Rose cocked an eyebrow at him as he hunched to join her underneath the table’s large umbrella top. “Nope. Been here the whole time. Are you sure the suns aren’t gettin’ to ya, Doctor?”
He scoffed. “Not an ape, me.” It was probably the only time in their brief acquaintance that Rose had ever done as she was told and not run off. Admittedly, the warning he’d given her about New Sahara’s three suns being able to fry her brain inside her skull probably had something to do with it. He looked up at the sky. “We should be gettin’ back to the TARDIS soon, though, or when that third sun rises it’s going to get very uncomfortable for you very quickly.”
“All right. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“No. The merchant was very apologetic. Said he sold the last coupler an hour before we got here.”
She linked her arm through his and the Doctor started leading them back to the TARDIS. He was more annoyed about the coupler than he’d let on. Though not exactly a rare part, the fact that he’d missed one by such a slim margin only served as pointed reminder that they were about to get a whole lot harder to come by.
A familiar head of blonde hair caught his eye as they passed an alleyway. But it couldn’t be. The Doctor tensed his arm to confirm - entirely unnecessarily - that, yes, Rose was still beside him.
“You go on ahead.”
“I remembered something else I wanted to look for, but you need to get back to the TARDIS. I’ll only be a few minutes.” He pointed down the main thoroughfare. “You remember the way back, right? Straight down this road, left after the last house and the TARDIS will be right there.”
Rose rolled her eyes at him. “It’s not that complicated. I think I can remember the way, Doctor.”
“Go on then. Most likely I’ll catch up to you before you even make it back.”
He gave her a little wave as she walked off, waiting only long enough for her to move out of earshot before backing up the few feet to the alley.
Rose was leaning against the wall, flipping a coupler casually in her hand. She was older, leaner, and had finally become more discerning about the amount of eye makeup she wore. She smiled sadly when he approached her. “This is from you,” she said, dropping the coupler into his hand. “Said some alien would have gotten there at the same time as you were trying to buy it and caused a fuss.”
He slipped the coupler into his pocket. “Rose, you shouldn’t be here.”
“The suns aren’t really going to fry my brain, you know, I’d even figured it out back then.”
“I don’t mean that. I’m talking about paradoxes.”
“I’m not going to give you an abridged version of your future. I think you should give me a little credit.”
“But you already are! What are you, twenty-one? Twenty-two? I know you’re still traveling with me.”
“And that knowledge is so terrible,” she said, but it had the tiniest lilt of question to it.
Someone farther down the alley cleared their throat and Rose looked over her shoulder in that direction. He looked, too, but couldn’t see anyone.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
It hadn’t sounded like him. He told her as much.
“I think I know who my designated driver is, thank you very much. Besides, how many completely mad, utterly magnificent time traveling aliens do you think I’ve run off with in my life?”
There was a second, more pointed, noise from the third party in the alley.
“I should go.”
“Why won’t he let me see him?”
“You didn’t think you should.”
“Rose, is everything all right? Do you need help?”
She smiled, and it was one he wasn’t familiar yet with his Rose. “Everything’s great, Doctor.” She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him.
He returned the gesture, holding her close. She felt so different from his Rose, yet completely familiar. Then she stretched on her toes and pressed her lips against his. The kiss was largely one-sided, a testament to a phenomenon he’d heard of but had never been a party to: when only one of the people kissing has kissed the other before.
By the time his frankly magnificent Time Lord brain had processed all of the details, she was already pulling away. “You should go, too, I’m waiting for you back at the TARDIS.”
She walked away, fuzzing slightly when she came into contact with his other self, but he could see their hands joining, the comfortable way she leaned into him, and what appeared to be the quick drop of a kiss onto the top of her head.
He couldn’t help the stab of jealousy, even if it was his future self. He’d only known Rose about three months in his linear timeline, but that kiss more than confirmed that feelings he’d tried to bury would not only be accepted, but welcomed. The abridged version of his future, indeed.
When he got back to the TARDIS Rose was waiting for him in the console room. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
He smiled. “Absolutely.”