The Doctor stared wide-eyed at Rose, as if he'd never heard the word before. Or as if the telepathic circuits had suddenly failed, and all he'd heard was an incomprehensible ape grunt. "What d'you mean, no? You don't want to see what's outside?"
Rose just shrugged. She wouldn't even look up at him.
The Doctor pointed to the door. "There could be anything out there. You don't even know. There could be a green sunset hanging in a yellow sky, hundreds of meteors burning trails in the amber dusk .... No? Not interested?"
She sighed. "What year is it?"
"What year is it? It's -- " He poked almost experimentally at a couple of buttons on the console. "Well, the local calendar says it's the twenty-third Graffnik of the Vintreous Petrefax. Or by your calendar, that would be ... 1065 A.D." He looked up at her. "If we hurry, we could nip back to Earth and just catch the Battle of Hastings."
She laughed, with no humor behind it. "What's the point?"
He frowned. "What's the point?"
"Yeah, seriously. What difference does it make?" She had her arms folded across her chest. She was sitting in the bench near the console, and she looked for all the world like she just wanted to curl up and disappear.
The Doctor frowned again. He didn't think he'd ever seen her sitting there; come to think of it, he couldn't remember ever sitting there, himself. She was like him, normally, always in motion. Seeing her like this --
"What's the matter with you, then?"
"Well, look, it's all a bit useless, innit?" she said. "What's the point doing anything out there? It's all over and done with. I guess everything's ancient history to you, anyway, yeah? So why go, if we can't -- "
She couldn't finish her sentence.
"Change anything?" The Doctor finished it for her so quietly she didn't think, for a moment, that he'd spoken aloud at all. "That what this is about, then?"
Rose looked up at him, eyes bright with tears that wouldn't fall, and nodded.
"This is about your dad." The Doctor nodded slowly, his eyes distant. "That wasn't your fault."
"No. It wasn't." She looked away again, wouldn't meet his eyes. "You said we could change things. Back in Cardiff with the zombies and all, you said the past could change -- "
"That doesn't mean it's a good idea -- "
"You never told me any different."
"No. I didn't."
She finally did look at him again, and she couldn't read the look in his eyes at all. Some moments, like this, she remembered he wasn't human. Just human-shaped, like a shop-dummy come to life.
When he looked away from her he turned back to the console, started setting coordinates. The central column roared back to life.
" .... Where are we going?"
"Oh, you're interested now? I thought it didn't matter."
She stood up, came over next to him, tried to make sense of what she was looking at. "You're not -- you aren't taking me home, are you?
"Earth, yes. Home, no. Look, you can sit around in here and sulk all day if you want -- "
"Hey! That's not -- "
" -- but I've got things to do! People to see, places to go. You do what you want. But the world is going to keep on spinning without you. It's not going to stop while you lick your wounds, and wait for you to catch up."
She glared at him. "You're not being fair."
The TARDIS ground to a halt. He looked at her in surprise again. "When did I ever promise you I'd be fair?"
Without waiting for an answer, he stalked over to the hatstand, grabbed his leather jacket, and pulled it on. He picked a huge empty duffel bag off the floor and slung it over his shoulder.
Rose stared at the screen, trying to make some sense of the coordinates. " .... So where are we, then?"
"So you do care, then? Then come and have a look, if you want."
He reached out a hand to her. And that made all the difference. She summoned up a weak smile, pulled her grey hoodie tight around her, and stood up, stepped forward, took his hand. They walked out into city streets.
* * * *
Early cold morning. All these streets, still half-empty, the city just waking up.
One hour since they'd left the TARDIS, and Rose's mood had turned completely around. "I still can't believe we're here," she said again. She kept saying it.
"No. I mean, I was gonna come here last year, me and Shireen and some of the girls, but nothing ever came of it. We could't scrape up the money. And, well, Mickey didn't want me to go." She screwed up her face in a rueful smile. "If he only knew, yeah?"
The Doctor just smiled.
"Oh, God, can we do stupid tourist stuff while we're here? Would you mind? See the Statue of Liberty and all that?"
"If you like," the Doctor said.
She laughed. "That'd be something, wouldn't it? Just like we're regular people."
The Doctor nodded and looked at his watch again. He seemed to be doing that a lot.
He stopped suddenly, in the middle of the sidewalk. People pushed past them on either side, and he pulled her close.
"What? What's wrong?" she asked.
"Listen, Rose -- what you were saying before, about how I never told you any different -- "
"What? Oh." Her forehead furrowed, thinking back several tracks along their morning's conversation. "About changing things, you mean?"
"Yes. Look -- I'm sorry," he said, sounding strangely stiff and formal. She got the impression that those were words he never got used to saying. "I should have explained things to you. It's just, it's obvious, to me, so I don't think to. Look, suppose you were with Mickey, right now, instead of me -- would you think to tell him not to touch a hot stove?"
She smiled faintly. "I might do, yeah."
They both laughed. He looked at his watch again, looked around. "Ah. That'll do. C'mere a minute."
He led her into a convenience store. "Hold this," he said, handing her the duffel bag. "No, hold it open -- like that, good."
He started pulling things off the shelves, tossing them into his bag. She looked at him, puzzled, then started looking around for security cameras. "You going to pay for this lot, then?"
He nodded. "If there's time. Now listen. Changing things like we did with your dad, that was dangerous, right?"
"Right," she said. She could still see those dragons every time she closed her eyes to go to sleep at night. "But I don't -- "
"No, just listen. It was dangerous for two reasons. One, because we crossed our own timestream to do it. That made a weak point in time. Two, because you were acting on your knowledge of future events, and that's where the paradox comes from, do you see? It's a question of introducing information into the system without causality -- Rose, are you listening to a word I've said?"
"Yeah, but -- what do we need all this stuff for?" The Doctor was throwing first aid kits and bandages into the bag, meal bars, bottles of water. Like stocking a bomb shelter, Rose thought.
"In case of emergency. Listen. Look outside. What do you see?"
"I don't -- "
"What do you see?"
"Umm. Buildings, cars, people -- "
"People. That's right. Hundreds and hundreds of everyday people, going about their ordinary little lives. Do you know any of them?"
"No? You're sure? You don't know when they die, what happens to them -- you don't know when each sparrow falls?"
Rose just shook her head. The Doctor grabbed the bag and took it up to the counter, and the clerk started ringing things up. The Doctor looked back at Rose. "I'll meet you outside," he said.
Rose nodded, stepped outside, bewildered. Looked around.
What was she supposed to be looking at? People, cars, buildings --
She looked up and stared, her mouth hanging open, at buildings that should't be there.
The Doctor stepped outside, the small jingle of the bell on the door the only sound he made as he came to stand next to her, staring up, following her gaze. Blindly taking her hand.
" .... What year is this?" Rose asked, her voice very small.
"Just a few short years before we met," the Doctor said. "Right now, you're what, fifteen? You're safe and sound half a world away. You've not even met Shireen yet, or Mickey or any of them, have you? Haven't even talked about your trip yet. But you will meet them. You couldn't change any of that. Because you know it happened."
"What day is it? Is it -- "
"You know already. Stay here, Rose. Listen to me. It's not the future yet, but the future is coming. Can you feel it? The world turning under your feet. You can almost hear it. But listen to me, listen to my voice. Don't look up. Look around you."
She looked around. Looked at all the people, through eyes that were already blurring with tears. He was still talking. "Look at them. We change things, Rose. We change things all the time. I saved your life the day we met. Maybe that changed history. You saved mine. Maybe that did."
"Isn't there something we can do -- ?"
"To stop it? No. There's nothing. But look around. At all these ordinary lives. Maybe we can save some of them. Maybe we can set broken bones, keep people from inhaling too much smoke, or just hold a crying child. Help people find their wives, their friends, their loved ones. Help people pick up their lives and keep going. History is going to roll right over these people, Rose Tyler. But we can touch a few lives here and there. I have a question for you, Rose. Are you still listening?"
She held his hand tight, her eyes now closed. "Yes."
"Is that enough of a difference for you, Rose? Is it worth it? Is this worth doing?"
She opened her eyes, opened them wide, stared at him. " .... Are you kidding?" she asked. "Of course it is."
He beamed at her, his whole face lit up. He squeezed her hand. "Right answer."
He let go of her hand.
There was a sound like the end of the world.
She followed him, running, right at his side, as everything came apart. They were out in the streets, out in the middle of it all, before the second plane hit the other tower.