animals she wouldn’t have recognized if she saw them alive. General names snapped back in her head from biology – antelope, ibex, moose, elk, fallow deer, and giraffe – but nothing that told her anything about these individual animals. Just general information on their species, a bit of biology, where they set in the food chain and good things like that. She stopped in front of the massive mammoth skeleton that dominated a dais at the far end of the room. All the other skeletons faced this one, for the most part. As if they were gathered to pay homage to a visiting dignitary. A noble from another time and place.
“He’s like a time traveler,” she said softly as the Doctor walked up to stand beside her. When he didn’t speak, she looked up at him. “Died thousands of years ago, but here he is. Standing in this museum. Majestic and powerful, and representing an entire world we can’t see anymore.”
The Doctor nodded. “It’s that respect for your planet’s past, for history, for life, that makes humans so brilliant, Rose.” He gazed up at the massive curving tusks and drew in a deep breath. This room was heavy with the scent of years, and death, and time. He knew Rose couldn’t feel it, smell it, taste it, the way he could… but she had her own very definite respect for it. He watched as she lifted her hand and tentatively touched the mammoth’s massive leg bone. One finger slid down the length of bone slowly, and she shivered as if cold.
“He’s lonely, too.” Her whisper was almost too quiet for the Doctor to hear. He looked at his companion as she withdrew her hand and wrapped her arms around herself. He slipped off his trench coat and slipped it around her shoulders before offering her his arm.
“Come on now, tour’s over.” He smiled at her. “The sun will be up and the guards will be patrolling soon. We don’t want them to find a very out-of-place box in the Egyptian exhibit, now do we?” He was rewarded with a smile, and when she wrapped her arms around his, he lead her from the mausoleum of bones and back to the TARDIS.