Tears stung her eyes and blurred her vision as Rose Tyler fled across an alien plain toward the waiting TARDIS. The wild winds whipped that up around her; thick with dust and debris that raked harshly across her skin, forced her to run with her forearm up to shield her eyes from the storm. It was a futile effort. It did very little to save her tender skin from the sting of cutting impact of sharp tiny little particles on attack.
…This was the storm that the Doctor had warned her was on approach. His voice was thick with warning that she should keep away from once it struck. As was typical for her, though, she didn’t listen… or more accurately, she ignored his warning.
“Many planets have routine and sometimes daily weather occurrences,” he’d lectured at the time as they’d walked hand in hand toward a large township as the base of the hill. “Sometimes they’re welcomed, other times they’re not. This area of Crandinia experiences an evening breeze at the same time every day. Well. I say breeze, but it’s more like a violent barrage of winds, dust, dirt, sand, and anything else that gets in its way.” He swallowed hard and sounded slightly strangled when he spoke again. “Best not to be out when it picks up. Not unless you’re in for some high-powered natural forms of supreme exfoliation, of course. Nothing like sandblasting your face to achieve smooth skin …ehm … more accurately, it would be more a weeping, oozing and sticky open wound than smooth and perfect skin.”
“Sounds delightful,” she sang facetiously inside a purr as she nestled against his side and took in the rick purple sky and the orange-yellow landscape. “Where do I sign up?”
He’d chuckled at that and staggered in a mite bit closer as though to bump his hip against hers. They were already paired too closely together for it to be too effective. All he managed to do was to have her stumble in the same way he was, making them look like a pair of drunkards heading home from a night out. He caught her before she could fall and laughed against her hair as she collapsed into laugher against his shoulder…
… it all quickly went to hell from there.
That daft, reckless alien had made a gross error of judgment and now had a Crandinian wife, Crandinian land, and a demand to sire an heir before dawn. As the psychic paper had named her as being the Doctor’s “assistant”, she had been tasked with standing at the bedside to verify that the – err – act of siring a child had been performed.
Well, there was no way in any realm of reality that Rose was going to bear witness to any such act. She never believed for a second that the Doctor would actually engage in the same… But then she saw his new wife pull him against her and initiate a passionate open-mouthed kiss, and although he clearly startled by the sudden onslaught of passion, he didn’t immediately pull away…
She didn’t bother to stick around to see anything more, and so she ran.
She ran fast, and she ran hard. She ignored his voice calling out her name in panic, telling him to sod off as she burst out of the house and into the heart of the storm.
“No-one,” he’d warned her earlier in their adventure, “No-one steps out into the storm. Most that have, have never returned without severe pain and injury.”
She immediately understood why. The winds were wild and violent, and the debris within merciless in their assault against her. She felt immediate and blinding physical pain that made her consider turning back to head to safety. Bullheaded as she was, however, she pushed on. The physical hurt a lot less than the emotional right now, and she had no desire at all to witness the desire that was now swirling inside the home.
No. All she wanted now was the TARDIS. She wanted the TARDIS and a bag to pack her things … Because she was done with this. Done with that stupid, flirty, egoistic, oblivious, thoughtless alien git.
She felt the TARDIS hum in her mind before she saw the blue outline of the ship in the near distance. While the old girl was always present as a quiet and happy hum in the back of her mind when they were off-ship, that presence always intensified a little as she drew closer to it. Like a homing beacon, she assumed with a smile. The closer she drew, the louder the ship hummed in her mind. Right now, though, that hum seemed a little off; slightly different in pitch than usual.
Sentient, Rose reminded herself. She knows I’m upset because the Doctor’s being a sod. Yes. That had to be it.
She didn’t look up as she pulled the key from between her bosom and blindly tried to find the lock. Once, twice, and then three times she poked at the small metal plate surrounding the small lock opening. Fourth time lucky, and she found herself apologising to the TARDIS when she finally slid the key into place and turned it to open the door. It did so with a somewhat reluctant creak, but very quickly gave up the reluctance and flew open with a bang.
Still blinded by tears with eyes stinging from sand and dust, and couldn’t lift her head to the ceiling to say thanks. Instead she rubbed at her stinging eyes with filthy shirt sleeves and ran a familiar path toward the main corridor toward her bedroom, the library, whichever room she happened upon first.
Her mind was suddenly alive with a sense of shock and confusion from the ship, which quickly warmed to familiarity and welcome, then downshifted again toward worry. Rose waved her arm toward the wall and muttered her assurance that the Doctor was fine – that he was just being an inconsiderate cad – and felt that worry shift to comfort and apology.
Not that she’d been particularly successful in maintaining any control of her emotions to this point, but the TARDIS’ attempt to comfort and apologise to her only made that control much harder to maintain. She ran into the first doorway she came to – the library – and fell to her knees on the floor in front of the couch. She buried her face into a circle of her arms and sobbed. She sobbed for both the physical and the emotional pain she felt.
“I hate him,” she sobbed to the TARDIS in a voice muffled by the thick cushion pressed against her face. “I hate him…”
For the second time in only moments, the TARDIS was startled by her doors flying inward. Her thief had ventured out only a few short moments ago, and she thought she might have a few moments to herself to heal the wounds of their last adventure. To rest, and then to recover.
As usual, no such luck.
First, a distraught companion had breached the doors and taken refuge, and now her Thief had returned, with his mind in much the same condition … although more angered than distraught. She prepared a warning to him, but was quickly silenced by a growl of displeasure and his heavy footfalls stomping their way toward her main console.
“A vacation,” he growled with annoyance. “That is what I wanted. I wanted a quiet moment of contemplation to reflect and to recharge myself. Somewhere peaceful.” He flipped a switch and twisted a dial. “But do you think that would be in any way possible? No. Of course not. I had to land in the middle of a tornado the size of Arcadia.” He flipped another switch and then threw hard at the dematerialisation lever with angry movements. “And my ship. My sentient ship, didn’t bother letting me know just where we landed and let me walk out of the doors with no warning at all as to what was coming.”
He looked up as the rotor shifted and then whined. “That would have been appreciated, you know,” he growled. “And as you couldn’t find it within you to give me a heads up, or perhaps do what you normally do and defy my coordinate inputs completely to make sure I didn’t walk into that, well, I’m cross with you. More cross than I have been in a long while, dear.”
He brushed at the sleeves of his coat with a curl in his lip. “It will take a miracle to get all of this dirt out of my clothing.” He saw a rip on the sleeve and grunted as he slid the garment off his shoulders and let it fall unceremoniously to the floor. “Well. That’s determined the next decision I’ll have to make, hasn’t it? I’ll have to consider a new wardrobe now that this one’s been ruined because my ship was too inconsiderate to – “ He let up a yelp when the ship lurched to one side and he fell hard against the console. “What in the name of Rassilon’s ghost, old girl? Are you being deliberately testy today?”
The rotor continued to rise and fall, and the ship was clearly in flight, but the console room flashed a light mauve of warning to him. This quickly had the Doctor lowering his voice and narrowing his eyes at the console.
“What is it?” he asked her darkly in a voice smooth and quiet. A monitor lit up, and the Doctor leaned forward with eyes narrowed in concentration. “You don’t seem worried, yet you’re giving me a warning. What about? What’s wrong?”
The monitor flickered a little with static, but quickly cleared to show an image of a young woman on her knees in front of his couch, in obvious distress. He gagged slightly, and then looked up at the rotor. “We have a stowaway?” he queried with worry. “You let a strange woman aboard my ship, and then let me take you into flight? Are you insane?”
He let his arms fall to his sides and let out an exasperated huff. “Why do you keep doing that? Why do you let people on board and then fly away? Don’t you know the problems this causes to them? To me when I try to get them home?”
He felt her give a huff in his mind. “Need I remind you of Tegan?” he growled. “And what we did to her before we finally got her home?”
He raked his hand through his hair and then dragged it down his face. He let out a long-suffering breath and turned toward the corridor. “Land gently, will you? I don’t need to startle the poor girl.” He lifted a finger to point at the wall. “And don’t lose the coordinates of where you found her. We will take her back to her proper place in time and space, dear. Mark my words on that. I’ve no time for a new companion right now.” He scowled toward the floor. “Not now.”
She had no idea just how long she’d been in a mess on the library floor. It had to be some time, however, as she’d felt the ship take flight. That had to mean that the Doctor had returned – likely with his new wife in tow – and had immediately set new coordinates. She huffed out wetly as she considered just where they were headed. Back home, no less. Now that he had a new bride, he had no need of her.
She knew she should attempt to compose herself, but felt herself unable to do so. Just the thought of what was to come next had her emotions spiralling further and further out of control. She didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t want to become a third wheel either.
God her heart hurt.
Composing herself any time soon was not going to be an option of any kind. Hopefully she could rely on the TARDIS to keep him away from her until she could find some semblance of control.
A deep clearing of a throat to her rear told her that the TARDIS didn’t have any such intentions.
She said the first thing that came to mind without lifting her head to look at him. “Go away.”
She clenched her fists beside her ears and slammed her forearms into the cushion surrounding her head. “I mean it, Doctor. I don’t wanna talk to you right now.”
There was an exhale of breath that was a dawning of understanding, and whomever was at the doorway slowly walked further into the room. “You don’t wish to talk right now,” he drawled gently. “But how about a little earlier on?”
The voice was quiet, slightly unfamiliar, but she ignored those points to focus on her confusion about what the hell he was on about. She finally lifted her head and twisted her back to finally look in his direction, “What’re you on—“ Her eyes widened with horror to see not her doctor, but a rather handsome man with gorgeous curly hair, soulful blue eyes, a curious pout, and an outfit that looked straight out of the early nineteenth century.
“Well, hello,” he sang out happily with a waggle of his fingers.
Rose shook her head and shifted her entire body in a futile attempt to back away from him – right back into the couch she was leaned against. “Who’re you?! Don’t you dare come any closer. I mean it!”
He held up his hands in a submissive gesture and lightly petted them in the air in front of his chest. “Okay, it’s okay. I’m not a stranger ready to do anything of an … err .. nefarious nature toward you.”
She clumsily wiped at her eyes with the dirty backs of her hands and shook her head. She was still clearly panicked and ready to defend and bolt if necessary. “Like you’d even ‘ave a chance,” she growled. “Now, I asked you: Who are you, and what’re you doin’ on the TARDIS? How’d you get in?”
Oh he admired the brave façade that she was trying to project. If it wasn’t for the adrenaline and fear that he could smell in the air, he may have felt somewhat intimidated….
…Well may be not intimidated. Slightly on his guard, perhaps.
He kept one hand held up in surrender, and let the other slide into a small pocket on his waistcoat. He produced a shiny metal object and held it up for her to see. “I got in with my key,” he answered gently. “This is my TARDIS, after all. Yours,” he began with a small hint of a smile, ”is still waiting for you on Crandinia.”
Her entire expression lengthened in horror. Her hands flew to her mouth. “I - I got on the wrong TARDIS?”
He nodded and set the key back into his pocket. “It would certainly appear so, as you and I have not yet met.” He pursed his lips and wiped his hand on his thigh. “Which must be rectified immediately.” He took a stride forward with his hand held out. He paused when he saw her flinch to his approach, but kept his hand outstretched. “I’m the Doctor – an earlier version of the one I believe you’re currently travelling with.”
She stammered out his name with a shake in her head. “N-no, you can’t be. He. He’s…”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Ahh, yes. Regeneration. I suspect you haven’t been forewarned of that little eventuality.”
“Oh,” she cut in with a strengthening tone of voice. “I know about that. I’ve seen him go through one.”
“But he wasn’t in any danger back there,” she continued on with a point of her hand behind her. “Not anythin’ that would have him regenerate, anyway...” She paused on that line of thought for a second, and then smirked. “Well. At least not until he returned to the TARDIS at any rate.” She rolled her eyes. “Then, just who knows what fate awaits him?”
His lips pursed and he exhaled a breath through them. “I see,” he began quietly. “This tells me that I am the one who is causing you such distress, then. And that is unacceptable.” He forgot about personal space, and her need for it, and quickly walked toward the couch to drop onto it at her side. When she gasped and shuffled backward he held out his hand to her. “Well, up you come.”
She looked first at his hand, then at him, with a furrow in between her brows. “Excuse me?”
“We’ve established that I’m the friendly sort and am not here to kidnap and harm you.” He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “Well. That is to say, harm is not permitted, the kidnapping thing .. well,,,”
“I felt her take off,” Rose said quietly.
He nodded and wiggled his fingers at her in a request for her to take his hand and let him assist her to her feet. “I’m afraid that I set new coordinates before the TARDIS deemed it necessary to advise me that you were onboard.” He gave a one sided smile of apology. “But pay no mind to that. I can quite easily take you back to where you were picked up….”
“Not if you really are the Doctor,” she said with almost a chuckle. “N’my experience, he’s not all that good in getting to where he actually intends on going.”
He gave up waiting for her to take his hand and leaned forward to simply snatch hers within his. “Although I know what you say is rather spot on, I am still trying very hard not to take offence to that.”
She finally let him lift her to a stand. After a hesitant skip from one foot to the other, she gave a firm nod and then took a seat at the opposite end of the couch to him. “So you are really the Doctor, then?”
He nodded, thankful that she was coming closer toward trust and understanding. “I am.”
“How do I know you’re not lyin’?” she challenged with a slight narrowing of her eyes.
He smirked at the challenge she offered, but opted not to step up to it. “As I am from a point earlier than when you seem to have met me, that might be quite difficult to do.”
“I suppose so,” she acquiesced with a nod. She slid her eyes toward him. “So you’re just going to have to expect me to simply trust you on it.”
“That certainly would make things easier,” he agreed with a relieved exhale and a smile. He leaned closer to her and gave her a wink. “So tell me: Do you trust me?”
Any shadow of a smile fell at that. Her eyes misted over once more and she shook her head. “I used to,” she admitted. “I don’t know if I do now.”
His expression shifted to one of being taken aback. His voice was startled and slightly horrified to hear that. “Just what did I do to you?” he questioned with worry.
Rose winced and then slumped as she looked upward toward the ceiling. “Oh. I don’t know if that’s entirely true,” she admitted. “He didn’t do anything untrustworthy, really. At least not to me.” She sighed hard again. “I just. I just don’t know. I’m hurt. I’m real hurt. But I can’t even really blame ‘im for it. Just because I think that we might be more’n …” She winced again. “Just because I…” She dropped and shook her head. “I guess I’m just expectin’ something from him that he’s not prepared to give.”
He frowned a little. “Oh-kay,” he breathed out with only a small ounce of confusion in his voice. “I think I’m keeping up here.”
“I don’t even think I’m keeping up,” she admitted ruefully. She dragged her hand down over her face. “This one, well, he’s a flirt and then some. Good looking to boot, which makes him a favourite with the ladies.”
“When you say this one,” he gravelled out curiously. “Does this mean you know more than one of me?”
She nodded and chuckled. “Typical. Focus on the wrong bits of a comment.”
“Oh, we’ll get back to that,” he vowed. “But for you to make that very particular distinction means that you’ve met more than one of me – perhaps even travelled with more than one – and you’re seeing the differences between one and the other that is giving you problems.”
She let out a harsh laugh. “My problem isn’t that there’s a difference between them, between my first and second Doctor. I can deal with that. My problem is what the difference is.”
“I see,” he ventured cautiously. “Do go on.”
Rose lifted her head to the ceiling once more and let out a long breath through an open mouth before continuing. “First him,” she remembered with smile. “Well. All gruff and grumpy he was. Pretended to be all mean and gnarly, but was just a big teddy bear really.”
The Doctor peeped uncomfortably at that. “In all my lives, one thing I’ve never been described as is a big teddy bear.”
She looked down at him. Her voice was firm. “Well. Well, he was. An’ I loved him. All big ears and nose, and baggy clothes.” She softened her tone. “He treated me like I meant something to him, you know? Like the sun and moon rose with me. Made me feel like I was important – even when getting’ mad and calling me a stupid ape, I always knew it was him and me.” She looked away. “And he gave the best hugs.”
The Doctor’s eyes flashed wide. “Hugs? You and I, we shared hugs?”
Her smile stretched and she purred. “Yeah. Lots of them.”
His voice pinched and lifted an octave. “Did we. Err. Did we share anything else?”
He grin grew cheeky. “You mean did we dance, Doctor?”
He squeaked, but could do more but nod.
“That’s my secret,” she said softly, taking her eyes from his. “And not somethin’ I want to share with a stranger, even if you are him.”
“So when you say the word love in reference toward your feelings for him, it’s not at a platonic level of mere friendship, is it?”
She shook her head. “I was in-love with him. Arse over teakettle, really. An’ I think he loved me too, you know. He gave up a life just to save mine. He kissed me. He kissed me when he knew I needed it most and with that sweet gentle way about him that he could get when it was just me’n him together.” She giggled. “Cheesy, really. He said c’mere, that I need a doctor, then planted one on me.”
The Doctor’s mouth dried at the revelation.
She slumped. “And then he regenerated. Right in front of me. Went from bein’ a man who was considerate to me an’ my presence, to making sure I knew how he felt even if he never actually said it with words….” She inhaled deeply and held on to that breath for a long moment. “To bein’…”
“To being a man who was reprehensible enough that he would have you referring to your love for him in past tense,” the Doctor supplied gravely. “And have you curled up on the floor of my library with your heart shattered all around you.”
She dropped her head again and nodded, closing her eyes over her tears. “My love isn’t past tense, Doctor,” she admitted sadly. “I wouldn’t hurt this much if I didn’t love him like I do. His love for me, however….” She let that thought hang for a second in the hope he would offer something, anything at all. He didn’t, so she continued. “His affection shifted when he discovered himself to be a bit of a fit bloke who the ladies all clamoured around.” She lifted her eyes to look at the doorway. “Born again flirt, I guess. I became a second thought, rather than his first, and sometimes being so easily forgotten was how I ended up a damsel in distress on more than one occasion.”
He watched her blink free a tear from her lashes and found himself reaching out to take her hand in his. He wasn’t at all surprised that she accepted the comfort by squeezing his hand in return. He chose to remain silent, however. Waiting for any sign from her that she was willing to let him speak.
“I’m guessing that when he changed, he regenerated any feelings that he ‘ad for me away as well.”
He hummed with a slight shake in his head. “No. That’s not how regenerations work, dear. If they did, then no marriage or partnership on Gallifrey would survive from one life to the next.” He looked down at the join of their hands let the pad of his thumb drag along hers. “Regenerations are – for the most part – physical. It does tend to give us a bit of a restart in the personality department, but our thoughts, feelings, and memories … they don’t change. They’re the very core of who we are, and who we become each time we face death and regeneration.”
“So your feelings don’t change? Not at all?” she queried weakly.
“No,” he affirmed. “In all my regenerations, and I’ve been through seven of them to this point, it’s really only the quirks and the outer package that change. At my core, I’ve remained the same man, with the same thoughts, memories, and feelings remaining intact.”
Her hands quickly came up to cover her mouth. “Oh, God,” she moaned pathetically. “Oh my God. Then that means…” Her breath shortened to pants. “I-I’ve got to go.”
He flinched as she shot up to a stand and launched into a run toward the door. Immediately he shot up to follow her. He would have called after her, but right now, he didn’t even know her name, so he was forced to run and only call out to her to wait.
He looked up toward the ceiling to speak to his ship. “If we’re still in the vortex, for the love of Rassilon, keep those doors closed,” he demanded. “No. Amend that to: Don’t let her out under any circumstances.”
Rose ran toward the console room, and toward the doors that would let her out of the TARDIS. Remembrance that the ship had been set into flight and that running out of her doors would mean certain death didn’t stop her from running. She needed out of the ship, and she needed it now.
She could hear him calling for her to wait as he followed her along the corridor, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. His words to her, his assurance that the very heart of him doesn’t change during regeneration … oh, but they drove home a truth that she simply refused to believe…
…and all of a sudden she felt so incredibly foolish. He doesn’t love her now, and he didn’t love her then. How could she possibly have thought otherwise? How could she possibly have let herself believe that he – a 900 year old Lord of Time – could truly find himself falling in love with her: a mere human child … a dumb, stupid ape?
Once again, Rose ran across the threshold of an expansive room toward the front doors. And once again, her emotions blinded her to the majesty of the room that surrounded her. All she saw was the cylindrical light of the time rotor, and the outline of the front doors.
Behind her, the Doctor called out for her to stop, to wait, and to let him speak. She ignored his plea and clutched hard at the handle that would pull those doors inward to let her out toward freedom. She didn’t consider just what kind of freedom she’d actually get on the other side, and just how long she’d experience that freedom before being arrested and thrown into an alien gaol, but she didn’t care. As long as it wasn’t where he was, where he could judge the feeble mind of a lovelorn child buried under the agony of an unrequited love…
…How could she have been so foolish to believe…?
She choked back a sob and ripped the door open, surprised that the TARDIS would even allow her to do so, and burst out into the warm glow of twin suns shining down onto red grasses dotted with the lavender blooms of flowers whose fragrance saturated the air around her.
Awe battled with misery, and Rose looked up, rather than down as she ran across the grass, not noticing she was headed toward the very edge of a cliff until it was far too late for her to stop. She let out a screech of terror as her feet skidded on dew-wet grasses that refused to let her stop. She instinctively called out the only name she could when she saw her life about to end, and very quickly two strong arms curled around her waist to haul her up against a heaving chest.
“I’ve got you.”
The words against her ear were calm and in complete contradiction to the panic of the situation. She felt his grip tighten, their bodies lock together, and their movement shift direction. As one, they spun away from the rocky edge of the cliff and fell backwards onto the grass. One of her shoes kicked off and shot across the edge of the cliff to fall into the deep canyon below, but the rest of her remained safe atop the cliff, and inside the arms of a man that, despite which body he was in, would always be there to pull her from danger.
She fell apart at that moment. Torn by embarrassment, by heartbreak, by relief, and by fear, she clutched onto the silken fabric at his throat and sobbed into his chest. She felt his hearts thunder a rapid beat against her nose as he tightened his hold around her quivering, wracking form.
Words of apology and words of comfort danced at the tip of his tongue, but the Doctor opted to remain silent. Words weren’t what this dear young woman needed right now. Comfort and assurance, yes, but not with words. He could provide such support in a protective embrace that would refuse to release her until he knew without a doubt that her emotions had cooled, and that the unpredictable impulses of a devastated Human female would not cause her further harm or distress… No matter how long it took.
And it didn’t take terribly long for her to finally calm down. He could feel when the terror had finally left her bones. He could practically taste when her embarrassment fled and her hurt was waning. While he knew without a doubt that the hurt would never depart completely until the source of that hurt was dealt with, he knew it had ebbed back enough that this young woman could function again rationally.
Sobs quickly became whimpers, and then whimpers shifted to soft sighs. Sighs became words, and he heard her thank him for saving her, for not letting her fall.
“That’s something I would never do,” he whispered against her hair.
“I know you wouldn’t,” she admitted softly. “You’d fall before I did.”
He chuckled softly. “And something tells me that you wouldn’t let me fall, either.”
“Not if I can help it, at any rate.”
There was silence for a moment. They laid on the grass, with only the tinkling of silver leaves in the wind, and the chirp of birds off in the distance to break the otherwise deafening quiet. And he was fine with that for now. Fine to hear her soft breaths, and to keep her safely within his arms.
“I’m Rose, by the way,” she muttered finally in a voice so quiet he almost missed it.
He looked down at the crown of her head. “I’m sorry?”
“Rose,” she repeated without lifting her head, too content to listen to the beating of his hearts rather than look up into his face.
“Rose,” he echoed wistfully. “A beautiful name, for an equally beautiful woman.”
She moaned at that. “Oh, don’t start with that rubbish. Boring name more like.”
“Whether or not something is beautiful or boring is rather subjective, don’t you think?” he asked with a smile in his voice. “I happen to love the simplistic, and yet very symbolic nature of the word.”
“Oh shut up,” she growled playfully. Her chuckle shifted to an apologetic sigh, but she still didn’t look up at him. “I’m sorry, Doctor. To this you, and to the you‘s that I know.” She sighed. “I don’t know why I felt it as strongly as I did. Why I truly and without a doubt thought that you felt the same about me that I did for you.” She inhaled deeply and held onto him just a little bit more fiercely. “You’ve never said it to me, but I just knew, you know? I felt it so strongly.”
He remained silent. Thoughtful and silent.
“Wishful thinking, I guess,” she deduced with a quiet voice.
The Doctor considered her words for a long moment. He thought about her sureness of his feeling toward her and of the utter devastation to realise that those feelings weren’t true. Such intense devastation wasn’t appropriate in this instance. She should be upset, yes, but not to the point of such severe desolation. There had to be another explanation, because this just wasn’t right.
A likely explanation dawned and he felt his hearts flutter just slightly at the possibility.
Could it be?
With cautious tone and a slight hitch in his breath, he spoke the words of his people along her hair. It was a series of melodic, soft sounds that curled in the air around them, and silenced the twinkling leaves above them as though nature herself wanted to see what came next.
He felt her shudder in his hold at his words. He heard her sigh and relax against him. More than anything, however, he felt a tickle in his soul and a warming inside his chest.
She hummed out appreciatively against his chest. “That’s beautiful, Doctor. But can you please tell me what you’re saying? I’ve asked you before, but you refuse to translate it for me.”
He bit at his lip and held onto his breath for a moment. He felt a wave of emotion crash from head to toe and let out a shuddered breath. “I’ve said it to you before?”
She lifted her head to look up at him. “I-I think so,” she answered, suddenly unsure. “It’s not like I know your language or anything like that, so he – you – could have said something else, but I’m pretty sure that was it. I really don’t think it’s the first time I’ve heard it.” She blinked at him. “Can you repeat it? I’ll close my eyes and really concentrate on it.”
“Oh-Okay,” he breathed out. “But look at me. Don’t close your eyes. Keep them on me.” With a gaze straight into hers that locked them almost as one, he repeated his words. Slowly, clearly, with conviction and a fierceness she’d never heard before, the words moved between them.
She gasped in a whimper and once again shuddered against him. She was near breathless when she licked her lips and nodded. “Yeah,” she squeaked. “Yeah, that’s it. It always gives me a shiver when I hear it. So beautiful.”
He gulped deeply. “Which me said it to you?”
“Both,” she answered without falter. “And more’n once.” A smile stretched across her face. “the first you said it for the first time after Downing Street. We survived that mess, got back to the TARDIS, and he stood at the doorway and said it to me when I got to the console all ready to run into our next adventure. Looked me straight in the eye, said it, and then closed the door and told me it was time for the human to sleep. I heard it a couple’a times after that. I asked him to translate, and he told me it was nothing important and not to worry about it.”
“Well, that’s not entirely accurate,” he corrected. “Not even partially accurate. But do go on. What about the me that you’re with now?”
She looked away in thought for a moment, but quickly shifted her gaze back to his. “First time he hugged me, actually. Not even a day after he regenerated.”
He nodded. “And since?”
She shrugged. “Every time he hugs me, I’d guess. Which is a lot.” She smirked. “He’s a cuddler this time around. Always giving hugs.” Her lips curled with distaste. “He’s also an insufferable flirt who will schmooze up to anything wearing a skirt.”
“That,” he managed over a swallow, “is a new trait.”
“Yeah, well, is snogging a new one as well?” she queried petulantly. “Because he’s getting good at that, too.”
“With you?” he ventured hopefully. “And only you, right?”
Rose finally pulled herself away from him. She shook her head as she wiped now sweated palms against her thighs. “Not with me at all, actually,” she muttered. “No snogging for the Doctor and Rose. But snogging and dancing with Madame du Pompadour is certainly okay and worth bragging about.”
The Doctor choked and made a strangled sound in the back of his throat. He shook his head in short and almost robotic movements: quick and static. “No. No. There wasn’t any dancing, he managed tightly. None at all. I can assure you, Rose, that any activities of that very specific nature did not happen.”
Rose lifted her eyes to the ceiling and let out a sharp laugh. “Oh. Why? Because you’re going to remember this little conversation in – oh – how many centuries from now, and make sure he doesn’t?” She rolled her eyes. “Fat chance of you sticking to that when you meet a fancrush that views sex as a fun past time and not something sacred to be shared between two people who actually love each other.”
He sat up and closed his eyes as he digested her words. “Is that what you believe,” he asked her firmly. “That love, and the making of, is sacred?”
She looked to her knees. “Time was I really didn’t,” she admitted. “I thought it was something that was just required in a relationship, or to have a short bit of fun. I didn’t think that it was supposed to be something special.” She shrugged. “But back when I thought that I was young and stupid and dating a guy who was older and …” She inhaled and stopped herself. “But bein’ around you – the older you’s I mean – well, I couldn’t imagine ever … no … not with anyone else. Not ever again.”
“So you and me…?”
She reddened and looked off to one side. “I’m not answerin’ that question, Doctor, so stop askin’.” Her eyes remained off in the distance at a small bird preening itself on a tree branch. “But it’s because of him – my first Doctor – that I realized just how sacred love really is. Even the thought of bein’ touched by anyone else makes me feel sick inside.”
“And right now, I think I know the feeling,” he said softly, inaudibly. Her eyes flashed and she questioned what he’d said. He waved it off with a shrug and a shake of his head. “Nothing. Nothing important.” He moved closer to her and licked at his lip. “But I feel that you should know one thing, Rose. And this is something that is, indeed, important.”
She nodded. “Go on.”
He licked at his lips and watched his hand as he used the tip of his finger to curl her hair behind her ear. His eyes remained there. “When a Gallifreyan choses a mate,” he began gently.
“What’s a Gallifreyan?” she queried with a confused furrow in her brow.
That took him aback slightly. “A Gallifreyan is who I am, Rose.”
“No,” she corrected. “You’re a Time Lord. That’s what you told me you were.”
“Yes. A Time Lord,” he agreed. “A Time Lord from Gallifrey, which makes me Gallifreyan by birth, Time Lord by designation.”
“Gallifrey,” she repeated quietly to herself. “That’s where you’re from? Gallifrey. But it sounds so, so Irish. Not nearly as pompous as it should sound considering you lot call yourselves Lords.”
“London doesn’t exactly sound like a regal locale.”
“Good point.” She smiled. “But go on, tell me about Gallifrey.”
He seemed very confused. “Have I not ever mentioned to you what planet I’m from? Have I never brought you here before today?”
Her eyes flashed open as wide as her jaw. She inhaled through that open mouth and leapt immediately to her feet to take in her surroundings. “This is it? This, where we’re standing, is Gallifrey: The Doctor’s home planet?” Her hands flew to her mouth and she let out a sound of utter appreciation. “Oh my God. It. It’s so beautiful.” She spun toward him, eyes wide, and dropped her hands. The smile across her face he could only describe as being absolutely magnificent, and it took his breath for a moment as she continued. “You mean it exists? It truly exists. Now? Here and now?”
He frowned. “Well. Well of course it does, dear. It has been here since before the dawn of your time, and will remain here until both you and I have been gone for millennia.” He tipped his head at her. “Why would you think otherwise?”
Again her eyes widened. That’s right, this Doctor was the one before hers – the one who destroyed it all. Her voice squeaked just slightly. “Oh. No reason. Just. He never speaks about it, I guess.” She pointed to the grass and flowers at their feet. “But would you mind if I take some cuttings or seeds? Is it illegal to do that?”
He looked at her with an expression of mistrust on that, but it lasted only a moment. “It’s not illegal,” he began slowly. “You’re free to take samples from any specimen around here if you desire. Completely unnecessary of course, all you have to do is ask me, and I’ll happily bring you here.”
Her smile faltered. “Oh, I don’t quite know about that. I really don’t think so.”
“Well, why not?”
She inhaled deeply and held onto that breath a moment as she tried to think of how not to tell him that in his future Gallifrey doesn’t exist anymore. “Uhm. Well… You see…”
Understanding dawned and he nodded. “Oh, I see,” he began with a knowing huff. “I’ve been exiled again, have I?”
Her smile returned and showed a sliver of amusement. “Exiled again? Have you gotten into mischief and upset council before?”
He threw his head back with a laugh. “Oh, my dear girl. I don’t think they’re ever been not upset with me.”
“Rebel,” she accused with humour.
“I prefer to call myself a renegade,” he corrected. The smile remained on his face. “So how long this time? And have I shared with you the story of why I’m not allowed back to Gallifrey?”
“No,” she breathed out in song. “But I’d love to hear yours.”
He let out a laugh. “When I return you to me. Simply ask my older self that I regale you about my ever persistent and effective ways of annoying those who are seated on council. I’m sure I’ll happily share all for you. Each day a new tale.”
Her smile faltered again. “Well. To be honest with you. I don’t imagine our time together will be that much longer. Not now that he’s got himself a new companion – his wife.”
His eyes blew wide. “His what?”
“Wife,” she affirmed with a sad sigh. “He just got himself married on that planet we just left, you know, the home of the tornado from hell?”
“Crandinia,” he supplied.
“Yeah,” she said with a nod. “They were just about to get in the act to sire an heir together when I took my leave. Scarpered when the snogging started.”
“Scarpered,” he repeated. “And found your way to my TARDIS with your heart splintered into a thousand pieces.”
Her lips pursed outward and the tears began to form again. She nodded by way of answering. “Yeah.”
“So you weren’t there to actually witness it?”
She half gagged at that. Her eyes widened and she shook her head with a look of absolute abhorrence on her face. “I’d rather not, ta,” she drawled disgustedly. “Not my thing, voyeurism.” She gestured toward him with a flick of her hand. “You might get off on things like that, but not me.”
He opened his mouth to counter her remark, but quickly closed his mouth again when she continued to speak.
“Men,” she huffed. “All about watchin’ porn and naked women.” She set her hands on her hips and actually waggled a finger at him. “Well I’m having none of that nonsense, ta. None at all.”
This time it was the Doctor’s turn to flare eyes in an expression of surprise. “Not quite what I meant, Rose,” he breathed out hoarsely. “In fact quite the opposite.” His eyes blinked rapidly as his mind provided him with rather graphic imagery conjured to accompany Rose’s rant. He shuddered. “Very much not what I was alluding to at all.”
Rose’s eyes were wide in challenge, and she didn’t take her hands from her hips. She merely humphed to tell him to fully outline exactly what he’d originally intended to say.
He took that challenge with an embarrassed clearing of his throat. “Yes. Well. As. As I was saying. Earlier…” He lifted his hand to rub at the back of his neck. He could feel the heat of embarrassment creep up his spine. “What I meant to explain…”
“Are…?” Rose blurted with surprise and definite humour in her tone. “Are you blushing?”
His mouth gaped and he did his absolute best to look as affronted by the question as possible. “I will have you know, young lady, that Time Lords do not blush!”
Rose lifted her hands from her hips and folded her arms across her breasts. She tipped her hip to one side and gave him a tongue-touched smile. “Oh. Well this one does. Look at you all beet red right up to the tips of your ears.”
“Well perhaps if you weren’t speaking words that were desperately inappropriate for a … a …. Well, for anyone to speak about in polite company...”
Rose bust out laughing. “Oh, Doctor, you are anything but polite. All rude and not ginger and all…”
His embarrassment quickly faded into curiosity. “Rude and what? Not ginger? Whatever does that mean?”
“It means that you’re rude and not ginger,” she answered back with a smirk and a shrug.
He lifted his eyes in contemplation a moment, and then bit his smile and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I can see how that descriptor fits. Across all of my known incarnations, actually.” His smile widened. “Quite eloquent in how simple – yet so accurate – it is. The Doctor: Rude and not Ginger.” He winked at her. “You, Rose, are a very clever girl.”
He watched her chuckle into her hand with a smile of his own. The smile fell after a moment and his expression changed to one of thought. “So. Before porn and descriptives of myself were topics of conversation, where were we?”
Rose shrugged. Amusement was still a feature upon her face, neck, and shoulders. “Don’t really remember,” she admitted with a purse in her lips.
He hummed. “It can’t have been of vital importance, then.”
“If you were talkin’ about it,” she quipped in reply. “Then it was probably very important.”
“Indeed,” he agreed coolly and with a nod of his head. “I don’t often speak nonsense.”
“That’s debatable, Mr. Lion King reference in the middle of a threat to humanity.”
His eyes blew wide at that. “Was it at least a good reference?”
“Meh,” she sang. “Guess you thought so at the time.”
“Was it profound?”
“Subjective … as you say…”
“Ahhh.” He breathed out. “One of those off the cuff remarks to stall for time?”
She nodded and managed to give him an honest smile. “Well stalled..” She took a deep breath through an open mouth to let him know not to speak right at that moment. When confident he was going to remain silent, she gave him a smile. “But we digress. What were you going to say?”
He looked slightly sheepish. “You may want to elaborate on just which line of discussion you’re referring to. We’ve engaged in a couple of broken lines of topic.”
“Gallifreyans,” she said slowly as though ensuring that she got the word correct. “And choosing a mate.”
His jaw dropped with remembrance. “Yes. Yes, indeed. Gallifreyans and their selection of a mate.”
She waited for him to immediately continue. When he didn’t, she nodded quickly. “Yes. That’s the one.”
He cleared his throat with slight discomfort and held out his hand to her. “It may be more comfortable to be seated for this discussion. Do come with me.”
She took his hand and tightened her grip when it looked as though he might lead her back into the TARDIS. “No,” she blurted out quickly, smiling when he looked toward her with surprise. “Not in the TARDIS. Out here.” She looked around them. “It’s too beautiful to walk away from right now.”
He nodded with understanding. “If you wish.”
He led her toward a large rock with weather smoothed edges and urged her to take a seat. He didn’t immediately sit beside her, instead he took a small step backward and thrust his hands into his trouser pockets.
“My people, Rose,” he began quickly, deciding to just go straight into it rather than dawdle around it any more. “Well, most notably the Time Lords, didn’t often select a partner for what your people term love.”
“My people,” she repeated with a chuckle. “Sounds so proper.”
“Let me finish,” he warned slowly with a soft smile. He waited for a gesturing wave of her hand and once again cleared her throat. “The Time Lord Society is not one for love and romance and vows of eternal love an honour. Most betrothals that are entered into are for political unions rather than romantic.”
“Sounds a bit like royalty back in the day,” she muttered with a perplexed furrow in her brow.
He nodded. “Quite.”
“How awful,” she mused softly. She lifted her eyes to his and inside her gaze swam a myriad of questions that she dared not ask.
He could read each and every one of them and gave her a gentle smile as he slowly nodded his head. “Yes, Rose. I was quite reluctantly entered into one such a partnership.” He shuddered. “Rather distasteful, really. I’d frankly prefer not have to endure anything of that nature ever again any time soon.”
She blinked to wide eyes. “Never?”
He heard the meekness in her voice as she asked that one word question. It was a question asked with hope, realisation, disappointment, and then heartache. With a slow blink of his eyes he looked down to the red grass at her feet. “Of that particular nature? No.”
“Not into domestics,” she stated with a breathy sigh. “Can’t say it surprises me. You might’ve mentioned your disdain for that more than once.”
His eyes shifted to hers and he held her gaze for a moment to carefully formulate his response. When he did speak, it was with a tender voice. “If our conversation to this point is truthful, Rose, then I suspect I may have lied to you about that.”
Her head tilted to one side with curiosity. “How so?”
He inhaled deeply, held onto that breath a moment, and then released it as he spoke. “As I’ve been trying to explain around your rather constant interruptions…” He chuckled at her chastened expression. “While most marriages between my people are political, there are also some that are made with romantic intentions. Not often, mind, heavens forbid that a Lord of Time admit to any emotions other than judgement and contempt..”
“And self righteousness,” she supplied with a smirk.
“Quite right you are on that, Dear Rose. Quite right.” He paused long enough to let himself indulge in a smile, and then let it fall. “But for those who do fall for a Lord or Lady, there does exist a rite to courtship that all Time Lords and Ladies will abide to …” he smiled only on one side of his mouth. “…including myself.”
She swallowed thickly, hope rising slightly in her veins. “And … And that is?”
“A verbal statement of intent,” he answered without pause. “One that must be reciprocated if the courtship is to move forward.”
“And if it isn’t?”
His eyes rolled wide and he bounced his head side to side with thought. “Well. That’s where it gets a little complicated.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
He let out a breathy laugh and thread and took a seat beside her on the rock. “Oh my dear, Rose. I don’t know what is worse: That I no longer surprise you, or that the legends of the Time Lords being able to complicate even the most trivial of matters has extended toward the people of Earth.”
Her mouth stretched into a grin. “Oh, you do still continue to surprise me, Doctor. Sometimes in exciting ways…” her smile faltered. “And sometimes not so.” She feigned happiness, however, and petted at his knee with the palm of her hand. “But do go on.” She didn’t look up at him, instead kept her eyes on her hand covering his knee. “I want to hear more.”
A brow lifted high on his forehead. “Are you really sure about that? Because evidence is leading me toward other conclusions.”
She bumped him with her shoulder. “Oh, shut up.”
“If I do that,” he countered with amusement. “Then I wouldn’t be able to elaborate, would I?” He rubbed at his chin when she rolled her eyes. “Then again. You’re not exactly letting me finish my thoughts, are you?”
She boldly laid her head on his shoulder and looked into his face with the most innocent of expressions. “I’m sorry.”
The wideness of her eyes and the sincerity within them gave him pause. His breath hitched just slightly and he found himself drawing a fingertip along her forehead to draw her hair from her eyes. At that moment, he could see just what it was that captured his future self’s attention.
“You are … remarkable,” he breathed out reverently.
“Only b’cause of you,” she breathed back in reply.
He watched her eyes fall toward his lips and the Doctor panicked. In a swift move that had little to no grace, he shot to his feet. “As I was saying before you so very rudely interrupted me for the umpteenth time, Rose Tyler. Time Lord courtship rituals are complicated.” He spun to look at her with a forced glare in his eyes that warned her not to interrupt again. “As they are in many, many species across the universe – Earth included.”
With wide eyes, she nodded, but Rose said nothing.
He half expected her to interrupt, and felt slightly put out that she didn’t. His voice immediately calmed and his posture relaxed. He let out a long breath as he considered where to push on from here. “I suppose I’ve mentioned that we are a telepathic race?”
She bit her lips together and nodded.
“Well. And I expect that you also know that we regenerate,” he continued. “We change completely…” he paused and looked down at his feet with a shake of his head. “Of course you know that. We’ve established that you know that.”
He felt her small hand curl warmly around his elbow and let out a long breath.
“It’s okay, Doctor. I know you don’t like to talk about these things like this. It’s really okay if you don’t wanna.”
“No,” he breathed out, letting his hand cover hers. He looked into her face with a small smile. “It’s actually very important that you understand this, and what it has to do with my future … and possibly yours.”
She took a step backward, slipping her hand from underneath his and shook her head with confusion and slight worry. “I-I don’t understand.”
A series of lyrical words flew from his mouth at that time. Spoken without waver and in a voice that commanded no question, every lilt and curl of his tongue around each word swirled around her like invisible tendrils. A rush of pins and needles rushed from her feet up to the top of her head, causing her to shudder and let out a whimpering sigh. When the shuddering stopped she looked up at him with questions once more hiding within her eyes.
“If you were a Time Lady,” he began as he took a stride closer to her. He maintained his distance as he slid his hands into his trouser pockets and rocked back lightly on his heels. “You’d have a response for that. Maybe reciprocal in nature, maybe not.” He inhaled deep. “But until such time as I receive a response of any kind, I’ll be put into a holding pattern of sorts. Unable to move forward, and unable to let go.”
“What did you say?” she asked in a whisper. “How should I respond? And…”
“And how can I not be able to move on?” he finished for her. “Because that really is what is important here.”
“I – I don’t understand.”
He drew in a deep breath. “There is actually no direct translation into your language from mine. You couldn’t respond to that, and I couldn’t hope to ever expect you too.” He smiled ruefully. “You would have to speak my language, and that’s no easy feat for someone who isn’t intimately attuned to time and all of her nuances.” He pursed his lips in a thoughtful manner. “Which is probably why I say it to you as often as I do. If I don’t expect a response, then I can’t expect a rejection.”
“But,” she queried gently. “What if it wouldn’t be a rejection? What if I want to reciprocate?”
His eyes snapped quickly to hers. “Would you want to, Rose?”
Her eyes widened a moment. She quickly reddened and then stole her gaze away from his. There was a waver in her voice. “Uh. I might. You know….” Her lips curled around her teeth in such a way that it made her words seem as though they were spoken around a mouthful of marbles. “We might have some things to sort out first, you know. I mean, because, the current you I’m travelling with is behaving like a bit of a lad…”
“Flirtatious,” he countered quickly. “But not being a cad.” He walked around her, straightened up into a more confident demeanour and shrugged. “That, I can assure you.”
She barked out a laugh at that. “Oh, Doctor. This you might not be a player, but as you flame through your regenerations, you tend to look a little more at the opposite sex.”
“Window shopping,” he came back with a shrug of nonchalance. “Nothing more.”
“Snogging,” she continued. “Dancing.” She winced. “Getting married and siring heirs.”
The Doctor snorted. “If what you’re saying is correct, and the future me is the instigator and willing participant in all such endeavours, then the statement you claim he’s making to you on a regular basis is definitely not what you think it is.”
“He’s definitely saying that….”
He shrugged. “Then he’s not playing about like you think he is.”
“Says you,” she shot back petulantly.
“Says the mating and courtship ritual of my people,” he shot back almost angrily. “If he has indeed spoken to you in the manner by which you and I have discussed, then his ability to engage in any such nonsense would be physically impossible.” He flicked his hand in a rudely dismissive gesture. “Unless you have offered him the appropriate rejection.” He spun, looked at her and ground out a series of melodic syllables that to her sounded harsh and extremely unattractive.
Her heart fell into her stomach. She didn’t understand what he said, but she knew it wasn’t in any way complimentary. “Please don’t speak to me like that, again,” she warned him darkly. “I might not be real intimate with time and all that, but I know an insult when I hear it.”
His expression remained neutral, but he tilted his head to one side to regard her curiously. More melodic, and obviously more deliberate syllables fell from his lips. Although his expression hardened somewhat, and he looked to be deliberately unhappy with her, the words he spoke were loving and tender. Rose felt the tingle from tip to toe and her eyes misted.
“Right,” she breathed out with a shudder. “Ni-Nice backpedal, Doctor. Much better.”
His eyes quickly pinched and he regarded her with scrutiny. “You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference,” he remarked suspiciously. “You’re human, correct?”
“As far as I know.”
“But…” He was on her before she even registered that he’d taken a step toward her. His march ended with his hands curled around her biceps and his face mere inches from hers. His eyes bored deeply into hers and despite her mild attempt to struggle away from him, he held them both firm. She could see his eyes flick between hers, searching and mentally cataloguing what he saw. “Why do I see time swirling in your eyes?” he questioned. “Swimming deep in the back.”
She struggled back as best she could, uncomfortable against his scrutiny. “You’re bein’ daft.”
His hold, both his grip and his eyes, were strong. “No. It’s there, Rose. I can see it. Curling around the sclera, attached to your optic nerve.” His deep focus deep within her eyes shifted, and he focused upon her confused gaze. “Only those who’ve looked into the Schism see time like that.”
His hands roughly let go of her arms. He purposefully shifted his flattened palms to her chest, pressing against her bosom, one left, the other right.
Rose was quite frankly mortified by this advance. She shoved both her hands against his chest to push him away from her. “Get offa me!” she demanded as she stepped back and folded her arms across her chest to curl into herself. “Who do you think you are, bein’ all forward like that? Just because I fancy you in the future, doesn’t mean you have rights to get all touchy-feelly on me now.” She sniffed and raised her chin high. “I don’t even know you.”
He didn’t seem to notice her rant at all. He simply crossed one arm over his belly and rested the elbow of the other on his fist. He rubbed at his chin and wore a perplexed frown on his face. “One heart,” he muttered to himself.
“Heart,” he answered distractedly. “You’ve only got one.”
She didn’t release the cover of her arms across her chest. “Yeah. And you didn’t have to turn into an octopus to find out. You only needed to ask.”
His brows lifted and he looked at her with an expression of confusion. “An octopus, Rose? How am I anything like an octopus?”
She gestured toward his hands with a flick of one of hers. She didn’t relinquish the protective hold of her arms across her bosom. “You, bein’ all handsy there.” Her eyes lifted angrily to his. “I don’t appreciate that, Doctor. You didn’t ask, and so I didn’t consent.”
If possible, his expression of utter confusion deepened.
Rose let out a huff and finally opened her arms to display her chest to him, even pulling back her shoulders to tighten her shirt and further accentuate them. “My boobs, Doctor. You were grabbing them like they were your little playthings.”
Confusion shifted to accused affront. “I did no such thing.”
“Yeah,” she choked out. “You did.”
“I did not grab,” he growled in his defense. “There was no grabbing. I pressed my hands to your chest, yes, but that was an exploratory action.”
She huffed out with disgust. “Exploratory my arse,” she shot back. “I’ll give you exploratory when I slap you hard enough to make you regenerate.”
His eyes widened. “I was feeling to see how many hearts you have.”
“How many did you think I had, Doctor?” She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Human. I have one. Just one. And you could’ve found that out by askin’ me.”
“I had to be sure,” he grumbled.
“And are you very sure now, Doctor?”
There was still anger in her tone. He pressed his lips together and gave a firm nod. “Yes. Thank you. And.” He cleared his throat as he finally considered his actions and how they must’ve been received. He couldn’t find it in himself to show completely ruefulness, so he hid it behind slight petulance. “And I’m sorry, by the way. I didn’t think.”
“You’re telling me,” she answered back, her anger falling away. She waited a few seconds and then shook her head with a smile. “Daft git,” she said finally. “Only you could possibly do something like that and not think there was anything wrong with it.”
His brows lifted and he nodded with an open mouth. “Oh, there is plenty wrong with it, Rose, on that I agree. I also agree that I wasn’t thinking at that very specific point in time past the mission that I was on, which was to determine the amount of hearts beating within your chest.”
“One,” she advised.
“One,” he confirmed slowly. “Which is very curious.”
He frowned a little and pursed his lips out far enough that he could see them when he looked down along his nose. After a moment in this position his expression cleared, relaxed, and fell to a more neutral state. “I’m really not quite sure about that,” he admitted. “When I saw the way that time was swirling in your eyes, and noted that you were able to distinguish the difference between … well … complimentary and non complimentary words despite there not being any recognisable difference to anyone not familiar with the language at all….” He sighed. “I found myself questioning your heritage.”
“Again,” she said with a weak smile. “You only had to ask.”
“To quote you from earlier,” he droned in reply. “I don’t know you. How do I know that I can trust you?”
She let out a long breath and nodded with her lips pressed tightly together. “Well played,” she conceded flatly.
Silence fell at that moment. Neither willing to initiate to continue the current line of discussion. Instead they let the tinkling of silver leaves and the rustle of red grasses fill the void of sound between them.
After a moment, Rose shifted from her protective stance to take up position beside the Time Lord. She put her hands into the pockets of her jeans and watched the colour of the sky changed as the twin suns shifted to drop behind the mountains off in the distance. She wanted to remark on the beauty of the scene in front of her. She wanted to capture the sight forever. In a swift and practiced move, she drew her phone from her pocket and pointed it toward the setting suns.
“It is stunning, isn’t it?” he asked her almost distractedly as he watched her take photograph after photograph, and then walk slowly in a circle to capture a 360 panoramic image.
“Gorgeous,” she agreed breathlessly. She then walked back toward the edge of the cliff and turned her back to the sight. She lifted the camera with one hand in an attempt to capture the best selfie image possible.
She stumbled slightly, and was immediately inside the arms of the Doctor. With her camera still raised she turned to look at him with wide open eyes of question. She wasn’t surprised to see him fiercely analysing her gaze with his own. He ran his arm up along hers to take the phone in his hand.
“Here,” he breathed out hoarsely without taking his eyes from hers. “Allow me.”
Her jaw fell and she nodded at him, dumbly, with eyes wide. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Thanks.”
He quickly released her and took a good long stride backward. “Not that I doubt your selfie-taking abilities at all, Rose. But if you want to capture the perfect image to show my future self my home and my hearts, then it’s best that I take the pictures, don’t you think.”
Her head still bobbed as she reached forward and relinquished the phone. “Uh. Yeah. Of course.”
He made a show of snapping pictures and guiding her into specific poses and positions against the backdrop of Gallifrey. He cheered her on playfully. He hooted and hollered when he felt he got the most perfect shot. He purred out about beauty when he captured a wide set of eyes and smile that held reflections of Schlenk Blossoms and Cadonwood trees.
Rose sighed when he guided her back toward the rock and asked her to sit. She watched as he plucked a bloom from the ground and approached to place it behind her ear.
“Could you teach me?” she asked with soft curiosity when she felt the tickle of his fingers against her ear as he settled the flower into place.
His eyes slid from the bloom to hers. “Teach you what?”
“How to respond.”
“Respond to what?” he queried as he took a step back to line up another shot. “Now please, lean slightly to the left. I want to capture the shadows of the leaves across your cheeks.”
“Respond to ‘im,” she clarified. “You know, when he speaks to me in your language.”
He stilled. He feigned devoted attention toward the phone and really tried not to look at her when he answered. His voice was breathy. “I thought you said that you weren’t going to stay with me.” His eyes still didn’t rise. “Wouldn’t be much point in teaching you anything of the sort when you don’t actually intend on saying it.”
“Leaving you is not as easy to me as I’m making out it is,” she admitted quietly. “I say I’m leaving, but I don’t know that I actually will.” She turned on the rock to sit sideways to him and slumped as she looked off into the distance. “I love it, you know: the travelling. I love seeing everything that the Doctor has to show me. Everything that exists out there … it’s …” She signed and looked down to her knee. “I don’t know how, or even if I can say good bye to it all.”
The Doctor switched the camera to video and continued hold it steady on her image, stunned that he was at the beauty within the sorrow. His voice turned soft. “Is it just the travelling that you love, Rose?”
She lifted her head back up to look at a snow capped mountain peak and smiled sadly. “I think we’ve already established how I feel about ‘im, Doctor. It doesn’t need to be said that I’m in love with him. Break my heart and all that he does, but I still worship the very ground he walks on.”
“That’s not a pedestal I should ever be placed upon.”
She turned her head to look down her arm at him. It was almost sultry the way she gazed at him. “Why not?” she asked with a gentle blink of her eyes and a tilt in her head to further accent the image she was already projecting toward him. “You’re got the entire universe up on the same pedestal. It’s about time you joined us up here.” She smiled into the camera. “It’s kind’ve lonely up here without you.”
His voice was breathless as he looked at her through the viewscreen instead of directly at her. “You’re absolutely breathtaking,” he admitted inaudibly to himself.
“And I’m right here,” she said with a chuckle. “So look at me an’ not the phone, yeah?”
Her hand flicked dismissively toward the camera, a move that shook him from his reverie and allowed his eyes to flick up to hers. He quickly nodded and tapped off the recording feature of her phone. “Yes, of course you are. My apology.”
She shrugged and held out her hand. “Join me, Doctor. Please?”
He didn’t take her hand, but he cupped her cheek tenderly when he joined her on the rock. He held her face and held her eyes as he spoke gently in the language of his people. His lilting words stumbled ever so slightly when she leaned into his touch then lifted her hand to cover his.
“Can you repeat that back to me?” he asked softly when he was done.
She kept her cheek in his hand and let her eyes shift to his. “Depends. Is that the yes I want to be your girlfriend or the No, taa, looking for other options?”
He chuckled though his nose. “The former, Rose. However, this isn’t as simple as asking to be girlfriend and boyfriend. What he asks of you is so much more than that.”
He nodded. “Very much so.” He cleared his throat and rubbed his palms on his knees. “It’s a telepathic vow – one to seek out a bond. Telepathy being as it is with my species, consent is vital in forming such a bond.”
She nodded to indicate that she’d understood, but she said nothing. The look of engagement in her eyes was encouragement for him to continue.
“So that said, any such desire or request requires reciprocation, or it cannot be formed. Two minds as one, and all that.” He drew in a deep breath. “Which makes it very important that if you intend on learning how to answer the question to the side of positive, that you have thought it through and are 100% committed to that answer and accept all of its repercussions.” He set his hands on his knees and looked toward her. “Once you’ve accepted, you can’t walk away. It’s a permanent connection. One for two to remain together, as one….”
“Forever,” she completed inside a whisper. Her head lowered. “I’ve already promised him that, Doctor. On Woman’s Wept, underneath flying sting Rays…” She smiled at that and lifted her head. “He asked me how long I was going to stay with him.” She looked toward him. “I said forever, an’ I meant it.”
“But can you follow through on that promise?”
“I thought I could, you know.” She pursed her lips and looked out across the field toward the TARDIS. “Back when he was rough and gruff…”
“And a big teddybear,” he recounted with disgust in his tone.
She bumped him with her shoulder. “Don’t you mind on that, Doctor,” she chided. “A teddybear with me only, yeah?”
“Whilst maintaining my carefully crafted reputation of indignance toward all others, I hope.”
She snorted a laugh through her nose. “You ‘ave no idea,” she drawled. Her drawl ended with a sigh and she looked back across the canyon toward the setting suns. She noted an almost transparent set of lines across the sky that she assumed were from rings surrounding the planet and let out a sigh of awe. “Gallifrey has rings?”
The Doctor’s eyes flicked up and he shook his head. “No, it doesn’t.” Realisation dawned with a sigh and he blinked slowly. “Transduction barrier beams,” he corrected. “Gallifreyan made, not natural, I’m afraid.”
“And that is…?”
He shook his head with a smile. “That is your way of avoiding continuing with your line of thought and giving me your answer.”
She stood up from the rock and held herself as she moved toward the cliff’s edge. Her head remained high as she watched colours she didn’t know existed swirl across the sky. “Maybe it’s because I just don’t have one for you right now.”
“If I took you back to me right now?”
She could hear the light waver of worry in his voice, and looked back at him with a shrug. “Probably best you don’t.” Her eyes flicked down to the red grass at her feet and then skittered back toward the sunset. “You bein’ all sweet talking now doesn’t negate what you do in your future.”
“A future,” he corrected, “that you ran away from before you could see…”
She spun and glared a sizzling stare of fury toward him. “I saw plenty, ta.” She stalked toward him, eyes wide and nostrils flared. There was a light hunch in her shoulder as she stalked his way. When she finally got to him, she rolled up onto her toes, poked her finger into his chest, and curled her lip in as threatening a manner as possible. “Didn’t need to stick around to see the climax of a whole year’s worth of him pulling away and treatin’ me second class, like I don’t matter.”
With his height, he unintentionally loomed over her. Although he had advantage with height staring down at her angry, hurt, and frustrated glare, he couldn’t help but feel several feet shorter. His hand flicked upward toward her temple, and stopped just short.
“Let me see,” he requested firmly.
“See what?” she growled in reply, her tight attention on the blue in his eyes so rapt that she didn’t even register that his hands were moving toward her face.
“What I’ve done to you,” he clarified. “Just need a moment, a quick look into your mind…”
“My head?” she barked out incredulously. She took a full stride backward and let her eyes finally find his raised hand. “Why’d you need to go in there. Don’t you believe me?”
“Not really,” he admitted, taking his own step backward at her growl of utter shock and disgust at his admittance. “Oh don’t get offended,” he growled with equal annoyance. “You’re a human…”
“Which has what to do with anything?” she snapped back.
He sighed a long-suffering sound and dropped his hand. “You’re emotional,” he explained with as little condescension as possible. “And a defining characteristic of your species is that emotions cloud your judgment – especially where the heart is concerned.”
Her lips pursed petulantly, but she didn’t speak.
“So that said. Let me take a look and see for myself what harm I’ve done to your singular, and obviously very passionate heart.” His voice softened further. “Let me see if what feelings you had for me are still salvageable so that you can move forward in the right direction …” he gulped, “for both of us.”
He lifted his hand slowly, cautiously. “Tell me, Rose. Do you trust me?”
She took his hand and pressed it flat against her head. She looked him in the eye with a fierce gaze of utter faith. “More than I should.”
He watched her eyes flutter shut and shifted his fingers to make contact. “Anything you want to shield from me, Rose. Just put them behind a closed door. I won’t peek, I promise.”
“I’ll try,” she whispered softly.
His own eyes closed as the tingling of connection fluttered between them.
He expected to be bombarded with a barrage of mess thoughts, memories, and emotions – such were the minds of humans – but instead he gasped to be greeted with a single moment… and one filled with so much passion and emotion that it made his hearts hurt to bear witness.
…and offered discomfort beyond all measure to look through the eyes of this young woman at a silhouette of himself standing at a window’s ledge, raw, bare, and naked, lit only by the light of the full moon outside..