Rose pays the vendor for the three packages of cotton candy flavoured sweets (because she wants to and she can) when she hears the familiar Northern accent at the stall behind her.
The blue-eyed Doctor stares in astonishment at Rose Tyler, his companion, whom he had sent shopping for new trainers and jeans after encountering a shark-like species while saving the endangered peach-shelled turtles. Said turtles were borderline extinct and tiny, no bigger than Rose’s little finger, and were oppressed and nearly destroyed by the flock of black and white polka-dot sharks that fell into the time loop and landed in a wrong era on a wrong planet.
Rose rendered the sharks adorable right until the moment one of those sharks bit off and angrily chewed a piece of her jeans, the others gnawing at her shoelaces while still chasing the defenceless peachy turtles (“Peach-shelled turtles, Rose!” added the Doctor exasperatedly). From there on Rose tried her best to get rid of the polka-dot sharks by catching them in a sonic net (don’t even ask) to transport the sea predators to the right time and place (Rose already forgot about it by the time the Doctor finished explaining the native flora and fauna of the planet and she didn’t dare irritating the Doctor by asking again).
Little did Rose know that he wouldn’t have minded.
It was a testament of Rose’s will that she hadn’t kicked any of the sharks even though they acted much like the angry stray dogs on the Estates and she half-wondered if she could get rabies or something nasty from them. The Doctor, as if sensing her reticence and fear, assured her that they weren’t at all attracted by the human flesh, that her clothes and anything turtle- and fish-like was usually in their menu.
After the polka-dot sharks (another eye roll from the Doctor) were caught, Rose assisted the Doctor while he was healing the turtles who were hurt, bitten and grazed. She felt the tears prick at her eyes when she saw how careful, how gentle the burly man was while gingerly sonicking the injuries on the teeny-tiny peachy creatures. He set them free after meticulously checking for any lasting damage and tried to send Rose to the Tardis when he was about to collect the tiny corpses of the turtles who weren’t lucky to survive the attack of the sharks. Rose refused to go, naturally. She wasn’t a companion only for the good times, she reminded the Doctor. They somberly collected the dead creatures and buried them some distance from the shore.
After safely depositing the polka-dot sharks to where they truly belonged, the Doctor offered Rose a quick lunch and a shopping spree to cheer her up. He was immensely grateful for his companion not leaving him in an hour of need. The Doctor reproached himself for underestimating Rose again.
Really, he should stop doubting her and living on pins and needles, waiting for her to reach the limit in their adventures. He thought that the Dalek encounter would surely scare her off (she was nearly killed, after all) but for some reason the silly girl worried about him more than she worried about herself. Rose was shaken, he could see that, and she was putting on a brave face for his sake. She fretted over him all evening, forgetting Adam. Rose helped him clean and heal his wounds left after Van Statten’s torture. She bravely tried not to sniff while holding the dermal regenerator over his back and the Doctor paid her back for her kindness by letting her sleep in the library and staying there with her until the morning. She slept on the sofa while he lounged in the chair with a book.
He would have stayed with her longer but the Adam boy ventured out in the empty halls of the Tardis, annoyingly seeking Rose. The Doctor adjusted the covers on Rose and sneaked out of the library before Adam’s pitiful “Rose!” cries woke her up. Rassilon knew she needed to sleep after being almost killed the day before. She only calmed enough to doze closer to 3 am and it was 8 am and the Doctor saw the brilliant opportunity to take his frustration out on Adam.
The adventure with the American boy on Satellite 5 turned out to be a disaster and left the Doctor wishing for a palate cleanser.
A beach-filled planet to let Rose recuperate a little and to let the Doctor take a breather from all the emotions that brimmed in his hearts.
Rose-related emotions, that is.
Unfortunately, the relaxation planned for Rose turned out to be a fiasco where she had to witness the death. Again. She sniffled while she helped him locate the dead turtles and tried to cheer him up afterwards by posing in her ridiculously tattered jeans while wearing her one trainer that survived the polka-dot sharks attack by wearing it as a small purse on a shoelace.
The Doctor chortled at the impromptu fashion show and offered a shopping trip (his treat!) and a nutritious meal before that.
So, the Doctor is immensely surprised when he sees Rose standing near the sweets stall, looking different . Her hair is shorter and has a slightly cooler blonde tone, she is noticeably slimmer and she holds hands with a lanky pretty boy.
A pretty boy with a flashy smile that turns into a grimace when he notices the Doctor.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Three voices, one exasperated, one flouting and one trembling, exclaim at the same time.
“What do you mean, ‘you’re kidding?’ I’m quite dashing, or so the rumours say,” the brown-eyed Doctor shouted, affronted.
“But…” Rose kept floundering for words.
The blue-eyed Doctor looked at her tenderly. “Rose Tyler! I always knew you were the extraordinary one but staying after regeneration…” his smile dropped after Rose choked down a sob.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” the leather-jacketed Doctor worried. The Doctor in a brown pinstriped suit hugged Rose with one arm while the girl tried to reign in her emotions.
Suddenly, she turned to the brown-eyed Doctor and murmured “Can we have a moment, Doctor?” much to the both versions of the Time Lord’s astonishment.
“Rose, I don’t think it’s a good idea. You know better than anyone else about the disastrous consequences of messing the timelines up,” the Doctor with the Estuary accent added, ill at ease at the prospect of Rose falling for the Northern Doctor all over again and breaking her heart not long after mending their relationship after regeneration and the few bumpy adventures. The Krillitanes and Sarah Jane, Space Station in the 51st century, the parallel Earth...there were so many that went wrong.
The New New Doctor knew that Rose missed the previous him dearly, he knew that Rose loved him even then, before the ill-fated day when she tore apart the Tardis and became the omnipotent creature in the whole of the Universe. He knew that Rose was madly attracted to him in his Tenth body, too, even more so because he was a man tailored to Rose Tyler’s tastes and preferences.
It flattered him to no end but boy, did he find himself falling prey to her charms, to her love, to her wildly emanating emotions.
The Doctor finally felt like giving in to Rose’s love.
And he didn’t have a place for a ghost from the past’s visit in their tightly-scheduled itinerary.
“Doctor, please, I…” Rose’s shuddering words brought him back from his troubled musings, “Please, I need to talk to him...to you.” She clutched his left hand in both of her, smothering the packages of cotton-candy-flavoured gum in between.
He puffed his cheeks and widened his eyes, gaze darting between their palms and Rose’s pleading eyes, and then…
Then he saw the thundering expression on his Northern’s self face and caved in.
“Alright, Rose. I’ll be just over there, yeah? Picking candies for a night in, right?” He tried to catch Rose’s gaze to make her realise that he was still there, still near and very much real, but her attention was fading fast, she was looking at the blue-eyed Doctor like a starved person looked at the oasis after travelling in the desert without water for several days.
He received a half-hearted nod from Rose and a cold stare from his previous self (the previous one knew something between Rose and New him was amiss) and let go of his companion’s hand.
Rose didn’t look back as she followed the man in the black leather jacket.
The Doctor felt hollowness in his hearts.
“How much...how many...what can I tell you, Doctor? What about the timelines? When….,” Rose stuttered, very much angry at her uncharacteristic timidity, but he was here, her first Doctor was here, in front of her, alive, “When are we? You and me?”
Her Doctor smiled manically and answered “Polka-dot sharks.”
Oh...so...he was about to know the worst of her. Her selfishness. The day she saved her father despite his warnings.
Rose couldn’t help it. She sobbed, and the pent-up tears and bottled-up emotions came to the surface after she kept them to herself for so long, nursing them in the deepest pit of her saddened soul.
“Aw, Rose! Come on! He treats ya good, doesn’t he? Just say a word and I’ll punch him, nice and proper, for making you sad,” the Northern Doctor tried joking while secretly worrying about his companion. Rose Tyler was not the weepy type, at least not so much in front of him - she tried waiting until the privacy of her bedroom, bless her, - and he was dismayed and nervous about seeing his plucky friend so broken.
“Nah,” she hiccuped through the tears, taking a shaky breath, “Have you seen him? I’ll break him in two if I ever want to.”
They both laughed heartily, him drinking the sight of her, so grown and so different, her wiping her tears on a sleeve on her jacket.
Rose doesn’t look surprised when the Doctor offers her a pack of tissues.
“Thanks,” she rasps out and blows her nose, sniffing and trying to calm.
“Come on, then, Rose Tyler. Share your burdens with me,” the Doctor supplies with a sly smile.
“Who are you now, a priest?” Rose quips with a gleam in her eyes.
That’s better, he thinks.
“It seems so. Just this once, mind, I need to get behind the reason for your mood,” the Doctor continues to banter.
“How much can I say, though, Doctor? You always nag me about the timelines and fixed events.”
“Oi, I don’t nag! I protect the Universe from the blundering apes like you lot, for your information!”
His eyes bulge when there’s a new onslaught of tears coming after he says the word “ape”.
He pushes her on a bench while squatting next to her, eager to see her face clearly.
“Rose, come on. You can tell me anything. Time Lords, we can hide the information until we need it again, I won’t remember a thing unless I want to remember it. So come on, talk to me,” he strokes her back with his left hand while holding her right knee with the other.
Rose lets out a strained laugh and shakes her head at his antics. “Never thought I’d hear you demand to do the great big talk, Doctor,” she looks into his eyes then and cups his cheek. “I miss you so…I know the other you is you, too,” Rose cringes, messing the explanation, “‘S mental, it is, talking like that, I feel like I’m losing my mind,” she confessed, biting her lip.
“What I mean to say is that I do know it’s you, I know about the regeneration now, I know about the timelines, I just...it was all so sudden, yeah? One day you were,” she hesitates and waves her hand up and down in his direction, “One day you were you and then suddenly you were so different! New New Doctor,” Rose jokes.
The Doctor smiles tenderly and sits beside Rose on the wooden bench. The wood is painted yellow for the aesthetic pleasure of its native inhabitants. The colour yellow was regarded with great respect on this continent of the planet because such was the colour of the birds that sang beautifully and brought the Gods’ mercy on the grounds of the kingdom with their heavenly songs.
“Culture shock,” answers the Doctor with a joke from one of their first meetings and he is rewarded with Rose’s sincere laughter.
“Oh, Doctor,” she replies, hugging him tightly like he was her lifeline, squeezing his waist with all her might, “I love you.”
He actually chokes on air and starts coughing while she snickers into his neck.
“It’s okay, Doctor, I know it’s silly but I needed you to know. At least one of you to know,” she adds hastily, not letting go of him even though he tries to snake out of her grip.
Rose lets him go two minutes and seventeen seconds after (not that he counts, no, it’s natural - he’s a Time Lord, after all). She looks him into the eyes stoically, unwavering, trying to appear unafraid even though he can hear her fragile human heart fluttering maddeningly in her fragile little human body.
“Rose Tyler,” he says, the words stuck in his throat, tears strangling him.
He cradles her cheeks in his big ungraceful hands and marvels at the warmth swirling in her eyes when she looks at him. He’s a lucky bastard, he is.
The Doctor knows he’s the luckiest living being ever when she understands the confession in his eyes without asking him to repeat the sentiment out loud. She knows he loves her. She knows it’ll kill him to say so in spoken words, to speak them outside the boundaries of his mind.
He kisses her, gently, slowly, a careful touch of his lips to hers. It’s a short, lips-closed kiss, almost as if they were hiding from the onlookers who, in fact, couldn’t care less about the two almost-lovers sharing the almost-first kiss in the busy streets of Vallenis.
The onlookers don’t care but the Universe does, and they have to make sure it knows how the Doctor and Rose cherish the feelings they share for each other. They have to be sure they can overcome anything the Universe throws their way while testing and challenging their already-bloomed love.
They can and they will.
The Northern Doctor returns Rose to the nervous bespectacled Doctor smiling and happy and with a bunch of pretty yellow and golden flowers wrapped in a pink ribbon. The blue-eyed Doctor couldn’t help himself - such was the elation in his soul after Rose’s confession that he couldn’t help but make a romantic gesture. Flowers! From him! He wants to roar with laughter from the strangeness of the situation but he can’t. He enjoys it. Will enjoy it until he makes himself forget.
Stern glances are exchanged between the two versions of the Doctor after the trio part ways. Rose smiles at him one last time.
It’s a blessing of some kind.
Rose presses one flower and asks the Doctor to make it into a necklace by using clean resin. That way it stays with her, a bright and lovely reminder of their love, on her neck next to her Tardis key.
Even after she isn’t in her Universe anymore.
The Doctor remembers Rose’s confession the moment Rose says the words again on the Bad Wolf’s bay when he’s just a projection.
He doesn’t have the time to say them back at that moment.
Until he is there, again, and hides a human heart behind a blue pinstriped jacket and a purple shirt.
“Rose Tyler, I love you,” and while she is kissing him, he searches for the flower necklace on her neck.
There are two words on the yellow bench where the blue-eyed Doctor and Rose admitted their love to each other. “Zloi Volk”, it says, but neither the Doctor nor Rose notice them and their importance.
But Bad Wolf noticed.
And she predestined that meeting, too.