And he remembered:
They are sitting, just him and Rose, with their legs dangling off of what amounts for a pier on this strange, alien world. The ocean below is darker and more purple than an Earth ocean, and the water not actually water, chemically speaking. But as the second sun sets, it casts a shimmering light on the gentle waves, and if you squint just right…well, it looks an awful lot like Earth.
He remembers the lightness of the air passing over him, even through his leather jacket. He remembers the heaviness on his hearts, thinking about everyone who’d died earlier that day in one of his typical mishap adventure-gone-wrong.
Beside him, (such a young) Rose sits in her grey hoodie and baggy jeans, swinging her legs contentedly. She is happy to just be sitting for a bit with him, watching the not-water. Easy-going that way, Rose is.
“You’re still thinking about it,” she remarks after a moment, and he jolts. She has absolutely no telepathic ability, and yet it shocks and pleases and frightens him that she doesn’t seem to need it to read his mind.
She senses his reaction, squeezes his hand. She won’t say any more, at least not until he’s ready.
“I should have saved them,” he murmurs at last. “They died; so many of them died. It shouldn’t have been like that. I should have been able to save them.” This feeling is poison, he knows, but the weight of it, the familiar taste of regret in his mouth is too much; it’s dry and ashy, and he can’t spit it all out.
Rose tilts her head, squinting a little in the low light of the setting sun. Her hair drifts in the breeze, shifting back over her shoulder. “Hmm,” she says, considering him.
He waits. “What?” (Why exactly is she eyeing him like that?)
Rather than answer, she scoots over closer to him and starts to pat his back, not in a friendly, there-there sort of way. No, this is more exploratory than that, like she is searching for something.
“…Rose?” he asks, taken aback. She ignores him and shifts up onto her knees behind him, leaning in close. With one hand, she grasps the collar of his jacket and pulls it back, and then (the utter cheek of her!) she peeks down the back of his jumper.
“What in the name of the seven systems are you doing?” he demands, trying to keep his voice steady because she doesn’t know, she can’t know what the whisper-feeling of her hair falling on his neck is doing to him.
“Just checking,” she answers succinctly and unhelpfully.
“Right,” he grumbles. “Checking for what exactly?”
She doesn’t answer, just hums in response, and he thinks that he should stop whatever this is that she is doing, but then her fingers actually dip down under his jumper to caress the skin of his shoulders, and he’s momentarily speechless. “Huh,” she says, and then her ridiculously presumptuous (wonderful) fingers walk up the back of his neck and ruffle through his hair.
“Rose?” he squeaks (actually squeaks, and he NEVER squeaks, at least not in this body).
“Hmm,” she says again as she pulls his head back to better examine his scalp. “Yeah, no luck.” She tousles his hair once more, affectionately this time, and lets go of him. She scoots back over to her previous position and dangles her legs back over the not-water with a sigh. She is studiously not looking at him, but her lips are twitching, and he knows she’s fighting off a smile.
“You want to explain what all that was?” he asks after a moment of silence, trying for stern and failing spectacularly. He can still feel the ghosts of her fingertips dancing on his neck.
“I’m sorry, but,” and here, she bites her lip, “I just can’t seem to find your wings. Don’t know how you’d hide them under that jacket and all, but still,” she sighs. “No wings.” She cocks her head at him. “Guess you aren’t a guardian angel.”
Her smile finally breaks free, a tiny present tied up in ribbon, waiting to be unwrapped. Her hand slides to meet his, and their fingers link up.
“What…” He pauses and clears his throat. “What would you do if you’d found them?”
“Oh, I’d be really disappointed with you, Doctor. Letting all those terrible things happen when you could’ve just snapped your fingers and stopped ‘em. But,” she sighs again, “No wings and no halo either–I checked. Definitely not an angel. S’pose you’re just a hero, then. A plain, old, emphasis on ‘old,’” she quips–“Oi!” he interjects, poking her in the side so that she’s giggling when she finishes–“boring, garden variety hero.” She leans over and tilts her head against his shoulder. “Ah, well.”
He looks down at the dark roots showing on the crown of her blonde head and at their fingers, intertwined, and feels some of the weight lift off to drift away on the breeze, some of the poison drain away into the purple, alien sea. “Ah, well,” he agrees.