In the back of the Jeep, they sit side by side, knees touching, and for a long, long time, no one speaks. Even her Mum and Dad in the cab of the jeep drive on in silence while the long Arctic rays of spring filter through the canvas.
What could they say, really? The Doctor left them on the beach, Rose and his Meta Crisis, the one who loves her and has the guts to say it.
Not out loud. But he did say it.
Anger roils inside her. Neither the Doctor nor the Meta Crisis could say it out loud. Oh, they faced down Daleks and Cybermen and all manner of what-have-you, but three words? Out loud?
She looks down at his hands, palms up on his knees. She stares at the freckle-flecks along the outer edge of his wrist, the bit of dark hair glimmering like copper wires in the fading sun. His hands, so like the Doctor’s, but not the Doctor’s.
His fingers twitch and Rose glances at his face. Eyes closed, she realizes. He’s fallen asleep.
And just like that, her anger melts, running away like snow in an early spring thaw.
Because he’s human now. Half human. Human enough to be exhausted. Rose is exhausted, too, but so a-jangle with excitement and adrenaline, no way she could sleep, and wasn’t it just like him to be able to rest after all that had happened?
Not him, she corrects. An ache fills her, radiating from her heart to her fingertips like a tidal wave. She’d lost him on the beach, after all. This is, what? A facsimile, a copy, a... clone? What exactly is a Meta Crisis, anyway? And why... why does it hurt her to look at it? Why doesn’t she trust it?
The jeep jolts over pothole and the Meta Crisis snaps awake, exhaling a frightened “Rose!” before his eyes find hers. Without thinking, she clasps his hands.
“It’s alright, I’m here,” she soothes. “You’re gonna be alright. I’ve got you.” Rose gathers a blanket around their shoulders, careful not to brush his skin with hers.
He watches her, wordless, his lips parted, and slowly, he slips again into sleep. Rose fixates on his eyelids, on the fine veins that resemble a dragonfly’s wings. She wants desperately — the wanting of a thousand days passed — to drink in those lips, to feel his lashes against her neck, his breath on her collarbone, his teeth, his tongue.
She feels a flush trembling under her skin. She breathes out and nestles under the blanket.
She thinks, This is going to be tricky.
Some angst, some blood, some tears, and some Jaffa Cakes.
“Tiny flat,” he observes, standing in the centre of the kitchen, the spot from which he has a clear view into every room of Rose’s place. He bounces on the soles of his trainers, his hands tucked into pockets as he peers first into the one bedroom and then the breakfast/living area.
At least she’d left it tidy. In truth, she hadn’t meant to return. She hoped her last trip would lead her to the TARDIS, and from there, all of time and space, forever.
Yet here they were.
“You want anything?” Rose asks. “Fridge is bare, but I’ve got...” she opens her cupboard. “Oh, Jaffa Cakes. You like those, right?”
They stare into the cupboard: five shelves of empty. One packet of cakes.
“Who doesn’t?” he answers.
They reach for them at once, and when his hand brushes hers, she startles, and the tube clatters to the floor.
“Dammit,” she swears. They both stoop to get them and bang their foreheads, hard enough that she sees sparks.
Rose totters backward, her bum smacking the tile. She claps her hands to her forehead, trying to conceal the tears in her eyes. He kneels and whispers, “Rose, you alright?”
She looks up through her fingers to find him tilting the packet of cakes toward her, a bright rivulet of red blood jagging into his eyebrow.
All at once, Rose can no longer hold back. Tears spill from her eyes. Tears that well up from places she’d walled off for years. Tears of hope and waiting and longing. Tears she’d denied until now, until she sees his blood and realizes...
“Rose?” His eyes go a bit wild, like he’s trapped and unsure whether he should stay or run for help. “Are you hurt? How bad is it?”
“Not me!” she says. “You! You’re bleeding.” She reaches for him, but he finds it first.
“Right you are,” he says, smoothing the blood between his fingers. He stares at it, then before she can stop him, he licks it.
“Hmm,” he said, pulling a face. “D’you know, this body might be a tad anemic. Don’t suppose you’ve got anything iron-y?”
“Irony?” she laughs.
“Yeah,” he says, grinning at his maybe unintended word play. “Beef, lentils... swiss chard?”
“I’ve got nothing,” Rose says. “Sorry.”
He wipes absently at his forehead, smearing the blood in a wide red swatch.
“Wonder how much iron’s in Jaffa Cakes?” he says, turning the tube in his hands. “Oh. What month is this?”
“Oh-dot-four,” she answers, then shakes her head. “April for us. For me, I mean. Here they call months by numbers instead of traditional names, ’cause of some secularization movement from back when Lord Cromwell was in charge...”
“These went off in oh-dot-one.”
“S’all right,” he says. “We’ll just... I dunno... nip out for...”
“Groceries,” she says. “We can head to the shops, now that we’re...” she swallows. “Here.”
“Am I going to stay here?” he asks.
“Why, don’t you want to?”
“Well, I thought because I’m...” He palms the blood from his forehead and they both stare into his reddened hand.
Rose slips a tea towel from the stovetop. “Here, let me,” she says, dabbing at the wound. “Look at that. Tiny little cut, barely a scratch. Does it hurt at all?”
He shrugs. “Rose, d’you want me to stay?”
She tries to ignore the fear and pain in his voice. She tries not to glance over his shoulder at the tiny bed in her room.
But there it is, the pachyderm parading around them, the question he must have been considering since he came to stand on the clean white tile of her kitchen. Where would he sleep? Would they share that tiny bed? Or would she take the sofa, where she usually slept anyway, when she was not out striding between worlds to find him?
Not him. The Doctor.
“Of course I want you to stay,” she mutters. “Where else would you go?”
His lashes flutter like he’d wakened from some hypnotic spell. “Right,” he says. “Right. That's be the sofa for me.”
“’S fine," she says. "Whatever you like is fine.” She goes to the sink to rinse the blood from her towel.
Half the night, awake.
Half the night, counting the whorls in the plaster moulding.
Half the night, wondering, What is he thinking?
And where is the Doctor now?
Rose buries her face in her pillow and cries.
Because it’s like this Meta Crisis is really the Doctor’s twin brother, or a look-alike cousin. Rose realizes this as she brushes her teeth the next morning (must get him a toothbrush, she thinks, adding to the list of things he’ll need). She’s careful with the water; they’re on Level Two restrictions now. No car washing. No lawn sprinklers. Ten-minute limit on showers. No leaving the water running whilst brushing teeth.
Despite appearances, the Meta Crisis is not the Doctor.
She rinses, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She avoids the mirror, knowing that she must look like something dragged behind the Jeep all the way from Norway. Dimly, she hears the telly burbling in the other room. It’s all about the Water Crisis these days. The weather’s gone off since she and Torchwood went all dimension-hoppy. Now their world needs saving. Her Dad keeps pushing her in a stream of endless text messages to nudge the Doctor toward a solution.
And she will. She’s intends to. Just for now, she can’t think the word crisis without also thinking Meta Crisis, and he’s just settling in, and everything’s all muddled, and she would like for them both to have some time, just a few days, to get their heads in place.
That is, if they’re not too busy clacking them together.
Rose shuffles into the kitchen to put on the kettle, only to find the Meta Crisis there, fully awake, fully dressed. Grinning.
“Oh god what?” she mumbles, smoothing her hands over her hair. “Do I have a standing wave in front? Or is it... toothpaste mustache?”
“Aren’t you going to ask what this is?”
She glances around. “Ask what what is?”
He slides a rectangle of white paper across the bar.
At first, it’s just a blank slip of paper. Then, a message appears:
Rose Tyler, Senior Level Clearance
Now he’s beaming, and Rose understands.
“But that’s... psychic paper.”
“How did you...?”
“Made it, didn’t I?” he says. “Now you don’t have to worry, I can get us money and, well, anything, really, anything you like, except, maybe not a giraffe, well, I say not a giraffe, we'd have to build a paddock for it, which you could do... if you... wanted?” He pursed his lips in response to the incredulous look she no doubt wore on her face. “No giraffes, then. Smaller. A lemur! We could get a lemur.”
She stares at the paper again. This time it reads:
Rose Tyler, Senior Level Clearance
He’d fancy a kiss.
She gives him a sharp look.
He blinks, innocently. “What?”
“It says...” she narrows her gaze. This time she catches the glint of his nervousness, the way his Adam’s apple bobs, just so. She realizes then, he’s scared. Scared as she is. Hurt as she is. Because He abandoned them both on that beach, stranded them, and...
“Oh what the hell,” she says, and standing on tiptoe, she brings her lips to his.
His hand finds hers. He’s holding his breath, as if he's afraid to move. She presses her free hand to his chest, and he leans in, and he’s trembling.
Suddenly, relief and frustration flood her. She wants to shout, “But you’re human.”
Instead she winds her arm around his waist and pulls him close. He makes a muffled surprised sound as their teeth bump behind lips. His mouth curves into a smile and in the next second, they melt into the kiss, both laughing.
It’s their first kiss since the beach. Seems long ago now, but time with the Doctor always feels tricky.
Only, she’s done it again. Called him the Doctor. Cursing inwardly, she breaks the kiss, pulls away. Her mind spins like loose gears, and when they finally click, she latches onto the first thought and spits it out.
“Hang on,” she says. “I do have money.”
“H-have you?” he stammers. “’Course you have. We’re on Pete’s world...” Rose shoots him a dark look; he corrects course. “And you’ve got a proper living, even if your Dad is the C.E.O. of Vitex Industries...”
That’s where he runs aground. Not because he’s wrong; because he’s right. Her ‘proper living’ meant bucketing billions of Cybus Industry’s money into Torchwood’s R&D so she could find the Doctor and stop the stars going out. Done, and done.
She glimpses the psychic paper on the counter. It flashes the message from her thoughts: He’s not the Doctor.
Her heart answers with a pang of guilt.
Rose swallows it back. But the Meta Crisis is here. He is her responsibility. She will sort out everything in time, but right now, he needs a toothbrush and extra sets of shorts and a drawer for his things.
She pushes the paper away and buries her head against his chest. She feels his nose nuzzling her head; she knows he’s breathing in the coconut scent of her hair. She tries not to think about his single heart pulsing beneath her ear.
“You got a sonic in one of those pockets?” she asks, trying to sound upbeat, not really succeeding.
He goes for it, though. “Not yet,” he answers. “But just you wait, Rose Tyler.”
He runs off then, disappearing into the living area, as if he has to start on the sonic immediately, just because she asks for it.
Rose leans heavily on the worktop, her concentration sliding all over the place. Guilt, she thinks. Guilt over what? she wonders, and the psychic paper spells it out for her.
It’s like I’m cheating, it reads. Like I’m betraying the Doctor.
Fifth day back from Norway, they go shopping.
Work clothes, she says. For the new job at Torchwood, which her Dad has lined up for him. New suit, she says. Playing dress up, he says.
It’s a warm day, a lemonade late spring day. Profusions of flowers burst from the sidewalks and medians. He’s sipping a slushy drink because it’s too warm, they both know, warm out of its season, but the sun gleams on windshields and chrome, and he kisses her, a quick kiss with cold lips.
The blush begins in the arches of her feet and floods her, dizzies her. “Mmm.” An involuntary noise. “Your lips are cold.” A lame attempt at recovery.
“Black currant,” he says, enunciating each syllable like separate icy bites. He offers her a sip from his straw. “Want some?”
She does. She makes a bit of show, wrapping her lips around the straw, pulling in a deep, long drag, before releasing it and humming, “Good, yeah?”
He smiles down at her, and his eyes seem to say, We’ve done this, remember? You and me. Another planet, but still... this.
“Kissing’s better than I remembered,” he says, rattling the straw in its cup. “So are these.”
She acknowledges the Doctor-ness of the statement: equating kissing with slushy drinks. Part of her attempts to keep an even keel, but it’s the second kiss since the one on the beach, and this one’s so off-hand and casual, it disarms her. It’s so unlike the one in the kitchen, which had been laced with guilt and desperation.
Part of her wants to be angry, because she has been so angry, and disappointed, and hurt.
And part of her — a weak, infuriating human part — can’t keep from thinking about his lips and how she’d like to get him out of that suit.
After he’s been in the dressing room for ten minutes straight, Rose sneaks past the girl at the desk and slips into the brightly lit corridor.
“Doctor?” she calls, tiptoeing past closed cubicles, flashing back to past times when this much silence from him meant he’d been snared by alien invaders or captivated by some brainy female scientist-type, usually blonde, and if either were the case... she was gonna kill him.
But no. She finds him in the second last cubicle, the door pulled to but unlocked. As she nudges in, he says, sheepishly, “Rose, d’you mind? I'm sort of... stuck.”
He’s got the tail to his Marvin the Martian t-shirt snagged in the zip.
She gives him a wry smile. “Burns like the center of the sun, can see the turn of the universe,” she says. “Rubbish at zippers.”
“This one’s all backhand,” he explains. She takes hold of the shirttail and gingerly works at tugging the fabric free, mindful of his skin, careful not to brush against him with her fingertips. “And the zip is inferior,” he was saying, “Not like the ones made on Carlibost Five, now those were quality zips. Adamantine, smooth as polished rail, guaranteed for whole lifetimes — even mine.”
“You’ve got it really stuck in there,” she says, running her tongue out over her lip. “Might lose the shirt.” Then she’s mortified at what she’s suggested, worried that he might take it as a pass.
But he sidesteps, or maybe thinks nothing of it. “Oh, not this one,” he complains, “I really like this one, reminds me of Donna, she always called me Martian. Good old Donna...”
Then Rose does brush his stomach with the back of her hand. He shivers, and in the still seconds that tick between them, she manages to wriggle the shirt free.
“There you are, all better,” Rose says, smoothing the shirttail down.
He smiles down at her, a daft, sparkling smile. “Guess I really got my teeth into that one,” he quips. With his free hand, he swings the door closed and she can’t quite believe what his arched eyebrows seem to be suggesting.
“This is a dressing room,” she hisses.
“Oh yes,” he says.
“A men’s dressing room,” she adds.
He swallows, hard. “Well, I thought...” He inches forward. “Since we’re here...we might...try a bit of snogging?”
It’s the question at the end that gets her. She understands he’s playing at being human, at being a man, and isn’t this what human men do? Get into an enclosed space with a woman and cop a snog.
This is all new to him. These human urges. The nerves. The pump of hormones in his human blood — all brand new.
Then he begins to talk. “Lots of species use enclosed public spaces for the rituals of copulation. It’s not a phenomenon confined to this planet. The hive races of Arcturia, for instance, they use waxen cubicles for courtship. Very much in the open, not a lot of privacy amongst the Arcturans. Of course, they’re a fiercely matriarchal race and lovemaking typically ends in the beheading of the male, so...”
“Shhh,” she says, and she brings her lips to his neck, to the place where his jaw line meets his ear. He makes a strangled sound as she nips his earlobe, then traces the outer whorl with her tongue.
As Rose slips her hands under the hem of his t-shirt, she remembers that his pants are lolling open. She doesn’t intend to go that far. Not yet. Not here. So she pulls him close to her instead, wrapping her arms around his waist, sliding her hands beneath the shirt to rest on his shoulder blades.
He shifts beneath her, pushing her against the dressing room door, and she’s tempted, ooh, so tempted, to delve into this fantasy of taking these brand new parts of his for a proper test drive. She curls one leg around his thigh and feels he’s pretty chuffed at the idea, too.
But he’s kissing her now. Breathless nips of berry sweetness linger on his tongue. She’s aware they’re causing the door to clatter, probably attracting the attention of the sales girl, but Rose is more concerned with the progress of his hand under her blouse. For a moment, it splays across her ribs as he pulls her against him. Then his fingertips find the lace edge of her bra. He traces her nipple through the cloth with his thumb.
She feels the curve of his smile in their kiss again, and she wonders, What can be funny now?
So she blurts, “What!?”
“Oh, it’s,” he says, his breath catching. “It’s fantastic, this! It’s...”
“Just the beginning,” she says, making her voice go all silky and dark. She arches her back so he gets the whole handful. His eyes widen.
Her body is ready. She’s poised like a bowstring. All it would take...
She feels his free hand flex, and he gives her a playful smile. “Look at that,” he whispers. “Seems I can work your zipper just fine.”
Now that it’s equal, it turns serious, because there’s an absurdly thin layer of fabric and an even thinner line of restraint between them. She wants to prolong the kissing and the adolescent what-happens-if-I-stroke-this bit for as long as possible. Because they are like teenage kids, and she’s getting to do this part over with him, the part she got wrong back in the Powell Estate a whole universe away, when she and Mickey were bored and playing at sex because they were both broke and there was nothing good on the telly.
“Rose?” The concern in his voice pulls her up short.
Suddenly she’s close to tears again — God, she thinks, what is this doing to her? — and she nuzzles into his neck. “’m sorry,” she mumbles. “You must think I’m total nutters.”
“Well–” he says. “That’d be me, I think. Mayor of Nutterville...”
She pulls him tighter, so that she can feel his warmth against her forearms. She breathes in the scent of his skin, the scent of rain and cinnamon and leather book-spines.
“Here,” he tells her, setting her back on her own feet so he can have a look at her. She’s not crying; close to it, but managing to hold on. After a moment’s scrutinizing, he says, “It’s all right, Rose. I think I know something that can help, eh?”
“Yeah?” She exhales. “What’s that?”
“Chips,” he says. “Chips, telly, maybe a nip to the park to have a look at the stars. If the sky is clear, we can catch a glimpse of tiny Hebredoth, in the Spica system, known to Earth astronomers as object M28, but in three centuries it will be the thriving hub of a bustling empire stretching across two galaxies...”
As he speaks, he shucks the t-shirt and removes the jeans, slipping back into his blue trousers, without any consideration for human prudery. He’s halfway into his dress shirt, and illuminating the points of a trade agreement between the Hebredothics and their neighbors, the Gorthanks, when he stops, one sleeve on, one half off, and notices her staring.
“Ooh, I did that wrong,” he says.
“Nah,” she says. She pulls the shirtsleeve over his arm and starts in on the buttons. “We’ll get the hang of it.”
“Yeah?” he asks. When he pulls on his jacket, he pats the pockets, as if he’s checking for something.
The sonic, she thinks. As if reading her thoughts, he stops and takes her hand.
“Chips,” she says with a nod.
“Chips,” he agrees, and they head back out into the unnatural warmth of spring.
Not a sonic, she soon learns, but a ring.
They settle on his name and he proposes. All in the same afternoon. They keep it a secret, because her Mum will make an unbearably big deal.
She whispers the name to herself when she’s alone. James McCrimmon. James. She practices, in case she forgets, in case she calls him Doctor, though he’s kept the title for official paperwork. In his personnel file, he’s Doctor James McCrimmon.
And the ring. He says it’s a five-point star, a diamond found only on Gallifrey. It’s set in a band of polished white metal that glows like platinum, inset with swirls that curl around the stone. He says he’s carried it for years, stuffed it in his pockets that last jaunt on the TARDIS. Just in case.
She has nightmares of losing it down the drain while she’s doing the washing, or that she’s standing on a balcony and it slips off her finger. Sometimes when the ring collides with the ground the whole earth shears apart, whirling in separate fiery directions beneath them, and she snaps awake to check that it’s still there.
Water rationing begins in May. Twice a week, council trucks deliver ten-gallon drums to every estate resident, for drinking, for washing, for cooking. For bathing. The temperatures have climbed to sweltering. Even with the windows open and the oscillating fans cranked to overdrive, they’re miserable. The stench of under-washed bodies hangs like a pall in the streets.
Boil notices populate the public bulletin boards. Rose has taken to sponge bathing out of an enamel basin each morning while he launches into diatribes about June brides and wedding showers and the bathing rituals of Renaissance times. She’s happy for the comforting distraction of his voice.
But they both know, it's a chemical contamination, and boiling water won’t fix the problem. It buys them time, is all. There are seven billion people on the earth. In some countries, people are rioting. In India and Africa, a plague rages. There isn’t enough clean water left, and people are dying.
One morning soon after, she enters the kitchen to find him at the table, rumpled, unkempt, ankle deep in drifts of pages, all of them filled with calculations and drawings.
“I have a computer,” she offers.
A dismissive wave. “This way’s quicker,” he says. Graphite smudges the heels of his hands, his cuffs, his cheekbone.
“Have you slept?”
"Yes.” Irritated. “Maybe, dunno. I dreamt, at least I think I did. I need to find someone, Rose. I need you to find someone. Can you find someone, use your resources at Torchwood? I think he might have an answer...”
She lifts a fallen page from the floor. It’s a diagram sketch, a half cylinder perforated with rows of tiny holes. “Sure, yeah,” she says. “Who is it?”
“Here,” he says. Not looking up from his paper, he slides a separate slip across the table.
“Luke Rattigan?” she reads aloud.
“Luke Rattigan, boy genius. Can you find him?”
“Yes, but... who is he?”
“He’s no one, not yet.” He scratches absently at his neck. “Not in this universe, anyway. But we may soon see who he is.” He continues to furiously calculate, his hand flying across one yellow legal page then flipping to the next. She hovers, staring, steeped in worry. Then he stands and turns to pull her into his arms. “It’s all right, Rose,” he murmurs into her neck. “It’s only the end of the world.”
Things *finally* get sexy.
She returns home that evening and finds the landlady waiting at the front steps. In the best of times, Ms. Hapscomb is a severe woman. Now she’s all sweat and grime and bitterness.
“He’s been at it for hours,” she says, wearily.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Rose says. She’s dismayed by the metallic scree of an electric saw that rings down on them in the foyer.
She finds him goggle-bedecked, wielding a blow-torch and large iron tongs over the gutted remains of what appears to be her refrigerator.
“Hello, Rose!” he shouts, teetering close to maniacal.
She minces over a knot of thick cables and hoses in the hallway.
“I thought I heard a... saw... on the way up?”
He gestures with the blow torch. Indeed there is a saw on the worktop, and a pair of wooden sawhorses with evenly cut planks leaning against the wall. “Oh yes,” he answers. “Minor modification. All sorted. Did you find him, Rose?”
She blinks. “Who, now?”
“Rattigan, of course,” he says, hitching up his goggles.
“Yes!” She feels daft and slow. “American high school student, won an Excellence in Science Award last quarter. Sent a message to his parents, said we’d want to meet him.”
“Brilliant.” He grins.
“They haven’t responded yet,” Rose adds. “He’s sixteen and American.”
“Oh. Right. Well, we’ll just have to explain that he’s one of the great minds of this century and that his exceptional teenage brain’s needed to help solve the Water Crisis. Though it’s probably best to downplay the exceptional part, in case hubris proves once again to be his downfall. Pride goeth before the Sontar-Ha, as they say...”
He strikes up the blowtorch again, crisping the air with the scent of flint and butane.
“No you don’t,” she says, stepping in, catching his wrist. “What is going on? What have you done to my fridge?”
The blowtorch gutters.
“It’s a filtration device,” he says, as if any idiot could plainly tell. He launches into an explanation, setting the blowtorch aside. “The problem is that we can’t rely on desalination because the process takes too long and, let’s face it, with current human technology, the yield of potable water isn’t worth the energy consumed. Essentially, an H-2-no-go...”
She groans. Meanwhile, he’s busily connecting a series of hoses and valves that run, she notices, from her kitchen sink, through the garden window, and out into the lawn. Then she asks, “Where’d you get all this?”
“Our neighbors, excellent people,” he says, laughing as he spins around her, looping cables and wires in seemingly random fashion. “Mr. Gaerity’s a plumber, and, did you know, Mr. Martin is a retired carpenter who worked as an apprentice builder during London’s restoration in ’84. I didn’t even know there had been a restoration!”
All of the sudden, he lifts her, twirling her, placing her on the counter amid a scatter of tools. “Safer there,” he says with a nod.
“Safer than... what?” she asks.
He reaches past her, gripping a plastic jug of bubbly, milky fluid from the worktop. “Than being down here,” he answers. With a flourish, he pours the fluid into a funnel that juts from a pipe attached to the apparatus cobbled from her kitchen appliances.
The machine belches and hisses, filling the air with dense steam. She smells salt and detergent, and beneath that, something fresh and sharp, like ozone.
He steps back, the empty jug curled in his arms, and he watches, his eyes agleam.
“Is that our water ration?” Rose asks. She swings her legs in anxious circles.
“Um. Yes,” he answers.
“But it’s all we get. What have you done with it?”
“Oh, bit of salt,” he says, casually, like they’re talking recipes.
Rose slides from the counter. “You put salt in our water ration?”
“Salt and soap?” she says. “But it’s our ration. We won’t get more til Saturday.”
He flashes his most dashing and hopeful grin. “I had to test it, didn’t I?”
The machine sends up a whistling shriek, in every way like a tea kettle, and he leaps up, shouting, “There! See!” A single drop of condensation forms on the mouth of a nozzle at the end of the machine. He snags a glass from the counter, works the tap, and fills it full of sparklingly clear water.
“You’ve done it,” Rose says, stunned. “With things from my kitchen and stuff borrowed off the neighbors?”
“H-2-Oh-yes! Transfer’s ounce for ounce. Nothing lost to vapor. Fast, clean, pure, every last drop restored,” he says. “Here ya go, Rose. Have a taste.”
As the shrilling fades, he takes a step toward her, holding the glass like an offering between his hands.
And Rose is thirsty. It aches in her throat. It burns on her tongue. Everyone in the world is desperate for water, and here he stands, like Sir Gawain with the Grail cup in his hands.
Her reaction surprises them both. She twists her fists in his rumpled shirtfront, pulling him into a deep kiss that renders her dizzy and him speechless. They’re both so hot, so worn, so exhausted that for a moment they simply blur into each other.
Then he breaks away and stammers, “W-what was that for?”
She gives him a sly smile. “Because we can.”
She watches his features as he weighs her words against the task he’s been laboring over for more long days than he’s bothered to count. Her hand rests on his chest; it rises and falls with his breathing. She feels his heart pounding beneath her palm. She hears the street sounds through the open windows, distant zeppelins plowing through late evening clouds. Now who’s feeling the turn of the earth, she wonders, and in that moment, as if he’s read her thoughts, he caves.
He places the water very carefully upon the counter and whispers, “In that case...”
They reach for each other. Tangling in hoses and cables, they slam into the counter, scattering utensils in their wake. He knots his hands in her hair, pulling her to him, crushing her mouth to his.
He tastes feverish. He burns against her. She fusses with buttons of his ridiculous shirt, tearing them when they won’t come free, and suddenly he pins her against the counter. His hands sneak to the clasp of her skirt, and she snakes her leg around his hip, letting him in on the secret — that it’s a skirt — to reveal the smooth white of her thigh beneath the hem.
She feels him whisper her name against her neck.
“Can we?” she asks, her breath hitching. “I mean, we are in the middle of a crisis.”
He hooks a thumb in the elastic of her knickers. “When aren’t we?”
“Great answer,” she gushes, arching on tiptoe, slipping out of her flats to bring both legs around his waist.
It’s dodgy business then as she carries her through the coils of cable and hoses, because she’s pulling his shirt over his head as they go, and he’s tonguing the sweat from her neck.
They manage to not to collide with anything until they reach her bed. Then she slides away from him, shifting her weight, tumbling into twists of pillows and bedclothes. He’s above her, grinning, as they crawl backward into her narrow bed.
There’s a moment of frantic tugging — her shirt, her underthings, his trousers — and he groans, lamenting again the inferior zippers of his clothing, when suddenly, they struggle free and find themselves deliciously, exquisitely naked.
She delights in the coolness of her skin against his after. The ceiling fan turns languid circles, chasing chills down her arms and across his back. His hand slides up to cup her breast, and she wonders with some amusement at how quickly they’d managed to shed her bra.
She squirms beneath him, finds him hard against her, ready, but waiting. His mouth finds hers, his tongue traces her lips. She brings her hand around him, giving him a single squeeze...
“Hang on, cowboy,” she says. She slides an arm up to fumble in the side table drawer. She withdraws a string of plastic squares. “You ever done one of these?”
He angles back, confusion plain on his brow. “Chocolates?” he ventures.
“Chocolate contraceptives,” she says, smiling. “Now there’s an idea that might catch on.”
“Contracept... Oh. Right. Because I’m... And we might... oh.”
Rose said, “Never gave much attention to a Time Lord’s reproduction til now,” (a dirty lie) “I mean, I figured maybe you reproduced by like, I dunno, budding? Like you sort of... already have... But with this...” she trails off.
“Until we want,” he finishes. “Well, if we want.”
He’s all wide-eyed and, for once, completely speechless. This gives her a perverse sense of satisfaction, that she’s managed to shut him up.
With deft fingers, she opens the package. She’s able to slide the condom down his entire length in one swift go, coaxing a nervous chuckle from him.
“There we are, Doctor McCrimmon,” she purrs. She places a hand on the back of his neck and draws him forward.
He murmurs into her ear, “My timorous beastie.”
He stares down into her eyes, then, and she meets his gaze, her heart pounding, but level and steady. She understands, their stations are reversed, that this is the new territory for him, and he’s relying on her to take the lead. The thrill of it pulses through her. She brings her legs around him, urging him forward with her heels.
“We’ll go slow,” she tells him.
He enters her, exhaling as she arches into him, guiding him forward, guiding him deeper. They find a rhythm, and for a moment, it’s just the sound of their breathing, the noise of the fan, the squeak of the bed. His fingers lace in hers and his eyes close, and she whispers, “Slow now, stay with me...”
Lips and teeth, his eyes on hers. Eyes unlike any man’s, eyes deep as galaxies, but human — half-human — and it doesn’t matter, because she’s losing focus, dissolving into him. He’s with her, moving within her. Sensation sparks in her, a long slow build that crashes through her, and she bucks into him. She bites down on his arm and comes again, her hips arching into his, and he releases in an exhalation of disjointed syllables, like all his eloquence packed up and left the moment he decided to take on this basic human task.
He’s reluctant to part from her. She’s reluctant to let him. Even in the swelter of the summer night, with all the windows flung wide to the city air, even with rivulets of sweat coursing across his stomach and her hips to the place where they are joined... Neither wants to let go.
With every breath, her breasts rise to brush against him. He bends his forehead to meet hers. His eyes slip closed and she hears him swallow. Then his breathing shallows and she thinks he might be drifting off.
“Here,” she whispers, shifting beneath him, and there’s a moment when they both utter a surprised sigh at the loss of connection. Afterward, they curl into one another while the ceiling fan turns lazy humming circles that lull them to sleep.
Rose finds her bra the next morning, slung from the potted hibiscus in the garden. Mr. Gaerity, dressed in swim trunks, gives her a wink and raises a can of juice in her direction before trundling out to fetch his morning paper.
In this chapter, there's a reference to Velnaxi magma golems from Doctor Who: The Art of Destruction, by Stephen Cole.
“You goin’ in this morning?” Rose asks as she slides into bed with the glass of water he’d filtered the night before.
“Did you have some?” he asks, sitting up.
“I have. It’s perfect.”
He grins and takes the glass for himself. He drains half of it in one long gulp. “There. I’ve made clean water for us, Rose. Mass produce that machine, and there’s the Water Crisis sorted.”
She slips the glass from him and sips. “Yeah, but now we’ve no fridge for keepin’ our cold stuff cold. One crisis to another...”
He sucks air over his teeth. “I concede your point. However, we still have a cupboard full of Jaffa Cakes. No refrigeration required.” He leans in, rubs his nose to hers, and then nips a quick kiss before climbing from bed and hunting up his clothes. “You seen my pants?”
“Oof, no,” she says, stretching languidly. “Found mine in the planter outside.” She snatches playfully at the sleeve of his shirt.
“Rose!” he whines. “We’ve got to get more water, clean or not, but the machine still needs testing, and I’ve a inkling that Rattigan kid has the final piece of this puzzle, so we bring him here, and–”
It’s at that moment, while he’s pulling on his trousers that he sways and has to catch himself on the door jamb.
She’s at his side in a second.
“No it’s fine, I’m all right,” he says, waving her off.
“You’re not,” she tells him after a quick appraisal. “You’re exhausted, look at you.”
He seems to deflate into his tiredness. “Well, I suppose it’s possible. How does one tell these things?”
“Did you eat at all?”
He lifts his eyes to the ceiling as he thinks this over. “Oh yes,” he says, finally. “Remember: boiled egg on toast.”
“No.” Rose shakes her head. “No, that’s not right. I boiled those eggs on Sunday.”
“Hm.” His brow wrinkles. “Right.”
“That was two days ago!”
“Could be I forgot?”
“You forgot... to eat?”
“I was in the middle of solving the Water Crisis, Rose, I couldn’t be bothered with trifles...”
“Like eating?” She shouts this last bit. She’s frustrated. At him, yes, for forgetting something so basic even a child can manage. But at herself, too. For forgetting. Forgetting that he’s new at this. Forgetting that the human part of him hasn’t caught up with the Time Lord part, and maybe never would.
She gathers him into her arms. She tests him for fever the way her Mum always did when Rose was a child. She pulls his face close to hers and presses her lips to his forehead.
Chills spread up his bare arms. He swallows thickly; she hears it click in his throat. “You’re warm, but it’s not bad yet.”
“Am I ill?” he asks. He swallows again. She feels his jaw move under her cheek.
“Kinda — bit — scratchy?”
“And your head?”
“Bit... oh, I dunno, floopy? Like, remember that time when we were in Africa twenty-third century, and those gold Velnaxi magma golems that tried to take hold of our skins?”
“That’s how you feel?”
He nods. “Wibbly wobbly.”
“Then you’re ill,” she decides, and guilt floods her. Two days without food — her fault, her negligence. She’d gone to work early, stayed late, eaten what she could from the break room vending machines. She’d assumed he’d take care of himself, just as he had done for centuries before now.
And then last night had been, well... vigorous.
“It’s all right,” she tells him, guiding him back to bed, smoothing her hands over his shoulders to soothe him. She nudges him into the pillows, dragging the covers up, tucking them under his chin. He waggles his long feet under the blankets, and she wonders if he might be enjoying this, just a little.
She begins to peel off her pajamas, tossing her t-shirt into the pile on her chair. She tugs on her pants and feels utterly absurd when she turns away from him to fasten the clasp of her bra.
As she's nipping around the room, pulling on a skirt, buttoning a blouse, he begins to chatter. “Rose, I can’t be ill. Haven’t been ill, not in — oh, centuries — not since I was a boy. Gallifreyen Purple Pox. Neck swelled up like a tuber. Nasty. Then there was a time before that, I was only sixty, Corchid Fever... too many Lupiner berries. Headmaster said, ‘You’ll break out in hives the size of TARDIS fronds,’ but I didn’t listen, and besides, I’ve got to get these designs to Luke Rattigan and Torchwood. We have to find a way to quickly mass-produce–”
“–The world can wait a day,” she interrupts. She turns back to him, pulling her sweat-damp hair into a clip. “Don’t you worry. I’ve got this. When I was younger, I’d get Mum back on her feet in no time. I’ll use everything in my arsenal.”
“A lovely arsenal it is,” he says. The smile he gives her is daft, bordering on drunken. Already, his eyes are slipping closed. He reaches and grips her hand.
She says, “I’ll pop down to the shops. Noodle soup, orange juice, green tea...”
“Apples?” he mutters. He gives her hand a squeeze.
“Sure, if you like,” she answers.
“Yes,” he whispers as he settles into the pillow. His breathing changes, deepening as he drifts toward sleep. “They keep the Doctor away.”
Taking some liberties here with Luke Rattigan. In Pete's World, he's an American high school student with a knack for invention, and not a maniacal genius bent on world domination.
She’s stepping through the front door when Pete meets her on the stairs.
“Well, well,” he says sourly. “Here she is, safe at home.”
“–Meanwhile your Mum and I are worried sick that something’s gone wrong, like it has with the whole rest of the world!”
Rose pulls him along with her on the stairs, hissing a hurried, “Hush, you’ll wake him!”
“Good,” Pete snaps, though he’s lowered his voice. “We need him. Why haven’t you answered our calls?”
At the base of the stairs, she turns to face him. “I turned the phone off. We needed some time–”
“Rose, we haven’t got time. Haven’t you seen the news?”
“No,” Rose admits. Mrs. Tilby in 3F closes her door a fraction, but they can see one thin slice of the wary woman, watching them through the gap. Pete pulls Rose further into the foyer.
He grips Rose’s arm, a gentle but urgent gesture. “It’s worse than they’re saying, ’cause they don’t want a panic, but it’s the clean water supplies, Rose. It’s all gone. Depleted. You get what I’m saying, right?”
“He has a plan–” Rose mutters, but she feels her knees weaken.
“Luke Rattigan? We need more than a crippled science whiz from Kansas. Rose, we need the Doctor.”
“He’s not here,” Rose shouts. The tears spring into her eyes, hot and stinging. “Besides, what could he do? This isn’t caused by extraterrestrials. There’s no violation of the Shadow Proclamation, no marauding race of opportunistic aliens. It’s just us, Dad. We did this. We ripped holes in our universe. We poisoned our atmosphere. We broke the rules, now we’re paying the price and he’s–”
“–Jackie’s pregnant,” Pete says.
Rose stands there blinking a long time before she can speak. “Christ, Dad,” she finally manages.
Pete utters a weak laugh. “I know. Thought we were done with Tony, but...” He steps backward to gaze out of the window. “I know humans did this. We did this, Rose. And he did warn us what would happen back in Canary Wharf. But what could we do? The stars were going out.”
“I know,” she says. “I know, and I’m sorry. Saying it’s our fault doesn’t solve anything.”
“But he can help us, right?” Pete asks. “Not bail us out completely, but give us an assist? He’s the Doctor.”
“That’s just it, see. He’s not the Doctor. He’s something new, and he’s sick,” Rose says. Her voice splinters on the word, and for a moment she can’t speak. Pete reaches for her, but she moves away, shaking her head. “He’s sick, and I’m so afraid. I don’t know how to help him. I’m afraid I’m gonna lose him forever, and to something so stupid, so basic, and so human as... an illness.”
She swipes furiously at the tears in her eyes.
“Well,” Pete says. “How bad is it?”
Rose glares at him. “He... he has a sore throat.”
Pete’s brows furrow. “And?”
“And, maybe a fever. I need to get to the shops...”
“You can’t,” Pete tells her. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. As of this morning, the shops’ve been closed down, seized by the Crown. President Jones is going to announce in public address. London’s going under martial law, and all of us at Torchwood are leaving.”
Pete gives the foyer and the staircase beyond a furtive glance before he continues. “Vitex has a secret facility. I had it built back in my Gemini days, for just this kind of thing. We can live out our days there, Rose. Let the rest of the world crumble. At least we’ll be safe.”
“Dad, we can’t do that. All these people–”
Pete says, “We don’t have a choice. If that man’s not the Doctor, if he can’t help us, then I’ll do what I must to protect our family.”
Rose chews her lip. She says, “Give me a day–”
He starts to object; she holds up her hand.
“He’s got a design,” Rose says. She can feel her pulse quicken with hope and excitement. “It works, but it’s small scale. Give us twelve hours. Let’s get to Torchwood and bring in this Rattigan kid–”
“–It’s too risky,” Pete seethes. “Once the President makes her announcement, the city’s gonna crack, and all hell will break loose!”
“We’ve had worse,” Rose says with certainty. “I’ll get the design to Torchwood. You get Rattigan. R&D needs to start work immediately. And I’ll be needing to raid Mum’s pantry. I know she’s got stuff stashed away...”
“You really think we can do this?”
Rose glances up to the blue door of her apartment. The door she’d painted a particular shade of TARDIS blue. She realizes that she can still feel where his stubble rasped against her neck as he kissed her. In a moment of dizzy remembrance, she feels the weight and warmth of him, both welcome and real, and she smiles.
“Rose?” Pete says. He looks wary and troubled.
“We can do this,” she whispers. “We have to. He’d want us to try.”
Liberties taken with the AU version of Luke Rattigan. He's a totally different person in Pete's World.
Rattigan and his parents arrive at Torchwood at a quarter past eleven, roughly an hour after the President’s announcement, and Rose is grateful for the underground facility because she can feel the chaos emanating from the street level like a wave of summer heat. She’s already given the plans over to Jeffrey Santiago, the chief officer at R&D. He’s already run his preliminary calculations, and his prognosis is anything but good. Limited resources, he tells her. Even worse, though, limited time.
She and Jeffrey are facing a wall-length data display when Rattigan wheels in and skids to a halt beside them, but close enough that Rose has to leap back to keep her toes from getting squished.
Rattigan, small in the frame of his wheelchair, his hair greasy, his complexion more acne than skin, pops a wheelie and scans the screen.
“Awesome design,” he determines after five seconds of staring. “If we use readily available components scavenged from local tech — fridges, a/c units, carburetors — we’d be in business in... five days. Four if we had team of thirty working around the clock. Take off another day if we can get sixty. Only problem is...”
He turns to Rose and gives her an expectant smile. She says, “All hell’s broken loose in London and we haven’t got a day, much less three. I’m Rose Tyler. You must be Rattigan.”
“Luke,” he says, taking her offered hand.
At this moment, his parents lag in, wide-eyed and bedraggled.
“Lucas Henry Rattigan,” his mother says. “You’re not to try that maneuver on the stairs again--”
“–You had us worried sick,” his dad finishes.
“Mom, Dad, chill, okay. World’s kinda ending. Didn’t have time for the elevator. So,” he spins back to Rose. “You got a prototype of this thing?”
“In my kitchen, yeah.”
“And how many people we got?”
Jeffrey Santiago says, “We have ten who elected to remain behind, and they’re not all technicians. The rest evacuated after the President’s address.”
“Ten,” Luke says. His hands grip the brakes of his wheelchair. “Right, Mom, Dad, we’re gonna need you guys, too.”
“Of course, Luke,” his mother says. “Anything you need us for, we’re here.”
Luke plucks a tablet computer from the satchel in his lap. “Plus me makes thirteen...” he says as he powers it up.
“Fourteen,” says Rose.
“Make that fifteen,” Jeffrey adds, and Rose smiles.
“Tell us what to do,” Rose says.
“Right,” Luke says. He begins to scrabble notes onto the table. “We’ll need a team of five to snag hardware. There a scrap yard nearby?”
“Nevermind, got it,” Luke interrupts. “Got one at Baldwins Hill. Kinda far. Forty minutes’ drive on a good day, and today’s not a good day. You got a Jeep? Something military grade? Something big enough to haul lots of parts?”
“Well, I–” Jeff darts a glance at Rose, and she can see that the kid has him spinning.
“Yeah, o’course,” Rose says. “I’ll requisition a couple. Drivers as well...”
“Great,” Luke says. “I’ll compile a list for your guys. Meanwhile, we’ll need a production floor, yea big, with tables, thirty by five if you got ’em, and anybody handy with a blowtorch,” Rattigan shouts. He’s clearly excited by the prospect, and he wheels off in a hurry, gesturing wildly, with Jeffrey Santiago in tow.
Mr. and Mrs. Rattigan fall in beside Rose, and Rose can tell by their expression that they’re equally spun by the speed of their son.
“He’s always like this?” Rose asks.
“We do our best to keep up,” Mr. Rattigan says.
“Most of the time, we don’t,” Mrs. Rattigan adds with a bewildered smile. “We thought the accident would slow him down, but it turns out, it just gave him wheels and racing stripes.”
“How did it—? I mean, how long ago—?” Rose asks.
Mr. Rattigan parts from them to join Jeffrey and Luke in their conversation, and for a moment, Rose feels she’s made a misstep.
But then Mrs. Rattigan says, “He was eleven. Car accident, school trip.” She glances at Rose and offers a fragile smile. “He was the only survivor.”
“Ooh, sorry,” Rose says.
“To be fair,” Mrs. Rattigan whispers, “Luke was a bit of a tyrant before then. Between you and me, I think the accident brought him down to earth, made him more human, so to speak.”
Rose chews on her fingernail. “Hm. That’s... interesting.”
Before Mrs. Rattigan can ask for particulars, Luke slides to a stop with a squeak and says, “Your friend the design guy, this Doctor whoever — did he have any ideas on distribution?”
“N-no,” Rose answers. “Said you’d figure that out.”
Luke’s brow clouds as he considers this. “Does he know me?”
“He... did,” Rose explains. “Sort of.”
“By reputation, then,” Luke says, grinning. “Did he hear of my award-winning geotropic reclamation and distribution system project? Sixth Grade Science Fair. One day, that’ll help scientists build a colony on Mars. Once NASA’s technology catches up with my prototype design, that is.”
“That must have been it,” Rose says.
But Luke eyes her sidelong, like he can tell it’s something else, something she’s not saying.
Instead, he says, “I figure we can go forward with this plan, make a few filtration devices and distribute them in key neighborhoods, maybe even draft a few more people from the streets to scavenge parts. We’ll need every pair of hands...”
As Rattigan explains his plans and delegates tasks, Rose feels a trickle of elation at being able to do something, small-scale though it may be. Maybe they could save one city block, then another, then a whole neighborhood, then the city altogether. If Rattigan can train a few people in the manufacture of the design, maybe they can spread out, cover more ground...
And as she thinks about this, she has to wonder about the connections between this world and their own, about how the Doctor once knew a version of Luke Rattigan, someone he knew he could count on, in case the world needed saving.
After the President’s announcement, London erupts in panic, just as Pete said it would. Everyone with a way out of the city, all of the high fliers in their airships, left long before the public address. Now it’s late afternoon. The skies are empty, and the streets fill with screaming. Even though she can’t hear them from her perch on the eighty-fifth floor of the Shard, Rose watches the slow crawl of destruction as a fire spreads along the south bank of the Thames.
She dials her father. When he answers, she says, “I have to get home.”
“It’s not safe, Rose,” Pete says.
“I know that,” she snaps. The tears choke her. “But the Doctor’s in our flat and he’s not well and he shouldn’t be there all alone. He should’ve come with me this morning.”
Pete says, “And Boy Genius? How’s that plan working out?”
She'd left Rattigan and the group still at work below so that she could get a better look at the city. “Making progress. They have twenty-five filtration devices. A group’s about to go out and install them. I’m going along, on the contingent that we start in our neighborhood.”
Rose hears Jackie in the background. Shouting. Some of it’s obscene.
“Tell Mum Tony’s too young for that kind of talk,” Rose says. Then Jackie’s on the phone, her voice like a stab in the ear.
“Rose Tyler,” she shrieks, “You best get to the top of that tower and be ready to get the hell out of London in two hours’ time, or I swear to you, I will–”
There’s the sound of a struggle, and Pete’s back on the line. “Sorry, love,” he says, and Rose smiles at the sound of her mother’s shrill screeches growing fainter as her father moves into what sounds suspiciously like a cupboard.
“Two hours?” Rose says.
“Air traffic control’s given us a deadline. They say people have tried to take down airships with long-range weapons. People know we have a store of supplies, and it’s not safe...”
“I know that,” Rose says again. Thick coils of black smoke snake into the air. Ant-like throngs of people clog the streets. Here and there, bright knife flashes of flame burst from store fronts. Further afield, the first surge of tanks roll into place. The city is under siege. She thinks of him, her Doctor, one tiny human lost in that sea of chaos.
Half-human, she reminds herself. As if that makes any difference.
“I have to go,” she says, and ends the call.
After hours of intermittently frightening and tedious travel along London back streets, closes, and mews, Rose arrives on her tree-lined street to find it eerily quiet. The gang in their Torchwood Jeep drops her off so that they can install a filtration device at St. Christopher’s Inn, a hostel near the London Bridge, where, Luke told them, they would reach a broader population.
It’s just like old times, Rose thinks as she peels from the back of the Jeep and races along the empty street. The covert military operation. The rag-tag bunch of scientists and friends. The elevated pulse rushing in her ears. The terror pressing down on them like a stifling cloud.
All of the neighborhood houses are dark, save one. Guess which.
As Rose approaches, another woman slips around the house, clutching a large object to her chest. Curious, Rose ducks behind an elm to watch the woman sneak up the steps and dart into the foyer of Rose’s building.
Rose follows, and from outside, it sounds like people setting up for a surprise party. There’s the chatter of busy voices, an indistinct and constant pinging noise, and an odd coppery scent that reminds Rose of the fountain in Cardiff. They’ve made an attempt at covering the windows. Rose recognizes her pink duvet cover slung over the front curtain rod.
She opens the door, and people turn to her, smiling. There are moon-eyed children and tired Moms and Dads, and older folks holding hands, all of them in a queue that curls up the staircase. Rose recognizes Ms. Tilby and Mr. Gaerity and Mr. Martin and Ms. Hapscomb, and all of their neighbors she never met but nodded to on the sidewalk each morning and every afternoon. Everyone’s holding pitchers and Dutch ovens and bottles and kettles.
“What’s going on?” she asks, and they all start to talk at once, about how he’s fixed everything, how it’s all going to be okay, and that they have to keep quiet just for now, just until the system’s online, and go and see, go and see, go and see.
And so she does. As Rose mounts the stairs, a family of four comes out of her flat, each with one-liter bottles tucked into their arms. They grin as they skirt around her, and there’s a contained cheer that goes up on the stairs as they rush down and disappear outside.
She hears him, then, his voice small and cheerful in the din. He shouts, “Next!” An older couple enters, one bearing a watering can, the other with a bucket. Rose slides in behind them, and cannot believe her eyes.
Though, after a moment’s considering, she finds that she can.
There’s the Doctor, perched precariously on a stepladder, fiddling with a valve he’s fitted into the sprinkler system. Beneath him, as if they’ve multiplied overnight, there are knots and twists of rubber hoses, all of them coiling into the faucets and from his original filtration machine, and now there are pipes exposed in the walls, and from those sprout even more cables and hoses.
She’s standing there, her mouth agape, when she hears his chipper, “Hello, Rose!”
“What are you doing?” she gasps.
He totters down from the ladder, goes to another valve — this one shiny copper, newly installed, protruding from her hot water heater — and begins to fill the couples’ bucket.
“It’s connected, Rose,” he shouts. “All of it — connected!”
“You were ill,” she says. She goes to touch his forehead; he dodges to hand to the bucket back to the man.
“Oh, I was better off than I let on. Had work to do, didn’t I? And while you were off finding Luke Rattigan, I was busy finding the missing piece!” He passed the now full watering can to the older woman, who squeezed his hand and joined her husband. “Next!” the Doctor shouted again.
Rose got between him and the door, shutting it firmly behind her.
“What do you mean, missing piece?” she asks.
Behind her, someone taps on the door and says, “Miss, but it’s our turn next...”
“In a minute!” Rose bellows.
“Well,” the Doctor says, still beaming. “This.”
She gestures around their flat. “You mean all of this?”
“Yes! Rose, don’t you see?”
The tapping at the door again, louder this time. “It’ll just take us a minute. We’ve only got two kettles and a Pepsi bottle.”
Rose ignores them. “I see a lot of tubing and a security deposit long gone,” she says. “And did you fake sick to get rid of me? Because–”
“No! Rose. No.” His brow furrows.
She wipes her forehead. “You’re still ill,” she says. “You’ve gotten worse.”
“Rose, this is more important than you and me...”
The door creaks open and Rose slams it with a shouted, “Bugger off!”
He leans heavily on the ladder. She catches him. “What can I do?”
“It’s already done,” he says, waving dismissively. “It’s connected. See?”
The people amble in behind her. They’re quieter now, almost reverent. Sirens sound in the distance, and the whole world seems to draw in around them.
“It’s all connected,” he whispers. “The pipes in this flat, in Mr. Gaerity’s flat, in Ms. Tilby’s flat, and the next house down, and the one beside that one, the whole street, the whole neighborhood, everyone! I’ve just reversed the polarity of the machine, and it’s working its way through the system, one to the next and the next, forever. All of us, connected.”
“But that means–”
The Doctor beams. “Get Rattigan to do the same on all the machines they’ve installed. And then call the President. Let’s invite her to tea, shall we?”
A cheer goes up in the flat, and Rose pulls him into an embrace. And he kisses her, a feverish, messy, exuberant kiss. A human kiss. Well, half-human. And it doesn’t matter.
Rose feels his heartbeat pounding, so vibrant and so very alive. She clasps his hand in hers. “It’s alright,” she whispers. “You’ll be alright. 'Cause I’ve got you.”
“I know, Rose,” he whispers back. “I’ve got you, too.”
It’s like the moment he first took her hand and told her to run, only this time, it’s “Stay.” Just like that, she knows. It’s not that tricky after all.
And they’ll go on. They’ll encounter arch-villains and alien races, they’ll build a house and machines and memories, they’ll have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they’ll face hardships and sicknesses and in-laws and loss. They'll have a lifetime of dreams and wishes and wonder, together.
It really is that simple.