An Unfamiliar Face
The Doctor and Rose wandered the crowded marketplace on Deshenham 4 hand-in-hand, as they always did. Ostensibly, he told himself, it was just to keep her close, just to keep her safe and protected in a dodgy city on an even dodgier planet, but he knew the truth, even if he didn't want to admit it. They held hands everywhere, had done so even in his previous incarnation: on the Powell estate, a bit dodgy, but in a kindergarten sort of way; in a lift on Satellite 5, more than a bit dodgy there, but the lift hadn't been; and on Woman Wept, possibly the least dodgy place in the galaxy, being a dead planet and all. But wherever they were, his hand always made it into hers. Particularly now. Since the regeneration, it was as if his hand was a heat seeking missile; it always migrated, on its own, to hers, as if it had been made to hold hers.
Which in a way it had, although he'd never tell her that.
And Drebita, Deshenham 4's capital city, wasn't really all that dodgy anyway. Somewhere between Woman Wept and the Powell estate in the grand scheme of things. It actually was rather nice, all marble buildings and marble fountains and marble statues of its founders. Quite a bit of marble, actually, when one thought about it.
And flowers. Lots and lots of flowers in the main square. It was a good thing Rose wasn't allergic. That would totally ruin the mood.
Not that he was trying to set a mood or anything.
So, not very dodgy at all. Still better safe than sorry, he thought. He'd been feeling a flux in the time/space continuum, an odd tickle in the back of his mind ever since they'd arrived. It didn't feel dangerous–not that they'd have left even if it did feel dangerous–but it was disconcerting and made him feel a bit… off balance.
Nothing to worry Rose about though.
He gripped her hand tighter. Squeezing back, she glanced up at him and showered him with a brilliant smile. He smiled back. With her hand in his and her smiling at him like that, all was right with the world.
They slowly weaved through the throng in the general direction of a shop he knew. He needed a chronan influx stabilizer, and since the Time War this was one of the few places left that carried them. Well, carried them wasn't entirely accurate, more occasionally the owner had one conveniently fall into his lap, or what passed for a lap in his species. Needed also went a bit too far, as the one he had was still working, but with the damage the TARDIS sustained after the disastrous trip to the parallel universe, he felt that having a spare on hand would be a good idea.
Plus it gave him a good excuse to wander hand-in-hand on a pretty day in a pretty city with a pretty girl.
"Look at this!" Rose yanked on his hand and towed him to a street merchant selling scarves. "Aren't these pretty?" She picked up one, seemingly at random. It appeared to be silk–but probably wasn't, not what humans called silk at any rate–and was covered with multiple copies of the skyline of Drebita interspersed with various kinds of flowers in bright, garish shades. "What do you think of this one?"
He frowned. Tacky was the word that sprang to mind. "Doesn't quite go with what you're wearing," he said instead. Diplomatically, he thought.
"Not for me, silly. For Mum."
"Oh, then it's perfect."
While Rose paid for the hideously ugly scarf, the Doctor glanced around the area for a café, or perhaps a bakery. Rose was probably hungry, he told himself. He was a bit peckish as well. It had been hours since breakfast, and although as a Time Lord his body had the capability of going days, even weeks, without food, this incarnation seemed to be constantly hungry. And not just for food. For a lot of things. Creature comforts. He liked a glass of wine with dinner, or occasionally something stronger. He loved a good cup of tea and had quickly discovered he preferred English Breakfast over Earl Grey, with a splash of milk and several sugars. He liked the feel of his long, warm coat, his comfortable shoes, a soft, warm hand in his…
There was a lot of things this body wanted, many of which had to do with his young, beautiful companion and as such were entirely off limits, for some very good, very sensible reasons. What those reasons were were fairly vaguely defined and probably wouldn't hold up under scrutiny so he refused to scrutinize them. But they were there, and when those desires made themselves known he substituted with an acceptable alternative.
Usually something sweet. Like cake.
Right now he wanted… well, after an afternoon holding Rose's hand what he wanted was totally inappropriate, but cake was a good substitute. Or perhaps a few biscuits.
He stood on his tiptoes and craned his neck, searching for any type of eatery, all the while wondering if substituting eating for what he really wanted as often as he did would require letting out his waistband. From this vantage point, he couldn't see anything, nor did he remember passing anything in the last several blocks.
Well, there was more than one way to find a café. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. His sense of smell wasn't as good as it had been in the previous incarnation, but it was far better than humans and it would do.
Nothing. Well, not nothing. The air was practically crowded with odors. In addition to the ubiquitous smell of unwashed bodies present in every city on every planet in the universe, close by there were the scents of the silk-like material used for the scarves and the cheap dye used to color them–need to remember to tell Jackie dry clean only, he thought–the pungent aftershave used by the merchant, and the delicate scent of strawberries from the shampoo Rose had used that morning. Further away, he could smell diesel, tar, old beer, urine–there was probably a pub nearby–incompletely consumed hydrocarbons, vomit–change that to definitely a pub nearby–ozone, more flowers, this time from the florist two doors down…
And there was a cronkburger stand three streets over. It wasn't a bakery, but it would do in a pinch.
The strawberry-scented shampoo source drew near. He smiled as a warm, slim hand took his.
"All set," Rose said.
He opened his eyes–and caught another whiff of strawberry shampoo, the same strawberry shampoo, but this time carried on the breeze from two blocks ahead of them. At the same time, the tiny tickle in the back of his mind turned into a loud, familiar buzz.
"Oh, no," he muttered.
"What's wrong?" Rose asked.
"Nothing. Well, probably nothing."
"Meaning… what exactly? Time rip? Alien invasion? Planet on the verge of being eaten by a giant space moth?"
He gave her a sharp look and shook a finger at her with his free hand. "I should never have taken you to see the 63rd century remake of Mothra."
He frowned as the buzzing in his head grew louder. Nearer. As did the other source of strawberry-scented shampoo.
Desperate to head off any potential problems, like a small tear in the fabric of the space/time continuum, he dropped Rose's hand and backed away from her. "Rose, stay here. Just…don't ask any questions and stay here."
"What do you mean, 'Don't ask any questions?' What's going on?"
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Rose, just… do what I ask for a change. Stay put." He turned and ran down the road, attempting to prevent a potential catastrophe. "And don't wander off!" he shouted over his shoulder.
Stunned, Rose gaped at the retreating back of the Doctor as he disappeared into the crowd. Stay put? Did he seriously say stay put? She couldn't remember the last time the Doctor had told her to stay put, regardless of the danger.
"Not bloody likely," she muttered, and followed.
As the Doctor jogged down the street, dodging shoppers and tourists alike, he scanned the crowd, searching for his own tall, thin frame. There was only two explanations for that unique combination of mental buzzing and strawberry shampoo to be present: either he and Rose had been here in the past–which they hadn't, so no need to look for a shorn head and beaten up leather jacket–or he had stupidly brought Rose back here, regardless of the risk to the space/time continuum. A risk, he estimated, that could result in an explosion roughly the size of Burkina Faso.
Of course, by chasing down and confronting his future self, the risk increased exponentially, a fact he ignored. It was a matter of principle. He'd got here first.
He rounded a group of Ra'aahan tourists who had stopped to take a picture in front of a tall, marble statue of Dremodian the Magnificent, founder of Drebita, and crashed into someone.
The buzzing shot up to 6000 rebs on the Omega psi-tel scale before abruptly shorting out.
The person he'd crashed into let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, that's better."
The Doctor stared openmouthed at the woman who stood before him. She carded her fingers through her hair, pushing a lock of it out of her face and behind one ear. The move released a fresh wave of strawberry scent.
"Blimey," he said. Then his eyes narrowed. "Still not ginger, eh?"
The woman snorted. "That's what you're focused on? Finally female for the first time in over two thousand years, and you're focused on my hair color?"
"Hang on, two thousand? Seriously? Which one… No, don't tell me. It's not good to know too much about your own personal future. But bleached blonde? And…" He inhaled deeply. "Have you been using Rose's shampoo?"
She grinned. "I like it. So sue me. That's your fault, by the way."
"How is that my fault?"
She crossed her arms across her chest and arched one perfectly groomed eyebrow. "Don't play dumb. We're geniuses. You know exactly how it's your fault. Yours… and the one before you."
"But…after all this time?"
She looked away and smiled, as if recalling a distant memory. Which she undoubtedly was. "'Always,'" she quoted softly.
He recognized the reference immediately. It was from the last Harry Potter book, and the context… He frowned, disturbed on a fundamental level by the depth of emotion carried in that single word. It was uncomfortable, seeing his own feelings so openly expressed, when he had yet to admit to them himself. He cleared his throat. "So, why are you here?"
The question brought her back to the present. She patted the bum bag she wore around her waist. "Finally getting around to picking up a new chronan influx stabilizer. Been meaning to do it for centuries, but you know how it is. You put something off, and all of a sudden a millennium has passed."
"But that's why I'm here. I was going to buy the stabilizer."
"Too late," she said, sing song.
"But I was here first," he protested.
"Actually, I arrived before you did," she corrected.
"But I am earlier in our timeline, and as the earlier incarnation, I should have precedence."
"But I needed it!"
"I needed it too!"
"But you didn't buy it, which is why I needed it!"
As one, they both huffed in frustration.
"So," he continued after a moment, "are you traveling alone?"
"No," she replied. "There's a place selling cronkburgers about a block from here. I dropped them off there on my way to pick up the stabilizer."
Her face broke into a bright smile. "Graham, Ryan, and Yasmin. They're… well, you'll see. But they're brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
"We only take the best," he agreed. "Good. That's good. For a moment I was worried that you were traveling alone. We don't do alone very well."
She rolled her eyes. "Pot meet kettle."
"What are you talking about?"
"You of all people should talk!"
"Why? What do you mean? I'm not traveling alone."
"You're not? I thought…" All the color drained from her face. "Oh. Oh. Oh no no no no. If you're not alone…" She looked around wildly. "Who are you traveling with? Is it Donna? Martha?"
Her eyes grew huge. "Where were you last?" she asked urgently. "When are you?"
Rose waited impatiently in the middle of the pavement as dozens of small bright green schoolchildren with fluorescent turquoise hair passed in front of her, headed to a museum across the street. They walked in pairs, all holding on to a cord strung between two adults. It was a very familiar scene, similar to ones Rose herself had taken part in only a decade earlier, on school trips to the British Museum or the National Gallery, although her teachers weren't covered with orange feathers.
Once the wave of children had passed, she rushed forward, only to stop again almost immediately. The Doctor was nowhere in sight.
"I swear, he needs to wear a bell or something," she said under her breath.
Raised voices, and in particular one very familiar voice, coming from up ahead caught her attention. She grinned. "Gotcha."
She raced forward, dodging someone taking a picture of a bunch of reptilian tourists standing in front of a statue, and stopped short. The Doctor wasn't alone.
Well, she'd known that from the arguing.
But he was with a woman.
An oddly dressed blonde woman approximately the same age as he was. Well, the same age as he appeared. It was unlikely she was as old as he was, even though it was obvious even from here that the woman was approaching middle age.
At the catty thoughts about the woman's age and attire, Rose scolded herself and tamped down the wave of jealousy that had threatened to overtake her. She flashed back to the first time she'd met Sarah Jane. She'd been jealous of Sarah Jane as well. But Sarah Jane had turned out to be a lovely person, and after their initial difficulties they'd become good friends.
Rose hung back, watching for a moment as they continued their conversation. And then something struck her, something that she should have noticed immediately. Something that she would have noticed immediately had she not been so jealous. The Doctor was talking with the woman in a language the TARDIS wasn't translating.
The language was odd, lilting, musical, unlike anything she'd ever heard before. No, that wasn't true–she had heard it before, when she'd looked into the Heart of the TARDIS.
Who was she?
She took a step forward. "Doctor? Aren't you going to introduce me?"
As one, both the Doctor and the blonde woman turned to face her, the Doctor with a look of chagrin on his face, the woman with a look of shock on hers.
"Rose, I thought I told you…" he began.
"Rose Tyler," the woman breathed in an accent that drifted slightly North. As Rose watched, the shock on her face turned into a brilliant, delighted smile. Rose found it a little disconcerting.
"Sorry, do I know you?" she asked.
Although it didn't seem possible, the woman's smile grew wider.
"Don't…" the Doctor warned in a low voice.
The woman ignored him. "Run."
Startled, Rose instinctively looked around for any source of danger. There was none. Across the street, the schoolchildren, accompanied by their feathered chaperones, were walking up the steps of the museum. The reptilian tourists had finished taking their pictures and were currently discussing the best place to have lunch. There were no alien ships overhead, no giant moth trying to eat the planet, no plastic shop dummies walking down the street…
At the memory of the Autons, the penny dropped. Rose slowly turned back to the woman, and for the first time really looked at her without preconceptions. She took in the blonde hair and angular features, the lobe-hugging earring, the long coat over a T-shirt and culottes. The braces and boots and bum bag. All were unfamiliar. But the woman's eyes… she might not recognize the color or shape, but those she knew. "You're kidding me. Seriously?"
"Oh, I always said you were clever," the woman said, pleased.
"And to think my mum was worried about the age gap," Rose said dryly.
The woman, the female Doctor, burst out laughing. It was a joyful, lighthearted sound. Rose smiled at her.
"What?" the female Doctor asked.
" 'S just, well, I've heard you laugh before obviously, but you've never sounded so… happy. Carefree. 'S nice."
The female Doctor opened her arms, and Rose fell into them. The hug felt different, as Rose knew it would. The Doctor was shorter now, only slightly taller than Rose herself, and softer, with curves where there had been none before. She still smelled the same, though, still smelled of chalk dust and diesel, lime and boiled sweets. But her hair smelled different; less 51st century hair wax and more 21st century conditioner.
"It's wonderful to see you," the female Doctor murmured into her hair.
The Doctor, Rose's pinstriped Doctor, cleared his throat. They ignored him.
Rose vaguely became aware of something hard and sharp poking her in the stomach. Reluctantly, she pulled away.
"Since when do you wear a bum bag?"
"Since I discovered that women's clothing doesn't have proper pockets! It's horrible!" she complained. "Honestly, why do designers think women don't need pockets? And a pocketbook is just not a viable alternative. I need to be able to use my hands, not have them full of a pocketbook all the time. And that reminds me," she turned to her younger self, "we really owe an apology to our former companions. It's much tougher to be female than we realized. People talk over you, don't take you seriously… not to mention the biological challenges! You have no idea how good you've got it, not to have to deal with all that."
"Thank you," Rose interjected vehemently. "I've been saying that for years."
"You're welcome. I should have listened centuries ago."
They both turned and glared at the Doctor's male incarnation.
"Oi, what did I do?"
Rose rolled her eyes. "If you don't know by now…"
"My telling you won't change anything," the female Doctor finished. She turned back to Rose. "I'm sorry. If it helps, I do understand… eventually."
"Well, this has been all very lovely, but Rose and I really need to get going," the younger Doctor said.
"Do we have to?" Rose asked.
"Yes," he said firmly. "The timeline is fragile enough as it is without the undo pressure of risking a time implosion the size of Burkina Faso."
"Is he right?" Rose asked the other Doctor.
" 'Fraid so," she replied, a little sadly. "Although I probably would have said Iceland."
"So let's go, Rose, back to the TARDIS," the Doctor said.
"What about the time synthesizer thing?"
"You mean the chrono influx stabilizer? It's right here,"said the female Doctor, patting her bum bag.
"Oh, I thought we were going to buy it?" Rose asked her Doctor.
"Well, evidently we didn't…" he answered.
"And now I know why," the other Doctor finished.
"Oh. Well. It was really nice meeting you," Rose said. "Again, I mean."
The female Doctor's expression softened. "It was lovely to see you again, Rose Tyler."
Rose and her Doctor began to walk away, but they'd only taken a couple of steps before the other Doctor stopped them.
"Wait!" she said desperately. "Rose, wait!"
Rose turned back. The female Doctor rushed forward and took her hand. It felt different; her hand was smaller, softer. But it still felt utterly right.
The Doctor bent forward and whispered in Rose's ear.
"Oi, no secrets!" Rose's Doctor protested.
The other Doctor shook a finger at her younger self. "You hush." She turned back to Rose and whispered in her ear again. Rose turned to her and stared wide-eyed.
"Seriously," she confirmed.
"Are you quite finished?" Rose's Doctor asked his older self crossly.
"No," she answered. "One more thing."
To Rose's astonishment, the Doctor cupped her face and leaned forward. Soft lips brushed her own, at first tentative, then with increasing pressure and urgency. After a moment's hesitation, due to being startled by the unexpected kiss more than anything else, she closed her eyes and responded.
As the kiss turned into a proper snog, Rose's Doctor cleared his throat again.
"Do you mind?" he said. "I'm standing right here."
The two women broke apart, Rose with a dazed expression on her face, the Doctor with a pleased-as-punch, cat-that-got-the-cream on hers.
"Yep. Still got it," she said cheekily. She winked at Rose. When the younger Doctor scowled at her, she stuck out her tongue at him.
"Was that necessary?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, and then turned serious. "Yes, it was." She turned back to Rose. "Remember what I said, love. Now don't forget."
Rose nodded dumbly, as her Doctor took her hand.
"Doctor," he said to his older self. "It's nice to see my future's in good hands."
The other Doctor smiled. "Rose, I don't want to say goodbye to you. Instead I'll say, until we meet again. And Doctor, it's been a pleasure, which is a nice change of pace from when we usually run into each other. Carpe diem."
Rose was quiet on the walk back to the TARDIS. The Doctor, for his part, was uncharacteristically silent as well. Meeting a former self was always disconcerting, but meeting a future self…
Plus, there was the little matter of whatever his future self had told Rose. He had no idea what on Earth, or Deshenham 4, she had been thinking to share secrets with Rose, or what she could possibly have thought could be accomplished. After all, the memories of the encounter would fade on their own eventually, for both of them, in order to maintain the continuity of the timeline.
But then to kiss her…
It had been odd, to say the least, to see his future self kiss Rose. Odder still to see how she'd responded.
Pulling his key out of his trouser pocket, he unlocked the door to the TARDIS and let them in. As soon as the door closed behind them, Rose rounded on him and asked the question he'd been expecting ever since they'd met his future self.
"Why didn't you tell me you could regenerate into a woman?"
He shrugged sheepishly. "Dunno. Didn't occur to me. Never have before. It was always a possibility, of course, a fairly high probability actually given enough time, but I've regenerated twice in as many years. I really didn't think it would be an issue with you."
"Fair enough." She paused for a moment, and then said, "Doctor, what does carpe diem mean?"
"Seize the day."
They both fell silent as he walked around the console, flipping switches and setting dials, seemingly at random. He pulled a lever, and the console room filled with the noises of dematerialization.
"What did she say to you?" he asked, still looking at the console.
Rose didn't answer.
He looked up. Rose was leaning with one shoulder against one of the TARDIS's arched columns, biting her lip nervously. She looked away from him. Concerned, he circled the console and joined her.
"Rose, what did she say to you?"
He suddenly found himself shoved against the console, Rose's lips firmly pressed to his. It was everything he wanted, everything he thought it would be, minus the intervention of Cassandra.
And it had been approved, suggested even, by his future self.
Well, who was he to argue?
He wrapped his arms around her and gave himself over to the moment. As Rose's lips softened under his, he teased them apart with the tip of his tongue, desperate for a taste of her. With a quiet moan, she complied, opening her mouth and caressing his tongue with hers.
Who knew that a simple kiss, a simple touch with lips and teeth and tongue, could be so erotic, so stimulating and yet so satisfying, could make him feel so complete yet leaving him craving for more?
Finally, after several minutes of sheer bliss, they broke apart.
"Sorry," she said breathlessly. "I hope that was okay. It's just, she said what you really wanted was for me to snog you against the console."
"Ah," he said. "Yes. Well, I am brilliant, after all. And I would know, wouldn't I?"
"Oh," she said, wide-eyed. "If she was right about that…"
"Why? What else did she say?"
Rose turned a bright shade of pink. "She said that the time you'd tried to take me to see Elvis, when you saw me in the pink dress, you'd wanted to shag me against the TARDIS wall."
"But Rose, we haven't gone to see Elvis."
She slowly grinned openmouthed, her tongue curling to touch her upper teeth. "Not yet."
"Seems I was full of good ideas. Elvis it is!" he shouted. He turned back to the console to set the coordinates. "While I do this, you head off to the wardrobe room. I can't wait to see the infamous pink dress."
She began to leave the room, but in the doorway she turned back.
"She did say one weird thing though."
"What was that?" he asked.
"She said that if we ever go to Canary Wharf, I should be sure to wear a harness. Isn't that odd? Why would I need a harness at Canary Wharf?"
"I don't know," he said slowly. "But if I said it, it must be important."
After she left the room, the Doctor sank down on the jump seat. Why would his future self say something like that? And what purpose would it serve? She had to know that they'd both forget anything she'd said.
But if she was willing to try, willing to influence, possibly even change her own past, it had to have been important. Vital, even.
But a harness? What good would that do?
As he sat there, he could feel the memories of the day begin to soften. Already he couldn't quite remember his future face, couldn't remember if she'd had someone with her or if she'd been alone.
"Always," she'd said.
He closed his eyes tightly, attempting to file the memory in a secure location in his mind. He couldn't forget the kiss he'd shared with Rose. He couldn't forget going to see Elvis.
And he couldn't forget the harness.
His memories were fading rapidly now, were in danger of slipping away to nothingness.
"No," he said aloud. "I can't forget. It's too important."
He leapt up from the jump seat, rushed to the console and typed in a quick command.
"Doctor," he said into the speaker, "if you're hearing this, it means that we're headed to Canary Wharf, and Rose is in danger. I don't know what the danger is, and I have no idea how this will help, but make sure Rose wears a harness. I have it on good authority that she'll need it…"
The Doctor found her companions sitting at one of the small tables set up on the pavement next to the cronkburger stand. The table was littered with the unfinished remains of their meal.
The Doctor sank down into a chair next to Yasmin.
"I saved you a cronkburger and some chips," Yasmin said, pushing a plate of food in front of her. "Ryan said he was going to eat it if you didn't get here soon."
"What?" Ryan protested, his mouth full of food. "I'm still hungry."
"You've already had two," Yasmin scolded.
"Children, children," Graham interjected. "No need to squabble."
"No, it's all right," the Doctor said. "You can have it, Ryan. Just leave me the chips."
"Are you all right?" Graham asked. "You seem… I don't know."
"I'm fine," she answered. "Just an unanticipated encounter with the past, and an unexpected bit of nostalgia."
"It's not like you to be sentimental," he said.
"You don't know me as well as you think," she responded, not unkindly. She stared off into the distance, and her lips curved into a smile.
"What is it?" asked Yasmin curiously.
"New memories," the Doctor answered. "Lovely, lovely new memories."
"New memories?" asked Graham. He exchanged glances with Ryan and Yasmin. "Does that mean your past is changing?"
"Yes," the Doctor said. "A little. Oh, oh, oh, or maybe more than just a little."
"Is that safe?" he asked.
Her face broke into a dazzling smile. She laughed. "No. Not at all. But it's absolutely brilliant."