Fairytales (all those nice ones, told to little girls) end in a kiss and a castle and a sunset or a wedding. True love's first kiss; happily ever after.
"Oh, that's just great," Rose's mum grouses, squinting at the flat expanse of wet sand. "Not so much as a by-your-leave and he's off!" She rounds on the Doctor in blue. "And how are we going to get home from Norway?"
His hand is still caught tangled in Rose's.
"I don't know," he says, all wide eyes and leaning back a little as he does around Rose's mum, like he's always just a bit afraid she's going to slap him or kiss him and he's equally terrified of both. "There's. Busses and things."
"And I don't suppose you have a penny on you, either," Rose's mum says, looking him up and down. "All right. Come on, we'll find a bus."
They set off in the direction of the road, Rose's mum on ahead and Rose hand-in-hand with this man who is and is not her Doctor, his legs a bit too long for her to keep step. It was never a problem before and Rose's vision blurs, only a little. It's the wind, she tells herself, just the wind and the Doctor's hand is too warm and they're not running.
Sometimes in the stories there is a test, or a riddle. Answer truly and you shall have your heart's desire.
What was the last thing you said to me?
Does it need saying?
She asked the right question. She did. And he didn't give the right answer, and he did, and if this was a story it would all be so easy. The words breathed in her ear made her flush, weakened her knees; surely that made it true, and right, meant the sinking in her stomach was only the TARDIS leaving her to earthbound adventure.
They arrive at the mansion sometime after dark, five busses and a ferry later. Rose's mum is in good spirits and Rose's hand is cramped.
Pete meets them at the door, Tony clinging to his trouser leg and warm familiar light from the hall spilling out around him. He kisses Rose's mum and says, "You found her?" then catches sight of Rose and the Doctor. Puzzlement comes down over his face. "Er. Doctor?"
"Yeah, not quite," the man who is not quite the Doctor says, rubbing the back of his head self-consciously with his free hand. "Sort of a -- genetic metacrisis. Biological mix-up. More or less the Doctor."
"Oh," Pete says, blinking. "So --?"
"She's staying," Rose's mum interrupts firmly. "They're staying. They haven't got a TARDIS and we've all got jobs, don't we?"
"Yeah," Rose finds herself saying, the first words in too long. "First thing tomorrow I'll go return the headset, say sorry 'bout losing their guns." Somehow her hands are her own again and she steps from the man who is not her Doctor to the man who is not her father, and hugs him. "Hey, Pete."
He squeezes her tight and pulls back to give her a particular sort of fatherly look. "No more running off to other universes, yeah? I don't want to lose your mum again."
Rose worries her lip for a moment, fighting for or against a smile. "Promise."
They're swept inside and into one of the sitting rooms for something half-dinner, half-very late tea. Rose wedges herself deep into an armchair. The Doctor in his blue suit crouches by Tony and looks back up at Rose. "Sorry, how old is he?"
"Nearly three," Rose says, although she doesn't say it quite to the Doctor. "Suppose time moves a bit faster here."
"That makes you nearly twenty-four!" The Doctor frowns. "How old do you suppose I am? Well, I mean, I'm about a day old now, but that doesn't --"
"Dunno," Rose says. "Tony, say hi. This is the Doctor."
"'lo," Tony offers, and the Doctor turns all that attention from Rose to the little boy, one of those great smiles of his lighting his whole face. Rose sinks further into the chair and accepts a second cup of tea from her mum and doesn't know what to do about the rapid beating of her small hot single heart.
Rose changes into cloud-print pajamas and finds the Doctor in the hall, hands shoved in his pockets and jittery. "Hello!" he says. "Does Jackie still have spare pajamas? Only I haven't got anything but this, and Donna had a lovely nightdress but I think that's one of the human things I'd better ignore." He peers at her. "Was that a smile, Rose Tyler?"
"No," she says, trying very hard not to.
"Hey," he says, and catches her hands again, there in the dark hallway in someone else's mansion in someone else's world. "Still me. New and improved no-running version."
She stares at his hands, the long pale fingers, back up at his big sincere eyes, and sees how terrible and confusing it must be, to be this man. One day and one thousand years old, full of love and wanderlust. "I know," she says; wants to say never mind the pajamas but says, "Check with Pete and brush your teeth before turning in, yeah? I've got a big bed but if you kick I'll kick back."
There it is, that brilliant flare of grin. He dashes off and leaves her breathless.
In the morning Rose wakes alone in bed and pads downstairs groggily, half believing she must have dreamed it all and knowing she hadn't. Tony's watching the cartoon Beauty and the Beast over a bowl of cereal. Rose pauses on her way to the kitchen as Belle sobs "I love you" over the Beast's dying form, watches as the music swells and golden light lances from the Beast's paws-turned-fingertips and he comes to new human life. She bites her lip and hurries on to the kitchen.
"Morning!" the Doctor says. "Look, I made omelets. They're Donna's favourite but I think I used up most of the onions."
Rose becomes aware her mouth is open. "I, er. Good! That's really great. Tea?"
"Oh yeah, made that too," the Doctor says, setting down an astonishingly good breakfast for them both. Nothing's even burnt. He sits down and beams at her. "And I can probably type a hundred words per minute."
"I don't know if I can deal with this," Rose decides, but she says it laughing, and sits down to eat.
It's Pete's idea to take the Doctor to Torchwood, but the Doctor seems willing enough. It's not a huge operation, just an office downtown and a line to their agent monitoring the Cardiff rift, Canary Wharf long since abandoned. Everyone's delighted to meet the Doctor, delighted at the stars they saw in the sky, delighted to see Rose and Jackie safe. They're sad to hear Mickey's not with them, but no one looks surprised, not even Jake, and Rose feels a little more hurt than she thought she would.
The Doctor's shown around, not to impress him but in a genuine request for his opinion, and within ten minutes he's dashing from workstation to workstation and squinting at computer monitors and saying, "No, no, that's all wrong, they're mostly star poets, no reason to worry about them" and loudly lamenting not remembering to bring along the spare pair of specs and correcting someone's maths ("Blimey, it's amazing you got that teleport to work after all") and Rose feels an unflowering of relief inside her, some strange blossom of hope.
The second night Rose isn't exhausted enough to nod off straightaway, and she lies next to the Doctor in her bed in the dark and listens to his breathing.
"I -- he -- I used to think --" the Doctor says, shifting a little under the blankets to face her, "I used to think it would be awful. Chained to one spot. Not so bad, though, is it? Funny all the difference biology can make."
"You've only been here two days," Rose points out, laughing a little.
"Yeah, but -- two days is a lot longer now, isn't it? Once you've gone from an expected lifespan of two thousand to, oh, eighty? Ninety?" She can faintly see him frowning as he considers. "Sorry. Bit weirder to think about now."
"'s all right," Rose assures him, although she's not sure it is.
They lie in silence for a bit.
"And," the Doctor says, sitting up and making Rose jump a little, "the thing is, I want to talk about stuff! I dunno if that's biology too. Maybe I know I've only got a limited number of days to say it? But I never -- he didn't -- the other me, he couldn't say it."
Rose struggles upright also, eyes wide to see him in the dark. "It, Doctor?'
"That I love you," this terrifying human man says, easily, not like it means nothing but like an immutable fact, the same way he used to talk about any other wonder of the universe. "It's about words. When you say something that important, you have to mean it or everything else you say becomes less true, and if I was -- since he's not human, it'd be a bind. But it's different for me."
Rose licks her lips nervously. "Doctor?"
He stills. "Yeah?"
"What do you want?"
She can see the look of astonished puzzlement. "I don't know. A good night's sleep? An alien invasion tomorrow? Good chips on the weekend?"
"No, I mean," she says, struggling against a grin, struggling to remember who he isn't and what he is, struggling to stay on task, "whenever Mickey said he loved me, he'd done something wrong or he wanted --" She stops, bites her lip again and feels a flush suffuse her cheeks. She doesn't miss Mickey, not like that, but it was never awkward to talk about sex around him. Fairly straightforward, Mickey.
"He wanted ...?" the Doctor prompts.
Rose finds she can't say it straight. She manages, "Nine hundred years, by now you must've danced."
"Oh," the Doctor says. Silence for a moment while he thinks this one through. "On your own time, Rose Tyler," he says finally, very gently. "You didn't ask for me. You asked for him and I know it's not the same. I don't want you to think of me as some sort of project or obligation."
"You're not!" she says, half from astonishment at hearing the words. "It's all right, it -- thanks."
"Yeah," he says, and leans over to press a kiss to her forehead.
For the first time in years she sleeps peacefully.
They fall into patterns: breakfast in all Donna Noble's favourite foods, Torchwood every weekday, weekends spent running about London. Rose relearns how it feels to smile so much her cheeks ache by the end of the day. Over chips in a zeppelin she tells the Doctor stories of the few years apart from him before the stars began to flicker out; the Doctor loves these stories particularly, grins and tells her in turn stories of his other self, about traveling with Martha, about traveling with Donna.
One day the Doctor isn't downstairs when she turns up for breakfast, and he turns up two hours later with a bright red roadster bought, he tells her proudly, on his own Torchwood salary. Rose is only afraid for a day or so that she's witnessing some sort of early-life metacrisis or whatever it should be called; then the Doctor shows her all the tricked-out modifications and they take a weekend trip to Blackpool, where the Doctor nearly loses all his money spectacularly but is thankfully distracted by a murder mystery that ends up involving aliens who have a complex belief system revolving around the worship of Earth gambling tokens. Rose has the time of her life.
"Done this before," the Doctor confesses to her on the way home, half-shouting and the wind in their hair. "Spent a few years working for UNIT when the TARDIS wasn't working properly." He reaches over and clasps his hand in hers, still a little warmer than she expects it to be despite the wind. He grins sideways at her. "Didn't have you then." She smiles back at him, smiles and smiles until her face aches with joy.
In the second month Torchwood -- or really Pete, Rose, the Doctor, and Adelaide, who are in that day -- take down a scout fleet of weird floating shrimp-like aliens who want to suck the Earth's oceans dry to power their great water-run battle cruisers. At the end of the day they're all a bit briny; the Doctor and Rose check out early to go home and assure Rose's mum, who's on Tony-watch, that they're all safe. Rose is giggling a little from unspent adrenaline and the absurdity of the space shrimp, and sea salt is making the Doctor's hair stick out crazily. Suddenly some floodgate in Rose goes crashing down, because here he is, her Doctor: he knows every bit of slightly outdated celebrity trivia there is to know, and he can cook like a fiend, and he has a tendency to talk wistfully about buying pretty shoes, but his laugh is the same, and the fierce joy with which he works things out, and his hair looks great, so Rose shoves him right up against the side of the roadster and kisses him.
She kisses him until her knees go weak, until she can't breathe, until she sees fireworks, and when he kisses her in return -- arms wrapped tight round her, nearly lifting her off her feet, all half desperation and half enthusiasm -- she starts to wonder how that other Doctor would kiss, and then understands: he wouldn't. This is how he would, if only he could, and she's the luckiest girl in the world.
"I love you," she tells him, right against the rasp of his cheek, and he laughs in joy and relief. "Quite right," he says, and, "I love you too." She laughs and hangs onto him and waits until she's sure her heart won't burst. They drive home.
That evening she goes through Pete's record collection. He doesn't listen to many, but it's the sort of thing millionaires have, and both Rose and her mum like a few of them. She finds a Glenn Miller LP and sets down the needle. A hiss, the sax opening, and the Doctor pokes his head into the sitting room, in his pajamas and hair sticking up wet, to the opening strains of In the Mood. "Oooh," he says, and follows his hair into the room. "What's this about then, eh?"
"I thought," Rose says, "you might like to dance."
They make it through the four minutes of song, but only barely, and the Doctor fairly carries her up the stairs. Out of her top and unbuttoning the Doctor's shirt, Rose manages between kisses, "So it was all a ruse, then, you bein' gentlemanly --" and the Doctor says, "No, no, really, it's another biological thing, I think, it's really a lot easier for a Time Lord to control this sort of reaction --" and Rose says, "Shut up, Doctor, the human biology's quite good --" but really it's lucky they're talking about human biology so much or she might have forgotten the condom entirely. "Stupid!" the Doctor says when she mentions this, but she's not cos she has some in a bedside drawer; the Doctor laughs and says, "You think of everything, don't you?" and Rose nearly agrees except that soon she's not thinking very much at all.
He's a lot better than Mickey, but then, even if he's only a few months old he's had a lot more time for theoretical practice.
"I think," the Doctor announces some time later, when his hair is still sticking straight up and Rose has managed to locate a bra, "there is something to be said for human biology." And he promptly falls asleep.
"Sod you too, mate," Rose tells him cheerfully. She could get used to this.
And then the Hewligs turn up; giant dragonfly-aliens, nesting their egg sacs in the damp under piers all over the world. They eat meat, any sort, as soon as they hatch. Rose's mum is the one who discovers the first victims, and she doesn't cry, but she sits at home cradling Tony and looks very fierce and sad until both Rose and the Doctor look it too. Torchwood sends out to all military bases in the world and directs an immediate search-and-destroy of all Hewlig nest-eggs. The Doctor stays on base, his new pair of specs perched on his nose, reading up on the Hewlig life-cycle while Rose fields calls from reporting militaries and Pete drafts an official warning to the invading Hewlig adults. All in all it's fairly routine, except that the Hewligs send no reply with any declaration of intent, and then they decloak their ship and rise out humming above London.
"Right!" the Doctor says, leaping up from his station to look at the monitor readings of the Hewlig ship. "Pete, Marjorie, blast them down!"
"But --" Rose starts in astonishment. "You don't even know what they're doing yet!"
"Last resort if their egg sacs are destroyed," the Doctor says, turning to her. "They have underdeveloped nestlings onboard ship; send them down and they go into a feeding frenzy. Wipe out the whole of London in the blink of an eye."
"Then send warning," Rose says. "Pete --"
"On it," Pete calls.
"You don't have time," the Doctor tells her fiercely.
"And we can't shoot them without warning!" Rose snaps back.
The Doctor makes a disgusted noise and heads for the weapons station. Rose stares after him in astonishment for a moment before she places it: slope of the shoulders, the stiff way he holds himself, it's familiar and it's the Doctor but it's like her Time Lord Doctor said, when he'd left her with this one. He reminds her of when she first met him, that trembling angry energy. She runs after him.
He already has the weapon locked and powered up when she reaches him. As she does, Pete shouts up, "We have a surrender, people! They're firing engines and taking off."
"See?" Rose starts to say, but the Doctor hasn't powered the canon down. He's aiming it. "What are you doing?"
"People are still dead because of them," the Doctor says, not looking at her. "They're just as likely to come back when we're not looking, or to find some other planet to try this on, and that other planet won't have the same defense systems!"
"Doctor," Rose says very quietly, laying a hand on his arm. "Cos of this they might try an uninhabited planet next time. We can't shoot 'em if they've surrendered." He looks up at her with those half-seeing eyes she remembers. "What does that make you? Remember?"
He stares a minute longer, then powers the canon down. He won't look at her now. "I wasn't -- born in battle, Rose. I was born in a dying TARDIS and I did what I had to. I'm no worse than him, and I'm not who I was." He swallows and looks up at her, and Rose realises that for all the shaking conviction he's really pleading her to agree.
"You're," she says, and swallows. "Fantastic."
They go to bed wrapped together. Rose can feel the Doctor shaking, and it's a long time before she sleeps.
A week passes in quiet. In none of that time does the Doctor quite look at her. Rose starts forgetting to smile.
Then on a clear night, while Rose and her mum are trying to coax Tony into eating without making a real mess, the Doctor comes into the kitchen and announces without preamble, "Rose, you need to see this!"
It doesn't sound dangerous but it's still his right now voice, so Rose gets up and throws on a coat and follows the Doctor outside. He leads her up a hill in the half-dark, so she can't see his face; he has a blanket for them to sit on at the top, but he says nothing, and doesn't move to hold her hand. Silence.
Then the first meteor flashes through the sky; the second, the third. The Milky Way rains down stars, burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere, and it's so beautiful and so ordinary that Rose doesn't notice right away when the Doctor comes up behind her and wraps his arms round her.
"This is the closest we'll ever get, Rose Tyler," he whispers. "I'm sorry."
And that moment, with starlight silvering her face, Rose understands. He's sorry for the Hewligs; he's sorry they're bound to the Earth. This is the closest they'll ever come to the sky again, and the closest they'll ever come to each other, and he's sorry they know it.
"I'm not," Rose says, and swallows. She feels suddenly strangely grown up, sitting here with this familiar stranger so much younger and older than herself. "I'm not sorry at all," she says, and turns and sobs into the Doctor's shoulder under the little Earth night aglitter with beauty.
The Doctor kisses her forehead and rubs her back in little soothing circles. He does not apologise again.
Once upon a time, a poor maiden named Rose was attacked by monsters from beyond the stars, and saved by a mysterious gentleman. Her shop burned, and her mother fretted, but Rose was a determined girl and sought out her mysterious gentleman, who called himself a lord of time. Together they saved her kingdom from those terrible monsters, and when her time lord called her to his life of adventure she went running with not a care for those left behind. But her old life pulled her back, and she learned to save her kingdom again and again, and to fear neither the creatures of the darkness nor the big bad wolf. She and her lord traveled far and wide and saw many wonders, but at last destiny tore them asunder.
The maiden Rose searched for her time lord across many lands and on through time, and when she found him she found also that time had changed him. He could not stay, but he gave her of himself. Together Rose and the man who was lord of nothing now learned each other and mapped a new world. Sometimes they were happy; sometimes they were not.
And they lived.