He writes on Rose’s skin in Gallifreyan, the looping, swirling, interlocking patterns inked onto her flesh, preserving their story for the years to come.
The first time this tradition happens is with a spare biro in lurid blue ink, right after they blew up Downing Street.
She’s got one of his many scattered post-it notes in her hand, and intently studies the writing. “So what would my name look like in your language?” she asks, holding up the tiny piece of paper.
The Doctor just looks over at her, one eyebrow arching slightly. He has an idea, but he isn’t quite sure how she’ll take it. That little niggling voice in the back of his head that sounds suspiciously like a few of his previous incarnations is telling him to not even think about it as well, but he shoves them behind a mental door that’s been locked and barred by a ten tonne anvil. He snatches up the biro and grabs her left hand like he has so many times before, and holds it so that the back of it is exposed. As the ink begins to glide along her skin she giggles slightly. “Isn’t that a bit Harry Potter?” she asks.
He stops briefly to grin at her, then goes back to writing. “Just wait ‘til you read the next book,” he says.
Somewhere along their travels the Doctor finds a special ink. He mentions something about genetic coding and programming as to why only their touch can make the ink visible once it’s on her skin, but Rose prefers to believe in the magic of it. Secret messages that are for them and them alone.
After they leave Cardiff as they’re heading out to Raxicoricofallapatorius to drop Margaret in the hatchery, he finds her in his bedroom of all places, curled up into a tight little ball on the bed. He can see a couple of stray tears on her cheeks, and watches as she strokes the ink marks that start on her left hand and begin to curl halfway up her forearm. He knows there is another ink mark on her ankle, but that it is currently hidden beneath her heavy boots.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, sitting on the edge of the bed. Rose just shakes her head and quickly brushes the tears away.
“Nothing,” she mumbles, however she doesn’t move from her curled up position. The Doctor knows that something happened with Mickey, it was the only reason for her to have that look on her face when she got back to the TARDIS. He also knows that she’ll tell him about it in her own time, because if he pushes she’ll just push right back and it won’t be pretty. So he just reaches out and rubs the back of her exposed neck, trying to soothe her. The rubs turn into words, and he realizes he is tracing out the lyrics to an old lullaby, one that he hadn’t thought about in centuries, but that always evoked a feeling of peace for him. He wants to share that with her.
Rose twists and shoots him a look, giving silent permission to go ahead. The ink comes out and he writes carefully until she falls asleep under his hands.
He is very, very glad that Jack isn’t awake to see this. The comments wouldn’t stop if he did.
His face changes, but this tradition remains. It’s something that keeps them together, showing Rose that there is a different visage and personality, but the mind and the soul are still the same one as before, and that it is okay to love this version just as much as the previous.
Later that night, while the ash from the Sycorax ship is still falling from the sky, Rose ventures down to the TARDIS and finds the Doctor there, sitting on the jump seat and tinkering with something or another. The sonic screwdriver buzzes, blinking on and off every so often. Rose stands in the doorway for a few minutes, watching him and his new body.
She already said earlier that night that she was still going to travel with him, but she wants to do something else, something solid to reassure him…and maybe herself. His object fizzles and sparks, and he sits back hastily with a hiss, singed fingers going into his mouth. She muffles a giggle and finally he notices her, smiling at her around his fingers. “Hello,” he says, pulling his fingers out and shaking them briefly.
“Hallo,” she replies. “So, how are you doing?” she asks, moving closer, circling the console and running her fingers along it. New Doctor, but at least this stays the same.
He shrugs. “Can’t complain. Well, I could, but there’s nothing really to complain about right now except for Harriet Jones and I get the feeling she’s got enough on her plate right now, so what’s the point?” he says, waving her over to the jump seat. She just shakes her head and sits down next to him, and isn’t at all uncomfortable with his new body or quirks, not anymore. “So, where to next?” the Doctor asks, putting the screwdriver in an inner pocket in his suit jacket. “Past or future? Earth or light years away?”
“You still haven’t taken me to Barcelona,” Rose replies, tongue poking through her teeth. Without thinking her fingers move to rub the back of her left hand, bringing the ink marks into exposure again. He doesn’t speak, just picks up her hand and rubs his thumb over it. “If, if you don’t like it I can cover it up,” she stutters, nervous. Those marks were something that he did with his other face, maybe his new one wouldn’t care for their little tradition.
“No, they’re fine. Beautiful,” he says, voice suddenly rough.
“I think so too,” Rose says, and leaps off the seat. “Wait here one sec.” She runs into the depths of the TARDIS, then comes back out with the bottle of ink and special metal stylus used to apply it. “Here,” she hands them to him. “Pick whatever you want to write, and wherever you want it to go, within reason. Call it a late Christmas present.”
He stares at her for a few moments, sucking on the end of the stylus. “All right. Hoodie off, please. Let me have your right upper arm.” Rose strips off the shirt, leaving her in a vest top. She sits down next to him and pulls her hair back, leaving the canvas free of obstruction.
This new Doctor has a lighter touch than her other one did. The strokes used to be firmer and steadier, a constant solid presence, but now they just seemed to dance over her skin. Both felt good, and she had to embrace the new. “And there we are,” the Doctor says eventually, putting the stylus down.
“What does it say?” Rose looks down at the twisty circles on her arm, seeing the design meld and fade into her skin, only to come back dark and fresh as she rubs her palm over it.
“It says ‘thank you’,” the Doctor replies.
He never tells her the real translation of the words he transcribed onto her upper arm. He doesn’t want her to freak out or start panicking or something like that. Something deep inside him though says that she needs to carry those words with her, because they are important.
As time goes on they put more and more words on her skin, hidden just below the surface. She keeps their memories there, of people and places that have affected them and that they have affected, in elegy and in celebration. He also puts his words for how he feels about her-he cannot say the words aloud, but has no problem writing them onto her skin. On one memorable occasion, the TARDIS gives Rose the translation to those words in an even older language, one that she doesn’t normally translate for them, and she traces them onto the soft skin of his hip, following it up with a kiss.
Sometimes, the Doctor finds himself scribing words on her in Gallifreyan text that he doesn’t even know for sure where they come from. They come into his head from the ether of space, and he can’t disobey the compulsion to place them onto her. Other times, he knows exactly why he is writing what he is, and he wants her to know that as well.
When they get the TARDIS back from the impossible planet orbiting the black hole, there is much celebrating in her halls. The TARDIS herself hums with happiness, free to travel the vortex once more and not bound to a patch of dirt. Her inhabitants are just as happy, celebrating being back together. She suspects they are celebrating sans clothing as well.
Sure enough, clothing had been abandoned a while ago but in this room it isn’t strictly necessary. The TARDIS is thoughtful enough to provide them with a room that resembles a desert oasis, with two burning suns high in the false sky, a shallow pool ringed by palm trees, and a shelter that is little more than a large embroidered blanket held up by sticks, with stacks and stacks of pillows beneath it. The two naked bodies are splayed out on the pillows, and the sound of Rose’s giggling echoes around the room. “That tickles,” she gasps out, trying not to squirm away from the stylus dancing around her belly button.
The Doctor looks up at her from his position perched between her legs (the best way to get the stylus close enough to write so precisely on the delicate skin of her stomach…or so he tells himself, thinking that a Time Lord would be above such shallow matters. Then he shakes his head and realizes that it’s not worth lying to himself, as he likes being anywhere close to her) with an arched eyebrow. “Stop moving around, you’re going to make the lines go all wonky.”
Rose just sighs and raises her arms above her head, grasping onto the edges of a few pillows. The stylus still tickles, so she focuses on the Doctor’s palm smoothing out her skin, breathing deeply with every touch of his hand and each brush of his chin and nose as they touch her stomach. Her eyes flutter shut, and if it wasn’t for the tickling she could almost fall asleep right here.
The clinking of the stylus against the ink bottle brings her around again, and she leans up slightly to look at the Doctor, dancing his fingers around the swirled writing now surrounding her navel. “Well?” she asks. “What’s this one say?”
The Doctor just smiles that grin of his and begins to place kisses up the length of her torso. Each gap between is punctuated with a word. “I” —kiss- “believe” —kiss- “in” —kiss with the slightest hint of tongue- “you”. He hovers above her lips and stares at her, and Rose marvels at this man, this alien with a thousand years of experience in countless and immeasurable places, who has this deep faith in her, London shop girl barely out of her teenage years.
He’s close enough to kiss, she can almost taste it, but then he pulls away and she groans, hoping that he can sense her frustration. The Doctor grins again and sits up straight, but he doesn’t move from in between her legs. Instead, he picks up her left hand and rubs his fingers over the back of it, bringing the ink back to the surface. He then licks up her arm, revealing more and more of the writing. Rose’s brain decides to sit back and take a bit of a vacation, letting the feelings wash over her as she collapses back into the piles of pillows.
His tongue moves all over her skin, going to spots on her arm and places on her legs where they have written things, pulling the varied stories forward. He retraces the new one on her stomach, and stretches up to reveal the delicate lines inked on the slope of her breast. Rose moans softly, not knowing how much more of this she can take before she burns up totally. It’s all she can do to reach out a shaky hand and brush it against the small words she drew on his hip. The tiny movement brings his eyes back to hers, and makes him stretch up to finally kiss her properly.
Inevitably, they are separated, and time marches on, introducing new companions and new siblings and other people into their new lives. That’s what happens with time, as they both know. But as a wise man who the Doctor has had the fortune to encounter in a few incarnations has said: ‘Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.’ Because time is no fool, and neither is love, and sometimes they know exactly what they are doing...
Far away, in a parallel universe, Rose stares at her naked form in the mirror tacked to the inside of the wardrobe door. Roughly, she rubs her hands over her body, calling forth all of the words from Gallifrey that she collected in her too short a time with the Doctor. She does this to remember them, remember him, to look at what they had as the true treasure it was. It is barely a couple of months since she saw him on the beach, and yet it feels like forever long ago.
The black marks emerge on her skin, swirled lattices of writing over her pink and yellow-ness. She knows most of the words, has practiced writing them down in a special notebook with a lock on it so no one else can figure it out and so she can remember the translations. There is the lullaby on the back of her neck, his statement of belief on her stomach, the description of the view over the mountains of Gallifrey going up her leg like a curling vine, the small and simple words ‘I love you’ over her heart, a Shakespearean sonnet that runs up and down the curve of her spine, and the one that started it all, her name, Rose, interlocking circles on the back of her left hand. There are others she recognizes as well, and yet there are many that she doesn’t, the ones that the Doctor insisted go there even though he couldn’t remember what they said either.
But with careful study things suddenly start to make sense, and it makes her laugh and cry all at the same time. Maybe the Doctor didn’t realize it, but someone or something did, and it gave her the key to get home. She has had it with her all along, carried it in her skin with the rest of the story.
When she gets back to the TARDIS, it is all that the Doctor can do to let her out of his arms long enough to change her grimy clothes. Rose just laughs, kisses him long and hard, tells him she’ll be back in two minutes and if he wants he can watch her on the closed circuit television she knows the TARDIS would happily provide. In her room, unchanged in the ages since she’d been away but welcoming her back like another old friend, she spots the ink pot and stylus on a shelf.
Later on, when they are in bed and curled up so tight together that neither one of them can tell where one ends and the other begins, Rose retrieves the ink pot. The Doctor lies back with a nod, and as she begins to write the words of the key he had given her on his own skin, his hand combs gently through her hair and down her back, and she knows that she is home.