Never Bet the Devil Your Head

by amberite [Reviews - 3]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Het

Author's Notes:
A response to my own "What does the Doctor smell like" challenge on the LJ community if_we_let_go. Tenth doctor, no specific episode spoilers -- takes place somewhere in the general neighborhood of after the Christmas special and in amongst the first two eps, and I haven't seen all that much of S2. I'm not the BBC and I don't own anyone but if I did own the Doctor I'd put a real nice collar on him, for sure.

Rose watches him gliding around the TARDIS. He moves differently, all a play with gravity, falling-and-catching-himself in place of the old Doctor's tense agile movements, but she's starting to like it: he really does have the mannerism of a young punk rocker, the kind of boy she always liked but never used to feel up to approaching. She's not sure what she likes him as, but puts that aside for a moment. There's still one thing she can't get used to.

No, that's a lie; there are lots of things she can't get used to. The worst is something she can't even define, can't possibly complain about, because there are no words for it in her head. She replays memories in her head, trying to retrieve it, and all she can clutch at is a glance, a face, an eyeblink. The way the Doctor would look at her, with that daft and awfully concerned face. He would meet her eyes for a moment in the middle of terrible danger -- and check, without asking: are you all right, Rose?

She thinks the times he used to do that far outnumbered the times he asked aloud.

But now, after the change -- the Doctor asks aloud, and she takes what comfort from it she can. But he only asks with his eyes once in a long while, and never at the moment when she needs it. Well, she does know why. He's trying to find his way in a fogbank, and if he turns around he'll get lost.

And it's not a deal-breaker or anything. That's just not an option. But she feels her handholds getting smaller, and panics.

It's a stupid thing to talk about, she thinks. He wouldn't understand for a minute. He'd go on about cornflakes or something.

"Hey," she says.

"Hey what! Hey yourself. Look, I've got her figuring out how to make a tea egg."

"A what?" It's so much harder to get her own thoughts out in a conversation with this one. He doesn't pause the same way. She has to skip through things, pare down to the essentials, sometimes to the inessentials.

"Oh, they make them in these Chinese bubble tea shops, they're eggs boiled in salted tea. Yum yum." He smacks his lips. "Rose, what is it you're never supposed to bet the devil, again?"

"Your head," she laughs. "Never bet the devil your head." It's the kind of laughter people do when they're uncomfortable, when they need a bridge fast and can only throw out a rope. She tries again, but he's running on.

"Oh, yes, that's right," he says. "It's from Poe. He didn't die of alcohol, or of rabies like they think now, you know that? Alien possession -- went round the bend."

She sniffs the air. "Doctor, what's that?" and then quickly races past his confusion as he's about to launch into something, maybe about Poe, maybe about something else entirely. "No, the smell."

"It's tea eggs! It's working, I got it just right! Want one? I think they're going to be good! I told the TARDIS not to put in anything poisonous! Go on, have a tea egg!" He has this delighted look on his face as he crows about his accomplishments -- the godlike Time Lord sounding pleased like a child who's just built a sandcastle. Her heart almost breaks in that moment: just listening to him, looking at him, she knows there's something missing, and there are two sides of it. It's such a simple joy, and in the old Doctor, there was always some terrible deep wretchedness in his eyes, the brittle gleam of knives pointed inward.

This lightness is frightening -- but she can't begrudge him it, can't wish that weight back on him; couldn't if it would save her world and every other.

"That's all right, no, what's *in* a tea egg? I mean like spices and all?" She lets her sentences tumble into each other, shoving forward into the tangle of trying to have a conversation with this new man, this stranger she's always known but never has.

He looks intently up at the ceiling, eyes wide, the startled shocked look he gets as if something's fallen on him or is going to fall on him at any moment.

"Soy sauce, tea, touch of star anise, why?"

"Star anise," Rose murmurs, looking at him and not at him at all, feeling like she is here and somewhere else at the same time, in a sense more than the literal that's always true with the TARDIS. "Yes -- that's it. He smelled like anise. Bitter anise. Also a little like cardamom -- just a little."

A sharp note comes into the Doctor's voice, and he stares her in the eye, one of those odd sparks of lucidity or hyper-lucidity, something that reaches back past his rebirth. "He?" It's not an accusatory question, where she'd have expected one.

"Uh you. I mean, you before and all. I mean, before." She gestures helplessly with both arms, lapsing into humor again, feeling awkward.

"So I used to smell like food?" The Doctor looks wide-eyed, frowns broadly, and sniffs at the steam. "I'm eating food that smells like I used to?"

"Guess so. Don't worry. I wasn't going to mistake you for vindaloo or anything."

He straightens up and walks away a few feet, then turns around and zooms right back as if he'd picked up whatever he'd gone for.

He gives her a searching glance, his eyes flickering back and forth. That's the other thing; his eyes move faster. That's because they're lighter, she thinks.

"Do I, what do I smell like?" he asks.

Rose can't help it. She leans forward and presses her nose to his neck, out of habit, out of a familiarity that's no longer the same but isn't dead either. She sniffs at him and tries to identify the scent, or find a metaphor, because nobody really smells like anything but themself, and the only way to define these things is by points of relation. She needs a point of relation, and maybe that's the problem, the whole problem.

"Cumin seed," she identifies, "and lemon, and something else." He has a sharper scent than the old Doctor, and somehow more exotic, with notes she can't grasp.

"Is it something interesting?" The Doctor looks merry and curious. "Is it good?"

Rose's eyes prick, but she hasn't cried for a long time. It must be the steam from the tea eggs, getting into her face. It smells like salt and anise. It's missing something, too.

"I don't know," Rose says. "I don't know."