Of Love and Waffles by rallalon
Summary: For the love of a waffle, a breakfast was lost; for the love of a breakfast, a flower was lost; and all for the love of a waffle.
Characters: Rose Tyler, Rose Tyler, Rose Tyler, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (9th), The Doctor (9th)
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Het, Humor, Romance
Chapter 1: Fit the First: In Which Rose is Most Certainly Not Suffering From Waffle-Poisoning
Chapter 2: Fit the Second: In Which Rose Thinks About Things She'd Rather Not
Chapter 3: Fit the Third: In Which Rose Searches for Information
Chapter 4: Fit the Fourth: In Which Rose Solves Problems, Almost
Chapter 5: Fit the Fifth: In Which Rose Travels to Times that Aren't Hers
Chapter 6: Fit the Sixth: In Which Rose And the TARDIS Have a Talk or Two
Chapter 1: Fit the First: In Which Rose is Most Certainly Not Suffering From Waffle-Poisoning
Waking up takes a while. She snuggles into her pillow, rolls over, and eventually reaches blindly for him, her eyes closed to the dark. Her hand finds nothing but air and she wakes up a little faster at that. Propping herself up on one elbow, she gradually figures out that she's literally woken up on the wrong side of the bed, thus explaining the whole grab-and-miss. There's nothing there to grab; the intended target isn't even in the room any longer.
Rose rubs her eyes a little, thinks of twenty perfectly good reasons why he's gone and then seriously considers going back to sleep. She aches in all the right ways and the simple act of closing her eyes is enough to make her smile contentedly. Still, something feels like it's missing, something besides the obvious, so Rose feels around some more, getting further away from that deliciously groggy state she wants to stay in. When she can't find his shirt in the mess of blankets, she sighs, sits up and looks for it. The TARDIS lights blink on and she groans with a hand over her eyes.
The TARDIS lights blink off.
Rose mumbles either a curse or a thank-you and thinks of two possible reasons for his shirt not being there either. One: something almost blew up in the middle of the night and he had to run off for a bit. Two: he doesn't want her to wander into the kitchen wearing nothing but his very rumpled shirt from the day before. Seeing as she can't find the daring substitute that is his tie, option number two doesn't seem to cut it.
Stretching a bit and letting a few contented noises fall from her lips, she gets up and pulls on the first thing that comes to hand, which is surprisingly the blue Trust Me, I'm a Doctor t-shirt she got for him years ago, the one he's never worn once. Alternatively rubbing at her eyes and scratching at the stiff tag tickling her neck, she pads down to the kitchen.
It's dark, which is weird. Peering into the empty room, something clicks: she hasn't woken up without the smell of breakfast in the air in a few weeks now and she realizes that she'd gotten used to it. When the lights come on, Rose notes with a strange sort of mixed regret that the waffle iron her mum gave them is gone. Ever since they'd got it, he'd been playing with it and Rose had been quick to discover that there are certain ingredients that don't go in waffles, no matter how much whipped cream — or in his case, jam — they put on them.
Two mysteries solved: that's probably what blew up last night. He'd gone on about it not being TARDIS-compatible when her mum had foisted the third-hand appliance off on them, but both Tyler woman had assumed he was just being the Doctor. Apparently not.
Still, he cleaned the mess up really well and his continued absence is completely explained when she opens up the fridge to find that they're out of jam again. She rolls her shoulders and shifts a bit, reminding herself purposefully of the pleasant ache that's still with her, even if he isn't. She puts the kettle on and smiles when she opens the cupboard, giving the counter a fond pat. Her old favorite mug is on the shelf, the one with the good handle and a better rim, the one that fits just right in her hands when she wants to warm them up, the one that’s been missing literally for years. The purple tinge of the cup changes with contact from her hand, reacting beautifully to any heat. She smiles at the wall and gives it a pat too.
With both men and sentient timeships, it can be the small gestures that mean the most.
She feels a slight nudge on her mind only because she's waiting for it. Looking up at the ceiling curiously, Rose blinks a little. The TARDIS sounds almost apologetic and Rose shakes her head. "Got it now," she says, lifting the mug, but the feeling doesn't go away. She shakes her head again because she's just being a bit paranoid, because she's just a little cold in a waffle-less kitchen without socks or bottoms or even her knickers.
He comes when the kettle whistles and she keeps her back to the door because he's staying quiet, because she can feel his eyes following her thighs up to where they disappear under a shirt that he doesn't wear but that is nevertheless his. She smiles because she knows that silence and the knowledge that she can do this to him will make up for any delay between her waking and her laying eyes on him. Well, mostly.
She fills her mug and says "Want some?" in a way that's clearly an invitation, even if she doesn't turn around yet. He'll walk up behind her and wrap his arms around her waist the way he always does before he murmurs into her ear, a poor innuendo based on tea. He'll be cold and his joke won't be funny, but she'll smile anyway and kiss him, morning breath and all.
He doesn't move from the door.
She turns around.
He's standing in the doorway and he's staring at her with an expression she's seen once before, exactly once, this exact expression. He'd looked up and gaped a little and called her beautiful for the first time. This exact expression.
Rose fumbles her mug and it hits the floor with a neat and final crack. She jumps back automatically from shards of alien ceramics and hot spilt tea, but she's not paying attention, not to that. He's moving, crossing the kitchen in a few long strides and then they're both speaking at the same time.
"You changed back!"
Blue eyes blink and narrow, and a voice Rose hasn't heard in seven years asks in an irritable and confused Northern accent, "Changed back from what?"
At that very instant or slightly over seven years ago, depending upon how one counted, Rose woke up. She yawned. She rolled over. Her fingers brushed something unfamiliar on the duvet and she woke up a little more. She pulled the object to her, along with the attached cloth.
Buttons. Buttons on a man's dress shirt. Buttons on a man's dress shirt on her bed.
Blinking, she looked a bit closer, the ceiling lights turning on slowly in a way she hadn't known they could do. She could see, and there was still a man's dress shirt on her bed. With a tie on it, still tied, making a loose loop of swirling blue. She picked the tie up. She put the tie down. After an awful thought, she checked to make sure she was still in her nightclothes. She thought about it for a little longer and came up with exactly zero good reasons for why her bed looked and smelled like someone — a pair of someones — had shagged in it the night before without her noticing.
She hadn't planned on being this paranoid or this awake at this relative time in the not-morning. She hadn't planned on it, but something about the sight of a definitely used condom in the rubbish bin had a way of changing plans. For what felt like a good five minutes — probably closer to twenty seconds — Rose panicked.
Then she smelled waffles.
The only other option being to yell for the Doctor to come and explain whatever was going on, Rose climbed out of her bed before pulling on a pair of socks and her trainers. She proceeded to look around for something heavy. The cricket bat was gone as mysteriously as it had appeared three months ago on the night after Adam had come aboard. No help there. No help anywhere, she slowly realized. All her stuff had been moved about. Had the TARDIS...?
She felt a tickle behind her ear and scratched at it absently.
Her journey to the kitchen took longer than it usually did, the teenager walking slowly and cautiously towards the smell of breakfast food. Reaching the door, she peeked around the frame carefully, hearing the man before she saw him. He was working on something at the counter, his back to her.
Brown — pinstripes. A suit. The dress shirt?
The dress shirt.
She didn't think she made a noise, but the man started talking, addressing her by name in a London accent without turning to look at her, instead fighting with some sort of dinged-up appliance. "'Morning, Rose, hope you're hungry. I had this idea last night, just a thought: bananas and satsumas. What d'you think? We're out of jam again, so you might want to dig in before it congeals."
Rose looked at the man.
Rose looked at the plate of things that might have been in some way related to breakfast food.
Rose looked at the man who was still talking.
The man stopped talking and looked at Rose.
Rose looked at the man.
They looked at the plate of congealing things.
They looked at each other.
The man smiled, a slightly nervous look in his eyes. His smile faded when she didn't return it. "Rose, are you..." He stopped talking again and Rose had the sudden feeling that this was rare. It wasn't a feeling she thought about for long, as he frowned shortly after. "Wasn't your hair shorter last night?"
She was halfway down the hall and yelling for the Doctor before the man started after her, calling her name. She yelled some more and she ran faster, legs pumping and heart shuddering. The TARDIS was safe. The TARDIS was supposed to be safe. Nothing could get inside, nothing like the bloke chasing her could get inside.
("Doctor!" she very nearly screamed.
"Rose!" the man running after her kept calling.)
But he had. He had gotten in, and there was no avenging Time Lord descending upon him. There was no hero in leather barreling around a corner to put himself bodily between her and the unknown alien.
("Doctor, where are you?" she continued to very nearly scream.
"Behind you!" the man reminded her, sounding even closer now.)
Rose turned the corner, yelling less so she could keep running. The hand not pushing off the wall for balance went to her neck, went to the chain of her key. Dashing into the console room, Rose didn't stop to think, didn't pause, didn't hesitate in running over the grating and down the ramp to the door, not losing even half a second in turning around to see how far behind he was. He was there and that was more than close enough.
Trusting her instincts, Rose lunged out of the TARDIS, slammed the door shut and flung herself around behind the time machine's blue façade. She'd been right about the ship's hum; they were on a habitable planet.
Not thinking about what might have happened to her if they hadn't been, Rose held her breath as the man ran out of the TARDIS at full tilt. She peeked once, then went for it, darting back around to the doors with her key in hand. The man noticed and reversed direction, just as she'd hoped he wouldn't, and yelled "Rose, don't-"
She slammed the door in his face and locked it as securely as she knew how.
The man yelled a bit more.
Rose sat down. She didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. One leg wobbled and the rest of her sort of followed until she was on the grating with her back against the door and shaking and gulping down air. She breathed and she gasped and she rubbed her eyes just to make sure she wasn't crying, because, really, just because the TARDIS — just because her home had been impossibly broken into, she wasn't about to cry. A few more deep breaths and she was pushing herself to her feet, bracing herself and getting ready to venture back into the hallways. Whatever was happening in the kitchen probably needed to be stopped — weirder alien plots had happened after all, and she still needed to find the Doctor. He wasn't there. He hadn't come and...
Her home had been impossibly broken into, and the Doctor wasn't there.
Rose couldn't breathe.
When air finally returned to her lungs, she stood and put her mouth near to where normal doors would have had a slight gap between them. "What've you done?" she demanded, voice shaking just a little, not that much. "Tell me what you've done."
She waited, kept her hand on the lock, holding it in place, just in case of.... Just in case.
"I don't know," the man said after a pause, speaking in a tone that was at once annoyed, confused and far too personal. "I honestly have no idea, but if it helps, I'm probably sorry? And what was all that running and screaming about? There are easier ways of locking me outside of the TARDIS, done it to myself plenty of times."
She didn't listen to his somewhat muffled questions, shaking her head. "Tell me what you've done with the Doctor," she told him, willing to get as specific as she needed to be.
There was a very long pause.
"What?" the man asked.
"Tell me what you've done with the Doctor," she repeated. "Tell me right now." Whatever he'd done, he wasn't about to get away with it. If he'd stowed away and done anything, anything at all, she could strand him here. She could threaten to, at any rate. Impressive words flew through her mind. Shadow Proclamation. Last of the Time Lords. Writs of Rascal Sons or something.
She could do this, was almost very sure she could do this, and then the man replied, "That's what I thought you said."
"Then you'd better answer," she told him, no questions about it.
There was another very long pause.
"I'm right here, Rose Tyler," the man said quietly, so softly she had to press her ear to the door to hear. "I'm right here," he continued, voice controlled, carefully patient. "Let me in."
She didn't hesitate in her response: "No."
"Rose, it's me." It almost sounded like a plea. "Let's not do this again. It's me. It's all right. You've probably been... Have you been exposed to anything odd recently? Odder than usual? Pollen, dust, purple rodents, that sort of thing? Please don't say you have waffle-poisoning."
"I don't have waffle-poisoning." He was either crazy or crazy and trying something. "And I'm not letting you back in." It occurred to her to ask: "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor," the man lied, but he lied so gently. "Let me take care of you, Rose Tyler. Let me in. Please."
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Chapter 2: Fit the Second: In Which Rose Thinks About Things She'd Rather Not
Changed back from what?"
She can't breathe. Air's moving through her lungs, coming in and out of her mouth, but there's no oxygen in it, no air in the air. Her hands move back and grip the edge of the counter, the edge that's pressing into the small of her back, that's pressing into her because she's pressing into it, retreating for reasons which flood through her mind too quickly to name.
Her gaze flickers down to the mug at their feet, the newly-broken mug she hasn't seen since shortly after her father died a second time, since the Doctor led her back to the TARDIS by the hand and sat with her through tea and tears, sat with her and held her and spoke gently into her ear as he cradled her in his lap. She looks at the ceramic, at the still steaming liquid, and then she has to look at him again, all nose and ears and not nearly enough manic grin. No manic grin at all, just him looking at her like she’s in such trouble, probably because she is. Him looking at her like he's not sure how to move, looking at her like he's not sure how to look. He's so close and she could reach out and touch him, step forward and hug him, but she doesn't. She doesn't because she’s leaning away.
She's leaning away and she's not sure why until his eyes drop down for a moment, just a second, just for a heartbeat that echoes in her ears. He looks at her bare legs and she thinks domestics, she thinks stupid ape, she thinks show me your moves and knows that this him won't.
She realizes she’s terrified in a way that has nothing to do with temporal anomalies.
So she meets those blue eyes with her own brown; she looks up at his daft old face; she speaks clearly and without much sign of hesitation. "Can't tell you."
He understands anyway. "I regenerate soon," he says. "Somewhen in the next. . ." His head cocks to the side a little and, just like every other familiar and fuzzily-remembered motion he makes, it twists something deep inside of her. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-seven," she says and realizes that she's still nineteen except that she's not.
She can almost see the thoughts as they strike him and it hurts to think he might believe this him could have years yet, if only a few, when all he has is a few months.
"And you're still here," he says instead of asking for more, says in a way that is asking for more.
She shrugs and thinks she might be smiling when she replies, "Told ya you weren't getting rid of me."
He grins at her like he's always done and she can't understand how it's the same smile on both faces when it isn't remotely the same expression. She swallows and closes her eyes because she can’t look anymore, closes them even though she's afraid that letting him leave her sight might mean letting him leave for good.
"Rose?" he asks, gentle, her name spoke in a tone that makes her think of him being an alien for the first time, a member of another species standing before the controls of an impossible spaceship instead of a crazy, compelling man with a plastic arm attacking him. It's a careful tone he uses, him thinking through the situation faster than she can ever hope to, even now. He might expect panic (culture shock) and confusion (tears).
That's not what he gets.
"Are Reapers gonna come?" she asks, her hand on his arm before her eyes are fully opened, fingers on leather in a gesture as possessive as it is protective.
He looks at her as if he's never seen her before. The leather under her hand isn't like she remembers and that might be because he's wearing it, might be because there's still a man to fill what he'll eventually leave, to fill the piece of him he'll leave for her. She's held this jacket, wrapped it around herself, slept with it in her arms and cried into it. But to him, she hasnt, not from where he's standing. It occurs to her that she's still half-naked, she's touching him, and they've yet to discuss dancing. She drops her hand self-consciously and it hurts a little when he lets her.
"No Reapers, if we're careful," he says and her heart stumbles when his eyes glance downwards a second time. "You plannin' on cutting up your feet?"
She steps back from her mess, conscious of her bare feet and the way the air hits her bum as she moves. "Doesn't seem like it'd be helpful sorting this out," she tells him, shaking her head a little, trying to focus and trying not to think about how this him probably doesn't want to shag her yet — or maybe he does. Either way, it's not helpful in the least and really, it only means that now would be a great time to stop thinking about what his next self has told her concerning this fascinating topic in his post-coital ramblings.
He crosses his arms and his eyebrows rise. "Not visiting on purpose, then?" he says in a voice so unlike the one he'll use when he'll murmur into her ear, when he'll press his lips to blond-dyed hair damp with sweat and tell her I would have taken you from behind. Held your wrists. Bent you over the bed — no, table. Definitely a table.
With an excuse for her blush, she doesn't waver, looks away from his startlingly blue eyes only long enough to glance at the kitchen table. "Would’ve brought pants and an emergency kit," she replies, all cheek, and smiles once again.
He grins back just as easily as the first time, because after all and no matter what, he's the Doctor, and the Doctor and Rose Tyler smile at each other incessantly. "Shoes in that kit, or you plannin' on keepin' your feet in danger?"
"Ever been barefoot on the moon?" she asks and immediately wishes she hadn't. She thinks of his future, thinks of him asking her if he's foxy, thinks of bony hips between her thighs.
She tries to think of something else but it's hard when she can still feel the night before.
"Not yet," he says, eyebrows going back up, creasing his forehead.
"Shouldn't've," she starts to say, then ends up switching to "Sorry" and "I'll be more careful. Cryptically mime things to you instead, yeah?"
He shakes his head, but he's not unamused. "Going to have to forget this anyway," he says. "It's a Time Lord trick. I can-"
"Make yourself forget things to stop paradoxes," Rose finishes for him, finishes because he lets her. "And remember 'em later if it's safe."
When he looks at her like that, he's pleased and she knows it. He's also got a question for her, but she raises her chin a little: she's not going to tell him. She knows and he'll have to deal with it, never mind the how.
"C'mon, then," he says instead, turning away from her because that's obviously a necessary part of exiting the kitchen and not at all because she's making him uncomfortable. "The mess can wait for later, once we know the universe won't come falling down around our ears. Sooner we get you in the med bay, the sooner we get an idea of what happened to you."
"Checking background radiation and all that?" she asks, speaking about the TARDIS and traces of time, flushing as he looks at her with surprised respect. She stands her ground as they engage in a silent conversation, she daring him to have expected anything else from her, anything less than learning and adapting and being fantastic.
She's surprised to realize that she can still read this him, still knows this him enough to know that his expression is just wry enough, just amused enough. Enough for what, she'd never been able to figure out.
"Sort of, yeah," he says when they're done not-speaking, going back to her question with words that make her go back to so much more. "Hurry up, would you?"
Quick steps take her around the danger zone that was once her favorite mug from such a long time ago. She's reaching for his hand and he's holding his out automatically and then she has to stop. There's a question she needs to ask, a detail that is crucial, dangerously so. She has to make sure, because otherwise, the universe really might come falling down around their ears.
"Where am I?"
He blinks at her, his hand falling back to his side. "Still in the kitchen, Rose. You might want to try moving a little more before getting lost."
She shakes her head impatiently. "Not me-me," she tells him. "Your-me." He blinks at her again as if he's not sure if that was your me or you're me, so she quickly clarifies again. "Present-me. Nineteen-year-old me. Where am I?"
Blue eyes widen and she has to wonder if that respect in them is new or if she simply thought she'd been imagining it back then. She knows what she sees now and she hates her pathetic human memory for not letting her be sure about then.
"Can't have you running into yourself," he agrees, slipping out of the kitchen without her, doorknob in his hand. "I'll check on you." She nods and he closes the door. When she hears the sonic screwdriver on the lock, a laugh escapes her. "Can't have you wandering in — or out," he adds.
"Yes, sir, sarge," she replies and if she hears his uncertain reaction from a private joke he doesn't know yet, well, she hears it. There's nothing more she can do about it. Nothing she can do about the sound of him walking down the hall away from her.
Rose cleans the floor instead.
Rose learns just how far she can lean over and still pretend to be decent.
Rose discovers that they aren't out of jam after all, finding a jar so far back on the shelf that it looks lonely and untouched.
There are bananas yellowing on top of the fridge, and instead of crying, she eats one. If she shakes, it's only because she's cold. If there's any other reason, it can wait until a rude-and-not-ginger man remembers this.
She wonders if he's noticed that she's gone. She wonders if her disappearance would trigger his memories of these moments to rise. Part of her waits for the sound of the TARDIS materializing, for him coming to get her, but that's all ridiculous. She's already in the TARDIS. In the TARDIS, with the Doctor. Nothing bad, nothing dangerous. Just them.
She's sitting at the table long enough for the chair to warm beneath her, to make her stop shifting and shivering. She’s on her second banana, wondering if this is a tribute or a playful poke or maybe even just breakfast. It occurs to her to wonder how long it's been, makes her wish she'd looked at the never-helpful digital display on the mircowave sooner. It's almost twenty-six o' clock now, a completely useless fact without knowledge of when she'd woken up.
At four past twenty-six, she hears him. It's not the sound of the sonic screwdriver that reaches her ears first. Nor is it the pounding of his footsteps, though that's a close second.
She hears him yelling her name.
On her feet instantly, she rushes to the door, fights the urge to beat on it uselessly. There's nothing she can do from in here, which is entirely the point of the locked door. "Doctor?" she calls. "What's happened?" And why doesn't she remember this, remember waking up and hearing him cry for her as she must be waking and hearing, must be doing in this exact moment?
He stops outside the door and quickly unlocks it. She tugs it open as he pushes and nearly ends up injured in the hurried process. She utterly fails to think of this, looking to his face, to the lines of his body. It's in his shoulders, the turn of his head, the urgency in his eyes. She reaches to him because he needs her to and he holds her by the arms, gripping her tightly, painfully, at the elbow.
"Rose," he says, and he's lost and confused and very much terrified. "You're gone."
"I'm the Doctor," the man lied, but he lied so gently. "Let me take care of you, Rose Tyler. Let me in. Please."
"Open the door," he told her softly.
Her hand tightened on both the lock and the bolt, holding them in place, a precaution that nearly made her feel safer. It might have just been her imagination, but she could have sworn she'd seen the lock wiggling in a way that meant it was about to be unlocked. The bolt should hold either way, though. "No."
Pleading turned to sternness, the change too abrupt to be anything but false. "Rose, listen to me. You could be hallucinating or fevered or about to drop into a Siplian sugar coma and none of that is good. At all."
"Could be, but I'm not," she replied, pressing her weight against the door, just in case. The TARDIS did not appreciate this: there was a spark of static against her that didn't let up, continuing until she pulled back, rubbing her tingling arm and eyeing the door suspiciously. She scratched at a funny itch behind her ear, the one that felt like she'd been scratching all morning, the one that was the least of her concerns.
"Right, 'course you're not," he agreed in a tone suddenly mock-reasonable. "Because this is your normal behavior. Wake up, scream a bit, play nerve-wracking practical jokes. . . . Perfectly like you, Rose."
"Right," she mimicked. "And cooking and suits are perfectly like the Doctor."
"I thought you liked the waffles!"
Rose opened her mouth and wound up only shaking her head, unable to come up with a coherent reply to that. Somehow "Those were waffles?" didn't seem to cut it. "What?" she tried to ask, but he was still going on.
"And what are you talking about, suits not like me? Suit and tie, almost a decade!"
Her comeback was only slightly more effective than her previous one: "Like hell!"
"You did not just notice this," the man said, a note in his voice that she couldn't understand. "It's not possible that you just noticed this. Rose, I regenerated years ago. We know this. You were right there! Made a fuss and everything!"
More nonsense, but none of it was going to distract her. "Never happened! Tell me where the Doctor is. Tell me what you’ve done with him!"
"Rose, I'm me. I swear I'm me. Him. Blimey, English pronouns aren't suited to this," he muttered. "But I am the Doctor. I am. I can prove it to you."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Go ahead."
"Let me in first."
"'M not stupid," Rose told him, told him and almost thought she could hear a voice reply Could've fooled me.
Instead, the man made an exasperated noise. "From outside?" He rapped on the panel, probably with his knuckles by the sound.
"If you're the Doctor, you'd have a key," Rose started to reason.
Immediately, the lock turned over and the door shook with someone trying the handle. "And you're Rose," the man said, sounding frustrated, "so you've obviously used the bolt, what with you being not stupid."
"S-Still doesn't prove anything," she shot back, part of her wondering why she was still standing here arguing when it was almost certain that, key or not, he wouldn't be able to get in. "You — you could've stolen that."
"Could've done, yeah," he might have agreed, voice thoughtful and so quiet that she had to press her ear back against the door. Then, just because, she turned the lock back over. The man made that noise of exasperation once more, but when he started again, his tone containing something that would've been fear in the voice of someone who cared about her. "Rose, I am trying to help you. Let me. That's all I'm asking."
"No," she said and had a feeling she might be saying this all day. "You're not the Doctor."
"Have you ever tried to convince an ill person of your identity through a door-shaped transdimensional threshold?" he questioned. "It's not as easy as it looks."
Rose didn't rise to the bait, refused to doubt her mental condition. Instead, she told him, "The Doctor'd be able to do it."
The man, having been becoming so quick with his replies, suddenly reverted to his previous pauses. "Would he now?"
"Yeah," she answered instantly. "He's the Doctor. He can do anything."
When the man replied, he sounded strangely choked up. For the first time, she wondered what sort of atmosphere she'd locked him outside in. "And 'anything' includes changing every cell in his body when he's dying, so that he doesn't actually die. Not all the way."
Rose shook her head, needing the motion even if he couldn't see it. "Prove it."
". . . Benefit of the doubt?" the man asked, sounding only vaguely hopeful.
"No doubt here," she replied. Wasn't your hair shorter last night? The shirt, the sheets, the condom. Last night.
No benefit of any kind for this bloke.
Her tone had definitely gotten through to the man, his reaction to it somehow silently clear through the TARDIS doors. "Rose, I . . ."
"You what?" she demanded. "You got something to say, Doctor?"
"Actually. . ." the man said slowly, "I do."
The buzz of what sounded like the sonic screwdriver came from behind the door and the pitch of the ever-present TARDIS hum changed. She automatically looked back over her shoulder at the new noise, her mouth opening to yell as the console lit up, a bright yet deep green. He couldn't be doing that. He couldn't be doing that in a million years.
With an electronic plinking sound, a hologram appeared before the Time Rotor, blue and grainy. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, she irrationally thought, words freezing in her throat, all of her words stopping in her mouth but one. "Doctor?"
She took a step towards the projection, heart pounding in her chest.
"This is Emergency Program Two. Rose, now listen. This is important," the image said in a voice Northern and familiar. The Doctor flickered as if the TARDIS had bad reception, jarring her nerves further. "If this programme is activated, something's happened to me, something likely to kill me."
"No!" she protested, tried to protest, but the hologram continued on, unable to hear her. Pre-recorded, she realized.
"If you saw it, I'm sorry, but you're safe and that's what's important. Now calm down and listen to me." Walking forward, she could see through him, look up into his eyes and look right through. She reached out uncertainly and his gaze lowered, just for a second, looking directly into her eyes instead of over her head. She jerked her hand back, afraid to break this contact with an attempt for more.
"I'm not dead. If I am, the TARDIS'll know and this message cuts out to Emergency Programme One. For now, I need you to listen. I'm coming back to the TARDIS, but not like this," the Doctor said, shaking his head slightly along with a small downward gesture at himself. "I survived, but I had to change. Every cell in my body had to go-"
"-but I'm still me. Goin' to be different — can't change brain chemistry without bein' different — but still the Doctor. You're not goin' to recognize me right away, though." His eyes dropped to hers once more and stayed there. Her spine froze from a sudden chill. "There'll be a man at the door. Could be in my clothes, but he might not be. Either way, he'll be using my name. And he can, 'cos it's his.”
"No!" she yelled, yelled because it hurt, because this hologram had to be fake, had to be anything other than what it claimed to be.
The Doctor continued on, not acknowledging an outburst he couldn't hear. Couldn't have heard. "And you're right, I should've said sooner. Didn't plan on regenerating this soon," he said and shrugged. "I'll explain it better once I'm back, so let new me in when I get here. Until then, keep the door locked."
Paler than ever before, transparent blue eyes flickered sideways and reestablished, looking down at her. A smile started at the corners of his mouth, turned upwards gently, softly, not at all his usual manic grin. It was the smile he used when he'd just been sad, when he'd been thinking about his lost world, when he'd been pulled completely into himself. When she'd said whatever words he needed to bring him back to her.
"Thank you, Rose Tyler," the Doctor said, and it sounded so much like "Good-bye."
The hologram flickered, faded, and disappeared.
Rose stood very still, holding her hands at her sides, fisted. Her head bowed slowly and she swallowed. She swallowed again and didn't need to tell herself that it didn't sound like a sob, didn't need to because it wasn't one. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe, but she couldn't. Air was moving through her lungs, coming in and out of her mouth, but there was no oxygen in it, no air in the air. Her shoulders shook and a voice called her name softly from outside the door.
"Rose?" the man asked. The man who'd chased her, the man who'd slept with her — the man who'd tried poorly to make her breakfast the morning after. Who'd utterly failed at it. At domestics. "Let me in?"
"I . . ."
"I met you in the basement of your work," the man began. "A Henrik's wasn't it? I took your hand and told you to run. First word to you, just that. One word. Run. And we did. And we have. And it's been — It was fantastic," he said, using the word very, very deliberately. "But don't run now. Not yet. Not without taking my hand first."
"You can't be," she said, but she said it so quietly.
"You know I can," the man said. "I can do anything."
"You-" she started, paused to breathe, stopped to sniffle. She swallowed and started again, testing. "You think you're so impressive."
"I am so impressive," the man replied and she could hear the relief in his voice, hear the smile.
Her hand trembled on the lock.
"Rose," he said. "Please."
She opened the door.
Back to index
Chapter 3: Fit the Third: In Which Rose Searches for Information
"Rose," he says, and he's lost and confused and very much terrified. "You're gone."
She steps into him, is crushed into him. His arms close around her and she presses her cheek to leather. Her hands are trapped between them for a moment, an instant where wool presses into her palms and his hearts seem to be vibrating under her fingers instead of pounding. She shifts and twists and her arms are around his neck.
"You get me back," she tells him, hand on the back of his head, his face buried against her neck. "You'll find me, I'll be okay." His hair is so flat under her palm, a stiff, closely cropped fuzz. "You get me back," she says again, because he needs her to. "I exist, I'm here, you get me back." It makes sense in the twisted way she's learned to think in, makes sense enough to see the danger in the counter-argument he'll voice.
"An' if I don't, you stop existing," he tells the side of her throat and she knows it's the truth.
"Best not mess this up, then," she replies, holding on with a strength that doesn't begin to match his.
His hands are fisted in the back of the t-shirt, his t-shirt, and she can hardly believe that this soon, he's so shaken. And then, remembering an embrace in an underground base in Utah, she can believe it. That can't have been so long ago, for him. He's holding onto her like he can't let go and that's the only hint she needs to be sure:
Whatever's going on, it's bad. It's Dalek bad. It's bad enough to shake the Oncoming Storm, so why isn't she terrified?
She realizes that she isn't. She's not, at all. There's a place in her where fear could be, where fear should be, but the sight of him, the smell of him, the feel of him is filling her too completely to let anything else in. He's all ears and nose; he's leather and wool and TARDIS engine grease; he's thick and solid and so real that he might as well be the only thing true in all the universe because no one and nothing else could compare.
Instead of holding on forever, instead of keeping as close to him as she can, instead of saying I love you, Rose pulls back, the movement slow and gentle. His fingers unclench, releasing the top; his palms press against her sides. She looks up into those blue eyes and his hands fall from her entirely.
"C'mon," he says abruptly, turning away from her. "Sooner I get those scans done, the better."
He could be embarrassed or he could be scared in another way or this might be step one of ignoring that the fearful embrace ever happened. Whatever the reason is, it doesn't stop her from taking his hand. It never will.
His hand is everything she'd forgotten it had been. It's coarser, rougher in different ways. It's the sort of hand made for work and maybe cracking walnuts to show off — he wouldn't, because he wouldn't think it impressive, but he could. These hands aren't made for fine adjustments but for percussive maintenance. Completely familiar and utterly different, they are undeniably his. That's all she needs them to be.
His fingers tighten around hers before he glances at her. She makes sure to keep her tone playful as she asks, "Do I get to get dressed first?"
He shakes his head, his look coming close to amused. He's forcing it, that's obvious. If he doesn't think they have enough relative time for her to grab something, she doesn't want to think about how bad it must be. "Cold hands, cold table, pants off. Standard Doctor procedure."
"What happened to the out-of-date magazines?" she quips, joining in on a joke they’ll make in the future without a pause. So they're playing with the idea early. Not a catastrophe, as these things go.
She squeezes his hand and fights the urge to wriggle her fingers around, to feel each and every bit of skin in her small grasp and commit it to memory.
He smiles. "Time machine. Never technically went out of date, so I pitched 'em. And the waiting room just seemed like a bad idea."
"Too many lectures on relativity?" Rose asks on purpose and when he rolls his eyes, she simply grins through his lecture on real relativity. It's a different lecture than the one she's memorized over the years, but it remains comfortingly unintelligible to her.
His words last until she's sitting down on a pleasantly warm table and she interrupts him with a quick "Two out of three isn't bad." He blinks at her, distracted, and that's just one more sign. Rose thinks about her expression and is fairly sure she doesn't look like she's about to panic. Mostly.
And then he cups her face with his cold, cold hands and she yelps.
"That one counts twice," he tells her.
She hits him on the shoulder when he starts the scans and the way he's looking at her in that moment, he might as well be grinning. That look slowly disappears as she cooperates automatically with the equipment requirements, turning her head so, raising her hand like this, breathing into the tube for that long. It might be that strange respect she's getting now, that odd and wondering consideration of what it means for her to be so intimately acquainted with each and every medical device he wants to use on her.
He hands her something that she absolutely knows to be unrelated to her physiology and she raises an eyebrow at him. "Any reason we're testing for my chlorophyll levels? she asks.
"Ruling out the possibilities," he says, but he seems pleased. His hand on her jaw, he shines a small light in her eyes, such a seemingly mundane check of her status that she nearly giggles. It's nerves and contact and not knowing how to react, so she keeps it in check, refuses to start laughing or crying. Once she does, she's not sure she'll be able to stop.
"Tell me where we were last," he tells her, breaking her out of her thoughts.
"Billazha," she replies simply, trying her utmost not to blink as he switches eyes. The light is tinted purple and as it shines into her, she wonders what exactly he’s seeing with it. "Nothing temporally unstable there."
"What year?" he prompts, not commenting on the choice of planet just yet.
"Something five-thousand-ish before some big event involving coasters," Rose answers, not remembering the exact date. "You didn't really say."
"The Coaster Revolution of Billazha?" he asks, saying it so matter of fact that she knows he can't be lying. "Important lesson there: never annoy the table-washers. Did you?"
Rose shakes her head and he catches her chin gently but firmly. "Sorry," she says and he tilts her head back, apparently searching for clues in her nostrils.
"Mm," he says and Rose might be a little more self-conscious about her nose if he'd stop brushing her legs with his. She's sitting with her knees tight together, the shirt preserving modesty to halfway down her thighs. Usually, she'd be in jeans and he could simply stand between her legs without any issue at all, but now any time he leans forward that's his thigh against her knee, black denim against skin. "Pollen-free," he reports, not clarifying as to why that could possibly be important. The nostril-search ends and it's time for the ears.
She turns her head and tucks her hair behind her ear. Recently cut and aided by her less-than-steady hand, the blond-dyed strands fall back into the way and his hand is quicker than hers to fix them. Coarse fingers brush the shell of her ear and, according to the machine she's determinedly staring down, her heart rate has jumped up considerably. All she can think about is that table, that bloody table he's going to tell her about, that bloody stupid table like the one she's sitting on while half-naked.
His tone is all business, straight to the point. She can feel his breath on her cheek as he speaks. "Were we in temporal orbit when you went to bed?"
"Might've been. Yeah," she agrees. "But we usually land before I wake up, so..." She shrugs.
She doesn't try to twist for a look at his face and by his voice, that's a good idea. "No hint of where?"
"Going to be a surprise," she explains.
"It was one, I'll give you that," he agrees dryly and pulls away. She turns her head accordingly, offering up the other ear. Again she tucks her hair; again he fixes it.
"Maybe a little, yeah." She's proud at how steady her voice is. He's dead, but he's not; she's mourned him, but he's here; he's missing her, but she's right in front of him. His thigh and her knee; his fingertips and her hair.
Rose closes her eyes, sets herself to memorizing, to keeping as much of this in her mind as she possibly can. The way he sounds when he's not talking, the soft creak of battered leather, is something she's forgotten with time. She won't forget this time. She won't.
She couldn't. Not ever.
She tells herself this and knows already that it's not true.
"Keep thinking that hard and you'll break something," he warns and when she opens her eyes, he's looking into them. There are so many questions in his face and so much restraint in his body.
"You'd know," she answers, completely delighted when the comeback surprises him. They grin at each other for one mad moment before reality breaks back in once more.
He steps away from her, does something with the equipment, reading his strangely geometrical language to himself. She watches, wonders, worries. "What if," she starts and stops.
He doesn't turn around, doesn't stop whatever it is that he's doing, but he does ask, "What?"
"Nothing," she says because there's everything, everything she could say.
"You said 'what if'," he reminds her, his manner still brisk, still tense and vaguely ignoring her. She has an odd feeling of déjà vu and wonders if they've had this conversation before, wonders just how much she doesn't remember.
"That Time Lord trick," she says, shrugging. "You're going to hide your memories from yourself to prevent a paradox from happening, yeah? So what about me?"
He looks at her like he's not following the way her brain is skipping, like she's completely daft. "I'm goin' t' get you back, Rose," he tells her like she doesn't understand.
"I know that," she says.
Her faith draws him to her, the doubting man returning to stand in front of her, to marvel at her. She knows he's marveling, just has that feeling even if it doesn't look like he's at all impressed. It's something she's sure of, something about him that wouldn't change.
"Then what?" he asks, voice quiet without dropping in volume.
"If young me's gone and I don't remember it," she reasons, "I must have forgotten it, being gone and you getting me back. And if you can make you forget . . . "
She takes his hand and he lets her, allows her to press his palm against her cheek. His eyes are wider than they ought to be and his body is wary, but still he lets her. Cradling his hand between hers and her cheek, she looks him in the eye and shifts the fingers under hers in a motion that has never been more deliberate. With his fingertips against her temple, something in him shakes.
" . . . then you must've made me forget.” She holds to his hand tightly, trying to convince him of her trust with nothing more than a steady grip and eye contact. "Make me remember," she tells him, watching blue eyes carefully before closing her own. She drops her hand from his.
"Don't know where to look," he says but she can feel him there already, brushing against her mind, pushing, pressing. She feels his storm, is ready to run into the eye of it, to stand surrounded by fire and ice and lightning, to stand surrounded and untouched, encompassed by the protectiveness of the wind. The taste of the air is different, the bitter tang of an otherworldly winter instead of the bitingly crisp autumn she has come to know. Winter air, yet somehow stale, somehow unstirred. It's familiar in a way she can't define, like the burnt autumn she has become intimate with. Only once this way, she thinks. It was like this only once.
"Makes two of us," she replies.
"If you don't want me to see something . . ." he starts.
"I know," she tells him.
Balance is suddenly established, her metaphorical feet planted as his hands cup both sides of her face, chilly fingertips firm on her temples. She throws open the door he'll teach her to visualize and beckons him inside, invites the tornado to tear the house apart with the secure knowledge that it won't. He won't.
She reaches forward, blind, and touches chest, shoulders, neck, temples. It's a play at reciprocation, a mutual sort of holding that bumps their arms together. This isn't how they usually do this. They should be cheek-to-cheek, chest-to-chest, his left hand on her right temple and her hand the same for his. The telepath's embrace, he'll say when she sees it for the first time, sees two people silently embracing and communicating for a fraction of a second before pulling away, content with the exchange.
The stale air inside him begins to stir, begins to move and Rose thinks suddenly of the same feel with a different taste. He was like this, too; he will be like this; he has been like this — untouched like this. She remembers it as completely as she can: you never really forget your first time. She remembers how he hung back, surrounded her slowly, moved into her with the hesitancy born of restraint. The autumn was crisp and taught, stiff winds trying to rush into her and being forcefully pulled back before contact was made. She thinks of this, thinks of how firmly, how tightly he controlled a desperation unlike any she could ever know.
He has told her of how they were always there, before, of how their echoes resided in his mind across the winding paths of time. He has told her this, told her how even the echoes have faded and he has shown her — unintentionally, but he has — how essential the contact is to him. Denied for too long, all finesse had been lacking; acted for the first time, the motions were clumsy, his mind against hers. Contact for the sake of contact had been almost unwieldy in the indefinable way of the alienated Time Lord mind. It had hurt the first time, hurt her enough to terrify him and she knows it will happen again.
She doesn't let go.
Once again, the air is stirring, becoming wind once more. She is surrounded and frozen, and he's holding to her too tightly. She opens the door anyway, opens it further because he's holding back and she can feel the static on the hairs of her arms even though she can't. Static is lightning and lightning might be fear; she's not sure, never has been.
He's not looking yet, not fully with her yet. His mind reaches to her as naturally as his hand does, searches for hers to clasp his in return. The beginning of the motion is automatic; the completion of it has to be his conscious choice.
The Doctor releases her instead, pulls back, breaks away from her touch. His abrupt motions leave her blinking into the strangely unreal lights of reality, an oddly dull glow from the fixtures overhead. She's stared into a storm of fire and ceiling fixtures can't hope to compare. She's stared, but he hasn't looked, hasn't even touched properly: he can't possibly be done yet, couldn't have found anything.
Rose orients in time to take in how he's looking at her, to see something startled and enraged in his eyes, something not directed at her no matter how his gaze is finally going to her legs, to the details any human bloke would’ve fixated on immediately. He’s processing, thinking, his mind going too quickly for her to possibly follow.
"Who else is on my TARDIS?" he asks her and he's looking at the spot where her knickers would be under his shirt if she was wearing them.
"Just us," she says and she knows exactly what — thinks she knows exactly what she's admitting to. She might know.
His hands return to her temples, a rough grip, and he tilts her head down so she can't look at his face. Rose makes a noise of protest but stills as she feels him, feels the storm coming on, coming closer. He stays there, out of reach, on the edge of contact.
She opens the door.
The hurricane arrives and the door is blown off of its hinges, wood splintering. Wind pulls lightning away from her with the whip-crack of thunder, leaving her deafened; fire and ice collide, a rain of steam showering down around her. The world burns and freezes, the storm an unending cloud of darkness covering the expanse of eternity. She runs to the eye of it, struggles to find the center only to find herself thrust out of it. He doesn't realize the safety in the center of himself, doesn't see it or doesn't trust her to enter it. The storm rages with restraint, shakes her with the gentlest hand possible, threatens to break her with the slightest pressure and does. It rages and shakes and roars and shatters.
It stops and he's saying her name, saying it and saying it. She reaches for the cloth of his coat and finds leather instead. Disoriented, she clings to it anyway, falling against him, as bewildered by the lack of contact as she was harmed by the presence of it. He's saying something but it sounds wrong, sounds deeper and slower and not at all like a babble.
"Doctor?" she asks, needing to check, her cheek against wool. "Did you find-"
"You stupid ape," he's saying, he's repeating as he holds her against him, rocks her the way he will after the next time this goes awry, the way he had the last time. "You stupid, stupid ape."
"'m all right," she tells his jumper, feeling not at all as if she'd woken up only a short time ago. She's been awake for hours, for days, and now all she wants is to dream with him. "Wait a little and try again, yeah?"
He grips her shoulders, pushes her back to make her look at him, make her see his face. "No," he tells her, using the word as he will one day wield it against Daleks, brandishing the syllable for the sake of her safety. "Shouldn't've done it the first time."
"'m all right," she says again and by the way that he looks at her, she knows that she almost wasn't. She's tired and wants a hug and it's been so long since he was telepathically out of practice that she's amazed at what happens when he is. "Okay," she decides, agreeing with him for now. "Scans and stuff it is, then."
He nods, watching her eyes to make sure she's being on the level with him. "Go get dressed," he tells her, a dismissal which means that she's right about being okay, a dismissal which means that he’s not okay at all.
She still wants that hug and knows that he needs one far more, even if he'll never admit it. He's not about to accept it right now and for the first time in forever, she thinks back to a shouting match over the soon-to-be-burning Earth. Don't argue with the designated driver.
He's not really, not anymore, not to her, but he still thinks he is.
"Okay," she says again.
He goes back to the equipment and it's obvious that he's giving her an opportunity to get off the table without accidentally flashing him. She takes it immediately, not wanting to risk anything more than she already has. They're going to have such a row when he remembers this; she's already sure.
Still, she can't help but turn back when she reaches the doorway, can't help but pull the edge of the shirt down as far as it will go and ask, "Doctor?"
He says "Yes, Rose" without looking at her.
"Shouldn't've asked you to do that," she tells him, shows him that she knows, shows him that she can learn over time. "'m sorry. An' you didn't hurt me, not really."
He turns his head, lets her see his eyes even if he doesn't look to hers. "But I will," he says, knows it because he's seen that much in her mind, in the way she reacts.
"Not that much," she lies and he knows that too.
She opened the door.
Not letting go of the handle, Rose moved, keeping the alien likeness of wood between her and the man. He stepped inside slowly, holding his hands at chest level, keeping them in plain sight. Rose was distracted for a second by his hair, large tufts of it in disarray, sticking up in random directions. His brown eyes glanced upwards, trying to follow her gaze. He stopped quickly, simply raising one hand to brush the mass down and flatten it in a way that human hair wouldn't flatten.
That done, he looked at her as she was looking at him, he standing at the base of the ramp as she practically backed herself into a corner between the open door and the wall. He was thin, he was rumpled, and he was studying her with his stranger's eyes in his stranger's face.
For a man not at all in her personal space, he was very, very close.
He began to step forward and she stepped back, foot hitting the wall, a roundel nudging into her back. He stopped the moment she moved, put his foot down almost before he was done picking it up. He looked at her as if she were the stranger, like she was the one out of place. "Rose," he said, his eyes so very, very brown even as they narrowed.
"Yeah," she said, edging slowly to the side. He was the same height, she realized. She tried to realize something else, but that was it. No, wait, he had lapels. Cloth and striped instead of black and leather, but still lapels. Oh god, she was grasping at straws.
Two tiny details.
Two tiny details and nothing more.
"How old are you?" he asked and now she couldn't pretend that the London accent was only there because of the door muffling his voice oddly.
"Nineteen," she said, straightening her back, stopping her sideways retreat. Any farther and she would have to let go of the door handle. Then, realizing that there wasn't any point in holding onto it any longer, she let go of it anyway, pushed it closed. She swallowed and raised her chin.
"Oh," he said and those brown eyes were suddenly so sad.
Two tiny details, and one big one.
"Oh?" she repeated, ready to move, unable to move.
"Oh," he replied, nodding. He looked at her with his mouth open and then closed it, teeth clicking together. As he agitatedly ran a hand through his hair, Rose realized why he'd looked so ruffled when he'd stepped in. "Not twenty-seven, then?"
Rose shook her head.
"This," the man said, "is a problem."
They stood in near silence, the hum of the TARDIS the only sound, a piece of background noise that only made the stretching moment more painful. The man opened his mouth to speak before closing it, tried again, tried again. Swallowed. Ruffled his hair.
They spoke at once:
"I'll get this sorted out, Rose-"
"What happened to him?"
The man frowned, stepped closer, halving the distance between them. Rose fought not to press into the wall. "To me, Rose," he corrected, holding eye contact as if he thought that alone could sway her, change her mind with the wrong eyes in the wrong face. "What happened to me."
"Okay, yeah," she said, brushing it off, trying to avoid really thinking about that. "What happened?"
He considered his answer, his gaze going through her as he did, his mouth a thin line. "Daleks," the man said at last and the despair of memory in those brown eyes made him the Doctor. "A fleet of them," he said, voice hard at the thought, and Rose didn't understand, couldn't understand how it could be the same expression on a completely different face, but it was.
"Oh my god." He wasn't-
"Gone now," he continued, forcing something lighter into his tone, misinterpreting her reaction. He wasn't looking at her. "Over and done with. Kaput," he added, over-articulating the "t" and becoming less like the Doctor with each word. And then his gaze went inside of himself and the resemblance made her shiver. "Finished, this time."
He looked at her and she looked at him and she could see him remembering.
"I win," he said, two words laced with something bitterly victorious, both wry and lost. Two words from three months ago in Utah, two words he repeated now and watched for her reaction.
Rose swallowed, the roundel on the wall digging into her back. "And then he-" Her voice stuck in her throat. "You . . .?"
"Absorbed a little too much energy," he said with a shrug that wasn't nearly as nonchalant as the shrug of the Doctor Rose knew. "Cells died, had to regenerate — that's what it's called, regeneration."
"And you just didn't . . ." Rose searched for a word, for a phrase, for something she could understand. "Didn't grow back the same way?" She felt like her head was about to break open, her mind churning and trying to find some sort of solution.
"I can't change back," he told her, interrupting her before she could ask. He looked sad, but he sounded hurt. "Could you move away from the wall?" he asked suddenly, going from depressed and serious to somewhat irritated. The swift change in mood was at once jarring and reassuring and jarring from being reassuring. It was like the Doctor, but it wasn't.
"Why?" Rose asked, nervous.
"I feel like I'm cornering you," he said, his expression leaving no doubt for his dislike of this idea, this truth that was so obvious to her. She could reach out and touch him, from here. She could shove him away. She could do a lot of things, from here, and yet she couldn't do any of them at all. "And you keep looking at me like . . ."
Like she was frightened of him.
"Oh," the man said, his face not blank, not expressionless, but a mask of restrained emotion. He was rage and fear and desperate, unwanted affection. How could she not be afraid of him?
Not that afraid, she told herself, assured herself for her own sake.
"What's going on?" she asked instead. "Right now. Why d'you think I'm twenty-seven?"
"Because you are," he said and she'd sort of been expecting that. "Something odd is going on with your timeline, Rose," he continued. "This didn't happen to you. You never randomly jumped into your own future." He stopped, mouth clicking shut, and messed up his hair in a gesture of what Rose assumed to be thought. "I'll get you back," he said instead of whatever it was he'd thought of.
"What if you don't?" Just the idea of going back, of getting back to the TARDIS that made sense — well, almost made sense — was enough to focus her. Maybe a little too much. The sooner she was back in her own time, the better.
It occurred to her that she'd just believed him. Impossible thing after impossible thing, but she'd just believed him. Before she could even try to process that, the man replied indignantly: "Oi! What happened to 'the Doctor can do anything'?"
"He got all . . ." Rose looked at him, tried for an adjective. "Brown."
"That's rude-and-not-ginger," he corrected her seriously, then grinned at her like she should be grinning back.
For perhaps the first time in her life, Rose was literally saved by the bell.
They looked up at once, the echoing chime ringing through the TARDIS. "What's that?" Rose asked, recognizing the sound as some sort of alarm but not sure what.
"Cloister Bell," the man sort of explained before pausing. "Wait, no. No, not quite. Wrong tone." He screwed up his face puzzling it through before bursting out: "I forgot to turn the waffle iron off!"
"What?" Rose asked, not sure which part she was most confused by.
"Fire alarm!" he exclaimed. "Burning down the kitchen!" He bounded away and turned back to her, catching himself in mid-step on one of the railings. "Go to the med bay. I'll be along, do some scans — give you some Spock, how about that? Sort it out quick and-"
"Go save the kitchen, Doctor," Rose said, trying to use the name on him without flinching, trying to give him a small, reassuring smile.
She must have succeeded.
He grinned widely before darting off, a manic grin that it hurt to almost know. "Med bay!" he yelled back at her as he went. "I mean it!"
"Okay!" she yelled in reply.
And if he thought she was really going to do that, he couldn't even pretend to be the Doctor.
Rose went to her room instead, smelling an odd smoky scent as she went. Waffle iron, she thought to herself. Doctor plus waffle iron equaled no. It was a very simple equation.
She reached the door, leaned against it with her eyes closed, just breathing. She was going to have to do this quickly, before he started to look for her. She'd have five or so minutes, maybe.
Right then. Time to see how much his story and the reality of her room matched up.
Naturally, she first double-checked the part of the story that he had left out.
Doing a quick inspection around her bed, she found her pants on one side of it and a pair knickers she didn't recognize on the other. Very deliberate knickers, these were. The sort of thing she might have worn for Mickey on his birthday. Rose swallowed, and when she found the matching bra, she was almost braced for it.
This was the point where she looked at the other things in the room.
The room, not hers. The more she looked around, the less she recognized. There was a pair of glasses on her nightstand. Knickknacks from alien worlds were scattered over her dresser. A book written by Tennyson sat atop Great Expectations amid a sloppy pile of magazines for no readily apparent reason. She opened a small, metallic box from the top of her dresser. From inside the surprisingly heavy casing exploded light and sound, projecting a colorful hologram and startling her into shutting it immediately.
She breathed in. Out.
Rose sat down on an almost clear section of the rug, set the box down in front of her. Opening it more gingerly this time, Rose found a small knob on the side, turned it. Volume decreased, colors changed in a kaleidoscope pattern, and the music box — because that was what it must have been — played an ethereal tune.
Listening, watching, staring at the rainbows dance on the walls, the idle thought that she'd want one of these convinced her it was hers.
. . . Okay.
She could do this.
Keeping the box open, Rose got up, went to the dresser and looked through it. None of the clothes were hers, but they looked like they could be hers. Eight years, she reminded herself. I could dress like that in eight years.
She picked up a shirt. Not bad, actually.
Putting it away, Rose closed her eyes. Folding her arms and leaning on them against the top of her dresser, she thought about what she knew. Regeneration. Sex. Books. Clothes.
Now, if she was going to store anything personal, where would she-
She dug through the fallen clothes and unmatched shoes until she hit the box. This, this cardboard crate, all falling apart, this was hers. She knew it. Without any idea of what was inside now, Rose pulled it onto her lap and hugged it, crushing the edges, a corner digging into her leg. Things shifted inside and she wanted to look, longed to keep the lid on. This was here, this was hers, this was completely hers, right up until she opened it and peeked inside.
The top was folded shut, flap under flap under flap under flap under the first flap. The same it had always been. The scribble on the side, the lopsided "Rose's Things" with the slip in the tail of the "g" in blue marker, that was the same.
Rose opened the box and looked through her life.
There were envelopes, letters with names on them. Recognizing the one she'd written to her dad — yellowed and crunchy now, written only a month ago — Rose put the letters back, not wanting to look at the names, not wanting to know who she was going to grieve over before she'd met them. Who had told her about that, writing letters to people she’d never get to talk to again? Mickey, right.
Rose wondered what happened to Mickey.
The paper slid off of a small book, landing on what looked like a crystallized twig. There were some odds and ends, really random things that she had to assume would make sense with time. Her passport threw her for a moment: why would she ever need that, traveling through space and time?
Along with what she assumed were some ticket stubs was something she recognized, something that she'd put on her dresser a week or so ago. The seashell was still a spiked mass, swirls of color wrapping around each spine. It felt almost exactly the same, but she couldn't imagine why she'd have it in the box, or why she would have put duct tape all over one of the spines. It must have snapped. She lifted the Hesolian Message Shell to her ear, expecting something vastly important to be on loop inside, but only heard a conversation she'd yet to forget. Rose forgot very few conversations with the Doctor that involved his face inches from hers. He'd held it between them, told her she'd have to lean in if it was going to pick up on her speech.
". . . an organic message-in-a-bottle, no bottle required," said a voice close to her ear and so far away, sounding exactly like him, like the Doctor, the proper Doctor. "The resonance patterns on this one-"
"Yeah?" Rose heard herself ask.
"-right there. Gives it about a two-minute recording time, this size. The purple spine is hollow in a trisonglion pattern and-"
"Lobster trap for sound. The sound waves go in and can't get out. This little chat could last for years."
"Can you, I dunno, record over?"
"Talk into the purple spine," he'd said and had pointed to it. "Best it you clean it out first. Words get scrambled, otherwise-"
Rose lowered the shell and looked at it, really looked. Her stomach was churning in the same way it had when that hologram had spoken. The same way it had when she'd stood on a sidewalk a month ago and waited for her father to die. She looked at the purple spine, at the duct tape all over it, stopping any accidental sound from getting in and marring that Northern voice.
Putting it down took effort, almost as much effort as it took not to cry.
Biting her lip and screwing her eyes shut, Rose focused on one thought, one hope. This hasn't happened yet. Hasn't happened, it's not real, can't be real, he can't be- couldn't be gone.
Rose thought of Reapers and her hands trembled when she reached back into the box. She held onto the edge of it instead, listening to her music box. Calming sound, there.
Not enough time to stop.
She'd been expecting the photos, recognized the ones on the top. She tried to be reassured, tried to think about that and only that. So she'd still keep them like this, in order, bound by rubber band. Okay. Normal enough. There was a bunch under the first and that was the one she pulled out, her fingers brushing something smooth and soft in the process. She took that, too, running the silk strip over her hands. A soft gray, it wasn't exactly a tie, more like a double-sided tie. What was the word? Cravat? Whose was it?
Whose had it been?
Draping it over the side of the box, Rose pulled off the rubber band from the clump of photographs, finding the one on top reassuring when she realized the importance of it. It had the Doctor in it. A shot taken from behind and not really of him, but still the Doctor. He was one of many, seated in her mum's flat, watching the telly for news of the spaceship that had hit Big Ben. Rose thought back to that night, her first night back after the end of the world and Dickens. Yeah, she could think of a couple of her mum's friends who might have taken pictures, marking the first night of aliens or the first night of having her back. Probably the aliens though.
The pictures of the Doctor ran out far too quickly. There were only a few where he was actually looking at the camera, three where he was actually smiling.
There was one where he was holding her against his side, arm around her waist, and glaring over her head at a handsome, laughing bloke. Rose looked at her own face, looked at a moment that hadn't happened yet and knew her heart had been beating faster then. It was now, just looking at it.
The handsome, laughing bloke showed up with only her a few times, dark-haired and blue-eyed with a friendly-bordering-on-very-friendly arm around her shoulders. There was a blush on her cheeks and Rose wondered why she was biting her own tongue in the picture, smiling like that. Probably to keep from laughing.
She flipped that picture to the back of the stack and nearly dropped them all at the sight of the next.
It was a photo of the man. Not just the man, but her and the man, her and the man grinning at the camera, sitting at her mum's table. It looked like Christmas. He had this paper hat on and she was poking him. And another photo was below that, with them standing sort of awkwardly in front of the wall her mum always took pictures in front of because she thought it made a good background.
Rose quickly flipped through the pile.
Her mum and Mickey. Her and Mickey. Her and her mum and Mickey. Mickey and the man. Her mum harassing the man. Her and the man. Her and the man. Her and the man.
In each and every one.
Rose put the pictures down and pressed her palms against her eyes. Her shoulders shook. Her throat tightened. But the music box played on and, getting annoyed with the calming melody and light show, Rose got up to shut the thing off. Picking it up off the floor, she flipped the lid shut and put it back on her dresser, looking once again at the random clutter on it in the loud silence she'd created. A strip of shiny paper caught her eye and, expecting an alien ticket stub, Rose reached for it, held it.
She turned it over.
It was a strip of tiny snapshots, the sort of thing you got from a cramped photo booth. Just four pictures — when had she started to take so many photos? — but the sight of them hit her like a punch to the gut.
Her and the man, the Doctor-who-wasn't. In a photo booth. Acting like children. The first shot showed the man wearing glasses, the second and third with him trying to recover said glasses from her as she laughed and laughed. The fourth was him with his glasses back on, pouting. Pouting. And she was hugging him, arms around him from the side, her face on his shoulder and —
Was that really her? Her face, yeah, but, well, older. Shorter hair, and with her roots showing.
She was nineteen, and she was twenty-seven. None of this had happened yet and all of it already had.
Rose put the photo strip down before she either stared at it forever or threw up from confusion. She put it down, kept a hand on her dresser and looked at her bed. Consensual. That was consensual.
Very consensual, judging by those knickers on the floor.
The Doctor was going to die and change and not even be vaguely the same and she was going to screw him anyway. Or maybe she was going to shag him and then he was going to die and change. "Would you still love me even if I had a horrible, refiguring accident?" Rose thought and clapped her hand over her mouth to hold in her resulting giggles, high-pitched and nervous squeaks not sounding at all like her.
She laughed until she was gasping, until her hand on the dresser had become her forearm, holding her up, keeping her from falling over with dizziness.
This was going to happen and she couldn't stop it.
She was going to have to live and wait and know, because this was going to happen and she couldn't stop it.
And she didn't have a lot of time until he found her — he had to be looking by now — so she'd have to pull herself together. Right now.
She could do this.
Nodding to herself and forcing down any further terrified giggling fits, Rose went back to her box, replaced what she'd pulled out, tried to comfort herself with the fact that she still recognized the contents on the bottom. Not everything changed. Just almost all of it.
She closed the flaps and lifted the cardboard box. Kneeling and leaning over into the closet, she let her knuckles hit the floor as she put the box down. That wasn't carpet under her knuckles. More like cloth. Wool?
Pulling the box back out was easy; getting the item out was harder. Big and blue, it came unfolded in her hands and proved itself to be far longer than it was wide. Settling back on her heels, Rose draped the coat over her thighs, fingering the buttons. It looked military. Not recent military, though. World War Two, maybe? There were pins on it, things that might have implied rank. 133 Squadron. Royal Air Force.
No idea why that was there. Not sure she wanted to know why.
She bunched it up into a ball before thinking one of the weirder thoughts of her life: If this was special to older her, she was about to annoy older her by mistreating this thing.
Nonlinear lifestyles were complicated, the Doctor had once said to explain a friend he hadn't met yet. Now she knew what he meant. Sort of.
Before she put the coat back, she checked this time, peering into the dark of her closet. Black, she thought. Dark black. Bad lighting or not, her carpet was peach. Folding the coat badly, she set it on the box before pulling out the mystery item.
It was black and leather and heavy and the instant her hand touched it, Rose knew exactly what it was.
With a choked sob, she buried her face against the Doctor's leather jacket. It wasn't at all as she remembered and that might have been because he wasn't wearing it, might have been because there wasn't a man to fill the piece of him he'd left for her, the piece of him she'd saved. Without needing to imagine it, she knew that she had held this jacket, had wrapped it around herself as a shield the way he had once done, had slept with it in her arms and cried into it. She must have.
She closed her eyes, closed them tight but not tightly enough to keep the tears in. She breathed in but it didn't even smell like him. Years ago, the man had said. That was years ago. It couldn't smell like him anymore.
He was gone.
The Doctor was gone.
The memory of a Reaper flashed behind her shut lids, the horrific sounds of a Time Lord's destruction echoing in her ears. But he'd come back. He'd come back and led her back to the TARDIS by the hand and sat with her through tea and tears, held her and spoke gently into her ear as he cradled her in his lap. Cradled her the same way she was cradling his jacket, like she was something precious and never ever to be lost.
"I can't change back."
He'd known she would ask and that only made her cry the harder.
Oh god, what was that going to be like? Was she going to have to watch him die, watch as every cell in his body deteriorated and him aware of it all? He would scream and it would be the worst sound in the universe. His skin would tear away until holding his hand would only hurt him more. He would fall apart, down to his very bones, feeling all of it.
And then he'd grow back. Alien tech helping him, he'd grow back slowly, still screaming. There'd be blood and pus and he'd itch like mad. How long would it take? How much was her Doctor going to have to suffer?
Her mind racing, her shoulders shaking, her throat raw from sobbing, Rose was only distantly aware of the door opening, of sounds of movement, of someone saying "Oh Rose" with a pain that equaled hers. She pressed her face against the leather, hugged the heavy material as if it might hug her back somehow, might somehow fill up with the man who belonged inside it.
A hand touched her shoulder and a voice she didn't want to hear said her name softly.
"Rose, it's all right," the man told her gently, kneeling or sitting down behind her.
"S'not, though," she argued, shaking her head and wanting him to stop touching her. "He's dead." The hand left her shoulder, an arm reaching around her to her wrist. Thinking he was going to try to pry the jacket away from her, Rose held on tighter. He put his other arm around her and she stiffened.
"He's all right," the man continued and caught her hand. Before she could scream or yell or try to hit him, before she could do more than flinch at his breath on her neck, he turned her hand, held it to his wrist. "Feel for a pulse," he offered.
He was the right temperature, his skin was. Rose thought of Doctors and doctors and cold hands for them both and maybe she laughed or maybe she cried, but the man hugged her against him anyway, his hearts beating against her back, beating so fast they were almost vibrating.
"I want my Doctor," she said into the Time Lord's jacket, repeated it and repeated it, the only thought in her head.
"I am your Doctor," the man said and this time when he lied, it wasn't so gentle.
Back to index
Chapter 4: Fit the Fourth: In Which Rose Solves Problems, Almost
When he comes to find her, she’s in the library. Curled up on her favorite couch with a book in hand, Rose looks up when she feels him standing there and marks her place with her finger.
“You didn’t come back,” he says, leaving against the towering bookshelf, a semi-organic construct growing out of the floor. The books lean into each other on the shelves, set on too wavy of a surface to stand by themselves. It’s strange to see him here, this him. She remembers sitting in here with him, listening to him read excerpts of this and that after an adventure and loving the rumbling flow of his voice as she drifted off to sleep. She remembers that, but somehow, he still doesn’t match the library, not in the slightest. So much less bookish, this Doctor.
Rose has a sudden image of this him wearing next him’s glasses and despite his unfathomable tone, she wants to smile. “Thought I’d stay out of your way,” she explains and the urge to smile wavers. After getting dressed, she’d felt . . . out of place. None of her jeans fit, not one single pair. Her calves, her thighs, her hips: everything’s changed. She’s resorted to a skirt and a hoodie, completely failing to match. She’s wearing knickers, though, and it’s amazing what that’ll do for a girl’s confidence.
All the same, her heart trembles absurdly as his gaze falls on her choice of reading material. “What book?” he asks, speaking for all the world as if there isn’t a looming catastrophe. That doesn’t mean there isn’t, but it seems like a good sign.
“Great Expectations,” she replies. “Almost done, so. . .” She trails off as he grins and pushes himself off of the shelf with his shoulder. Dickens, right. He’s the one who introduced her.
He sits down beside her, the cushion indenting and encouraging her to slip down next to him until hips press and arms tangle. “How far are you?” he asks with that focused interest she hadn’t realized she’d missed. Brooding intensity, she thinks to herself and nearly smiles.
“Almost done. I was reading this, y'know, before. Wemmick’s going walking with a fishing pole,” Rose replies, opening the book and glancing down at the page. “And he’s saying ‘Halloa’ a lot.” She feels him grinning wider and returns the expression in equal measure, looking up into such amazingly blue eyes and sliding a little closer.
They’ve had sex on this couch.
Swallowing, Rose shifts, reestablishing distance and sticking her finger back into the book, covering her need to look away with a glance at the page number. She tucks her hair behind her ear with her free hand, but he interrupts her before she can even start to say anything more.
“Keep reading.” He nods at her when she gives him a confused look. “Go on.”
She raises her eyebrows at him before reading on nevertheless. He doesn’t stop looking at her for a moment, watching her face for a reaction. One paragraph later, he gets it.
Rose laughs before she can help herself, laughs with him laughing right next to her. “God, that’s brilliant.”
“Good ol’ Charley,” the Doctor agrees, turning her hand to let him see the page. “‘Halloa, here’s a church. Halloa, here’s a pair of gloves…’”
“‘Halloa, here’s my girlfriend’,” Rose finishes, chuckling. “‘Let’s have a wedding!’” It’s abrupt and silly and perfect for a character who lives in a castle with cannons and has a mouth like a mailbox while at work. “That’s just brilliant. Wish I’d read this before I met him.” She looks up at the Doctor, finding him tense and only a little sad. Holding the book in her lap, she turns and pulls her legs up onto the couch to sit cross-legged, adjusting the skirt to cover her legs entirely. Now when she slides towards him, it’s her knees hitting the side of his thigh, an unfamiliar position unlikely to give her any sudden remembrances of him, say, playing with the hem of her top, fingers slipping beneath as he watches her face with dark, dark eyes.
She tries to focus on the jarring contrast of his pale, pale eyes but the contrast is simply there, not jarring in the least. “So,” she somehow says conversationally, “how bad is it?”
“‘Bad’?” he repeats, sounding playfully indignant. “Not bad at all. Very good book, that.”
She shoots him a look and he gets the message.
“The problem isn’t with you, Rose,” he tells her. “The TARDIS was finishing up calibrating.” He looks down for a moment, avoiding her eyes. “We met your father last month,” he says and it doesn’t come at all as a surprise. “After that, this old girl had a few internal adjustments to make.”
“Like after she absorbs new equipment?” Rose asks, remembering her fear with the buffer of time. That paradox had gotten to the TARDIS long before the Reaper had ever gotten to the Doctor. “But on a bigger scale,” she theorizes. “And when the contents were getting all shook up, I got shuffled. An’. . . Just guessing, but there’s some paradox proofing on this thing, yeah? Later me gets shuffled in during the mix up, younger me gets shuffled out, and all chances of me meeting me get chucked neatly out the window.”
“Exactly.” God, he looks so proud of her. Her stomach twists and warms at once. He’s thinking of how far she’s come, she can tell. He’s thinking and reasoning it out and his smile isn’t manic or mad or bursting with energy. It’s small, hovering at the edge of his mouth like something he can’t fully hold back.
“Sort of like Donna,” Rose muses, trying to distract him from her blush with new information.
It works. “Like who?”
“Donna Noble,” Rose elaborates. “We’d got this- this extrapolator thing. Pandimensional surfboard, pretty much, right? Great for force fields and stuff but not really compatible with the TARDIS. Took it half of forever to sync up. When it finally did — got all coral-covered at the bottom — the calibration process left a sort of gap for her to come in through.”
He frowns and it’s the strangest thing in the world when he doesn’t ruffle his hair, even though he hasn’t enough hair to ruffle. Sitting there slightly turned, legs crossed towards her, one hand on his thigh and the other arm across the back of the couch, his hands stay where they are. Rose looks between those hands, the one on the couch temptingly close to her shoulder, the one on his thigh dangerously close to where she shouldn’t be looking. “Come through how?” he asks, mercifully concentrating on the problem at hand.
“Definitely not the way I did,” Rose tells him. “She was all lights an’ yelling an’ I just woke up in my bed. Completely different. Anyway, she was being dosed with Huon energy particles. Yeah, I know, bad,” she adds when he’s about to interrupt. “Got it sorted out fine in the end, don’t worry.”
“But the particles pulled her into the TARDIS,” he states, not at all asking.
Rose nods. “Yeah. Gonna happen no matter what. The bit I’m getting at is that it happened when it did because of the extrapolator finally getting absorbed, ‘cause of that stability gap.”
“That’s a start. Still doesn’t explain what pulled you into the gap,” he adds. “Or where you are.” Younger her, he means. The look on his face as he says it, the guilt and the worry and the edge of annoyance at the universe, that narrowing of his eyes and the turn of his lips, that look says everything. Watching him is like falling in love again, more than simply like it. He’s always cared about her, always wanted to keep her safe.
Rose smiles. “We’ll find me,” she says because it’s the easiest thing in the world to say, a simple fact born of her trust in him. She shrugs and doesn’t let her smile fade no matter how he’s looking at her. “I’m okay now, aren’t I?”
His hand cups her cheek. Leather creaks as his arm on the back of the couch shifts, as his callused palm cradles her jaw, as blunt fingertips touch the side of her face, a pair on either side of her ear, his thumb nearly brushing her lips. Her eyes flutter shut at the cool contact, her breath catching in her chest. She hears denim on denim, feels the Doctor shifting through the cushion under them both, knows he’s uncrossing his legs, twisting his body towards her. With just the barest pressure, he guides her closer, brings her to him. Leaning forward, she feels more unbalanced than she actually can be, feels like his hand is the only thing keeping her up. It’s sudden and abrupt, but so is he. Hairpin turns of thought and emotion, that’s him. No wonder she can’t keep up.
His breath plays across her lips and he tells her to open her eyes.
She does, lips parting at the sight of his proximity. Blue eyes watch her intently, flecks of gray commanding her attention as his gaze focuses, fixates upon her with a single-minded intensity. He holds her head still with both hands now, keeps her only far enough back to properly look at. Their noses bump lightly, a brush of contact she might have only imagined.
Her mind tries to race, attempts to find words to explain who they’ve become together, to reassure and entice, to make him understand that it’s not domestic at all, that it’s only them, only the best thing in the universe. There are words her mouth should be forming, sounds her tongue should be shaping, but mouth and tongue are waiting for something else, preparing for something else as his eyes look back and forth from hers, searching. All she can do is stare back, study his once familiar features from behind half-closed lids.
He lets her go and all traces of balance vanish instantly. Though sitting, she falls forward, catches herself with a hand on his leg and one on his side. She lets go immediately, pulls back and stops touching him and starts to realize why he looks like he’s mad when he speaks. It’s because he is. “Huon energy particles,” he says, repeating her earlier words. “Those are deadly, Rose. In a living thing, in a human being, Huon energy particles mean death unless they’re removed. Rose, you-”
“They’re in me, yeah,” she interrupts, able to get angry back. It’s so easy to get angry right back at him, more satisfying than only being angry at herself. How stupid can one human get? He’s looking for bits of death in her eyes and she’s waiting for a kiss. “Not enough to actually do anything.”
“And you didn’t think this was worth mentioning?” he demands. “Didn’t wonder if something should be done about it before you off yourself by being an idiot?”
“We’ve already done something!” she yells right back. “Everything that can be done, we’re already doing! You’ve already done enough!” Reopened grief breaks through anger, breaks into her words and tinges her voice. He’s already died for her. He’s put her first and become another man. There’s nothing else she wants him to do, nothing else she’s about to let him do.
His eyes narrow. “What happened?”
She shakes her head. “You- You’re chasing after the wrong thing here.” He makes to interrupt but she talks right over him. She can talk over next him, has learned how to do it when she needs to; this him hasn’t got a chance. “The TARDIS needs to recalibrate after having a paradox thrown at me. There- maybe there isn’t enough energy or maybe she just wants more energy than she’s got, so when she puts everything back, she pulls in this me, Huon energy particles and all. Younger me. . . The TARDIS wouldn’t just chuck me out to make me not meet myself ‘cause that would make another paradox, me never growing up to be this me,” she reasons, laying out her rationale before a gaze like ice. “Younger me would go somewhen else, somewhen else -”
“What happened?” he repeats.
“- where there’s no chance of me meeting me,” she continues without pause, talking to the book still in her lap. “An’ probably a time when the Huon energy particles aren’t needed. So, past or future, but still on the TARDIS. If it was past, you’d have left yourself a- a what’s it, a memory catch, memory trigger, yeah? Remember finding that me only when that me’s gone and this me’s here. So that leaves -”
She looks up.
“Tell me what happened.” He’s not asking, not ordering. The command comes out as a statement of fact; he says it, so she will.
Rose shakes her head. “No,” she tells him instead. “I don’t want to and I don’t have to.”
She’s killed him. This daft old face, those endearing ears, all gone because of her. He’s running out of regenerations and she pushed him that much closer to extinction, a semi-genocide that didn’t go all the way through. He’s still alive, but she’s killed him. Saved him and killed him and he’s never blamed her, never begrudged her anything. She woke him up when his brain was collapsing and still no accusations sounded. She’d had to fight and argue and rage about Jack before he’d been willing to tell her how the Daleks had died, tell her what she had done. He’d protected her from the knowledge, stood between her and what she’d done, thinking she would be forever horrified.
She was and she still is, just not for the reasons he’d thought. Saving the Earth, saving the universe, ending the Time War: this she finds no shame in. Being unable to save her Doctor or her Captain; this was why she had cried and clung to her New New Doctor. He’d been right for the wrong reasons. He’d known it would hurt her and the look in his eyes when he told her was one she never wanted to see again, not in any of his eyes.
“Rose,” the Doctor warns, stern, coarse.
“No,” she says, not about to waver, not about to hurt him with this. “You don’t need to know yet, so you can just shove it.” She’s gotten a clean bill of heath from him before — “Well, I say clean, I mean fairly tidy. Well, I say fairly tidy, I mean fine. Human’s human and that’s you, Rose” — and she doesn’t doubt that he knew what he was talking about. Will know what he’ll be talking about. “If it’s a small enough amount that you have to resort to some- some Time Lord staring contest to pick up on it,” she continues, “then it’s not dangerous enough to kill me.” She’d nearly called it by another name, nearly uttered a word that could break this him. Not a Time Lord staring contest. Gallifreyan.
“It’s not safe,” he tells her and it’s so obvious that he believes her a child. His hands are fisted, his jaw clenched.
“Neither are you,” Rose counters and bites back a comment about still letting both of them inside of her anyway. “An’ I can live with that,” she says instead.
“Until one or the other gets you killed.” They’ve yet to cross into this territory, he has yet to. He thinks he can scare her off, impossibly believes that the danger matters. He has no idea.
“Yeah,” she says with a nod.
After he regenerates, his mouth will work in moments like these, opening and closely wordlessly, stalling for time with a pout. When that fails, his lips will form a thin line and his eyes will burn into hers, mild only in color, wild in all else. He’ll protest and argue until she teaches him better, until he learns what she already knows. That she loves him. That she’s never going to leave him. That he’s all she wants in life.
He has no idea, not yet, but she thinks he might be learning already. His expression unreadable, she takes in his body instead, notes the tension in his shoulders, in the set of his jaw. She watches him, tries to see how much of his body language he kept besides crossing his arms and leaning in doorways. Glancing back up to his face, another Time Lord staring contest results.
Listening to her own pulse, Rose closes her eyes in a slow, deliberate blink. Opening them, she offers him the next move wordlessly, not nodding, not shrugging, not doing anything at all. And still he understands.
“So you were saying,” he reminds her, shifting on the couch once more, “something about paradox prevention?”
“Yeah,” Rose says. “I was.” She doesn’t ask him if he was paying attention.
“You were right,” he tells her, giving her that and not giving an inch.
She remembers when the contradiction that was the Doctor fascinated her. Now she’s just sort of annoyed. There’s been no happy hug, no playful teasing, no oddly made breakfast. She wants that. “I’m clever,” she says and shrugs.
“I would have left myself a memory trigger, or at least a note,” he adds. “Done that before, when I was Merlin.”
“When you were what?” she asks, perking up with interest before she can remember that she’s being cross. Does he know what he’s doing, giving her tidbits of distraction? And for that matter, does next him know that he does the same thing, just with winks and flirting and occasional pouting? “Merlin? Can’t imagine you with a beard.”
“No beard yet, then?” he checks, a note of curiosity in his voice that makes perfect sense when she thinks about it.
“Just the sideburns,” Rose replies. “And no,” she adds before he can ask, “you’re still not ginger.”
He makes a noise of disappointment and Rose can practically see next him snapping his fingers in a gesture of “And I was so close!” The mixture sits strangely in her head and not laughing isn’t an option.
“Oi!” he protests, but the more indignant he gets, the more she has to laugh. He’s all ups and downs and spinning her every which way. He’s almost everything she remembers and some things she doesn’t. He’s teasing and silly, and he’d forgive her anything. He’s the Doctor and she loves him and she misses him.
It’s the thought that she wants both of him that sobers her, that puts a stopper on her helpless giggling. She wipes at her eyes with her sleeve, telling herself they’re wet only from laughter. Matching his manic, infectious grin, she prompts, “So you forgot to leave a note?”
“Or I’ve yet to. Or . . .” He trails off and Rose leans forward, waiting for the stroke of brilliance.
When it doesn’t come, she pokes him in the leather-covered side. He looks at her, puzzled, and she prompts, “Or?”
“Or we’re running parallel,” he replies. “If my Rose is in my past or my future, either one, and we’re running parallel, a note or a memory trigger would be useless for whichever me was older.”
“What’s that mean, running parallel?” She assumes it’s a Timey-Whimey term.
“Multiple uses of the phrase,” he answers. “I’ll start with the simplest one.” He twists at the waist to face her as fully as he can while seated, his leg bumping against her knees, pressing, staying there. Holding his hands up so his arms are two straight vertical lines between them, he explains, “Anything that’s parallel never touches what it’s parallel with. In time terms, running parallel can mean aging at the same rate. Once had a friend who went off into E-Space being centuries younger than me and came back a few hundred years later being older. That’s running nonparallel.” He shifts his hands, one still straight, the other tilted to touch.
“What’s running perpendicular?” Rose asks, feeling a headache start to build at the back of her skull.
“You don’t want to know, trust me,” he tells her and grins, setting his hands back down. “In this case, running parallel means happening at the same time.”
“Aging at the same rate, yeah,” Rose agrees, then blanches. “So . . . if I’ve had a morning with you, younger me’s had a morning with some other Doctor too?”
“Probably, yeah,” he agrees, looking worried about it himself. His hand on his knee draws her gaze, pulls her back into a state of wondering. She feels his eyes on her face and knows if she asks for him to look again, he’ll still say no.
Rose rubs at the side of her head, trying to get past the feeling of knowing that she can’t remember what’s happened to her. She thinks of Jack, poor, brave Captain Jack and she can only wonder how he didn’t go completely mad from frustration. “’m tryin’ t’ remember, but I can’t,” she says, that headache building.
“You don’t need to,” he tells her, says it a little more strongly than is strictly necessary. “The calibration gap might’ve gone both ways. You slip through this one, she gets sent out into another.”
“You can make up a list of every single time the TARDIS has recalibrated in nine hundred years?” Rose asks skeptically. “And then check it. One at a time.”
He rolls his eyes. “I can make a list and run it against the TARDIS log. Whichever ones I miss are the ones I don’t remember. Those I check. Quick visit, you keep out of the way, I find younger you, and that’s that.” He stands up, hopping to his feet. The cushion stops tilting her without his weight to draw her in; her knees are cold.
“Anything I can do?” Rose offers, unfolding her legs and standing up as well, leaving her book on the couch. She’s more than ready to point out the big flaw in his plan, the flaw called The Future. Younger her could be anywhen. Only the very secure knowledge that she’s standing here, perfectly fine, keeps her from panicking. She’s seen people wink out of existence, has had nightmares about it.
“Make a list of the ones you remember,” he replies, the expected answer. “Along with any more Dora —”
“- incidents,” he finishes over her and the mistake is so deliberate that she wants to hug him.
So she does.
It’s a hug of comfort this time, a firm squeeze with arms wrapped around each other naturally, barely desperate at all. “Yes, sarge,” she replies and she can feel his laugh, his short chuckle over jokes to come. It’s a vibration moving through his chest and into hers, filling her up. Once again, she’s struck by how unbelievably solid he is, how stable and not wiry at all. He’s here, here in her arms, here and breathing, but he was there, too. There and different and now that she looks, she doesn’t know what she’s looking for any longer.
They pull back from each other and exchange the most reassuring smiles they can muster. Hand finds hand instantly, Time Lord and human reaching for and fitting one another naturally. Something true pulls at the corners of the Doctor’s lips and Rose lets him lead them out between shelves organic and metallic alike, the fixtures as varied as the books they hold. It’s utterly familiar and indefinably hers on a level deeper than emotion or instinct.
Palm pressed against palm, fingers entwined, Rose can almost imagine she’s safe.
She couldn’t stop shaking. She shook and shook and he never let go, never allowed her to pull away and curl up on herself. The battered jacket in her arms was wet against her cheek, fallen tears mingling with those still on her face.
Her head hurt. So much. There was no telling how long she’d been crying, been asking for a man who wouldn’t — couldn’t come. God, she was tired. Just barely woken up, but she was already exhausted.
“We’re going to put you back, Rose,” the man told her, one arm releasing her, the other still around her waist, still holding her against him, still keeping her close enough to feel the thrum of his hearts. He shifted behind her and Rose heard the strangest sound, the strangest familiar sound she knew. She turned to look at the source, pulling away and turning towards him at once, his hand sliding around her waist and the small of her back before dropping away faster than thought. He looked down when she looked at his eyes.
Too difficult a gaze to maintain even when he wasn’t looking back, Rose focused instead on the sight of the man’s hand digging not simply into his pocket but seemingly his leg as well. Something jingled faintly, something crinkled; a world of indescribable items was being rummaged through in a dimensionally transdescendent pocket. His arm disappeared to the elbow and when the man muttered something, the corner of Rose’s mouth twitched.
“Ah-ha!” he cried and Rose could feel him watching her face, knew he was trying to pull out a smile. Reclaiming his hand from his pocket, he held out the prize to her: a ridiculously crumpled packet of tissues.
Biting her lip and daring only one short glance at his expectant expression, his nervously hopeful smile, Rose took the offered packet, careful not to touch his hand. Blowing her nose, she had to shift the jacket in her arms, fold the heavy material over one arm. Once done sniffling into the thin, scratchy tissue, she held it in her hand awkwardly, being the pocket-less member of this pair.
Wordlessly, the man reached behind him for her small rubbish bin and almost offered that as well. She saw his jaw tighten as he took in the incriminating contents of the bin.
He looked at her.
She looked at him.
He held out his hand and, after a moment of pause, she handed him the tissue. He dropped it into the rubbish bin very deliberately, as if hiding the condom now would make her forget its existence.
She sniffled once last time, rubbing at her eyes with her sleeve. “Right,” she said, and then repeated once again, attempting to get her voice to work properly. “Right, you were saying?”
“I’m going to fix your timeline,” the man replied, all hair and freckles instead of ears and nose. He watched her eyes, watched her face as she struggled to hold his gaze. He looked away first, giving her that reprieve as he took in the other jacket on the floor. “Do you know Jack yet?” he asked.
Rose glanced at the blue coat, hugging the leather jacket to her tighter. She shook her head, piecing it together.
Jack. Military Jack. Human, to be in World War Two. Lost with her Doctor? Before? After? Was Jack the smiling bloke in the pictures? The gorgeous one her Doctor had prickled at?
Rose shook her head again. “Haven’t met him yet,” she answered, wondering how much she was going to love him if she kept his coat with her Doctor’s.
“Ah,” said the man as if this were a very bad and complicated thing. He ruffled his hair and shifted as to be sitting cross-legged instead of kneeling.
“What?” Rose asked, glancing to the wool coat once again. “Would Jack make it easier to get me back to the TARDIS?” The permeating hum of the ship changed pitch and Rose amended, “To the TARDIS I’m supposed to be in.”
“No,” the man said, now moving on to scratch the back of his neck, his hair already sticking up in wildly random directions. “Well, maybe. Well, probably not.”
“Then what?” Asking questions she didn’t really want to know the answers to had never been a good idea in the past, but Rose couldn’t seem to help herself. She put the packet of tissues down, the leather jacket a comforting blanket across her legs.
“It’s not so much Jack as certain . . . conversations Jack inspired,” the man explained slowly, over-articulating the searched for word once he found it. “You, ah, not knowing about them makes this a little more . . . out of the blue.”
Involuntarily, they both glanced towards the bed.
“He doesn’t even like humans!” Rose protested. “He flirts with trees!”
The man blinked at her, mouth first gaping open and then closing shut in rapid succession. “When did I- I haven’t- I haven’t even- Not since-” He blinked again, teeth clicking together as he shut his mouth once more. “Ah,” he said.
“Ah?” Rose prompted, trying not to think about how he’d looked for a moment like a bloke accused of cheating.
“Ah,” he agreed. “Not a tree-hugger, this time ‘round,” he assured her. “Well, not specifically. Hug anyone, you know me.” He grinned at her hopefully, a tense expression.
Wanting to shake her head, Rose forced herself to nod and had to settle for quick, nervous bobs of the head. Because when it came down to it, she really didn’t want to know. Not yet. Not like this. She thought of the Doctor, the proper Doctor, thought of what the Dalek had said three months ago, thought of being described as the woman the Doctor loved. And maybe that was true and maybe that was wonderful — fantastic — but this wasn’t. This was frightening and strange and, and-
It occurred to her that this was what scared her the most. The human-ness of it all. Sharing a bed, using condoms, making waffles in the morning; it was all so human.
She didn’t want the Doctor to be human, Rose realized for the first time, had reason to think it for the first time. She didn’t want him to be human at all.
“Rose?” the man asked, dark eyes fixed on her face. “Are you listening to me?”
“No,” she replied honestly. Feeling that wasn’t enough, she added, “Should I be?”
He raised his eyebrows. “So cheeky, so soon,” he mused, speaking as if to himself. “Well, then,” he continued much more loudly, climbing to his feet, “let’s get you to the med bay. Put you back where you belong, how about it?”
He offered her his hand and she stood without assistance.
Ruffling his hair before sticking both hands into his pockets with a strange sense of determination, the man looked at her, eyes flickering between her face and the jacket in her arms. She hugged the familiar object to her chest, refusing to let go, refusing to drop either her gaze or her keepsake.
Finally, the man looked away, turned his head to the side impatiently. An oddly placed vein in his neck was starting to twitch. “You can wear it, if you want,” he allowed grudgingly, as if the permission was his to grant.
Trying not to hesitate, Rose did, draping the leather jacket over her shoulders, unable to go so far as to slip her arms into the sleeves. Even so, it was like crossing some invisible line, like stepping on sacred ground. The jacket was weighty in a way that had nothing to do with kilograms, massive in a way that had nothing to do with size or thickness. She felt as if she had just violated something, touched something better left undisturbed.
But from one breath to another, something soft came into the man’s face and the heavy press of alien leather became a hug.
Rose knew that look, had seen it before. Not on her Doctor’s face, but on Mickey’s or, more rarely, on Jimmy Stone’s. It was the look of a bloke seeing a girl in his clothing. And there it was again, that desperate affection. Desperate but restrained, blatant restraint in the tension of his arms, his hands buried in his pockets.
She thought of the shirt on the bed, glanced at the white cloth on top of her duvet. He was used to this. Seeing her in his clothes.
“C’mon then,” she said, fighting down fear and raising up her chin. The Doctor’s jacket brushed against the backs of her thighs as she shifted. “Show me some Spock.”
His eyebrows went up and for a moment, Rose wondered if that had somehow been a worse thing to say. Worse than what, she had no idea. There wasn’t anything she could say that fell under the category of “better” at least.
Without a word, the man took one hand out of his pocket, raised it and smoothly split his hand into a double-fingered “V.”
Surprised, Rose laughed.
“There we go,” the man said, an ear-to-ear grin blooming on his face as she ducked her head and bit her lip. “That’s the Rose I know.” He beamed at her, hopeful and very nearly delighted by this progress.
Her stomach lurched. Same expression, different face. Not as compelling, exactly, but he was, well. He was bloody gorgeous when he smiled. Not something she wanted to think about. “More Spock than that,” she insisted, trying to sound forceful and only managing teasing.
“Well, then,” said the man, “off to the med bay we go! That’s Star Trek, isn’t it? Med bays?” He looked at her expectantly. “Yes? No?” As his enthusiasm dwindled, his head turned, tilting and angling to the side. “Maybe so?”
With no other options, Rose shrugged somewhat helplessly, the effort more difficult than usual. “Suppose so.”
“Right,” the man said, stressing that “t” as their previous awkwardness resumed exactly where it had left off. He nodded towards the door but had only taken two steps before he altered course, picking something up from her nightstand. “Ah, right,” he added, tucking the pair of glasses into his suit pocket. “Nearly forgot these.”
“Right,” Rose said, wondering how often he did.
“Yeah,” the man said, presumably remembering. Shaking himself, he coughed loudly, an abrupt clearing of the throat. “Anyway. Allons-y, Rose Tyler, c’mon.”
She followed him into the hallway without thinking about it, lengthening her strides to keep behind. He stayed close to the wall, giving her enough room to walk beside him, an offer she didn’t take him up on. While the hand closest to the wall remained pocketed, the other hung freely, swung back and forth in a way Rose couldn’t see as anything other than intentional.
“Hold my hand,” he was saying with every line of his body. “C’mon, take it.” Practically a command, but still left up to her. The choice was hers; accepting or rejecting, he was leaving her to decide. Would the Doctor have done that? she wondered. She wasn’t sure.
In the end, the walk to the med bay was long, strained and utterly separate.
Once inside, the man pointed to one of the examination tables and she hopped up onto it, no further prompting required. She shifted, the jacket bunching under her where she sat and bunching out in a way she couldn’t quite remember it ever doing for the Doctor. She was fairly certain she looked ridiculous, sitting here in her night clothes and trainers with an over-large jacket around her. Didn’t matter, though.
Rose pulled the jacket tighter around herself, burrowing into it, holding it shut by the edges rather than sitting with her arms through the sleeves. She didn’t think she’d be able to bring herself to do that no matter how long she wore it, bring herself to cross that one last line. Even given the time she’d had to adjust, it was unimaginably heavy, pressing down into her shoulders with a solid thickness that Earth leather would never be able to compare with. Never mind the TARDIS doors, Rose thought in a numb attempt for humor. The assembled hordes of Ghengis Khan couldn’t get inside this jacket.
“Can you tell me when you’re from?” the man asked, interrupting her thoughts. “Anything memorable happen recently? Well, not this, something else memorable. I wouldn’t say this was exactly memorable for me. It is now, of course, but then, no. It’s all a bit wibbley-wobbley, really.”
“It’s what?” Rose asked, blinking.
“Wibbley-wobbley?” the man repeated, looking at her over his shoulder, one hand still on something with little purple lights on it. “Timey-whimey?” he added at her blank look. “No?”
Rose shook her head, trying to remember something less useless. “The- the shell. The Hesolian Message Shell,” she clarified, recalling the item formerly from her dresser, now from her box. “That was about a week ago. An’- an’ more beaches yesterday. Frozen ones, yeah?”
“Woman Wept?” he prompted, still watching her, hands flipping switches blindly with an unconscious ease, almost a grace. The TARDIS hummed appreciatively, might have hummed appreciatively.
“That’s the one, yeah,” Rose agreed, latching onto the name. He’d turned back to the equipment before that little punch to the stomach hit, one more to add to the list. Being like that; acting like that; knowing things like that.
Moving like that. Like he fit here, like he belonged in the TARDIS, to her and her to him. That’s what she’d thought, that’s what had scared her. All that time ago, rushing into the alien ship and seeing the Doctor fit it, seeing him as alien. Time Lord and TARDIS, the pair somehow intertwined. It had scared her then, the Doctor being alien. It scared her now for an entirely different reason.
He fit. Oh god, he fit. He was yammering and asking too many questions for her to get an answer in, but he moved with all the confidence of a man in his longtime home, brushed the walls and stroked the counters. Without thinking, he did it.
“How come you sound like you’re from London?” Rose asked, throwing out the question as soon as she’d thought of it, hoping to catch the man off guard, trying to get some truth.
And maybe, just maybe, it worked.
His rambling halted immediately, that brown-tufted head instantly being ruffled. “Lots of-” He paused, looking up to the ceiling. “Well, at least two dozen planets have a London. More have a New London, there is that. Odd though: not all of them have a north.”
“Is that where it happened?” she asked. “Your regeneration? In a London.” She thought but did not say aloud, “Does that make it my fault, then? That you’re like this?”
Brown eyes studied her for a long moment that couldn’t’ve possibly been so long, so terribly infinite. “My recovery from it,” he told her at last, leaning back against the wall, arms folded in front of his chest, legs crossed at the ankle. Leaning like the Doctor did. “In your mum’s flat, actually. Took me right in, gave me a bathrobe full of fruit. Mind you,” he continued, “all I needed was a cup of tea. Not the brightest woman, your mother.”
She bit her lip, bit back confusion. “How-” Her voice caught in her throat and she had to push it through. “How long did it take?”
“Oh, not that long,” he assured her. “Barely half a day. Well.” Twiddling the fingers of his right hand, he looked as if he was about to say more, yet didn’t.
“Yeah?” Rose prompted, wanting to know more, wanting to never hear another word.
“It was quick,” he assured her, picking up one of the handheld diagnostic tools. “Regeneration is, as a rule. Draw it out and you get a bit of a mess.” Waving the device about as he spoke, he waited for eye contact before moving closer. “Anyway, I’m going to do a quick check here, so if you’ll just stay absolutely still . . .”
Rose did, swallowing and fighting not to shut her eyes, not to hide behind closed lids. He was careful about it all, moving the handheld around her head, never touching, never so much as brushing. He looked awkward, unbalanced, and it took her a moment to figure out why. He was standing bent over a bit, keeping his lower body as far back as he could, utterly avoiding any contact of the legs.
It occurred to Rose that he hadn’t so much as tried to touch her since she’d pulled away from him.
Would the Doctor do that? Keep back, keep away? Give her this distance? Like a self-inflicted buffer zone, that’s what he had going. Giving her space. Making her almost feel safer.
Stupid question. ‘Course he would. That was who he was. That was always who he was. He’d argue, he’d get mad, but never hurt her, never let her be hurt if he could stop it. Was this the same? Felt like it could be.
“So you an’ dyin’. . .” she started to say, started and didn’t know how to finish.
He picked it up for her, shrugging, a gentle rise and fall of the shoulders under brown pinstripes. Blue pinstripes on the brown, she saw, close enough to see. “Oh, you know. ‘Death cannot stop-’” He cut himself off, looking puzzled, unhappily so. “No, wait. That’s The Princess Bride.” He shook his head, turned back to setting the controls for the full-body scanner. “It’s a Time Lord thing. Superior physiology.”
“Right,” Rose replied, falling back on a conversation filler as her mind whirred. “Yeah. So . . . is there some reason this is the first time I’m hearin’ about it? I mean, it’s sort of the thing you’d mention, being able to turn into someone else.”
The man’s hands stalled on the control settings, one smoothly clicking knob making a jarring catching sound. “I don’t turn into someone else, Rose,” he said to the wall. “I’m me. I have always been me. Body quirks and brain chemistry mix up a little, but I’m still me.” There was anger in his voice, but there was something else, too, something older, something that struck her and made her wonder if-
“You’ve said this before.”
He nodded without looking at her.
“What I meant to say,” Rose continued, fumbling her way through his alienness, “is why didn’t you mention the- the body quirks and brain chemistry and all that.” It came out flat, only barely a question any longer.
“It’s just regeneration,” he said, back still turned towards her, simply brushing it off as if it hardly mattered, as if it were so normal as to never need mention.
Maybe it was. For him.
He was such a bloody alien.
Didn’t matter to him. Like the TARDIS in her head — he didn’t even think about it. Just like-
. . . Oh.
Huddling into the jacket and watching him move, little things jumped out at her. His shoulders under his suit jacket. His lean runner’s legs. And maybe . . . yes, even the set of his jaw. He was . . . .
She could see it now. See him now.
There was supposed to be a point where unpleasant realizations stopped hitting people like a load of bricks, Rose was sure. Eventually, after enough, she’d have to reach that point. Unfortunately, realizing that she’d actually locked the Doctor — the Doctor, not some man replacing him, the Doctor — out of the TARDIS was apparently not enough to get her there. And she’d — oh god.
“Rose, if you could just stand right on this little square — the one in the blue tape — right there?” He tapped it with one trainer-clad foot before stepping back, giving her that distance, putting it between them. “Quick overview diagnostic system overhead. Little light and you’re done. Narrow it down from there and we find out what’s happening.”
Nodding, she slid off of the table, part of her wanting to know if she’d had to sit there just to be out of the way, just so he could avoid her. Avoid the way she was acting. Hesitating, Rose held the jacket shut for one moment longer before pulling out of it, setting it gently on the table. One hand upon the familiar lapel, she looked at the man looking back at her.
“Right there,” he reminded her quietly, all tension and enforced patience and the desperate, desperate affection of a man who had been lonely for far too long. He gestured, pointing, his expression controlled. There was no accidental play of feeling across this face, might have been too much in there to show with just eyes and lips and nose and eyebrows. He left his hand out as she moved forward, her eyes going to the little blue square set on the floor beneath the big scifi light bulb device. Her gaze returned to his.
Her hand wasn’t steady. Not when she reached for his. Not when she touched his. Cool fingers twitched beneath hers but failed to pull away when she failed to jerk back.
In a sudden surge of daring, in an abrupt insight or foolish hope, she pressed his palm to her cheek. Eyes wide, body tense, he let her. Cradling his hand between hers and her cheek, she looked him in the eye without flinching and something in her shook.
“I’m sorry,” she said, testing him even while taking this step. “I am, I’m sorry,” she repeated, restating words just said and uttered once before as well, words the Doctor asked her for a month ago in a church when the world was torn apart for her mistakes. An apology, just an apology, and the Doctor would forgive her anything. She’d thought. She’d wondered. She’d been amazed and awed and devastated and then he’d been dead. “I didn’t- didn’t realize- Doctor, I’m sorry.”
She looked into those eyes and there was such recognition, such certainty there as to push back all other details. Blue or brown, that wasn’t important. For a heartbeat only, but it was enough. Enough for her.
And quite clearly, as a small smile dared to touch his new face, it was enough for him too.
Back to index
Chapter 5: Fit the Fifth: In Which Rose Travels to Times that Aren't Hers
She wishes she had a camera.
There are a lot of things Rose could be thinking about at this moment, watching the monitor on the console, listening to a man talk to himself. She should probably be worrying about her safety, about his. How much contact until it’s a paradox? And is she here or not? Does he know her? Did he forget her? And what must it be like, seeing the person you used to be standing in front of you. The person you will be. She’ll wonder later.
But right now, that’s the Doctor and that’s the Doctor and Rose really wishes she had a camera.
Seeing him side-by-side makes him shorter — and taller, she amends. The contrast. The him before this him is shorter. She’d known he was — she’s seen him before after all — but it’s still strange. Large ears and closely cropped hair stand before a small smile and chestnut curls. They almost have the same eyes, almost. It’s the only thing that seems at all similar, leather jacket and frock coat giving her yet another glaring example of the changes time can bring.
Biting her lip in thought, Rose fiddles with the controls, sets the function of a knob to volume and then adjusts. "Can you save this?" she asks the TARDIS, still mulling over the camera issue. "Or is there some Timey-Whimey reason against recordings of him with himself?"
A small green symbol blinks in the corner of the screen as the TARDIS hum gives her an affirmative. Patting the console, Rose murmurs a thank-you and finally gets the volume up to where she wants it.
Naturally, they’re speaking in Gallifreyan. Of course. What other language would he talk to himself in?
Rolling her eyes, Rose plunks herself down in the Doctor’s chair and listens anyway, tries to understand the conversation through sheer will power. The TARDIS either can’t or won’t translate — Rose has never been clear on which. She knows that there are some words that don’t translate, has known it ever since the Doctor once attempted to explain what he meant by the phrase "in an instant."
Pulling her mind away from temporal physics, Rose bends her mind in other ways, watching. Her Doctor stands with his arms crossed, gives the impression of leaning back against something solid while standing tall and unsupported. The younger Doctor is in front of him, facing towards whatever sensor it is that feeds into the display on the monitor. He’s almost impatient, might be. His gestures give his flowing words a slightly clipped quality, as if he’s trying to get very quickly to the point.
She thinks about the gray silk cravat she keeps in the box at the bottom of her closet. She thinks he might still be wearing it.
She wonders how much temporal confusion it takes to make a human brain explode. Probably more than this. Hopefully.
A giggle escapes her as the Doctor begins to argue with himself, familiar tones of sarcasm and bewildered exasperation being directed at each other. He’s so daft. This probably happens every time he meets himself, Rose decides. Really, she wouldn’t be surprised.
Another thought strikes her and she laughs outright, realizing that in returning her, both of her Doctors will have to meet. Covering her mouth to stop her amusement, her eyes squeeze shut and her shoulders shake. God, that’s going to be brilliant.
The TARDIS hums in what feels like agreement and the pair grin at each other. Or, in the TARDIS’ case, perform nearest equivalent action.
"No chance you can just slip me back through, is there?" Rose asks, venturing the comment with the ship in such a good mood?
There’s a general feeling in the air suddenly, a sort of strain that worsens before it stops. Maybe the ship tried or maybe she apologized; either way, Rose isn’t going home so easily.
"S’okay," Rose replies and resumes watching a pair of her favorite man. "This is sort of fun."
The volume had gone out again and Rose readjusts it for a long moment before she realizes that it’s not the volume that’s gone, but the conversation. She frowns, leans in, and watches the face she can see.
Chestnut curls bounce as he shakes his head. Something in his expression looks bad, looks awful, actually. All of her previous amusement drains out of her, leaving her cold and still. Her first Doctor uncrosses his arms to make some sort of gesture, but he does it entirely in front of his body and all she can see is his back.
Those aren’t happy shoulders, though. She’s very much certain of that. Terrifyingly so.
Turning the volume back down — it’s too loud now and it’s not like she knows what they’re saying anyway — Rose waits out the rest of the very short conversation. It’s abrupt in a way that makes her want to slap him and hug him, respectively.
As the chestnut Doctor walks back to his own TARDIS and whatever companion that he had with him — who Rose is not jealous of, because that would be pointless and petty and kind of confusing in a Timey-Whimey way — she makes sure the recording saves. The TARDIS monitor beeps at her reassuringly once, twice, and the green little symbol disappears. A circle of Gallifreyan text pops up, probably saying something about how it’s now saved. Or maybe asking for a file name?
Whichever it was, the symbol disappears as the Doctor, her first Doctor, returns into the TARDIS.
"Check that one off the list," he tells her, false enthusiasm clear in him as his long strides eat up the distance between them.
"Consider it checked," she answers, staying where she’s sitting with a sense of determination. It’s in the way he moves, in the way he’s wordlessly lying about his emotions. At once, she expects him to pull her up into a hug, wants to give one to him.
She swings her legs and remembers she’s wearing a skirt, remembers what he did the last time she wore a skirt and sat down here. Remembers the time before that.
The Doctor raises his eyebrows.
She shakes her head, straightens the fabric across her legs, knees pressed together. She’s trying not to think about not-ginger sideburns brushing against the insides of her thighs and she nearly manages. Really, she’s not normally this obsessed, but having him taken abruptly off of the menu is mucking up her thought processes.
"Anyway," she says, standing up to avoid further chair-inspired thoughts, "when’s the next one?"
When he replies, it’s a battle not to watch his tongue behind his teeth. Not orally fixated, this him, but that doesn’t mean he’d be any less- Not thinking about that right now. God, she feels like a teenager again, all wrapped up in the want of him.
"’Bout thirty-two years back, his time," the Doctor says, nodding at the door behind him, indicating his past self. "Still the same face."
Rose can’t help but grin, drifting back to teenaged habits. If she couldn’t flirt with him, she’d simply have to tease him relentlessly. "It’s a good face," she replies, keeping her expression so carefully controlled that he’ll have to make her say more.
He looks at her oddly, but he doesn’t demand clarification. She’s baiting him the wrong way, she realizes, working on him in the way next him would react to.
So she adds, tongue touching her smile, "He’s a bit pretty, though."
Rose has never seen this Doctor look more offended than he does now.
"Something you’re trying to say, Rose?" he asks.
"Just that last you was gorgeous," she replies and is very obviously amused about it. She remembers finding out, remembers how utterly confused he was when she laughed until it pained her. "Y’know, I used to think you got annoyed at all those pretty boys we met ‘cause you were just you. Now I know it’s ‘cause you weren’t that you."
"This next me," the Doctor says, looking at her speculatively and clearly struggling not to rise to the bait. "How pretty is he?"
"I wouldn’t call him ‘pretty,’ actually," Rose replies, pretending to think about it. She delivers the gut-punch with a grin: "More like adorable."
He looks completely and utterly horrified.
"I am not!" he protests, somehow turning the childish argument into a very serious line of debate.
"Not yet," Rose answers, grinning at him. It’s an expression she doesn’t think about, a look she gives him that the older him would understand instantly. This is her "you can’t win this argument" grin, her "you’re going to have to snog me if you want me to be quiet" grin. It’s as cheeky as she can make it, Rose leaning towards him with her tongue between her teeth.
He rolls his eyes and slices through her with one sarcastic word:
Rose freezes, body and heart stalled, mind derailed. She pulls her tongue back inside of her mouth, tugs at the hem of her hoodie.
He doesn’t notice, not at first. Going back to the controls, it’s a moment for him until he realizes that he shouldn’t have won the argument so easily, and with that word. Hands on the console, back bent, legs braced wide, he’s in the ready position for flight, prepared for a rollicking dematerialization.
The TARDIS prompts him, her hum emphasizing Rose’s silence, and the Doctor looks at her over his shoulder. "Rose?" he asks and she bites her lip.
"Yeah?" she asks, and his eyes narrow.
He straightens, steps towards her and she’s struck by how very tall he is. Next him’s the same size, so it’s not like he’s suddenly grown, but he’s still abruptly very tall. Looking straight forward, his maroon jumper commands her attention from beneath that jacket, soft wool encouraging her to step into his arms and never let go. It wouldn’t be hard. The easiest thing to do, actually. Hug him, hold him, keep at it until he holds her in return.
"Something wrong?" he asks.
She shakes her head, tells him no, tells his jumper. It’s not a lie. It’s not a lie at all. Because it’s not wrong, simply very, very right in a way she’s not used to. In a way she could never be used to ever again.
If the universe were just and fair, he’d kiss her. Smooth her hair down beneath his hand and draw her up to him. Brush his lips against hers and tell her it was all right. Tell her without a doubt that this him had fallen in love with her, that regeneration hadn’t — no, couldn’t have — scrambled his mind around until he felt that way about her. Tell her that her accidentally killing him, changing him, making him into a new man, had absolutely nothing to do with him beginning to love her.
The universe is not just and fair.
The Doctor takes her at her one-syllable word, or at least he pretends to, giving her a thoughtful look and no more. It’s a look that says he would ask if he could hear the answer, a look that promises nothing but a general concern.
"So," Rose prompts, "thirty-two years ago?"
They go, the TARDIS giving them a ride that feels more like a thrashing, sirens going off as the claxons sound. It did this last time, too, and it’s starting to scare her. Her feet leave the grating at one point, her body lifting into the air before the Doctor catches her arm, pulls her to him. She laughs, holding his jacket, holding to the surface of the console; she’s never felt so bipolar.
"Are you sure about the alarms?" she yells, tries to yell over said sources of noise.
"Proximity alert!" he yells back into her ear. "They’re a good sign! Mean we’re going the right way!"
Their heads crack together as the TARDIS shakes beneath them. "Then why’s it flashing mauve?"
"Landing the same TARDIS next to itself-" he starts, is interrupted by the need to flip three more switches. Rose flips the third without prompting and he loses track of what he was saying.
"What about landing it?" she reminds him as the alarms sound louder.
"Bad idea!" he yells back and suddenly, they’re on the floor, his hand behind her head as they hit metal.
The air is forced out of her, sprung from her lungs with the impact. He’s laughing, that stupid git, him and his respiratory bypass. Soon enough, she’s laughing too, rolling over to him in a way that’s completely natural even on the metal grating. His arm is still under her when she props her head up on her hand, elbow on the floor. "You’re such a bad driver," she tells him.
"Oi! I’d like to see you do better!" But he’s grinning and she’s grinning back and if this wasn’t so uncomfortable, it might even be romantic.
"From where I’m sitting, you already have," she answers and it’s sort of a lie. He says she’s a good student, but even after years of following his lead, he’s never let her fly solo, not even close.
She sits up, skirt risen up a bit around her waist from the tumult without rising up too far. Unselfconscious, Rose simply stretches a little, makes sure everything’s working. There’s going to be a bit of a bruise on her arm and it feels like she might get one on her hip, too, but beyond that, she’s fine. Oh wait, here’s another one, along the side of her thigh. Thoughts of time and changes whirring through her mind, she wishes they’d put in the emergency cushions a little earlier, even if they never actually deployed. Dragging her fingers through her hair in a perfunctory attempt at ordering it, she realizes that the Doctor hasn’t moved.
When she looks at him, he’s looking right back.
"What?" she asks, needing to pull a few hairs free from her mouth in the middle of her short question. She rubs her tongue off with her teeth, getting the taste of dyed hair out of her mouth as best she can. Her gaze wanders in that second and when it returns to him, her mouth goes dry.
His eyes are dark under these lights and his expression is... one she knows well. Her lips part in wonder and he springs to his feet, goes to the monitor without giving her a hand-up, avoiding a moment of his own making.
Rose bites back a smile and it tastes very much like victory.
Standing, she straightens her skirt, hides her legs to the knee. It amazes her, the way the tension in him eases, just a little, when she does that. Rose thinks about a certain table, confident in the knowledge that she has incredible legs. Running for your life pays off, especially when you’re successful at it.
When he tells her that he’s going to go talk to himself, it’s in a tone of voice she hasn’t heard since he was trying to resonate concrete. Since that hasn’t happened yet for him, she spends the length of his chat wondering out the chronology of that tone before eventually giving up.
Even without understanding the words, her first Doctor’s conversation with the chestnut Doctor seems to be remarkably similar to his last one. Save for the chestnut Doctor’s change of vest and cravat, it’s disconcertingly identical. Right up until the end of it, that is.
The minor argument that had resulted the last time repeats, grows exponentially larger. Frowning, Rose watches the screen in a state of worry, fearing more than a little for the Doctor’s general sanity.
In the end, they part in much the same way as they did the last time, the chestnut Doctor returning to his TARDIS, her first Doctor returning to her. This time, however, no amount of false cheer can hide what she can so clearly see on his face.
"There’s a hole in this plan, isn’t there?" Rose asks, watching for the telltale signs of him lying to her.
"Not that big of one," he answers, shrugging. "Nothin’ t’ worry over."
"Why d’you keep arguing?" she questions, pressing further.
When he blinks at her, she realizes that he didn’t know, wasn’t aware of how well she could use the TARDIS systems. "You were watching?"
"Yeah," she answers, shrugging in a pointed repetition of his mannerisms. "Nothing else to do. So what’s the problem?"
The Doctor watches the stationary Time Rotor, an angry version of his next self’s sulk. When he looks at her, he’s gotten over it, more or less. "Hiding memories in my mind means putting them fully into my subconscious. Anything I learn from this me stays in my memory. In little ways at first. It’s very slight right now, but I can feel it. I can think back through my life and I can feel it there."
It’s not the turn of the world beneath his feet that he means, not something that brings awe but something that heralds fear. She can tell. She knows him.
He’d said before, this him, that he had been able to feel other Time Lords in his mind, know they were there. If he could do that to himself as well, another one of himself, would that other him know the state of this him’s mind? Be able to see how barren it is now, how cold and stark and alone?
"They know the war’s coming," Rose breathes. "In the back of your mind, you know- Knew. We’re making it worse, changing it all." She looks at the Time Rotor as if for confirmation from the ship, for her to back Rose’s line of thought. "The more we do this, the more you..." They're letting him know sooner and sooner. No wonder younger him keeps getting upset.
They’re changing history. And not just any history: the Doctor’s personal timeline. The most precious timeline there is.
There’s only one answer to this problem and she’s willing to accept it. "We have to stop," Rose decides.
The Doctor shakes his head. "We have to be careful," he contradicts. "Never said anything about stopping."
He loves her. He loves her, and it’s making him an idiot. "Doctor, if we muck up your timeline, I don’t even want to think of what’ll happen to me. We’re going to get both of ourselves killed by paradox and that’s really not the way I want to go." She’s saying it more selfishly than she feels it, saying it in the hope that it’ll make him see reason.
"Rose, we’re running parallel to ourselves," he counters. "When younger you reaches the age you are now — and when I reach the age older me is now — there will still be a fatal paradox for the both of us."
"That’s seven years off!" Rose protests. "We figured out what the problem was in less than half a day — don’t tell me we couldn’t do better with more time!"
They stare each other down, Rose unsure of when exactly they got this close to one another. It’s an unimportant detail, her focus better spent glaring into blazing blue eyes.
"You wouldn’t risk Gallifrey for me, Doctor," she tells him, voice soft, tone hard. Yes, it’s a dead planet, but for him, it existed. For his younger selves, it still exists. For his younger selves, it could await a fate far worse than the one it had already received. "That’s not who you are, so don’t you even suggest it. And if we keep letting you know early, you know it can only make things worse."
She’s crossed a line and she knows it. Doesn’t matter. This Doctor is still trying to protect her from him when what he really needs is for her to protect him from himself. She can do that, can give him that.
Taking a deep breath, she looks into the eyes of the Oncoming Storm and informs him, quite simply, that she’ll be the one who will go and check to see if she’s there.
He calls her a stupid ape.
She calls him a bloody alien.
They argue for a while.
When they make their next trip back in time, Rose knows for a fact that he’s making the ride rougher than it has to be, knows that he’s doing it deliberately. It doesn’t matter, because she’s won the argument. They each have a word that can destroy them but he doesn’t know hers, doesn’t know he used it earlier in a moment of sarcasm. Rose, however, can wield his like a sword, the name of his world falling from her lips with ease.
Her Doctor’s going to be so mad at her, but as neither of them will be dead, she can live with that.
When they land, Rose picks herself up off of the grating without looking at him. Bruises, bruises, bruises. Whatever past him she encounters is probably going to be worried about the man he’ll become. Good. So is she.
"Which you is this?" she asks.
"Seventh," he replies. "And if you’re already there-"
"Don’t touch," Rose interrupts. "I know."
They glare a bit more.
She leaves, grabbing her old jacket off of the railing by the door. It’s a motion of habit as much as it is a gesture of wanting to get away.
After slamming the TARDIS door behind her harder than was strictly necessary, Rose winces and pats the wood paneling behind her. "Sorry. Don’t mean to take it out on you."
She can see the other TARDIS in the distance, not too far away across the grassland they’d materialized in. Alien plants brushing against her bare lower legs, Rose moves with some difficulty, wobbles about in annoyance as she pulls on a jacket that doesn’t really fit her anymore. Stupid alien git. Stupid, stupid Time Lord.
As she breaks into a sweat from the exertion, she feels strangely chilled despite her additional layer and looks up, squints at the red sun overhead. It’s not big, but it’s red, so that means it’s probably distant. Temperature explained, she continues on, legs bothered less and less as she moves out of the prickly grass and into a more human-friendly field.
Without so much as tripping again, she completes the rest of the trip quickly enough, occasionally needing to tug her skirt free of the grass. Her stomach churns, all of her insides burning, aching. Right, yeah, should’ve had lunch by now. Stupid ape, that’s her. Had she had breakfast this morning?
Looking at the TARDIS door, this earlier TARDIS door, she’s almost dizzy with nerves, heart pounding, the world twisting around her. She hadn’t asked about which him this was, had she? No, she did, she has, she’d... Seventh him, yeah. Rose Tyler was indeed the proud owner of a decent short-term memory.
Taking a breath to steady herself, Rose closes her eyes only to find that she can still see.
She opens her eyes, closes them again, a jolt of panic shooting through her. She raises her hands, tries to, feels them move without seeing them do so. Fingertips touch closed eyelids, but she can still see the TARDIS, still see it right in front of her even if it’s looking a little bendy and wavy right now and that’s really not good, is it?
Pressing both hands over her eyes, Rose realizes that she’s transparent, fading, crumpling to the ground as her body becomes temporally unstable. She’s fading from existence, from time and space.
Death by paradox, they’d argued about before. Death by paradox, not the way she wanted to go. Death by paradox.
Always thought it would hurt more, she has time to think before consciousness is gone. It’s not really that
She wasn’t sure whether or not his hair had always been that size. It seemed to be expanding as they went, growing and reaching in random directions, brown tufts rising ever higher as he pulled at it with an annoyed mutter.
In a numb, distant sort of way, Rose wondered if that was why her Doctor had kept his hair so short, wondered if this habit of his was one he’d been trying to break.
In a more pressing sort of way, Rose was wondering what could possibly be so bad to have him acting like this. He paced and made noises, a great "Ah-ha!" followed by a surprised "Oh" or, even worse, an awkward "Ah."
At last he stopped, leaned against the counter and simply looked at her.
"What is it?" Rose asked, bracing herself for the news.
"There’s nothing wrong with you," the Doctor said, sounding personally offended. "I’ve checked. Five times, I’ve checked. Nothing wrong with you, nothing at all. No temporal warping, no unaging damage, no chrono flu — good thing, that — and absolutely nothing... Ah-ha!" he yelled abruptly, gesturing wildly. "Hold on a tic!"
Slightly alarmed, Rose watched the man dig through his pockets and swap his glasses with a pair of paper ones, those 3D specs that came with special DVDs.
He looked at her through them and barked a manic laugh that was almost familiar. "Hah! There we go!"
"Why, what is it?" Rose asked. "What d’you see?"
"Nothing!" he exclaimed, grinning wildly.
"Nothing?" she repeated, eyebrows rising.
"Nothing!" he confirmed. "Exactly the right sort of nothing. Had a friend in E-Space who could’ve told you as much. Lazlo, bit of a furry fellow. Shed something awful, got on my nerves. But yes! Right on track!" He bounced over to the door, looked at her expectantly. "C’mon, allons-y!"
"Wait, hold on!" Rose yelled, her demand incredibly making him pause, footsteps stopping. "What’s going on?"
He popped his head back around the corner, came back without reentering the room. "There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, Rose. You haven’t regressed, your internal clock hasn’t been mucked with, and you certainly aren’t suffering from any Huon particle affects." He was looking at her as if she would obviously be following along, waiting for her to jump to an answer she couldn’t think of.
"I thought I’d just been sent forward in time," Rose replied, brow furrowed.
"Exactly!" he exclaimed. "That’s it right there, you have. But you might not have, so I had to check. And," he added, pulling out his 3D specs again to wave them at her, "it’s a bit telling, once you know how to look. There are things that could have changed your mind and body — unaged you, so to say — but they wouldn’t have taken away some of the very specific background radiation you’ve picked up over the years." At her wide eyes, he waved his glasses at her again. "Mostly harmless." He paused. "No, wait. That’s Douglas Adams. It’s completely harmless, sorry."
Rose watched him, wondering for her safety in an entirely new way. "Are you sure?"
"Yup," he replied, popping the "p." "Sure as sure can be. Point is, you’re simply misplaced. No other damage done."
The other damage thing wasn’t entirely reassuring, but she was more than starting to realize that nothing about this version of the Doctor was particularly reassuring. "So all we’ve go to do is put me back?"
"Um," the man said, his wildly expressive hair in sharp contrast with the muted deer-in-headlights look on his face. "More or less?"
Not good. "Emphasis on the more?"
"Just a little," he admitted. "Just the tiniest amount. Not enough to worry about, mind you. Tiniest amount."
The repetition wasn’t making her feel any better.
"Honestly," he said, catching onto her discomfort and trying something new, "I’ll have you back before I notice you’re gone. Already done it," he added, tapping his temple with his slender index finger. "Don’t remember you being gone in the slightest."
"Oh." Rose thought about that, frowning, and hopped off of the examination table. That sort of made sense. She rubbed her chilly arms as she thought some more and picked up her Doctor’s jacket, hugged the cool leather absently. "So what happened to older me?"
The deer-in-headlights look got worse.
". . . Doctor?" Rose asked, her hesitancy two-fold.
"Can’t tell you," he decided at last. "Could get very paradoxical, that." He looked at her pointedly. "You understand."
Her grip on the jacket tightened. "Yeah," she answered. "I do."
He nodded at her in what she recognized as approval. "All right then, c’mon. I know exactly where we were — more or less."
She followed him out of the med bay, called after him: "Emphasis on the less?"
Turning on his heel, he stared at her, offended, before breaking out into a grin. "Always the cheeky one, aren’t you, Rose Tyler?"
"You tell me," she replied, grinning back despite herself.
"Oh, I’m sure you’ll find out on your own eventually," he answered, standing still as she approached. "Wouldn’t want to encourage you."
"Gonna be such a handful that you wouldn’t know what to do with me." She was grinning as she said it, tongue touching teeth and peeking between lips. It nearly felt natural for all of an instant, teasing him.
He took her hand, the cool skin of an alien more familiar than his face ever could be. "Oh, I don’t know," he replied, squeezing lightly. "Handfuls can be fun."
He smiled at her and her heart faltered.
Releasing her quickly, he rubbed the offending hand through his hair, mussing it up even more if that was still possible. "Best get you back home, in any case," he hurriedly added. Awkward, he gestured down the hall towards console room and set off with a hunch to his shoulders that she could almost call self-conscious.
Following after him quickly, Rose did the only thing that made sense, the only thing that she really could do. If he was still the Doctor, then that was still his hand. Of course she would still hold it.
Surprised, he looked at her, steps faltering, gaze traveling from her face to the jacket held in her other arm and back. Rose matched that gaze as best as she could, squeezed his hand a little too tightly, the gesture infinitely more nervous than it was affectionate.
Slowly, he squeezed back.
They walked hand-in-hand, but all the ease was gone from it. It was the sort of handholding she hadn’t experienced since she was still in school, the gesture turned awkward by a strange palm against hers. Awkward for both of them, Rose found, the Doctor bounding away from her at first opportunity, practically leaping for the TARDIS controls.
"Set the coordinates, drop you off and there we go: you don’t have to worry about a thing for seven years," he told her as he bounced about, propelling himself from control station to control station around the sectioned console. He rambled as he worked. "Easy as pie. Or pi, if you prefer it. The Greek letter, not the dessert. Ah, Archimedes. Now there was a clever man. Though I don’t suppose ‘easy as pi’ would apply to him. In his case, it’s more like ‘as profoundly difficult to calculate as pi’ and that gives an entirely different meaning to the phrase, doesn’t it."
"Right, yeah," Rose replied, leaning against one of the railings, holding back. "Did we visit him?"
He paused in his movements, seeming either clumsy and lucky or graceful and hurried. Maybe a combination of all four. "Why, d’you want to?" he asked, the question somehow tentative.
Rose shrugged, uncomfortable. "Just wondering if we had, that’s all."
He looked at her for a moment longer. "Right." Turning back to the console, he made a final adjustment with a small flourish, a tiny, unconscious motion to draw her attention to how impressive he was.
Yeah. The Doctor.
Caught up in wondering if there was any way to change his brain chemistry back — not his entire body, that’d be too painful, but maybe just his brain chemistry — Rose failed to hold on in time. The TARDIS shuddered beneath them, tossed them about, the Time Rotor whirring, claxons sounding.
The Doctor whooped and Rose laughed, the sound ripped from her throat as she stumbled forward, hands outstretched to the console for support. His arm appeared around her waist, anchored her tight to his side. Her head jerked up, looked to his face in the expectation of brown eyes staring into her own.
Instead, his gaze was locked on the Time Rotor, a brilliant look of wild pride in his eyes. "She doesn’t normally do this well!" he yelled into her ear. "Not an easy thing to do, landing inside of yourself! Mucks up the dimensions something horrible!"
"Then why’re we doing it?" she responded, shouting back. The TARDIS rocked, lurched sideways, sending them staggering together.
His grip on her tightened, holding firm despite the movements of his ship. "You have a better idea?"
Rose shook her head against his shoulder, one hand fisted in his suit jacket, the other clutching the edge of the console. "Not really!"
"Didn’t think so!" he replied right before they were dumped unceremoniously to the floor.
Rose landed on her side, her head cushioned by the pinstripe-clad arm beneath it. She laughed without knowing why, laughed when they were nearly thrown up once more, laughed harder when it all stopped and the Doctor grumbled about some pad-related modifications that didn’t seem to be working.
Sitting up, her hair a mess, she brushed it out from in front of her eyes as best she could. "I think your driving actually got worse," she told him, teasing. "Didn’t think it was possible."
"Oi! I’ll have you know that I am a brilliant driver," he protested, propping himself up on his arms, long legs stretched out before him. "Absolutely, positively brilliant. You couldn’t’ve found anyone else to make this landing any better. Parallel parking? Not even close. Not that I can’t do that too."
"God, you’d be a terror in a car," Rose replied, laughing right until he reached out and straightened her hair, fingers weaving through the dyed strands and brushing her scalp with an unnerving familiarity.
He was watching her from a distance, his mind far away and hidden behind brown eyes searching for the woman she would grow to be. She shivered, cold in her nightclothes, and he pulled his hand back with the same gentleness with which he’d reached for her. There was no awkwardness in his eyes, no quick jerking away. There was only . . . the Doctor.
The Doctor and Rose.
"I was," he said and pulled them both to their feet, leaving her to wonder what he was replying to. What had they been talking about?
Oh, right, driving. Yeah. ‘Course.
Pulling her mind back on track, she was surprised to find herself almost used to the way he bounded about, the Doctor bouncing over to the TARDIS door. "Right," he said, turning around to address her. "I’m going to go out, check to see we’ve got things right and then, after a quick little patch of paradox proofing — don’t you love alliteration? — you’ll be right where you’re supposed to be." She opened her mouth to ask what he meant by paradox proofing but he cut her off. "And Rose? Don’t lock me out this time, okie-dokie?"
She turned red, nodded mutely even as he smiled at her to lighten the blow. "Wasn’t planning on it."
"Good," the Doctor said, opening the door behind him and nearly stepping out into the Time Vortex.
Rose darted forward, reached him only after the moment of terror had passed. Hands catching at the doors, the Doctor pulled himself back before he’d fully crossed the threshold. Reaching around him, Rose slammed the doors shut and proceeded to hug the living daylights out of the alien git.
"You parked wrong," she informed him angrily, face pressed against his lapel. "Really, really wrong."
He chuckled, his tense arms loose around her. "Maybe just a little."
She pushed him a little, gave him an annoyed shove, a gesture that surprised her. The last person she’d done that to had been Mickey. Choosing not to tell him not to scare her like that — not as if anything would come of it — she shook her head at him, breaking away to get much needed distance. "What went wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," he told her and she glowered at him. "No, really, I’m serious this time. I checked the coordinates where we landed and by rights, we should be in the TARDIS. Both TARDIS, the current one and the younger one."
"But we’re not," she reminded him, arms crossed.
"Basically, yeah." He ran his hand through his hair once more, broke apart the ruffle it had started to reshape itself back into. "But for the lives of me, I can’t understand why it-"
Something beeped insistently.
They looked at each other.
It turned out to be the TARDIS monitor, a small green symbol flashing in the corner. "It’s a reminder. Went off a little while back, but we didn’t catch it the first time." The Doctor bent over it, his glasses back on his face. "What d’you mean, ‘finished recording’? Finished recording what?"
"You could always press play," Rose reminded him and, pressing the button, he looked at her as if she’d just dribbled on her top.
The instant the footage began to play, she forgot all about her previous ire.
"Oh my god." It was him.
The man leaned over her trying to watch the screen but unable to get her out of the way. "What in the name of bananas is . . ." He trailed off, touched the back of his head, fingered his earlobe and tugged at it. "Did I always look like that? All . . . like that?"
"Yeah," Rose breathed, watching her Time Lord meeting with a stranger. It was him. Oh god, it was him, still alive and there. The leather jacket over the railing was still on his shoulders, still invariably worn with every outfit. When he spoke, she knew his voice, was so wrapped up in the sound of it that it took her a moment to realize that the translation was off.
"I don’t remember that," he said. "Really, you’d think I would — twice, even."
"Twice?" Rose repeated absently, watching the stranger with the brown curly hair shake his head. They made a strange pair, her Doctor and the man in the fancy coat and gray cravat. "What d’you mean?"
"I mean that’s me," he answered, pointing at the screen.
"Yeah, I know," she replied impatiently. "Who’s the other bloke?"
Once again, he looked at her as if she’d dribbled on herself.
". . . You’re not serious."
He made a noncommittal noise. "Sure, ‘course I’m not. Blimey, did I really talk like that?"
Rose narrowly avoided her third condescending look of the day, stopping herself before she asked if he could understand what they — what he — what the men on the monitor were saying. "Guess so," she said instead.
Only wishing she could understand the strange, somehow lyrical language the Doctor was conversing in, Rose waited until the recording ended, frowned as the two men — they had to be two men, didn’t they? — parted ways on a sour note.
When the recording ended, the Doctor did not look happy. She didn’t need to have a full introductory course about this version of the man to know that much.
"What’s going on now?" Rose asked.
"That," he said, "is a remarkably apt question."
She nudged him with her shoulder. "Has it got a remarkably apt answer?"
"What we just saw only finished recording a little while ago. About twenty minutes or so. The catch is, the events it filmed were over seven years ago, and that’s going with the smaller number."
"Sorry, what?" It was officially brain-stretching time.
The Doctor sighed, hands back in his hair. He really couldn’t seem to keep them out of it. "We’ve got two nows, running simultaneously. Two times, running in parallel. Both moving forward without ever meeting. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer when it’s for the same timeline. Technically, any line is parallel with itself, but-" He cut himself off, shook his head. "I’m rambling. The point is, I tried to land at where you were when you popped over to here. However, since time is passing for me at the same rate as it’s passing for me, by the time I went to go to where I was, I’d already left. About twenty minutes ago, by the looks of it."
Rose blinked at him.
"No?" he asked, seeming vaguely disappointed.
"No," she agreed.
"Okay," he said, trying to work out an explanation that would satisfy her tiny human brain. "There are two of me in the same time at the moment. Third me on the recording doesn’t count — at least, I hope he doesn’t. Once it gets to me more than two of me at once, things tend to get complicated. Not to mention confusing." He paused. "Where was I?"
"In two places at once," Rose answered.
"Ah, right. Two of me, one looking for you, one looking to return you," he explained. "And to prevent a paradox, I must have made myself forget meeting this me and so on, which is why I don’t remember either losing you or getting you back."
"Like it never happened," she summarized, thoughts piling up in the back of her skull.
"Just like," he agreed. "Too much future knowledge of yourself is always a bad thing. That’s why all Time Lords have a knack for burying it away in the back of the mind. Otherwise, you either run into what’s going to happen or you run away from it and that always changes the outcome. And if the outcome is changed, how could you have heard about it in the first place? One of the classic paradoxes, that one."
She nodded, keeping a handle on herself. She changed the topic before she could give her thoughts away. "One question, though: if both of you were outside talking, who made the recording?"
The man broke into a grin and patted the TARDIS console. "This lovely girl right here. Oh, she’s brilliant." That hand began to stroke, a motion that was half a fond touch and half a lover’s caress.
Rose looked away. "That’s one mystery solved, at least. Now what do we do?"
He shrugged easily. "I figure out what I’m doing and I head myself off. Not too hard to manage. Nobody knows me like me, after all!"
"Mm," Rose agreed by means of not disagreeing.
"Hold on for a little while longer, Rose, and I’ll have all this sorted out," he assured her, already doing something to the TARDIS controls. Rose could only assume it was something productive.
Nodding, she took her Doctor’s jacket back off of the rail, hugged it to herself as he set about to work. It smelled like him, like the way he should smell, like leather and wool and goofy grins with too-big ears. Sitting down on the chair, she breathed it in, forced herself to focus on where she was supposed to be.
He watched her and she watched him back until he looked away.
There was a Doctor who wouldn’t do that, who wouldn’t give in or be awkward, who wouldn’t do domestics or hold her hand like it was fragile. She was going back to him, to the him with closely cropped hair that never grew in frustration, to the him that flirted with trees and would never ever ever make Rose Tyler alien post-coital waffles in the morning. As soon as this unknown man who knew her far too well reached into her mind and took the memories of him and his pinstriped suit, she'd never have to see him again.
Not for seven years.
Back to index
Chapter 6: Fit the Sixth: In Which Rose And the TARDIS Have a Talk or Two
Rose opens her eyes to see question marks.
They’re red and moving and there’s peach and green and it’s all wavy and she feels sick. Someone’s talking, she can hear them talking, sounding all wrong and strained and very far away or very close or like they’re not even here at all.
The question marks move away, come back. There’s another voice, a girl’s voice and it sounds almost real. Rose tries to reply, but her mouth feels strange, feels like a telepathic trip gone wrong. Is that what this is?
"Doctor?" she asks the dancing punctuation and it turns into cloth, knitted and worn and- "Ow!" Something touches her arm, hurts her arm and she yells a whispered cry of indignation. Maybe she does. No one seems to hear. No air, no sound, no yell. There’s no air, only attempts to breathe.
She’s being spoken over, she slowly comprehends, sounds gradually forming words, words eventually containing meaning. It’s the girl again, the girl who sounds increasingly real.
"Professor, I’m sure: it’s just a light. You’re- Whoa!"
"Ah, now you see her." There’s a tone along with the words and it might mean he’s pleased or something like that but she’s not sure, not sure what anyone’s feeling when she can’t feel much of anything at all. It’s not that she’s numb, not at all. There’s simply nothing left to feel.
Until there is.
Air and glorious oxygen burst into her lungs, expand the pathways of her body, blood tingling, nerves flowing with energy from her fingers to her heart. It almost seems backwards but that’s what the rest of her life is like. Backwards is good. Comforting.
The girl is completely real now, solid and there and staring at her. Rose turns the head she didn’t have a second ago, uses muscles in her neck that had disappeared. She finds the question marks on a man’s jumper, the sort of jumper his crazy aunt probably knits him every Christmas.
She looks up into blue, triumphant eyes and thinks: "Lookit you, grinning away like you’re Father Christmas."
He’s even got a mole.
Her mouth moves, works through air thick and solid with reality. She struggles for words, finds the question she’s here to ask: "Have y’ seen me . . . ?" It’s a mumble and she can’t keep her eyes open but he takes her hand and tells her something that sounds like agreement. "S’good . . ."
He pats her hand and says something more and he still doesn’t sound completely real, still sounds off, but that’s okay, it’s okay now.
Rose falls asleep or falls unconscious. Either way, she wakes up to see the question marks on her left, the man wearing them talking into an old mobile — hers. His voice is still odd, but besides that, everything seems fine, seems real. Sitting up slowly, trying not to pull at the IV in her arm, she looks around, almost surprised at her surroundings.
It’s either the second time she’s been in the med bay today or the first time ever. Some of the equipment looks unfamiliar and some of it looks just a little too shiny to belong in here, but in general, it’s got this sort of futuristic eighties feel that somehow seems to go with this version of the Doctor.
She looks at the ceiling and thinks very hard at it. Do you change to fit him? Sorry — will you change to fit him?
Strangely, the touch on her mind is the same as it’s always been. It’s at once comforting and jarring, the familiarity there before it should be familiar.
"All the same," the Doctor is saying into her mobile, "it wasn’t very wise, letting her come over here by herself." There’s a pause as he replies, a Northern burr vaguely audible from the mobile. "Ah, yes, I see. Still, I hate to think of how careless I’m getting."
The Northern burr gets somewhat louder.
The Doctor turns his attention away from some readings on the scanner and blinks at the sight of her sitting up. Rose smiles in the manner of the accidental eavesdropper and wiggles her fingers at him in a "it’s okay, I’ll wait" sort of way. He waves back, traces of well-known amusement touching his unfamiliar face. He’s wearing a shirt and tie beneath his jumper and that strikes Rose as a fair enough compromise. He’s got a different jacket and a strange voice, but he’s still got a mole and he’s still comforting to have near.
"Right, right," he interrupts himself. "Have a little more self-confidence, would you?" He shakes his head, looking for a moment as if he’s about to scoff. Seeming to think better of it, he simply says, "Yes, of course. Be you later."
The Doctor hangs up with a beep and places her mobile down on top of her old jacket on the counter. Turning to look at her, he takes on a brisk air, the absentminded professor getting down to business. "How are you feeling, Rose? Somewhat more substantial, I hope."
"How-" She stops, coughs, and works her dry mouth, pushing at her teeth and cheek with her tongue.
He chuckles lightly and picks up a waiting glass of water from the counter. Shaking his head as she raises her hand to take it, he holds it to her lips, something practiced in the motion. In that moment, he’s not simply Doctor-y, but doctor-y. It’s a reassuring thought, the idea that he knows what he’s doing. What isn’t reassuring at all is the way she can feel the water moving inside of her, could swear she can feel the component molecules of the liquid running down her throat and into her stomach. She can feel it, feel her stomach, her throat, her internal organs. She focuses and she can feel and then it fades until she can’t make it out any longer, can’t feel each and every particle of air in her lungs.
She exhales slowly, just to make sure that the heightened awareness is gone. "Okay," she says as he sets the glass back down, "that was weird." There’s something else that feels like it’s missing, something that she only vaguely realizes: he’s not touching her mind, not coming close to hovering around it, and he’s always done that.
She hadn’t realized how close he was until he’d taken this step away. Or, rather, before he’d taken that step forward.
"Oddly enough," the Doctor tells her somewhat seriously, "the word most people use to describe fading from reality is ‘horrifying.’ And if you wouldn’t mind lying down as your body readjusts to a state of stable existence, I’d strongly suggest you do so."
Tired, Rose isn’t about to protest. The new, cold table isn’t here yet and the surface she’s lying on is actually comfortable. "M’kay." The needle in her arm is tugged slightly by her movements and she winces. "What’s with the needle?" she asks.
"You’ve lost a great deal of nutrients," the Doctor explains. "By becoming temporally unstable, you became temporarily insubstantial. Some of the newer bits of you tried to — for lack of a better term — drain out. You’ve lost a lot of salt, a great deal of water and I’d imagine you’re feeling quite famished around now."
Rose nods, her stomach gurgling as if on cue, and the pair shares a smile.
"You did need a small blood transfusion, but luckily, we had a willing volunteer on hand. Don’t worry," he adds at her look, "blood type and species match."
"That girl . . ." Rose tries to say, but her mouth still feels weird. She has the question in her mind and usually, the Doctor being concerned would mean the Doctor immediately picking up on this. But it’s common courtesy, she supposes, for this him not to. Or maybe it’s a talent that the New New Doctor has developed, or maybe one her first Doctor has forgotten. Either way, she has to ask her question aloud. "Sorry, where is she?"
"Just down the hall and probably listening in," the Doctor replies with a small, semi-wry smile. "Once I called and explained the situation to myself, I realized that it would be best if Ace didn’t hear much of this. I’m going to have to forget, you know, so it’s best she doesn’t know much about this either. She’s not beyond being insufferable when she wants to be." He says it affectionately, jokingly, but she’s not paying attention any longer.
"M’kay." She tries to think. Tries to get used to herself. Addresses the question that’s the foremost on her mind, even though it shouldn’t be. "Where’d you get my mobile from?"
"Your jacket," he replies simply, giving her a look she knows all too well, "which is where I suppose it belongs." Yep, he officially thinks she’s worn out and half-delusional. That she might be is a fact Rose ignores.
"’M sort of out of my time," she tries to explain. "Haven’t seen that jacket in years."
"Ah," he says all too understandingly, "that would explain it." He looks at her for a moment, sitting down on a chair beside her instead of going back to lean against the wall or the counter. "Tell me, how often do you normally pass out?"
Something very close to indignation flares within her. "I was fading from reality, you said. I think passing out is kind of expected."
"Ah," he says again and this time he’s oddly pleased. "Rarely then. Why didn’t I hear you yell for help?"
"’Cause I didn’t," Rose replies, not entirely sure where this is going.
"None of that for you, eh?" he asks, an encouraging tone entering his strange voice. "None of that screaming business."
Rose looks up at him as if he’s just dribbled on his shirt- jumper. Sweater vest? Hard to tell with the jacket on. Either way, it’s not the most flattering angle for him, below and to the side, and he’s not even looking back at her, simply considering something.
He nods to himself and glances down at her out of the corner of his eye. "You wander off, don’t you?"
Rose blinks. "Maybe just a little. But I didn’t ‘wander off’ this time," she starts to protest but he stops her with a quick wave of the hand.
"As I understand it, my dear, you were somewhat later to bed and earlier to rise than is the norm. By seven years or so, is that right?"
He’s called her a lot of things, but never his dear before. It’s strangely comfortable, vaguely avuncular in the same way her first Doctor was — is vaguely paternal. "Seven and a bit, yeah," Rose answers. "Like you, right? This is seventh you?"
He nods, pleased. "I am, yes. Though I suppose you knew that coming in."
Rose nods back, propping herself up on her needle-free arm. "Yeah, I did. Guess it’s kind of late to ask, but you haven’t happened to see a younger me running around, have you?"
"I’m afraid not," he replies, then looks cross. "Is that really all you wanted to ask? Walk into a potential paradox while only being a potentiality yourself, all to ask that one question?"
She shrugs, feeling too drained to be embarrassed. "Sor’ of, yeah." Something beeps and she stops moving.
"Ah, there we are. Back down with you, just for a moment." The Doctor leans over her, nimble fingers removing the IV needle and pressing a small bandage in its place. "Apply pressure for a minute or so. After that, you will eat, drink and be corporally realized. Doctor’s orders. Though you can sit up now. Just be careful. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is newly physical."
Doing as he says, Rose rolls her eyes at him and smiles back when he grins. "What exactly does that mean? Entail, I mean. The corporally realized stuff. Being a potentiality."
"You may or may not exist," he tells her. "Quite fascinating, as it so happens."
"So . . .?" Rose prompts, seeing an Oncoming Tangent about Schrödinger and ventilation in cardboard boxes.
"So," he says, giving her a somewhat chastising look for the interruption, "until younger you is properly returned to where she belongs, the you that you are now won’t be in good condition outside of a state of temporal grace." Won’t be in any condition at all, he means. She knows he’s avoiding saying it, knows he’s treating her gently and thinks it might be because of his chat with older him.
Oh, god, the Doctor. Not this one, her first one. From fighting to fading: Jeopardy-friendly, that’s her.
When her New New Doctor remembers this, he’s going to pitch a fit.
Still, she’ll get back to him and deal with it when she does. Nothing else she can really do beforehand. Pulling herself back on topic, Rose wracks her mind for the term this Doctor’s used, thinks she knows what she’s talking about. "You mean the TARDIS. I’m safe inside of the TARDIS because it’s Timey-Whimey proof."
He looks at her oddly, but it’s not confusion over her words, simply confusion that she’s used them. His air of bemused competency doesn’t fade, only twists like the corners of his mouth. "Yes, in a sense," he replies, putting aside that missing beat for the moment.
"So I started to fade and then you pulled me inside of your TARDIS?" Rose asks, checking the facts.
"Oh, no, not at all," he replies. "The TARDIS pulled you in here all by herself. Quite the flashy entrance, you made. I’m not entirely sure how, though."
Rose thinks of Donna, thinks of particles of death and waves of life, thinks of the paradox of golden light. "S’okay, I think I know." She shakes her head when he’s about to ask. "Long, complicated story, and I really want to get back home."
The question mark Doctor blinks and then nods. "Yes, of course. Wouldn’t do to have you becoming more out of place than you already are."
"We’re still on the planet, right? Haven’t moved or anything?" Rose checks. He shakes his head and she sighs in relief. "That could’ve been bad."
"Mm, quite," the Doctor agrees, tone light. "Running triple-parallel is a temporal monstrosity. Which reminds me: from what I’ll explain to myself, it sounds as if I’ll determine that your versions of yourself haven’t simply swapped times. I won’t say how I’ll do it, though."
Sitting on the padded table in the med bay long before she’s ever set foot in the TARDIS, regaining a stable existence and experiencing hunger pangs, Rose has been getting used to some very odd sensations. And there’s the lack of some very odd sensations, a complete and almost unnerving absence of his mind against hers. Even her first Doctor, despite his aborted attempt to enter her mind, has always been right there, right next to her. This him doesn’t need to be, not yet.
On top of that, she’s been speaking to an absentminded professor version of the man who will one day be much more like a sexy biology teacher. Despite the very Best Mates sort of feel she’s getting from this him, she’s still finding that the start and finish places of his regeneration race — as far as she’s seen, that is — are much closer to each other then the Doctors in between.
She’s taken all of this very well in stride, she finds. One strange feeling and bizarre sensation after another, she’s proven herself able to cope with this sort of thing.
It’s simply that the sensation she gets now is on a whole new level of weird.
"What?" Rose asks.
He looks at her oddly. "Why are you so certain that you haven’t simply switched positions?" he repeats, speaking slowly and clearly for her benefit. "I would think that would be the first assumption one would make — Are you all right?"
She shakes her head, then rubs at her forehead with the heel of her hand. It was her body she could feel before, every last inch of it, but now it’s her mind, now it’s her memory jumping and sparking in protest against some unseen bond. A thought tries to expand only to be beaten back down, held securely in place, and Rose can smell the fall wind, shivers in the crisp chill of a burnt autumn.
There’s a purple light in her eyes and she blinks.
"There you are," the question mark Doctor says, small diagnostic tool in hand, the same one he used on her this morning. Will use.
"My brain hurts," Rose tells him weakly, feeling dizzy again. A phantom touch chills her temples, a cool, alien touch that’s not actually there. She knows that touch, that hand made for fighting. "Doctor?"
He pats her hand amiably instead of holding it, but it’s still the most comforting thing there’s ever been. "Sometimes thoughts get on the wrong side of the head," he replies, looking as if he has an idea of what’s going on. "Now, when you were thinking about having switched places with your younger self, what did it feel like?"
"Like . . ." Rose starts, wonders. "Like, um. The dungeons on Ricostos Four? Where the shackles and stuff are made of condensed air. Felt like that, but in my mind instead of on my body." She shakes her head. "’M not making any sense, am I?"
"A mental restraint," he replies, summing up her words for her. "You’re making perfect sense. It’s a common side-effect of memory repression," he adds for ineffectual clarification.
"But." She stops and thinks. "Why?"
"It’s probably my fault, I’m afraid," he admits, having the grace to look vaguely abashed for something he hasn’t done yet. "I assume I did too thorough of a job."
"My you can get sorta overenthusiastic, yeah," Rose admits, being vague about the details she gives, being vague about her agreement. "But . . ." Oh, god, her head.
He looks at her, bushy eyebrows raised. "I’m afraid to say that I seem to have suppressed even the possibility of this situation. Are you having trouble thinking about it, holding the concept in your head?"
Rubbing at her temples, Rose winces. "Yeah, just a bit." Maybe it’s just her, but he looks apologetic at that. "Not your fault," she hastens to add. "’M a strong-willed little ape — not gonna let go of my memories easily. I’d be surprised if I made it easy for you." She pauses to consider her tenses. "Or something like that."
"Something very much like that, I’d imagine," he agrees before continuing almost amiably, so very matter-of-fact: "Now, how much of my future have you revealed to me?"
She’s still aware enough of her body to acutely realize the heat in her face. "Didn’t mean to," she replies. "I haven’t said much, but you’re not exactly dense, you know."
No matter the Doctor, she realizes as the man smiles at her, a compliment about his intelligence is always well taken.
"No, I’m not," he agrees, "which in this case could be immensely problematic."
"You’re going to have to forget this too, yeah?" she asks, ignoring the rumble of her stomach. He’d been right about being drained. When was the last time she’d eaten? Was it really this morning? The bananas? God, she’s starving.
He nods as if he finds her promising — it’s irrational and stupid when her him already loves her, but she adores that look all the same. It’s the sort of almost simple adoration she once had for him, for her first him before Jack came in to shake up all the pieces, came in to make jokes about locking the pair of them in a closet. She could’ve been mates with this one; best mates for the length of her forever, simple and straightforward friends. "I’ll look for the memory once I return you to myself — possibly even before. My self with the Northern accent seemed a touch impatient."
She grins. "Yeah, you get a bit crotchety in your old age."
He frowns, nearly wrinkling his nose in distaste. "What, again?"
There’s no help for it: Rose laughs. Because it’s absurd, because she’s stressed, because he’s not yet her Doctor. Because after all this time, she still doesn’t know him, not really. But mostly because she’s still learning, still getting there.
"Can’t tell you," she replies. "That’d be spoiling it, yeah?"
He gives her a look she knows very well, a little bit effrontery and a touch of condescension, all wrapped up in a dose of "Oh, you human."
She rolls her eyes because he’s not going to do it, not yet. "Okay, fine, yeah. So that’s my memory blank there. What about yours? What’s crotchety you’s excuse for not coming up with the obvious?"
"Same excuse as yours, I would imagine," he replies dryly. "Which is what I was getting at before you pulled me off topic."
Now that would be a change, her getting him off-topic. Rose thinks this, thinks better of saying it. "So, basically, we’re both gonna have such a memorable time of it that everything surrounding the memory has to get beaten down too?"
"Or risk a memory trigger, yes," he finishes for her.
"Guess it really was a good thing I came to see you — this you," Rose realizes. He’s too young to have forgotten the possibility, too early in his timeline to have repressed the ideas they needed to be having right about now. "So," she adds, looking at him hopefully, "any more good ideas I won’t think of?"
"Just the one to get you back to the TARDIS currently here," he replies and for some reason, that’s the cue to start memorizing his face, his voice, the way he stands. It’s quick and sudden and takes her by surprise; it’s a glimpse of him she’s getting now, a quick look at the man he used to be and that’s better than nothing. It’s got to be better than nothing, even if she’ll always want to know more.
"Right, yeah," Rose agrees. "Good idea, then."
"I’ll take a moment to wire something together. And while I’m gone: drink your water," he orders her, endearingly stern as he heads to the door.
"Yes, sir, sarge!" she calls after him, starting to wonder when exactly she’s going to say that running gag started, now that she’s spreading it back in time.
She sits in the med bay and memorizes that too as she sips her water, waiting and listening to her stomach rumble. She’s just gotten around to poking at the thing with the purple light — he’s never explained to her what it does, really, only blinded her with it — when the girl from before pokes her head up.
"You’re up," the girl says like she’s surprised.
Rose takes in the outfit, the leather jacket covered with patches. Abruptly, she wonders. Wonders about jackets. Wonders which of the Doctor’s old companions wore pinstripes if this is where the leather came from. If it is where the leather came from.
"Yep," Rose replies as brightly as she can. "Thanks for, y’know." Blood transfusion, the Doctor had said.
"Yeah," the girl says like she doesn’t know what to say, watching her. "I’m Ace."
She thinks of Sarah Jane, even though this girl is completely different. "I’m Rose."
Ace doesn’t seem to know whether she wants to make friends or lash out; Rose has a sudden feeling of déjà vu, just in reverse, of being on the other side of it.
Rose says the only thing she can think to say, something she assumes must be true. "He’s really proud of you, looks like. Partners in time, yeah?"
The cloud lifts and Ace laughs. "You sound like him, talking like that."
She grins, pleased to have caught onto this Doctor’s body quirk so quickly. "Never does seem to learn that silence is golden, does he?"
They get on well after that.
After a little while and not enough food, the Doctor returns to find himself the subject of a highly amusing conversation and is accordingly Very Cross. Except, of course, for the fact that he isn’t. Not really. What he is, is holding a small, short-range transporter, more than enough for a hop across a field.
"You’ll have about five minutes before anything starts to get critical," he informs her. "Get inside before then."
"You sure you fixed this thing right?" she questions and grins when he looks affronted. "Yeah, ‘m joking, I trust you."
The him she knows would have rolled his eyes. This him doesn’t. "I’m hiding the memory of this behind one of Ace’s worse cooking experiments," he tells her. "Remind me when I see you later."
"See you sooner," she counters and he grins. Ace looks at the pair of them as if she hadn’t realized that the lunatics were multiplying.
"Professor, look what you’ve done!"
He laughs and taps the girl on the nose, a gesture of affection that seems out of place in Rose’s mind, that seems to fit perfectly. The-Doctor-and-Ace. Or maybe the-Professor-and-Ace.
Rose bites her lip and presses the image into her mind — he’s going to want reminding someday.
"Looks like ‘m off, then," she says, not entirely wanting to be. She’s going to be walking right back into that bloody row and he’s still not going to be her Doctor yet. But that’s just what she gets, she supposes, falling in love with a madman of an alien. A madman of an alien with a completely twisted timeline.
She says her good-byes to Ace, gets a hug from each of them and then, wobbling only a little, she goes home.
It’s a jarring sensation, that transport. For a reason she’ll never admit, she always expects a yank behind her navel, always comes out winded when the yank is behind every single molecule in her body. She goes from staring at the TARDIS to staring at the TARDIS and she has to look around to make sure she’s actually moved. From the younger TARDIS, Ace waves at her and, grinning, Rose waves back.
"Bye!" she yells once more and hopes that somewhen, her new friend is still alive.
Ace waves back and, possibly forever, vanishes from her sight with the closing of a blue door. It’s always such a weird feeling when that happens; visiting Dickens the dead man had only been the first time she’d made a friend who was already deceased.
The door opens behind her and Rose is almost grateful to get back to the argument if it means getting back inside. And it’s not like she can’t settle it immediately, knowing what she knows now. And if he was still going to be such an alien git, then she could always —
Strong arms yank her inside and she stumbles into him, turning to meet him face to face, ready to meet a rebuke that never comes. The entire surreal experience snaps into place and that man had been him and Ace is probably dead now and oh my god, I nearly vanished.
She presses into him, holds on tight as if to prove to the both of them that she’s still real. No matter how she strengthens her hold, his is far stronger and she can’t hope to match it. She’d forgotten this, forgotten how his great lifting hugs had possessed a darker counterpoint where instead of swinging her upwards, he’d pull her in.
"’M sorry," she tries to say, because someone has to say it and it’s obviously not going to be him. She talks with her cheek against his shoulder, watches his neck. "Backfired a bit, but I did get a lead an’ -"
His arms tighten around her and she hushes as his mind brushes into hers with the hesitancy of an oft-rebuked child.
"Shouldn’t’ve let you go," he tells her and she sees him swallow. "I’m the one who’s supposed to know this stuff and-"
"Yeah, so?" she demands, pushing his guilt complex to the side, trying to. "You’re stupid when you’re mad," she adds and it’s not a lie, not exactly. It’s not so much that he’s stupid when he’s mad as that he’s stupid when he’s mad about her. "I shouldn’t’ve-"
"Rose," he says and she has no idea how it can sound the same, has no idea how her name has the same shape and weight and texture from two different pairs of lips.
"‘M all right," she assures him instead of snogging him. "Could really go for some chips, but ‘m all right."
She feels it in him, that drop of amusement spreading through him, some of the tension in his shoulders changing, altering slightly and never truly relieving.
He eases her back to look her in the eyes, still not letting go of her. "Tell me what happened."
She shakes her head, knowing a quicker way. "You hid the memory behind one of Ace’s cooking disasters," she says, watching to see if his face clouds at the mention of her name but he’s already far too intense for her to tell. "Dunno which one."
There’s a sudden distance to him as his focus travels within a mind that’s bigger on the inside. For a few moments, she’s left in his arms, being held without him holding her and wondering what exactly she’s supposed to do now. His mind was back and now he’s off again and it looks like she just has to wait it out. Rose knows when he stumbles upon the memory, though, knows it immediately.
He blinks, eyes curious, voice confused. "You weren’t scared."
His hands, already firm against her shoulder blades, press firmer still as she replies, "Why should I have been? I was with you the whole time."
He looks at her as if he still doesn’t understand, can’t comprehend her words and yet would like to, as if he very much wants to.
Rose kisses him then, and it doesn’t feel like a mistake.
There was only so long she could sit there before she couldn’t anymore. The longer she watched him, watched this man toy with the controls and flip switches on the console, the more he fit here and the more Rose began to resent that he did. It was irrational, but what about her life wasn’t?
He pretended to be oblivious, tried his hand at giving her encouraging smiles and trying to make idle conversation. That, too, quickly faded, Rose freezing whenever it was her turn to reply. She managed a simple question, asked him what he was doing in the knowledge that whatever else his answer would be, it would be long, complicated, and not something he would expect her to actually pay attention to.
In the end, he gave up on her listening and fell back on the option he’d always fallen back on: he spoke to the TARDIS instead.
"C’mon, old girl, there we go . . ." His entire body twisted as his hands moved over the controls and Rose bit her lip at the sight. "Just a little more to the left, a little, just a- no, no no no!"
"What?" she asked, standing up, her hand still awkwardly on the jump seat. "What’s wrong?"
"No, nothing, it’s all right," he rambled quickly, thin arms reaching and pulling and the TARDIS rattled, sent him spinning around the console, grounded only by — fittingly — his grip on the handbrake. "We’re good! We’re very, very good!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes!" he exclaimed halfway through the question. "Yes, I’m sure. I’m very, very sure!" he added and the repetition did nothing for her nerves. "Getting the old girl to retrace her steps is a tricky business, but we’re just about . . ."
He trailed off, body tense, his shoulders hunched as he stared into the rapidly flashing display on the console screen. She knew that way of standing, knew this as the calm-before-the-storm stance, as the quiet before the anger, but nothing changed. He stayed as he was, frozen on the edge of some immense motion.
" . . . We’re just about?" Rose prompted.
"We’re just about," he replied, treating it like a full sentence. "And by ‘about,’ I mean both ‘about to’ as in ‘going to’ and ‘about’ as in ‘near to.’ Time and space, and all that."
She blinked. "What?"
"Temporal mechanics," he said and waved his hand before running it through his hair, ruffling it higher. "Don’t worry, you’ll pretend to understand it eventually."
Her mouth opened to make a rebuttal and he grinned at her suddenly, a smile unnerving in its unfamiliarity. God, this was awkward. She wasn’t sure how much more she could stand, him buzzing about like nothing was wrong.
He should have bristled, should have been obvious about things not being right. He should have made some remark and thrown it into the open so they could tear the issue apart and put the pieces back together in the form of a solution. S’what they’d always done, when he was still her Doctor.
Maybe he did bristle, maybe a little.
"I’m," she started, then pointed back over her shoulder down the hall.
"Right, yes." He rubbed at his head without looking at her. "Breakfast. You go do that."
"Yeah," she agreed, even though that wasn’t what she’d been planning on.
"Use the secondary galley, mind you," he added glancing to her and looking away just as quickly. He hissed out through his teeth as he adjusted the controls, so perhaps the abrupt motion wasn’t entirely his fault. "Burned the usual kitchen down a bit — it’ll take a little while to grow back."
"Time-machine," she pointed out. "Can’t you, I dunno, adjust the speed? Fast-forward?"
"Usually, yeah," he said, sounding a little surprised, a little proud. It sound have been a sound she was used to from him, from the Doctor, but it hadn’t been a sound before, only a look. A blue-eyed look with this small smile and folded arms and a quiet intensity that was completely different from this man’s unfocused energy. "Bit dangerous to change any relative timespeeds when running parallel, though."
Rose bit her lip. "So s’not like you could send me back that way? Rewind instead of fast-forward?"
"Well, yeah," he admitted easily, too easily. "Of course, you’d be twelve and suffering from extreme de-aging effects, but yeah, it’d work."
"Ah," she said. "Let’s not, then."
He made a noise that could have been amusement or agreement or something else entirely, and when she left, it felt an awful lot like sneaking away. Stupid to feel like that, but she couldn’t help it, couldn’t help feeling like that.
She took the jacket with her.
Going back into the room that used to be hers wasn’t something she looked forward to — or even wanted to do — but she had to put the jacket back. She couldn’t just- couldn’t haul it around like this, like it was some sort of security blanket.
It made her feel childish and small when she needed to be an adult, made her feel alone when she really wasn’t.
And she wasn’t.
Not in any way that actually counted.
She tried to change while she was in there, but her jeans didn’t fit and the tops were too flirty and was that supposed to be a bra? Turning it over in her hands a couple times, she tried to imagine what sort of alien would invent something like this. Or why she’d keep it. Shoving away the mental images that immediately sprung to mind, she slammed the drawers of her dresser shut to make the sentiment physical. Skimpy little jimjams or not, she was sticking with what she had.
She thought about taking a shower, about going somewhere he’d not follow, but then she started thinking, thinking about how he’d never exactly cared about her bathroom space before and now there was an entirely different spin on it and it’d probably be a bad idea anyway, getting naked.
They could have had sex in that shower.
Suddenly, every vaguely flat surface in her room took on an entirely new connotation.
Overly careful not to touch anything on her way out, Rose tried to shove it all away, tried to push back the idea. Because it shouldn’t’ve been bothering her, not that much. Not as much as it was. If it’d been Mickey, if she’d been twelve and jumped forward to when she was nineteen, somehow gotten a glimpse of her life to come, she wouldn’t be handling it this badly. Because, really, when she thought about it, the situations weren’t all that different.
True, the Doctor was an alien, but he was still her best mate. Sort of the way Mickey had been back then. And she’d vaguely entertained the thought, back then, about Mickey. A childhood crush on your best guy friend who might just want to be your best boyfriend; nothing unusual about that. Seven years later, less actually, and then, well. Just sort of happened.
But the Doctor was different. He was . . . . Well, he wasn’t a bloke. Even if she’d thought, once, twice, maybe, maybe he- but no, that wasn’t the way he worked. It was too human, too domestic.
Too unlike her fantastic alien.
S’like he wasn’t special anymore, in a way, pulling him down to shag with mere mortals. And the Doctor was always special, always amazing, always, always fantastic. This . . . wasn’t.
It was like what she'd told Mickey, all those months ago. The Doctor was better than that, than some stupid boyfriend. More important than that and now she couldn't help but feel that it had been taken away somehow.
When she stepped into the secondary galley, he was sitting on the counter with his fingers in his mouth and an open jar in his hand. There was a moment, a heartbeat of time when he wasn’t there, wasn’t behind the dark brown eyes she hadn’t wanted to know and suddenly, all she wanted was to see him looking back at her, just that, in any way possible, with any eyes at all.
He was hunched and tensed and unmoving, as if he’d forgotten himself somewhere. And then she took a breath and he took a glance and he was there again, even behind those eyes. So lonely. The Doctor, and lonely, and she couldn’t let anything else matter.
"That was fast," Rose said, willing to be impressed even despite him having his fingers in his mouth. That usually cheered him up, her being impressed. "Thought TARDIS self-tracking or whatever was all complicated."
He wiped his hand on his trousers, set down the jar with the other. Jam, she thinks, seeing the purple picture of grapes on the label. This him ate grape jam when he was lonely. That was different.
Did they still eat chips together?
"Oh, it is," he replied, sitting up a bit straighter, a bit taller. "Very complicated. Very, very complicated."
Her lips quirked involuntarily. "TARDIS console burn you again?"
He didn’t roll his eyes, but he did look away and cross his arms. "Set the process on automatic an’-"
"Yeah, she burned you," Rose concluded. "Right hand?"
He looked at her then, a blink of surprise followed by an equally recognizable frown. "What?"
"You had it in your mouth," she explained, nearly mimicking the previous position of his hand with her own. She nearly put two fingertips to her lips, between her lips, before realizing what that would look like, realizing that she couldn’t get away with flirting with him now, couldn’t just say anything and know he wouldn’t care or respond or do much more than tease her back.
Ruffling his hair with his vaguely clean and possibly burnt hand, he chuckled a little. "The TARDIS knows herself better than I do," he admitted. "A good general policy in life, that. Gets a touch problematic, otherwise . . ."
There was something there as he trailed off, something he obviously meant and just as obviously hadn’t meant to say.
Otherwise, he’d meant, you’d have problems when the people who knew you better — who were supposed to know you better — turned out to not know you at all.
She looked down, the tiling of the secondary galley floor different from that of the first. Of the primary? Of the usual one.
"Anyway," he said, a bit loudly, "the TARDIS can handle this on her own — sort of her fault this happened, when you get down to it, so you might call this an apology." The TARDIS hum changed slightly as he spoke — babbled, really — and Rose had the feeling that this wasn’t entirely on the level.
"She’s sorry," he added hastily, rubbing at the back of his neck, not at all matching the mental Doctor — the real one, the right one, hers — she seemed to have running through her head. "For, ah. Scaring you."
"I wasn’t scared," she lied automatically, denied it and still hung back by the door, her hand on the frame.
His eyebrows rose, creasing his forehead, but he didn’t say anything.
"Startled," she clarified. "I was a bit startled, s’all." The Doctor in her head, the one with ears and leather, he rolled his eyes and scoffed.
The one in front of her didn’t, only gave her a look and repeated in a surprisingly bitter voice, "Startled?"
A sudden image sprung into her mind, a small third-person mental film, as abruptly clear as a cartoon thought bubble. Her stepping forward, hopping up onto the counter next to him, petting his hair down to a more reasonable shape; her saying something and him fighting against a smile and her bumping her shoulder against his and him saying "that so?" and her saying "’course it is" and him saying something else that might have been clever and her calling him daft; them smiling at each other and him leaning in towards her and her feeling so very safe and him tasting like jam and feeling like home.
Rose swallowed, hard. Her grip on the doorframe, having relaxed, immediately tightened. "Yeah," she said, shoving the image away, mustering her cheek. When in doubt, tease. "’Cause, y’know, any you being that domestic is just traumatizing."
That certainly got his attention. "Being what?"
She shrugged, tried for casual, biting the inside of her cheek between speaking. The Doctor? Definitely still in there. "All you needed was an apron, ‘m serious."
He gaped at her, mouth open and she knew, she was completely sure that the cry of "stupid ape" was soon to sound. She was sure, but it didn’t come.
Instead, he closed his mouth, both hands on the countertop as he leaned forward, red Chucks hitting lightly against the doors of the cabinets below. "It’s in the wash, I’m afraid," he replied. "Sorry to disappoint."
Rose stared at him and then he quirked his lips and then she had the most vivid image of him wearing the apron she was sure didn’t really exist. But if it did exist, it would be dark blue with gold print on it, gold print declaring the object to be "The Manliest Apron In Time & Space." Even if the string was tied in a large bow around the back.
She laughed. Because it was absurd, because she was stressed, because he was the Doctor without being hers. Because with all this time missing between them, she didn’t have a chance at pinning him down. But mostly because it didn’t seem to matter, almost didn’t.
He grinned at her like he was pleased with himself, the arrogant git, and she felt a bit better about that.
"So," he said, "breakfast."
"Yeah," she said.
"Argued by some to be the most important meal of the day."
"Really depends on your digestive system," he clarified, tapping his own stomach. Stomach area. Region. She assumed.
Instead of asking about that, she voiced another question: "Any toast to go with that jam?"
"If you make it," he replied around his sticky fingers.
So she did.
He sat on the counter, watching her amid his jam-eating.
She leaned against the counter on the opposite side of the room, not looking at said jam-eating.
The bread took a very long time to become toast.
"When’d we what?" he asked immediately, discarding his awkward words for her awkward questioning.
She shook her head. "Nah, s’not important."
He considered her, gaze intent and curious, cheeks hollowing as he sucked on his fingers. The toaster dinged, cueing him. "When’d we get a toaster?" he guessed. "No, that’s been here longer than you have. When’d we what?"
He raised his eyebrows.
She bit her lip, one hand making the smallest of gestures, this tiny little motion.
Understanding, the Doctor looked down and coughed.
"Oh," he said. "That." And he shrugged like it wasn’t important and added, "A few years back."
Sure that he had to be missing her drift, she forced herself to clarify. "I mean, when’d we start, y’know." She made another sort of gesture with her hand between the two of them and he looked at her like she was being thick.
"A few years back," he repeated, nodding a bit.
She was chewing on her lip now, couldn’t seem to get herself to stop. "Yeah?" she asked, needing to say something and having nothing to say.
"Yep," he replied, popping his "p"s again. "About . . . four years now, give or take a timeloop."
"Oh," she said and it felt like sighing.
"Oh?" he echoed and finally sounded like he was unbalanced. Only fair, for both of them to be.
"Oh," she said again, pointedly. Rubbed at her face with the heel of her hand as the TARDIS hum changed.
He slid off the counter to stand, to shift foot-to-foot, almost bouncing despite being so clearly deflated. "So . . . ?"
"Okay," she said, scratching absently at the itch on the side of her head.
He looked at her oddly, set down the jam. "Okay?"
"Yeah," she said, a little louder than she meant to. "Stuff happens and that’s, well. Stuff."
"You’re upset," he gathered, sounding just a touch wary, just very much lost.
She bit her lip, looked away. "Not like it’s gonna matter."
She shrugged, feeling so much like a petulant child and hating every minute of it. "’m gonna forget, so it doesn’t matter."
"But you’re going to remember," he said and it was the confusion in his voice that made her look at him. "You are," he repeated and his eyes were like a child’s, like the eyes of the oldest child there could ever be. A paradox in brown. "It’s memory suppression, not memory erasure."
She kept quiet, turned back to the toaster and pulled out the pair of slices. Dropping them onto a plate, she didn’t hear his approach, only felt it. She smelled grape jam and toasted bread and an autumn with crunching leaves and didn’t understand that last one.
"Have we got any jam you haven’t stuck your fingers in?" she asked, not looking over her shoulder at him
His silence might be one of consideration. "Probably not," he said after a moment. "Although . . . no, probably not."
She had the sudden, inexplicable feeling that if she turned around, if she turned to face him and hugged him tight, everything would be all right. Everything would be indefinably better. Somehow. Because he was lonely and hurt and scared and all she had to do was turn around and tell him it was okay and it would be, tell him it was really okay and not simply pretend humany okay, tell him that and it would be, really, it would be, just turn around and-
And those thoughts weren’t hers.
"You’re in my head!"
He stepped back when she jerked around to face him, stepped back the one step with his mouth open and his eyes wide. There was a lurch inside of her mind, a feeling like an altitude change, like dropping off of a mountain or suddenly appearing at the top of one.
He reached for her. "Rose, I-"
"Stop it!" she yelled, the edge of the counter digging into the small of her back. "God, the TARDIS was bad enough, but you-"
Without warning, the lights extinguished, plunging the kitchen into darkness.
Rose yelped, might have yelled something in that cry. "What did you do? What the hell are you doing now?"
"You were the one who upset the TARDIS," he said and his voice didn’t come from where she was expecting it.
She scrambled to the side, guiding herself along the counter and nearly tripping over her own feet. "Get out of my head!"
"I’m out, I’m out!" He was in front of her, to the side.
It felt like he was gone from her mind, but she couldn’t be sure, couldn’t really tell. She hadn’t felt the TARDIS slip in and she hadn’t felt him slip in, so how was she to say she’d know when he left? Holding as still as she could, trapped in the corner, she controlled her breathing and listened to his instead.
And then she thought horrible, horrible things at him.
She released a shaking breath, felt a tension she didn’t fully understand try to drain from her. "Why- Why were you . . .?"
"I didn’t think you’d-" He cut himself off and she wanted to yell at him. Didn’t think she’d mind? Was that really what he- "Habit," he said, interrupting both his own words as well as her thoughts. "It’s, ah, something we do."
"S’my head," she said, a small piece of protestation that came out far more weakly than intended.
"It’s a very nice head," he agreed lightly, as if speaking to a child.
If the lights were still on and she could see him, he would have gotten a smack for that. Well, probably not. It sounded like bluster, that, even without being said aloud. "Why’s it habit?"
She could hear him still, which was odd. He made more noise staying in place than he did moving, shifting. "Let me try to explain," he said, tone thoughtful. "Find some context for you, that sort of thing."
He fell silent and it felt like everything in the world had disappeared. Felt like all there ever was, was two people on edge in the quiet dark, not even able to look at each other. A thought, involuntary, crossed her mind, a pleading complaint like that of a child crying for its mother: I want the Doctor. I want my Doctor.
"In Utah," the man said and he nearly sounded like the man he’d once been, the man he wasn’t any longer. "Two thousand twelve, in Van Statten’s bunker. I told you that I’d know if- well. But they’re not." There was a soft noise and she thought he might be ruffling his hair. "I’d feel it, though. In my mind. But there’s this . . . this gap," he said.
He left the "p" unpopped.
"There’s not supposed to be," Rose said, knew without guessing. She bit her lip, turned away without knowing where exactly he was. "Does it . . ."
"Does it what, Rose?" Patient, if vulnerable. He sounded the same, sounded like he had in that bunker, after dropping that gun.
"Does it hurt?"
He didn’t reply, and the room filled with the silence of a man trying not to lie.
She moved forward, hand outstretched and her fingertips touched unfamiliar fabric. Both of them jerked away and both of them recovered enough to return. She was terrified in a way, guilt-ridden in another; that was why she allowed him to hold her close, why she let herself be pressed against his chill, the temperature difference more apparent without leather between them.
"I’m sorry," he said and he was terrified and guilt-ridden too.
What did it say about him, about her, about them, that she could only recognize him when he was sad and lonely and ashamed?
"I need to see you happy more," she decided quietly and he pulled back, probably to ineffectually stare at her.
She recalled the images he’d shown her before, thought to treat them more as pieces of advise than alien subliminal messaging. "You’re completely daft," she said and this time, this time, their embrace could be called a true hug.
"Yep," he said and she fought the urge to giggle in relief when that "p" was popped. "That’s me."
She pulls back, a movement almost more natural than awkward, and he presses his cool palm against her sweaty one.
Less than ten minutes ago, she wouldn’t have cared if she’d lost her memories of this time, wouldn’t have cared if they’d been completely erased. Now, she’s not so sure. She wasn’t comfortable and she wasn’t reassured in any true sense, but . . . He was the Doctor. And he needed her.
She asked the one question that seemed safe. "Can you turn the lights back on?"
"Can you apologize to the TARDIS?" he countered. "You did hurt her feelings."
And the TARDIS had swapped Rose out of her natural timeline, she wanted to counter.
"No?" he prompted.
She hoped he was only guessing at his thoughts, wished she could trust that was all he was doing. "’m sorry," Rose said quietly, and she had the feeling that she would be saying this a lot in the future.
The lights flickered back on and she was nearly surprised to see the Doctor was still this Doctor.
"There," he said, smiling down at her, an expression that somehow managed to look right on two faces. "That wasn’t so hard now, was it? Might take a little-"
He went silent without warning, his gaze not simply going distant but vanishing off to some infinite point. His eyes unfocused and yet his expression remained the same, as if some mental pause button had been pressed without his permission.
"A little what?" she asked. "Doctor, a little what?"
"Doctor?" Her insides turned to ice. "Doctor?" She held still, afraid to touch, to be touching, afraid to pull away. What had just- what was- They’d just gotten it sorted out and then this, and then he was gone and-
He blinked, that frozen smile fading into something more natural, something shocked and confused and elated. He blinked and he looked at her and he looked at her.
"Rose," he said. "I know where you are."
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