They emerged from the dank beneath the Eye into the relative clean air of the evening. He was humming with leftover adrenaline. Oh, he hadn't thought he'd feel anything good again. He glanced at Rose and saw the same satisfaction mirrored there. She'd be brilliant at this. Maybe...
She moves to comfort the stupid ape cowering behind the garbage in the alley. Something in him goes cold. He doesn't like the boy. Doesn't want to.
“A fat lot of good you were,” she says.
He doesn't know if she means him or her boyfriend, so he says: “Nestene Consciousness? Easy.” Part of him hopes she's disparaging the boy. Part of him hopes she's teasing him, instead.
Rose laughs at him. “You were useless in there. You'd be dead if it wasn't for me.”
“Yes, I would,” he replies. Because it's true. And because her bravado bodes well. She's resourceful and she knows it. Oh she would be brilliant at this. “Thank you,” he says. It's an inadequate sentiment for the woman who made him remember that living could be more than torture.
“Right then, I'll be off,” he starts. Then adds, casually, as if it just occurred to him. “Unless, er, I don't know, you could come with me.” At lease he hopes it sounds casual. Why is he so desperate? Who is she? What is she? He shakes the silliness of the sudden question and launches into his pitch. “This box isn't just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe, free of charge.”
The ape clings to her legs, begs her to stay. He's not sure what the boy says, doesn't really listen. He could care less.
“He's not invited,” he says. He thinks he makes that point clearly enough. He's a coward. He's holding you back. “You could stay here, fill your life with food and sleep, or you could go anywhere.”
She wants to. He can see it. His time senses were damaged when the Time War came to it's inevitable conclusion. He can't see her timeline clearly. He can't predict with any accuracy what the future would hold for her if she said yes. He just knows that he wants her with him, if only for a little while. A bright sliver of sunlight in his dark, bleak existence.
She hesitates for 0.971782965311 seconds.
“Is it always this dangerous?”
Ah, yes. That question. The question that shows that they've made up their mind. He's done this so many times now. Invited along a pretty girl, or a clever couple, or a handsome young man, a brilliant scientist of indeterminate gender. Dozens of individuals have been with him on his ship. Almost as many reject him as ultimately tag along. When they ask if it will be dangerous it means they either like danger, or hate it. He thinks she's probably the former.
“Yeah,” he tells her. Simple. If she wants danger, he knows it's out there in spades. Should be easy to find it, he usually does, generally by accident.
She moves, ever so slightly. He sees it, and is ready to step aside and usher her through the doors, into his life.
But the boyfriend tightens his arms around her legs and in a split second she is reminded of her responsibilities. His heart sinks. In that moment he knows this is the greatest tragedy of all his lives. He's not sure what it says when he doesn't question the hyperbole of the thought.
“Yeah,” she says, helplessly. “I can't. I've er, I've got to go and find my mum. And someone's got to look after this stupid lump, so.”
He doesn't know how long he can keep his deep disappointment from showing, so he just says, “OK. See you around.”
He shuts the door and sets the dematerialization sequence.
He doesn't know where to go from here. He doesn't have a plan. Not that it's ever been a problem before, but traveling alone until he manages to finally die, has lost some of it's charm. He sighs. All the places he would have taken her. The Glass Pyramid of San Kaloon, New Earth, Barcelona (the planet, not the city)... Oh, and in her own planet's history...
Ah. Oops. He'd forgotten, in the heat of the moment, to mention that the TARDIS was also a time machine. The old girl chirps at him in amusement. He just crows, too delighted to be upset at her teasing. He rushes to reset to the last coordinates and lands back in the alley.
Only to find it empty. He'd gotten the time wrong, and missed her.
He knocked on the Tyler's door, and couldn't help smiling at the cat flap. It looked as if it had been nailed shut. It opened to a familiar face, only this time Rose's mother was wearing a track suit instead of a dressing gown.
“Yeah?” she prompted.
“Is Rose in?” he asked, with slight trepidation. He was uncertain how to handle her harridan of a mother.
“Well she's at work, isn't she?” There was strange human habit of answering a question with a question, especially a rhetorical one. Why not use fewer words? She's at work: fifty percent more efficient.
Work. He'd just blown up Henrik's. How badly had he missed the timing on that landing, for her to have time to get a new job? But Jackie Tyler wasn't done with her questions. “Who're you then? You look familiar. Are you from that bloody school? Where do you think she's gonna get the money for tha'? Just look around.” She gestured at the estate around them.
The Doctor had no good answer to any of these questions, so he borrowed a page from Jackie's playbook. Asked another question of his own.
“Where's she working?”
“Down at the pub. She has the night shift every Tuesday.” At this, she slammed the door. The Doctor shrugged and turned back to the stairs. If she'd a “regular” shift, perhaps it had been as long as a month.
She wasn't in the first pub he tried, nor the second, third, or fourth. He was getting frustrated, and a bit tired of the smell of ale and warm bodies. Who knew there were so many pubs in Peckham? Then he ran, literally, into a familiar face, on his way through the doors of the fifth one.
“Oi, look where you're goin' mate!” exclaimed the boy. What was his name? Rickey? Rickey squinted at him, rubbing his forehead. “Oh, god. It's you.”
“Hello,” he said. Surely the idiot would know where Rose was. He was her boyfriend, right? He ignored the irrational surge of jealousy that accompanied the realization that Rose had chosen this stupid ape over him.
“I knew it,” Rickey was saying, angrily. “I knew you'd be coming back. She said she wasn't breaking up with me for you. But I knew it was a lie.” At this the boy shoved past him and stormed off into the night. Well, that was interesting information.
Rose was behind the bar. Compared to the other four places he'd been, it seemed relatively crowded for a Tuesday. There wasn't even a match on. The tele played a man in a suit droning about something. He wondered, as he watched her banter with a patron, if it were Rose's personality that drew people in.
Her hair was different. The fringe was longer, and it was a lighter blonde. She had it pulled back in a messy bun, so he couldn't see if it were longer or shorter. He tried to calculate how quickly human hair grows and compare it to her visible roots.
Eventually, she turned in the direction of where he was stood, leaning on the counter. The look of surprise was quickly swallowed by the genial smile of welcome endemic to the face of servers everywhere.
“Hello. Welcome to Bad Wolf,” she recited. “What can I get you?”
“Pint of bitter, please,” he said, hoping he sounded more relaxed than he felt.
“Coming right up.” And then she waltzed away.
He tried to think of her behavior as a blessing, since it gave him a moment to formulate what he wanted to say. But she'd obviously been doing the same, because she came back with a casual question in addition to his glass.
“So, where have you been in the last year?”
Year? Blimey. That was one hell of a botched landing. He was going to need to climb under the console and check the wiring to the chronometer. Returning directly to the previous coordinates shouldn't be this bad. A week he might expect. An hour happened often enough. A month was concerning. A year was ridiculous.
He took a sip to try and cover his dismay, and then was saved from having to give any answer when she was called away.
She seemed eager to talk to him, however, and returned quickly.
“So, are the living plastic back, or are we about to be invaded by animated crockery?”
“I do go places to visit, you know. Its not all saving the day.”
“Yeah? And who're you visiting?”
“You,” he said. Then quickly covered with, “At the moment.”
She looked skeptical and returned to her work. By the time she asked if he wanted a refill, the place had emptied somewhat.
“What time do you get off?” he asked, then inwardly cringed. He sounded too much like he was trying to pull her.
She smirked at him, and raised an eyebrow.
“I have to close up here. About an hour.” He was about to open his mouth again, invite her somewhere (though where exactly, he wasn't sure about), when she continued. “I have class tomorrow. I'm going straight home, after.”
“Class?” he said, dully. Suddenly unsure what the word even meant.
“Yeah, after my last job was blown up, I went back to take my A-levels.” She gives him a pointed look, and he hopes his expression is contrite. Though he doubts it.
He's at a loss for what to say next. He simply reaches into his coat and fishes around for a moment. Comes out with a handful of pieces of paper from various times and places. He extracts a wadded up bill of what he is fairly sure is local currency, and hands it to her.
“Is that enough?” he asks.
“Yeah,” she says, unfolding it and staring down at it. “Uh, let me get you some change.”
“Keep it,” he says, wondering how much he actually gave her. He hopes it's enough for a decent tip.
He turns towards the door, but right before he leaves, he can't help glancing back. She's still staring at the money.
He drags his air of despondency back to the TARDIS and wonders if there's a way to rectify this. He can't go back now that he's seen her. And she's getting her A-levels. She's added another obligation to her life, more securely tying her to the tiny planet. Mum, job, school. That probably trumps Mum and annoying boyfriend. He was going to have to be extra persuasive.
He cheats. He has the TARDIS do a search and tell him which Adult GCSE program she's in. The next day he meets her outside after class. She doesn't even act surprised to see him, just walks up to where he's waiting, leaned up against a tree.
“What are you doing your tests in? I neglected to ask.” He already knows, of course.
“French and mathematics.”
“Fantastic. I happen to be fluent in French, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who likes maths more. Fancy some help with your homework?”
She smiles at him, and shakes her head in bemusement. But she walks with him to the nearby coffee shop where she likes to study.
He resists the impulse to grab her hand, not wanting to give her the wrong impression.
Who does he think he's kidding? Denying his attraction to her, at least privately, is utterly pointless. Until he met her, he hadn't even cared enough to look in the mirror. And what he'd seen had disappointed him: older, angular, all ears and nose, not-ginger. He was fairly sure she'd have gone with him if he were young and pretty. Being ginger would have just been a bonus.
He helps her practice the pluperfect and teaches her a few new tricks for solving radical expressions. He's impressed by how easily she seems to grasp the material. He tells her so. She blushes.
Later she says she wants chips, and he realizes that last night he had given her the only usable currency he had. She laughs in his face and calls him a cheap date. His hearts do somersaults. She informs him that the 100 pound note he paid with left a large enough tip that she can buy him chips. Just this once.
He regales her with stories of far off worlds. He tells her about the coronation of the Empress of Pulm, which ended, to everyone's surprise, with her declaring the entire southern continent of Pulm to be a free democracy. He talks about flying fish larger than whales, worlds inhabited entirely by sentient trees. She listens, but she also laughs, and teases him.
Later, he reluctantly lets her wander home. He almost asks for her number, but balks at how juvenile, how human, that sounds.
He goes back to the TARDIS to plot more ways to reel her in.
At two in the afternoon, something that vaguely resembles a saucer shaped space ship careens past the parliament building, nearly hitting Big Ben, and crashes into the Thames.
He finds her on the street in a crowd of people, all straining to see.
“It's blocked off,” he informs her. Always wants to be helpful, him.
“We're miles from the center,” she complains. “The city must be grid locked. The whole of London must be closing down.”
“I know!” he exclaims. He's excited, because this is what he lives for, and she's here to share it. “I can't believe I'm here to see this. This is fantastic.”
“Did you know this was going to happen?” she asks. There's mild accusation in her voice.
“Nope.” He didn't. In fact, something about it seems off. His time senses are still on the fritz, so he can't see where this falls in the history of the planet.
“Do you recognize the ship?”
“Nope.” It looks a bit stereotypical. Like something out of a 1980's b-film.
“Do you know why it crashed?”
“Oh, I'm glad I've got you.”
He knows she's being sarcastic, but she's also interested. It gives him some hope. If he can show her another slice of his life, maybe she'll reconsider. Who needs A-levels when you've got all of time and space?
“I bet you are,” he answers, cheekily. He doesn't care if he's gushing. “This is what I travel for, Rose. To see history happen, right in front of us.” He pronounces the 'us' with slight emphasis, and hopes she notices.
“So are you going to rush in? Save London again?” He thinks he detects a trace of an unasked question at the end.
“Nothing to do with me. It's not an invasion. That was a genuine crash landing. Angle of decent, color of smoke, everything. It's perfect.”
“So?” He shouldn't be so delighted by her pluck. He really ought to just let the humans work it out by themselves. It's past time they figured out that there are aliens everywhere.
He even says so. “So, maybe this is it. First contact. The day mankind officially comes into contact with an alien race. I'm not interfering. You lot need to handle this on your own.”
She stares at him. He can tell she's disappointed, even before he hears the tremulous tone in her voice. “Really?”
“Nah! I'm going to take a closer look. Coming?”
“Doctor, please,” Jackie's voice was especially shrill over the speaker. But he couldn't take his eyes off Rose. “She's just a kid.”
But she's not. Because for a single moment, unadulterated by the murkiness that has plagued his time senses, he can see her. A Time Lord has twenty seven different senses, and most are somehow devoted to perception of time. Time Lord scientists believed that the senses had developed naturally due to extended exposure to the vortex over generations upon generations. Then selection via the looming process only enhanced them. But even at peak sensory fitness, the most prescient of Time Lords could never have seen anything this well.
Her time line and his stretch out farther than he can understand. Hers should have a myriad of breakpoints, signaling her death from any number of accidents and illnesses. Instead it is twined around his like a golden vine, alive and so beautiful. Hers is not the timeline of a young human with only a short life of 60 years left. Hers is the timeline of some time-kissed creature that is meant for him and him alone. It is as if the universe has tried to make some compensation for the destruction of his people, and she is it.
No, it is as if she is a living goddess, and time has reached backwards within itself, drawing him out of the chaos, and molding him, so that he can belong to her, and only to her.
The next few seconds are horrible. The decision to launch the missile. The launch. Through it all Rose is brave, strong. Not merely stoic, but genuinely fearless. Perhaps she is still young enough to think she is immortal. In her case, she's actually right, though he's not sure how. The moment of clarity he had is gone, and his time senses are still garbled. But there was nothing to indicate that they might die today, either one of them. So when she suggests getting in the closet, he goes with her.
He doesn't resist the urge to draw her into his arms. She holds him, buries her face in his coat.
“You know, I've asked lots of people to travel with me.”
“People turn me down all the time.”
“I can imagine.”
“I've never asked twice. Never gone back.”
“But you know, I forgot to mention.”
“It also travels in time.”