Rose bit down hard on her bottom lip as she scanned the mostly deserted marketplace she found herself in. No Doctor anywhere to be seen even though the universe the cannon had deposited her in this time felt right somehow. The merchants were packing up their stalls and locking the doors to their shops, leaving her to wander through the darkening and dusty streets as they slowly emptied and she waited for the beep that would indicate the cannon was ready for another jump.
She trudged along, kicking up dirt with the toe of her boot with every step and pointedly ignoring the suspicious glances being thrown her way. Her blue leather jacket and blonde hair marked her as an obvious outsider on this planet of purple-haired, dark-skinned natives.
Rose sighed and stole a glance at the cannon strapped to her wrist to see how much longer she had to stay here. Her heart stopped and took a steep dive towards her feet as her eyes locked onto the display.
It was blank.
Instead of the green numbers she was expecting to see counting down, there was just a flat grey screen. Rose frantically pushed buttons and hit switches, trying every possible combination and sequence in an attempt to get the cannon back online.
The screen stubbornly stayed empty. The cannon was dead.
Rose was well and truly stuck.
She jabbed at the display one last time before giving it up and shoving her hands in her pockets with a deep breath. She needed to be practical here. If she was going to be spending at least the night on whatever this planet was, she needed to find somewhere to stay before it was completely dark.
A hundred meters down the road, Rose came to a complete stop and cocked her head to the side. She thought she’d heard… but no, that was impossible. She strained to hear, closing her eyes as she filtered out the ambient sounds of the night and the closing market.
Beneath it all there was a low wheezing, a song that was barely audible but that Rose knew better than her own heartbeat. It was the song of the universe, the song the TARDIS sang as she materialized somewhere new.
The Doctor was here.
Rose squeezed her eyes tighter, fighting back the tears that were threatening and trying to pinpoint the noise. It had been so long and she’d been trying so hard to get back to him but somehow, she hadn’t actually fully believed that she’d make it — that she’d succeed.
She felt the drumbeat of her heart against her chest, pounding hard and fast, took a deep breath and opened her eyes.
Then she ran.
Shopkeepers shouted after her in alarm as she kicked up dust and frantically looked for that familiar flash of blue. It was here somewhere, it had to be. She couldn’t have imagined it.
Rose rounded a corner and there she was - bright blue and singing out a welcome that she could feel in her bones. Her hands shook as she pulled the necklace with the TARDIS key on it out from underneath her shirt.
This was it.
After everything, she was finally home.
She missed the apologetic note in the TARDIS’s hum as she slipped the key into the lock and turned it.
Rose pushed the door in and stepped into the time ship. The white of the console room was almost blinding and she blinked a few times as she took in the space that was so different from what she remembered.
Everything was bright and almost sterile looking. There were still roundels on the wall and they radiated a warm light that made it feel more like home. Rose blinked back tears again and took another step forward.
“And just what do you think you’re doing here? How did you get in here?”
Rose turned her head to find the source of the voice and was shocked that she hadn’t noticed the man before, what with the violently bright multicolored coat and the striped yellow trousers. He was rather hard to miss.
And rather hard to misidentify. Only one person would decide on that outfit and then top it off with a polkadotted cravat and cat brooch.
“Yes, yes, I rather believe that’s obvious since you just came barging into my TARDIS. Who else did you expect?”
“Still rude, I see. Good to know some things never change,” she snorted.
“Rude?” he exclaimed with a huff, putting his hands on his hips, coat shifting to reveal more of his knitted waistcoat and the question mark motif on his braces. “You’re the one who came bursting in without so much as an invitation or explanation. You’re the rude one here!”
“Must be why we get along so well,” Rose said. She took in this new version of the Doctor, trying to commit everything to memory. His hair was still a mess, blond and curly and sticking out every which way. He was sturdy, barrel-chested and his eyes pinned her in place, as intense as ever.
“Doubtful,” he scoffed.
“Do you not know who I am?” she asked, voice quieting, dreading the answer she was about to receive.
“I’ve never seen you before in my lives.”
“Ever had a thing for wearing leather jackets or pinstriped suits?”
The Doctor looked at her, completely puzzled.
“I’ll take that as a no, then,” she said with a sigh, gaze dropping to the floor. “You haven’t met me yet. I’m too early.”
“Who are you?” His voice was gentler now, less bluster and more kindness coming through. “My ship seems to be rather enamoured with you, so I assume you aren’t working with the Master or the Rani to bring about my downfall or some such.”
Rose’s heart constricted at the way he so casually mentioned people who had to be other Time Lords. This was a Doctor before the Time War and she’d never imagined meeting him like this.
She met his eyes again. “My name’s Rose and I’m trying to find you, a future you. I’m just trying to get home.”
The TARDIS caressed Rose’s mind with a warm, golden hug. Rose was so caught up in the sensation that she missed the way the Doctor’s eyes widened at the interaction.
“Where’s home? London?” He guessed.
“Not anymore,” she said with a shake of her head.
His brow furrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Rose shook her head and gave him a sad, soft smile, not bothering to hide any of the love she felt for him. “Just that where I grew up isn’t home anymore. Told you I was trying to find you and go home. It’s the same thing.”
She laughed at the shock painted so obviously on his face. “Come on, Doctor. Let’s get a cuppa and I can try to answer whatever questions you have for me.”
Rose turned and headed for the corridor, trusting that he would follow and that the TARDIS would lead her to the kitchen.
“Probably not a good idea for you to tell me too much,” he said, footsteps quickening behind her as he caught up. “I’m assuming I didn’t know you when we met so I’m going to have to forget all of this.”
“Easier to forget if you don’t know as much?” she asked as she walked into the kitchen. The kettle was already boiling and she sent a quick mental thank you to the ship as she got down two mugs, offering one to the Doctor so he could make his how he wanted. Both of her Doctor’s had taken their tea differently so she didn’t know what this one’s preference would be.
They prepared their tea silently then the Doctor suggested that they move to the library to drink it.
Rose and the Doctor ended up drinking multiple cups of tea in the library, deep in conversation about planets they’d visited and things they’d done. Rose was careful not to give too much away and the Doctor didn’t push much even though she saw the gleam of curiosity in his eyes.
Rose yawned and scooted over on the sofa so she could rest her head against his chest. He went stiff and she could hear his hearts racing beneath her ear but she stood her ground and said nothing. After a few moments of uncertainty, he relaxed and carefully draped an arm around her shoulder.
She reached up and fingered the lapel of his coat. “You know you use this to hide, right?”
“I’ll have you know that it’s almost impossible to hide in this thing.”
“Yeah, but people see the coat and they don’t see you. If they’re looking at all the colors, you get to hide behind them. You hide behind the colors and wit and sarcasm and people don’t see that you’re kind.” She yawned again. “I’m sorry, I’ve been so tired lately and it’s so good to be home.”
“You’re not home yet,” he said softly, hand moving to haltingly stroke her hair.
“I am,” she protested.
He didn’t say anything and Rose couldn’t see the look of wonder in his eyes as she fell asleep on his chest.
“How the hell am I supposed to forget about you?” he mused quietly as her breathing evened out.
It was a question for tomorrow. A question for after he dropped her off with his future self, lucky sod. Or not so lucky as he seemed to have lost Rose at some point.
The Doctor was having a hard enough time thinking about letting her go after only a few hours, he couldn’t imagine having her in his life for years and then losing her. But that was another musing for his future.
For now, he would enjoy having Rose in his life for these few stolen hours and make sure she got the rest that she so clearly needed.
Tomorrow they could face their futures.