The Doctor parked the TARDIS in a little park across the street and a half block down from the nightclub. He insisted on escorting her to the door of the club. She was still doing her best to persuade him to join her.
“You could have a few drinks, enjoy the music, just relax a little,” she said. She’d been longing to do something with him on her planet in her own time for a while now. Preferably something that didn’t involve alien invasions, exploding buildings or her mother. She’d thought that neutral territory, a birthday celebration at a dance club might be just the thing, but apparently he disagreed with her. “You said yourself that Humans are one of your favorite alien species. Come on, Doctor, human beings in their natural habitat, celebrating a what did you call it?”
“A natal anniversary,” he supplied.
“Celebrating a natal anniversary. How can you resist? Thought it was your practically your mission to seek out new life forms and civilizations.”
“I think you’re confusing me with the Vulcan bloke again,” he sighed in feigned frustration. “It’s the ears, isn’t it?”
“Nah, you’re much more handsome than Mister Spock, maybe smarter too,” she giggled and bumped her shoulder against his.
“Smart enough to realize that you’re stroking my ego to get me to do what you want, you know,” he pointed out. “I have to admit it makes for an interestin’ change, but I’m still not comin’ inside the club with you.”
“But there has to be some amusement to be had just watching the natives, yeah?” She coaxed. “Think of it as a trip to a petting zoo, with music and drinks instead of um, petting.”
“It’s the drinks that lead to the petting, least it does with you lot,” he retorted archly.
“Oi!” She playfully swatted him with her little sequined evening bag and he smiled, shaking his head. He’d seemed bemused and unusually indulgent when she’d first asked him to bring her here this evening, and she’d already reminded him that Shireen had specifically included him in her invitation. For a moment she’d been sure he was tempted to come inside with her. She tried to think of the right thing to say to persuade him.
“After all, I was your plus one when you took me to Platform One, why can’t you be my plus one tonight? Probably not as exciting as tangling with a homicidal trampoline, but you might accidentally enjoy yourself.” She hung on his arm, wobbling a bit on her platform heels, the brick walk outside the club was a trifle uneven.
“Nah, you don’t need me taggin’ along. Go on, enjoy yourself,” he told her. “Spend time with your mates. I’ve maintenance to do, find that very relaxin’, me. Just call when you’re ready to leave and I’ll come and walk you back to the TARDIS.”
“This isn’t some dangerous backwater planet,” she teased. “And this is a perfectly respectable neighborhood. I think I can walk back to the TARDIS without fear of being attacked by the locals.”
“Rose,” he said, his eyes boring into hers. “Promise me you’ll call me and wait for me to come for you or I’ll be forced to stand outside this club for the rest of night waiting for you.”
“You would really wait half the night out here to keep me from walkin’ back to the TARDIS unescorted at two in the mornin’, but you aren’t willin’ to just come inside with me?” She asked him, eyebrows raised. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” he insisted giving her an annoyingly parental look.
“Fine,” she huffed, rolling her eyes. His stubborn expression told her she wasn’t talking him out of the escorting, it was easiest just to give in on it. It was times like this when she abruptly remembered that he really was a nine hundred year old man from another planet. The everyday intimacies of living and traveling together had rapidly enhanced her appreciation of him as familiar, trusted, even beloved. This amazing man really was nine centuries old, had been born and raised on another planet. But he’d stopped being alien to her months ago.
It was probably just as well, him refusing to join her, really. According to Shireen, half her mates were positive she was shagging her mysterious employer and the other half thought she was suffering from unrequited love because he was so oblivious he hadn’t even noticed she was a woman. Both assumptions were embarrassing, the second was a little too close to the truth for comfort. She’d thought his presence would prevent them from asking awkward questions. It had just occurred to her that it would also increase speculation. There was no telling what he might say or do to make things even more awkward than they already were. It had been silly of her to even ask him, she realized, blushing just a bit.
“I mean it, Rose,” he said, suddenly looking all domineering and heartbreakingly sexy. As annoying as his stubborn protective streak could be, it was also flattering and at times like this, downright arousing. “Promise me.”
“I promise,” she said, softly, and she meant it. It was one of the ways he showed her that he valued her companionship. That he fussed over her safety at the oddest times, when there seemed to be no real threat was a small price to pay. The sudden transformation of his expression was very nearly comical, going from dark and broody to delightedly triumphant in an instant. She felt something tug just below her navel and she shivered in reaction to the raw, unconscious sensuality of him. It had been happening more often the past week or so, but it took her surprise every damn time.
“Go on then,” he urged, smiling indulgently down at her. “You must be freezin’ out here, half dressed like that, in this cold. “Just go enjoy yourself, Rose. No alien invasions, no complications, just a bit of fun. Give Shireen my regards, many happy returns on the day, and all that.”
He handed her the small wrapped package he’d been carrying for her, Shireen’s birthday gift. When she took it he leaned forward to press his lips briefly against her forehead. He retraced his steps to the curb before turning to watch as she flashed her ID at the door and paid the cover charge. She met his gaze before she went inside, noticing that beautifully indulgent smile of his lingering on his familiar, daft face.
She did enjoy herself, more than she’d expected she would. She spent much of her time on the dance floor, thirsty work, so she’d had more to drink than she’d intended. The club was more spacious than it looked from the outside with a proper dance floor and the music was live, a very good cover band. She’d quickly fallen back into the familiar social rhythm of dancing, laughing and shouting to her friends over the music. She hadn’t done this since she’d run off in the TARDIS. She’d hoped to see Mickey, but apparently he’d sent his regrets because his boss had needed him to overhaul an engine that a customer wanted by Sunday morning.
As anticipated, all evening her friends had teased her mercilessly about her employer, the mystery man Shireen was convinced she was shagging. She’d told them all quite truthfully that she wasn’t but the more she’d insisted the less anyone believed her, any more than her mum had. She’d also discovered that her mum had told everyone that she and the Doctor traveled all over the world researching cures for deadly diseases, so she’d been fielding questions about that as well. She guessed it was as good a lie as any. It wasn’t like anyone was going to believe the truth even if she could tell them, which she obviously couldn’t.
Before they’d left the TARDIS the Doctor had tucked a wad of notes into her bag while she fussed over the ribbon on Shireen’s gift. He’d told her to buy a round of drinks with it. He’d given her enough money to buy a dozen rounds, she realized, eyes widening as she pulled out the notes to pay for her round. Shireen was looking at her speculatively.
At that moment it was just the two of them at the large table her friends had claimed, filling with wrapped presents, evening bags, sweaters and coats. Everyone else had either gone outside for a smoke, joined the queue for the loo or were playing snooker in an adjacent room. The musicians were taking a break. The canned dance music was playing at a much lower volume than the band, so it was possible for the two of them to have a conversation without shouting.
“It’s payday,” she explained, peeling two notes from the thick bundle to toss on the tray with the empties. She shoving the remaining notes back into the depths of her bag. “Just got a raise.”
“Travelin’ with him certainly agrees with you,” Shireen observed. “It’s gotta be a lot more excitin’ than workin’ in a department store.”
“It is,” she agreed. “I’m learnin’ so much, doin’ and seein’ things I couldn’t have even have dreamed of, Shireen. It’s important work he does, savin’ lives. Sometimes I pinch myself to be sure it isn’t all just some kind of dream. Just dumb luck, me stumbling into this opportunity.” She shrugged, embarrassed. “You know I keep thinkin’ he’s goin’ to figure it out one day. Realize he can find a more interesting companion, someone posher, more educated, and then he’ll--” She swallowed hard and grabbed for her drink, taking a sip to cover her embarrassment at what had just popped out of her mouth.
It had been the most natural thing to fall back into the old habit of sharing confidences with her friend, nearly forgetting for a moment that there were some things she couldn’t tell Shireen about her new life. Most things. She’d been gone for more than a year from Shireen’s perspective. Everyone had been commenting this evening on how different she was. Mickey and her Mum had said the same thing the last time she’d been home.
“Don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Shireen said quietly. “He’s the bloke who walked you to the door of the club tonight, right?”
Rose nodded. There had been several people milling about outside the club. Obviously someone had seen the two of them together and commented on it.
“I’d just stepped out to return a phone call. Gareth had gotten lost. I was givin’ him directions, when you two walked right past me,” Shireen grinned. “The two of you were so wrapped up in one another I think you could have overlooked a giraffe standin’ there, I swear. Funny how you never once mentioned that he’s just dead sexy. Not a boy, that one, old enough to know what he wants, that one. And it’s plain as the nose on your face that it’s you he wants.”
“He doesn’t,” she said, keeping her voice low but insistent. “He really doesn’t, Shireen. You misread him, that’s just the way he his. It doesn’t mean anythin’, not to him.”
“I saw the way he was lookin’ at you,” Shireen said, leaning forward. “Lettin’ you hang all over his arm, come on, Rose. It’s just the two of us, I can keep a secret, you know. Is he married or something?”
“No!” Rose whispered, flushing. “No, he’s um, he’s a widower, has been for a long time. He doesn’t have any family left now, they’re all dead. That’s why he travels, nothing to hold him. We really aren’t shagging, Shireen, I swear. We’re just comfortable with one another is all, spending so much time travelin’ together. He doesn’t see me that way, really.”
“So what were you arguin’ with him about?”
“We weren’t arguin’!” Her friend rolled her eyes and shook her head in exasperation.
“Okay, what were you discussing, when he got a little cross?”
“Oh, he was just telling me to call him to come for me when the party was over. Didn’t want me walkin’ back to our, um hotel unescorted. He’s chivalrous that way, has old fashioned manners.”
“So you told him it wasn’t necessary?”
“Yeah, sometimes he gets overprotective. I just reminded him we’re in London, not some foreign backwater. He’s a gentleman, that’s all, and of course he’s grown fond of me. It doesn’t mean that he fancies me or anything.”
“You’re right,” Shireen agreed and Rose smiled.
“I don’t think he fancies you, I think he’s madly in love with you,” Shireen continued. Rose groaned in frustration, shaking her head. “Now just shut it and listen to me for a minute. I saw more than you did, obviously. The way he was checkin’ you out when you weren’t payin’ attention, how angry he got there for a minute when you didn’t want to call him to come for you. He was worried half sick that somethin’ might happen to you, Rose. I could see it in those eyes of his. Those incredible eyes,” Shireen shivered, rubbing her bare arms. “Lookin’ into those eyes of his is like skinny dippin’ in a moonlit lake.”
“I swear to you that we’re not shagging, he’s never even kissed me,” Rose insisted.
“He kissed you right in front of this club! I saw it,” Shireen retorted.
“Oh, that.” She paused, thinking of the sweet brush of his lips against her forehead, positive that it meant nothing to him. “He just does that,” she said, dismissing it with a wave of her hand.
“Are you insane? I saw the whole thing, Rose. It was just like in the movies, sweet, romantic, kissing your forehead, standin’ there to be sure you got safely inside. Oh my God, the look on his face while he was lookin’ at you while you had your back to him, paying your cover. You didn’t see that look, Rose, I did.”
Shireen snatched her mobile out of her evening bag, evading her attempt to grab it back as she brought up the menu. “Did he program his number into your phone or did you?” Shireen asked.
“He did,” she admitted. “Don’t you dare call him, Shireen. He’s busy.”
“I’m not callin’ him, just wantin’ to see if he put himself at the top of the directory. If he did, then he most definitely wants to shag you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she insisted, completely exasperated. Shireen was scrolling through her directory, frowning. “What’s he listed as?”
“TARDIS,” she said, remembering as she said it that he had indeed programmed it as the first number in her directory, but not for the reasons Shireen thought. He’d been thinking of her calling him in some life or death emergency, that was about as far from a booty call as you could get.
“I thought his name was Smith.”
“TARDIS is a little joke we have,” she said, thinking fast. “It’s a tropical disease he’s been workin’ on the cure for.”
“There it is, TARDIS!” Shireen said triumphantly as she scrolled back up to the top of the menu. She dropped the phone back onto Rose’s little evening bag. “When did you fall in love with him, was it love at first sight or did it take a while?”
Rose lowered her gaze, suddenly taking great interest in a coaster, sliding it across the polished surface of the table.
“Come on,” Shireen coaxed. “I swear I won’t repeat it to anyone, you know I won’t. I never did tell Mickey about that bloke you snogged on the train, did I?”
“No,” Rose whispered. “No, you never did.” Shireen’s hand closed over hers and squeezed it. It seemed odd for someone besides the Doctor to do that now. It had become a casual thing between them, the touching of hands. It meant so very much to her, and there were times when she fancied it might mean a little something to him as well, but she was afraid to hope for more. She was even more afraid of doing something to reveal her attraction to him, making a fool of herself.
“You love him and you really don’t think he’s interested,” Shireen said. “But you’re wrong, dead wrong. He’s plenty interested, he was looking at you the way a man who hasn’t eaten in three days looks at a steak. Maybe he’s still grieving for what he’s lost, maybe he thinks you’re too young for him or he’s afraid you’ll reject his advances and quit, but I’m telling you, that brilliant, gorgeous Doctor of yours, is interested.”
“We were in this cellar,” Rose said softly, “I hadn’t been travelin’ with him for long at all, it was only the second, um country he took me to. It was probably the most unromantic place in the world, a morgue for cryin’ out loud. We were surrounded by corpses and gaslight, no electricity in that village.” Rose shook her head, still fingering the coaster, spinning it around. “The disease he’d been tryin’ to cure was spreadin’ out of control. For a moment we both thought we were going to end up dead as well, and it would have been an awful way to go. He was apologizin’ for exposin’ me to danger, like he always does.”
She swallowed hard, remembering, the dank floor beneath her feet, the gaslight, the stench of death and decay. She felt the echo of her terror as she faced the inevitability of becoming a Gelth animated corpse. She laughed, an anxious, embarrassed little laugh to clear the sudden lump that had formed in her throat and chase away the darker recesses of this memory. She met her best friend’s expectant gaze. “He just slid his hand into mine, tight and said, ‘I’m so glad I met you.’”
“What did you say?”
“Wow,” Shireen said softly. “Did he find the cure?”
“Course he did,” she said, knowing her pride in him had to be visible. Maybe it was the alcohol in her system, or the burning need to tell someone, anyone, but it felt so good to be able to share even a carefully edited version of her experience with Shireen. In an odd way it seemed to connect the yawning chasm between his world and hers just to talk to her about him.
“You’re in love with him.” It wasn’t a question.
“Completely,” she breathed, breaking into a sudden grin. Shireen grinned as well and then they were giggling like adolescents
“Ready for the next round of drinks?” Shireen said brightly and Rose looked over her shoulder to see Shireen’s new boyfriend approaching the table where they were sitting. “I believe that Gareth is buying this round, aren’t you, love?”
When the musicians returned from their break she’d danced some more. Shireen opened her gifts, they ordered and consumed bar food and a birthday cake baked by Gareth, who was obviously a keeper. There was more dancing and another few rounds of drinks. She’d lost track of the number of drinks she’d had, which wasn’t something she usually did. She did remember buying a second round of drinks and telling Shireen that it on the Doctor, relaying his message. As she was returning from her third trip to the loo she noticed Shireen. Her friend had her mobile pressed to one ear, her finger jammed into the other ear, walking rapidly away from the rest of her friends toward the front door of the club. Whatever she was saying to whoever she was talking to on the mobile was lost in the roar of the music.
Shireen’s boyfriend, Gareth distracted her by pulling her out onto the dance floor, even though she was starting to wobble on her heels a bit. Gareth was sweet and he obviously adored Shireen. She loved the fact that he was a gentleman on the dance floor. She closed her eyes, swaying to the music, grateful it was a slow dance. She was more than a bit tipsy for anything more challenging and getting very tired. She was imagining a cool hand laced through hers, restless, work roughened fingertips moving over her bare back. While she was in fantasy mode she decided she wanted his lips against the side of her neck just behind her ear, the sensitive spot that made her shiver if anyone touched it.
When the dance was over, Gareth thanked her, leaving her to join a beckoning Shireen at the table. She glanced at the clock on the wall, realizing that she’d missed the last call while she was in the loo. Moving with the exaggerated care of a woman who had had way too much alcohol in her system, she turned to follow Gareth back to the table. Intent upon her need to call the Doctor to meet her outside, she turned smack into him. Startled, she swayed on her feet and his arms slid around her, steadying her as another song began. She stared at him. Had she called him before she went to the loo and forgotten? No, she wasn’t that far gone.
“My dance, I believe,” he said.
“How did you get in here?” she asked, blinking because for a moment there she was seeing two of him. Not good. Her head was swimming. That last mango martini had been a mistake. She blinked again and there was just one of him, more than enough to make her heart do that odd little skipping thing it did when she was this close to him.
“Shireen called me and told me it was time to come get you,” he said, looking bemused.
“Oh,” she said. “Must have done that while I was in the loo.” They weren’t dancing, really, just swaying to the music. In her condition actual dancing would probably not be a really good idea, even without a very solid Time Lord holding her in his arms just in case she toppled off her shoes. “How did you get in?”
“Showed my ID and paid the cover charge,” he responded, looking at her like she was a taco shy of a combo plate. “The usual way. Have you been enjoying yourself?”
“Maybe a little too much,” she confided.
“I finished up my repairs about an hour ago,” he said. “Thought you might spare me a dance before I walked you home. Did Shireen like her earrings?”
“Yeah, she really did,” she said, smiling as she remembering the earrings she’d bought for her friend on a planet a billion light years from here. “She wanted to know where I found them.”
“And what did you tell her?” he asked, guiding her in a slow, tight little circle, one hand on the small of her back, the other clasped with hers and pressed against his chest.
“Tanzania,” she replied.
“Do you even know where Tanzania is?” he asked. He was smiling at her looking bemused and indulgent again.
“No, and neither does Shireen, so that’s okay.”
He chuckled and she yawned, leaning her head against the leather lapel of his jacket, the familiar solidity of him reassuring.
“You smell really good,” she said. “Like incense or cinnamon or something.”
“Just took a shower, must be the shower gel I got at that little shop on Taural. The same place where you got the banana scented body lotion, remember?”
“Smells really good, what’s it supposed to be?”
“Blend of local spices, it’s their signature product. I like the way it smells, too, probably should go back and stock up on it. You could get more of the banana body lotion if you like.” He sighed, his hand moving restlessly on her exposed back exactly the way she had imagined that it would. The cool sensation of his skin against hers was marvelous and incredibly sensuous.
“You smell good too,” he said. “Like orange blossoms, such an exotic scent.”
“Exotic?” she snorted. “Orange blossoms? Common as dishwater, what are you on about?”
“I didn’t grow on a planet with orange trees,” he reminded her. “To me, orange blossoms are exotic. So are you, come to think of it. You’re an exotic little ape from Sol Three.”
“I guess I am.” she said, concentrating so hard on that idea for a moment that it almost made her head swim. “Hope it doesn’t clash.”
“Hope what doesn’t clash with what?” he asked, without any trace of impatience or exasperation in his tone.
“Hope the scent of my orange blossom shampoo doesn’t clash with the scent of your alien shower gel,” she said, giggling.
“Nah, we complement one another.”
They swayed in another circle before he spoke again.
“Is there some significance in all the glitter? I’ve never seen you wear it before. You’ve even got it in your hair.”
“Just wear it for special occasions, it’s a bath bomb. You just toss it into a tub of hot water and it dissolves. When you get in the glitter sticks to your skin. Just somethin’ girls in this century on this planet do when they want to look special.”
“I see,” he said, sounding intrigued. “Ingenious. How long does it last?”
“Depends on how often you bathe and how hard you scrub, just a day or two, usually,” She raised her head and fluttered her eyelashes at him. “So, does it make me look special?”
“No,” he said, meeting her gaze.
She pushed out her lower lip, pouting. He laughed.
“You don’t need glitter to look special, Rose,” he said, his voice low and intimate.
She was thinking about what Shireen had said about his eyes as she stared into them, realizing she was right. They did make her think of skinny dipping’ in a moonlit lake. She imagined skinny dipping’ with him in a moonlit lake and nearly shivered. He was still staring at her, she realized. Expectantly. Was it her turn to say something? She concentrated. What had he just said?
“Oh!” she said, finally processing his complement. “What a sweet thing to say!”
“You are special, Rose,” he whispered.
“Well, so are you,” she whispered back, enthralled.
A minute later she yawned and dropped her head against his chest again, sliding her free hand beneath his jacket and around his waist, snuggling closer and sighing in tipsy contentment.
“Sleepy?” he asked.
“No,” she lied, afraid if she said yes he would stop dancing with her. She didn’t know if he’d heard her answer with her nose and mouth pressed into his jumper. Now she could inhale that spicy scent mingling with the smell of battered leather and the tantalizingly elusive but pleasing fragrance that had only intensified after three days in an alien prison cell. That’s how she knew it came from him.
“Good timing, me,” He said. “Not only am I getting the last dance of the night. Shireen even saved me a piece of birthday cake. She’s a force of nature, isn’t she?”
“Hurricane Shireen,” Rose giggled. “She wanted to know why your number on my mobile said TARDIS.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“That It was a little joke between the two of us,” she replied. “It’s the name of a tropical disease you’re workin’ on the cure for.”
“I work on cures for tropical diseases?”
“And how did she get that impression?” He still sounded bemused, she thought, which was good. Spicy smelling, bemused and indulgent Doctor beat curmudgeonly, completely mud-encrusted and indignant Doctor hands down in her book. Funny the difference one week could make. She’d made a little joke about the word mud being in the word curmudgeonly and he’d threatened to take her dictionary away from her. He did that if the word of the day could be used in a sentence to describe him, she’d noticed.
“Could be something my mum said to her friend Bev, who then told the old lady who works at the chip shop, and then she told--”
“Somehow, it got back to Shireen,” he prompted, interrupting her, but it was good. She couldn’t remember who the lady at the chip shop had told, her brain was getting very fuzzy.
“Well, in Mum’s defense, she had to come up with some kind of explanation for me disappearin’ without a word for an entire year,” she said. “Something besides being sold into slavery or havin’ amnesia or takin’ a twelve hour trip with a mysterious alien in a little blue box and him mistakin' twelve hours for twelve months.”
“Touche,” he said. “So before we walk over to the table where your friends are, maybe you should tell me exactly what I’ve been doing for the past fifteen months, what my cover story is. All I know right now is that I helped you pick out Shireen’s earrings in Tanzania.”
“Well, you did.”
“I helped you pick them out on Hazlomanticore Five,” he said. Sometimes he could be fussy about petty little details like that.
“Couldn’t tell her that, could I?” she said, sounding a little put out.
“No,” he sounded a little apologetic. There was a pause.
“So what is it they think we do, Rose?” he asked.
“They think you travel all over the world curing diseases in third world countries.”
“Well, you insist on calling yourself Doctor,” she said. “Third world countries, no mobile service, bad mail delivery. Oh and she maybe said you’re a little eccentric.”
“Howard Hughes eccentric or Albert Einstein eccentric?”
“Einstein,” she lied with absolutely no twinge of guilt. There was no way she was ever telling him that her mother had thought he ate grass and safety pins.
“And what have you been doing while I cure diseases in third world countries?” he asked, sounding like he was on the verge of laughter.
“Depends on who you ask,” she said, blushing.
“Oh.” He took a while to think that one over, she noticed. “I take it there are a number of speculative theories.”
“That’s right,” she said.
“So when your friends asked you what you have been doing while you’ve been traveling with me all this time, what did you tell them?”
“Um, that I’m your companion, kind of an assistant, really. You’re this genius, see, saving lives by curin’ all these rare diseases nobody has ever heard of. I make your tea and polish your boots, talk on the phone--”
“Just to be clear,” he interrupted. “This imaginary version of me that you and your mother co-invented has some kind of aversion to talking on the phone and he makes you polish his boots?”
“It’s not an aversion, just something you delegate, like the boots and the tea,” she said, defensively.
“Okay, what else?”
“Oh, I almost forgot, I also type up your lab notes and the papers you write for all the medical journals, because your handwriting is just impossible for anyone else to read. You’re too busy being brilliant to bother with all that, it’s a waste of your intellect, isn’t it? You check it after, to correct all my mistakes, though. You’re very picky that way. Let’s see, I do your laundry.” She paused for a moment. “That’s about it”
“I see,” he said and this time she could hear the laughter in his voice, could feel the rumble of it in his chest.
“You asked me what I said, what’s so amusing?” she demanded, almost indignant.
“It’s just that you made yourself sound awfully subservient,” he said, gently. “Since we’re just making all of it up anyway, let’s give you some credit for inspirin’ a cure or two. It would be closer to what you really do.”
“Really?” she asked, her heart accelerating at the compliment.
“Sure, I’ll slip it into the conversation causally when we say good night.”
She swallowed hard. Sometimes he could just be so unexpectedly sweet. One minute he was all muddy and crabby and the next he was offering to make her look good in front of her friends without her even asking him to.
“I’m sorry about the crack I made about the mud,” she said, genuinely apologetic. Her heart hadn’t been in her apology the last time she said it and she was fairly certain he’d known it.
“I already forgave you for that a week ago,” he assured her. “That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask, what is today’s word?”
“Hedonistic,” she said.
“Pleasure seeking, sensual, self-indulgent,” she replied with clarity and speed that surprised her, seeing as how she was three sheets to the wind.
“Have you worked it into casual conversation yet?”
“Been kinda workin’ up to it,” she said, chewing on her bottom lip. “Not the easiest thing to do without soundin’ a bit odd.”
“Bet you twenty quid you can’t do it before we leave the club,” he challenged, grinning at her.
“Ha,” she crowed, “I’ll take that bet! If you thought I was too embarrassed to use such a fancy word with my mates, you’re sadly mistaken, Doctor.
The music ended. They stopped moving.
“Come on, time to take you home,” he said, his grin suddenly fading.
“Take me home?” she repeated in dismay, her heart plummeting to the bottom of her ribcage. She knew she was drunk, but he’d seemed more amused than upset about it until just now. He was going to take her home to her mum. Apparently he didn’t want to be burdened with a drunken companion. “Why?” she asked. Her voice came out all quavery and pleading and she realized she was close to tears.
“It’s closin’ time,” he told her, giving her an odd look. He probably could tell she was upset. Those eyes of his didn’t miss much, but surely he knew how humiliated she’d be if he woke her mum in the wee hours to dump her off until she sobered up. Suddenly his expression brightened the way it did when he’d just figured something out. “I meant time to take you home to the TARDIS, Rose. Cause you live with me now, remember?”
“Oh,” she relaxed, feeling more than a bit silly and a tad defensive. ”Course I remember I don’t live with Mum anymore. I just thought when you said--” she paused, suddenly realizing how ridiculous she must sound. The oddest thing about it was that he was just smiling at her, patiently waiting for her to catch up with him. He wasn’t a bit cross. He was looking at her like she was -- her brain flailed about looking for the right word. “Exotic!” she said, giggling triumphantly. She realized she’d said it out loud, but he wasn’t frowning or asking her what she meant by it. She sighed with relief. It was no wonder she was in love with him. Sometimes, when she didn’t expect it, he could just be so fantastic . “You meant you were taking me home to the TARDIS, with you. I knew that.”
“Now that we’ve cleared that up,” he said, trying not to laugh. “We ought to say good night to your mates before we leave.”
“There’s a good idea,” she said, “Doctor, I’m sorry I drank so much, it’s a bit embarrassin’, really.”
“It’s fine,” he assured her. “You’re fine. Let’s go say good night.”
“Oh, since you aren’t actually mad at me, now is probably a good time to mention that you just gave me a much overdue raise,” she whispered. “I’ll explain why later, yeah?”
She looked up at him. His lips were twitching and his eyes were sparkling. She was pretty sure he was trying not to laugh again.
“I’ll look forward to that,” he said, his left arm sliding around her waist to steady her as they left the dance floor to make their farewells.
He kept his arm around her, his fingers cool through the thin fabric of her dress. His leather clad sleeve rubbed pleasantly against her bare back as he steered her toward the table where her friends were. They were all staring at her mysterious employer, who might also be her lover, with open curiosity.
The Doctor greeted each and every one of them in turn as Shireen made introductions. She referred to him simply as Rose’s Doctor and he seemed perfectly fine with it.
“I was beginning to think you didn’t really exist,” Adrianna said. “My theory was that you were something Jackie hallucinated after getting pissed one quiz night down at the local. How did the two of you ever meet in the first place?”
“We met at Henrik’s,” the Doctor said in a very pleasant tone. “I’m rubbish at shopping and Rose was invaluable. She made such an impression on me that I offered her a job on the spot.”
“I said no at first,” she added, warming to the invented narrative. “But then the store blew up and suddenly I was looking for a job.”
“Lucky coincidence,” Gareth said.
“Lucky for me,” the Doctor said, sounding so sincere she knew he wasn’t just saying it to make her look good in front of her friends. She could hear his words in her head, just as he’d said them in that dank basement in Cardiff. I’m so glad I met you!
“Rose has gone from invaluable to completely irreplaceable,” he continued. “Can’t imagine what I’d do without her.”
“Probably your own laundry,” Adrianna said, snickering.
Rose remembered now why she’d never much liked Adrianna. Shireen was glaring at her.
“Rose was just telling me about the time you thought you’d both been exposed to one of the diseases you were trying to cure, Doctor,” Shireen said. “It sounds like some of the work the two of you do is very dangerous.”
“Sometimes it can be,” he agreed, nodding. He turned his head to look at Rose, his arm tightening around her waist as he favored her with a little smile. “Rose has this instinct for seeing things I miss. I can’t tell you how many lives she’s saved just by pointing out some little detail that totally escaped me.”
Rose was flushing. She couldn’t believe he’d just said that.
“Sounds like it sure beats working in a department store,” Gareth said, putting one arm around Shireen. “It also sounds like the two of you make a perfect team.”
“We do,” the Doctor said. “You wouldn’t believe what Rose has had to put up with to be with me, the most primitive conditions imaginable. I could never afford to pay her what she’s really worth.” He looked directly at Arianna, holding her gaze. “Most young women her age couldn’t cope with my peripatetic lifestyle, but Rose thrives on the challenges, keeps my spirits up, she does, especially when things look bleak. Just a week ago tonight we were up to our ears in mud and she was the one crackin‘ jokes about it, weren’t you, Rose?”
“I was,” she said, trying to look modest. “It’s not a very hedonistic lifestyle, I’ll admit, but it’s important, your work.”
“Our work,” he said. “So much better with two.”
“It is,” she agreed, unable to take her eyes off his. “Makin’ a difference, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. He pulled her into an impulsive hug, lifting her off her feet and they both laughed. When he put her down everyone was staring at the two of them, Arianna’s mouth was hanging half open, and Shireen had a very smug look on her face.
“Best be off, lovely to meet all of you. So nice to meet you, to finally put faces to the names,” the Doctor said. Shireen handed him a cardboard pastry box that obviously held the birthday cake she’d promised him.
“Thanks Shireen, love chocolate, me.”
“It’s a big enough piece to share,” she said, suggestively.
“Oh, of course,” he said, wedging it into his jacket pocket. “We’ll split it right down the middle, half and half. That’s what Rose and I usually do.”
He was telling her nothing more than the truth, they usually did split desserts, but Shireens eyes were sparkling mischievously.
“Oh, and I almost forgot!” Shireen said grabbing the mobile she’d used to call him off the table next to her evening bag. She handed it to the Doctor who smiled, nodded his head and slid it into an inside pocket for safekeeping.
She collected her evening bag. “We have an early flight in the morning.”
“Where to?” Gareth asked, genuinely interested.
“Little village in Kazakhstan,” the Doctor replied. “The ground travel will take twice as long as the flight and it’s going to be well below freezing. Speaking of freezing,” he paused, shrugged out of his jacket and put it over Rose’s shoulders. “There, don’t want you catching your death on the way back to our hotel.”
Rose hugged Shireen and so did the Doctor, he also shook hands with Gareth, promising to keep in touch.
Rose had decided at some point she was hallucinating. The Doctor took her hand, tugging her gently toward the door, standing close as if he was afraid she might topple over at any minute.
“Shireen and Gareth are a cute couple,” he said conversationally. “And you won our bet, you exotic, clever little ape,” he said, looking smug and incredibly proud of her.
“Thanks,” she said, still in shock.
“So what’s tomorrow’s word going to be?” he asked, swinging their clasped hands a bit.
“That word you used that began with a p, probably means travelin’, or somethin’ similar,” she responded, her head spinning again.
“Peripatetic,” he supplied.
“Doctor,” she bumped her shoulder into his, affectionately. “Thank you, for what you said about me to them. That was-- I never expected you to--”
“I meant every word,” he said with complete sincerity, pausing to pull his jacket more snugly around her. “Except for the part about us going to Kazakhstan, of course. All of time and space at our disposal, better places to go than Kazakhstan. I think I’m gonna take you to a beach somewhere, peaceful and tropical. How does that sound?”
“But no diseases, right?” she asked, grinning up at him and poking this tip of her tongue between her teeth, teasing him.
“No diseases,” he assured her, grinning.
“Sounds good to me,” she agreed. As they stepped out into the cold night air they were both laughing and holding hands.
She opened her eyes ten hours later with a slight headache and no memory of anything after they walked out of the club together. She was tucked neatly into her bed, wearing one of her more conservative night shirts over her underwear. She found a glass of ice water and some headache tablets on her nightstand, right next to twenty quid and a scrap of paper with the word peripatetic written on it.
He hadn’t disturbed her as he so often did when she slept late, waiting patiently for her to emerge from her room. He was incredibly sweet to her for the rest of the day, treating her with the same care he had the one time she’d had food poisoning. True to his word he found a breathtakingly beautiful planet with palm trees and deep turquoise oceans. They walked hand in hand across a lavender beach as the sun sank slowly toward the horizon. He’d led her to a large flat rock, pulling the box of cake and a plastic fork out of one pocket and from the other pocket two icy cold bottles of water.
They sat there, sharing the sunset and the cake. He held the first forkful out to her and she opened her mouth to accept it. The cake was dense, dark and moist with thick chocolate frosting. She’d had a slice last night. They alternated forkfuls, him continuing to feed her. They ate in silence, sipping their water and sharing the cake until it was gone. He had a little smudge of frosting on his lower lip and she reached up to wipe it off. His hands were full, she rationalized. Without thinking she popped her forefinger into her mouth, catching an intensely smoldering look on his face just as she heard her mobile ring.
She frowned in confusion. It took her a moment to remember that Shireen had handed the phone to him last night and he’d slipped it in his pocket. She reached into his jacket pocket, digging almost up to her elbow, groping for the mobile. She finally retrieved it she glanced up through her lashes at him. He’d been sitting on the rock, quiet and still as she’d searched. He was smiling the same way he had last night, like she was some kind of a puzzle he was trying to figure out. An exotic puzzle. While she opened it to see who had just called, he busied himself, folding up the pastry box and tucking it, the fork and his empty water bottle back into his pockets.
The text was from Shireen: Wot R U w8in 4? Just shag him already!
She grinned, shutting off the phone and slipping it into her jacket pocket.
“Something important?’ he asked.
“Important but not urgent,” she said, sighing.
“You okay?” he asked, looking concerned.
“Yeah, really happy. Content,” she said, reaching out to take and squeeze his hand as she looked at the spectacular colors of the sunset blazing overhead and reflecting in the water. “Apparently our peripatetic lifestyle really agrees with me.”
“I hadn’t realized how much until last night,” he said, turning away from the breathtakingly beautiful sunset to smile at her in a way that made her heart skip a couple of beats. “I’m so glad it does.”
They walked back to the TARDIS hand in hand as the first star of the evening appeared. Sharing a companionable silence. It was on the tip of her tongue several times during the next few days to ask him about the part of the previous evening that she couldn’t remember, but she decided against it. She cherished the memory of what she could remember and that seemed like more than enough.