Rose awoke to the sound of woodland creatures chirping and snuffling, and the kiss of warm sunlight on her nose. The air around her was sweet with floral scent, and of the soft whiff of the dying embers of a fire. She slapped her lips together to properly wet her tongue and rubbed at her nose with the butt of her hand. She held her eyes closed for only a moment longer, worried of the squinting blindness of bright sunlight on eyes not yet ready for the brightness.
To prepare, she covered her eyes with her forearm and peeked gingerly around the dusty knitted cotton fabric of her shirt. Her senses immediately heightened to full awareness, and she listened to the sounds around her, wondering if she was alone out here, or if the Doctor had done as he suggested and would find animal companionship while she was sleeping.
His low murmur of conversation toward the cliff’s edge let her know that he must’ve found such companionship. Curious, she lowered her forearm and squinted into the brightness to investigate. He was, indeed, seated toward the cliff’s edge. He sat upon a large boulder beside what appeared to be a ring of smaller rocks surrounding a dying campfire of green and blue embers. There was a grey furry creature on his knees. With one hand he petted the creature’s head, the other was held underneath the munching mouth of it, full of purple berries which were obviously a delightful treat to the animal.
He spoke to it on a soft voice that purred, trilled, and chipped in a language she’d only heard on nature shows with Sir David Attenborough back at school … and none of those languages were spoken by the Sir himself. They were the chirping and trilling between animals.
Very intriguing. When her first Doctor had boasted that he could speak 8 billion languages, she never considered for a moment that any of those would be animal languages.
The creature stopped munching for a moment when it caught sight of her looking, and then lifted it’s head to trill out a sound of warning toward the Doctor.
“Yes I know,” the Doctor answered the creature – in English for her benefit she mused, “She’s been awake for a full five minutes now. I do wonder at what point Rose – and that’s her name young Flubble – will announce her waking to us.” He then switched back to chirping and trilling, to which the creature seemed to nod and go back to the feast offered in the hand of the Doctor.
“This is a Flubble,” the Doctor lectured gently without looking back at her. “They’re a tree-dwelling animal indigenous to the forests here on Mount Lung.” He lifted his head to look across the cliff’s edge and the dense forest below. “Very trusting and curious little things, they are. They love munching on fresh fionberries and engaging in conversation about the climate changes that present each passing of Quences comet, which was only about two weeks ago, if the colouring of the sunrise is any indication.”
He finally looked back at her and tipped his head to gesture toward the Flubble. “Quite the little meteorologists, and much more accurate than any ground hog from Earth.”
Rose slowly drew herself to a stand, cricked her neck, and stretched tall with a moan. Her arms were still held high above her head when she felt movement at her left foot. She froze in place and let out a whimper of fright to see a small, grey, furry six-limbed creature pawing at her foot. “Doctor?”
He twisted in place to look at her and let one side of his mouth lift into a smile at the young Flubble at her feet. He let out a trilling purr. “Say that, Rose.”
Rose’s arms were still held up above her head, and her eyes were wide with worry. They shifted from the animal to the Doctor. “Excuse me?”
He repeated the sound. “Just say that, Rose. This little one’s looking for some attention as his mother is currently feeding. It’ll let him know he’s safe with you.”
“I don’t think ‘e’s all that scared, Doctor,” she whimpered. “Looks like he’s about to cock a leg and pee on me… And is six legs normal?”
“Very normal,” he sang back without worry or any real acknowledgement to her growing panic. “I’ve told you what you need to do, so if you don’t want to end up with Flubble urine on your runners, then make the sound I’ve told you to make, and let him know you’re not a peeing post.”
Rose’s arms finally fell and she winced as she tried to replicate the sound that the Doctor had told her to make. It wasn’t a perfect replication by any means, but it seemed to do the trick, and the Flubble stopped shuffling and looked up at her.
“It worked,” she breathed with relief.
“Yes, Rose,” the Doctor agreed. “Nice effort. And just as a warning, you may want to step away from it now, unless of course you want to end up as a….” His words paused when the small creature lifted its arms and jumped onto Roses leg. With rapid movements of each of its limbs, it quickly climbed up to Rose’s hip. “…tree it wants to climb. Yes. I might have thought to warn you about that before I urged you to invite … oh,” He shook his head with a smirk. “Never mind.”
Rose had winced, but not actually yelped in alarm. The curl of six arms racing up her leg felt in no way at all like a gigantic spider may have … Actually, it felt exactly as one might … which forced her into silence.
She hated spiders.
After a second, a small furry face – not unlike and Australian Koala – appeared between her bosom. It looked into her face and let out a loud chirp, one that she surmised must have been in greeting. She returned the chirp, hoping she wasn’t declaring war on it or something else as horrible. The creature clutched its arms – all six of them – either side of her chest and belly, dropped it’s small face n the valley between her breasts, and promptly fell asleep.
“I must remark: That was very well handled Rose. I’m impressed,” the Doctor’s voice suddenly sounded from right behind her, giving her more of a start than the Flubble had. “The combination of your inhale and return chirp and hard exhale invited the youngster to rest. I didn’t know that you were so fluent in Flubble. Do we have one on the TARDIS in my future?”
Rose cradled the little fluffy bottom of it to prevent it from falling, and shook her head at him. “Gotto be a first time that, getting’ it right by accident.” She shrugged. “And no. We don’t have one. I would have thought you’d’ve gotten that by my surprise at seein’ it.”
“I was aiming for jest,” he admitted with a sigh. “As much as I do like the creatures – I even had one as a pet back at the academy – there is no way I would allow one on the TARDIS.” He stroked the head of the flubble in between her breasts. “They don’t do well with time travel. They release an enzyme that doesn’t interact well with the TARDIS systems. Get one of these in the console room, and it’ll throw your navigation way off.”
“I see,” she drawled. “Then I might suspect you took one as a stowaway in yours – what, with your inability to get to where you actually want to go an all that.”
“No. That would be because I failed my capsule flight exams on several occasions back at the Academy.” He winked. “I’m just making it up as I go along. Sometimes I guess right, most times I guess wrong.”
She blew out a breath and shook her head. “I almost completely believe you on that.”
“You should,” he said with a smirk. “It’s true.” He reached forward to grab the Flubble by it’s sides. With gentle coaxing, he pulled it free of Rose’s chest and held it against his own. “I’ll take this youngster back to his mother. If you would like to go and perform the necessary ablutions required of all humans upon waking, then we can sit with a tea and discuss our next steps to getting you back to my older self.”
She felt her bladder agree with him and skipped from one foot to the other. “Okay. Right. I’m gonna go pee, and when I get back then we will discuss you takin’ me home. To London.”
“We will discuss it when you’re done.”
When Rose returned from peeing and washing her face, the Doctor had resumed his seat on the Rock. The Flubbles were now gone, and in his hands now was a purple blossom, which is was spinning between two fingers in the air in front of him.
“I’ve made a decision,” he announced firmly without looking at her.
“I see,” she drawled. She slowed her approach to him, but didn’t stop at all. “I’m guessin’ it’s one I probably won’t agree with bein’ that you’re being all authoritative and all when you say that. Like Mum when she’s puttin’ me on a grounding.”
He let the flower fall onto his lap and reached for a small golden thermal mug to his side. He held it up to her. “Gift from TARDIS. I’m not entirely sure of the composition of whatever is in there, but she assured me you’d appreciate it.”
Rose opened the thermos and lifted it to her nose. She inhaled deeply and them fell into a deep slouch and lazy smile. “Oh the TARDIS loves me, doesn’t she? A good English Breakfast, just the way I like it.”
The Doctor was now looking at her, analysis in his gaze. “Yes, it would seem that she does. Which I find very intriguing.”
“Nothing to be too intrigued by,” she assured him with a shrug. “I love her too. The Doctor told me that she exists across all of space and time, so no matter at what point I meet with her, she’ll know who I am.”
“Yeah,” he breathed out long and quietly. “If only it were that simple.”
Rose’s eyes flicked up. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” he called back. “We with have plenty of time to investigate the smaller anomalies and questions that I have. Right now we have more pressing matters to discuss.”
“Such as this decision of yours?” she ventured facetiously. “because that is of the utmost importance.”
“Indeed it is,” he agreed. He petted on the rock beside him with invitation for her to take a seat. When she shook her head and waved off the invitation, he shrugged and leaned back. Supported by straight arms behind him, the Doctor tilted his head back and let the sun’s morning rays heat his face. “I’m not taking you to London,” he said flatly.
“Oh yes you are,” she snapped in reply. “If you know what’s good for you, an all.”
He twisted his head to look at her. “Indeed I do know what’s good for me, Rose. Which is why I’m not taking you to London…” He held up his hand to prevent her throwing in her argument. “..and I’m not taking you back to Crandinia.” He looked back across the forest. “I’ve decided to keep you here, on Gallifrey with me, for the next little while. At least until I know that whatever decision you eventually choose, is not one made by emotion.”
She dropped the thermos of tea to the ground in shock. “So you. You’re actually going to kidnap me and force me to stay with you?”
His lips pinched tightly together and his eyes tightened. He shook his head. “No. You are actually free to go at any time you want.” He pointed across the valley toward a shimmering dome off in the distance. “In Arcadia, they have plenty of travel capsules at their disposal. If you enter the city, give them your space and temporal coordinates, I’m sure they’ll take you home.” He smirked. “In fact I guarantee it. They don’t exactly admire Humans in the way that I do. They quite dislike them, actually. They’d be happy to ship you off and out of Kasterborous.”
“But that’s got to be about 100 miles away!”
“Closer to 150 of your Earth miles, actually.” He looked back toward her. “And I’ll be very happy to take you there to let you plead your case to them. Throw in my name, and you won’t even have to beg…”
“So you’ll let them take me home, but you won’t.”
His lip twitched at her confusion. “Yes, well. I’ll be busy looking for my elder self while you’re being transported home, Rose. I’ll find him, give him a few choice words in a language he probably won’t want to hear, and then let him know where he can find you.” He smiled a rather villainous smile at her. “My elder self will be waiting at those Capsule doors the moment the chancellery guards materialise.” He batted his eyes in a facetiously innocent manner. “How does that sound?”
Her mouth was wide and aghast. “So now you’re blackmailin’ me?”
The Doctor’s smile fell. His eyes shifted back toward the rising suns. He breathed a few breaths before he could speak, and Rose couldn’t help but notice the thin line of tears that traced at his eyes with light from the sun. She moved toward him, beside him, and waited for his explanation.
“I’m not blackmailing you, Rose,” he defended softly. “I’m begging you.” He inhaled deeply. “I can’t ignore what I saw. I can’t deny what I felt.” His head shook and his brows lifted into a high furrow. He continued to look ahead of him. “I need to understand what happens to us after my regeneration … what catastrophic malfunction happened – to make me make you think that everything I felt for you just fell away like that.”
He looked toward her hand and then reached out to grab it. He watched his thumb stroke at her knuckles. His voice switched to speak that very familiar Gallifreyan phrase that gave her butterflies in her belly. He broke for only a breath before switching back to English. “That’s not something to say on a whim.”
“You seem to be doing okay with it,” she ventured cautiously.
He didn’t look up from his hand. “I can say it to you now because I’ve said it repeatedly to you in the future.” He finally looked up into her face, happy with having to look up at her instead of down. “And for me to have said that means that ….” He paused. “It means that my past, my present, and my future – especially my future – needs you.”
“Obviously not,” she breathed out soflty, sadly, in reply. “I dunno, Doctor. Maybe its because I’m Human. Maybe it doesn’t work between species.” She inhaled again. “But future you barely recognises my existence these days – not when something shinier and prettier comes along at any rate.”
He blinked and opened his mouth to protest and to tell her she was wrong, but she continued on.
“Oh, not always. I can’t say that I’m always a second thought… I’m good enough when it’s just me’n’him and his attention isn’t otherwise occupied. But get Sarah Jane, Reinette Poisson…”
“Sarah Jane,” the Doctor repeated with wideness and excitement in her eyes. “Sarah Jane Smith? Oh, I remember Sarah Jane. Wonderful companion and friend…”
“Yeah. She was an amazin’ woman,” she agreed with a shrug. “Can see why you fell for her when you were together.”
He shook his head. “While I did care for Sarah Jane very, very deeply, I didn’t – as you suggest – fall for her.” He wore a smile of remembrance. “We did go through quite a bit together. Like you, she survived a regeneration.”
“Yeah, like I said. She’s amazin’.”
“But not one I could ever see as a mate.” He inhaled through an open mouth. “At least not beyond friendly companionship.” He released her hand and rose to his full height. “I have had many companions with whom I’ve shared a very close relationship, Rose. Many wonderful, brilliant people who made me want to be a better person.”
She opened her mouth to speak, and he held up a hand to ask her to wait.
“But none of them have touched me so deeply and in such a profound way as you obviously have.” He tipped his head to one side and captured her eyes with his. “I never fought their will to leave me, and they did. All of them. They stayed with me for long enough to sow their wild oats – if you will – before settling down back when I found them. Being better for it, if I do say so.”
“But Doctor, you don’t even know me,” she sighed.
“Then stay with me a while and let me know you,” he chirped happily. “Here on Gallifrey.” He breathed out a huff. “Rassilon knows I should take a breather for a while and settle down a bit. I’ve been running and running and….”
“Blimey,” she drawled softly. “Just how long you thinkin’ of keeping me here?”
Hi brows lifted. “Pardon me?”
She shrugged. “Settle down a while, ‘lmost sounds like you want to set up house, raise a few kids, and retire from travel. How long are you planning to hold me hostage?”
He hummed thoughtfully, a smile on his face. “Does that sound like something you’d be interested in, Rose? Marriage? Children? House with a white picket fence?” He pursed his lips in thought. “That may take a while, so if that’s the plan, I suspect you can be here with me, for, well, how ever long it takes.” He adjusted his trousers by the belt. “It’s been a while since I’ve ehm, performed, in the manner we did in my future, but I’m certain I can remember how its done.” He ignored her wide eyed look of utter shock. “Procreation, however, well. That requires permission from council, which, well, permissions not something I’ve ever sought from them before, so I expect I’ll forego that.” He looked down at himself. “As for the functionality of my testies to produce enough…”
“Oh Jesus, Doctor!” she barked out with incredulous horror. “Are you insane?”
“I believe I have a certificate or two in the TARDIS to that effect,” he answered with a shrug. “And it’s been said on many occasions that I must be…”
“No. I mean,” she flicked her hand at him. “You sayin’ all that…”
“Not interested?” he asked with a cheeky grin. “Oh well break my hearts.”
She detected that hint of teasing and narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re playin about and messin’ with me. You damn plum.” She exhaled a breath she forgot she’d been holding.
“And you sound far too relieved about that,” he said with a wink.
“And you too,” she replied through puckered lips.
His smile softened. “I’m asking you to stay with me for as long as you need it in order to come to a much clearer understanding of what and where you want to go from here. It could be a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade. As long as you need to.” He took her hand again. “Spend some time here in Gallifrey. Learn about my people, my home, and learn to understand me, and who I am: more than just the jetsetting time boy you think you know.” He tucked her hair behind her ear. “Maybe if you know me, and why I am like I am, then it may help you navigate the new me who seems so … so out of sorts to you.”
She looked off to the side.
“If you love me, Rose, like I think you do, then you’ll give me that chance.”
Her eyes pinched. “That is the worst thing to say, you know: If you love me…” She sniffed. “That’s blackmail right there, and makes me want to tell you to sod off…”
He sensed a “but” in there. “But…?” His voice was hopeful.
“But you’re right,” she admitted. “You’re an alien…”
“Yeah, okay, I’m the alien,” she said with a roll in her eye. “So we’re different, you an me. What you’re sayin’ makes sense. Best way to really get to know you deep down in those ways that you really don’t want me to, is to see more’n just the man.” Her smile was wide and her voice breathy as she looked around. “And really. Gallifrey? Yes. I want to be here for a while and take in everything that I can so when I go back… I’ll get it.”
That made his grin spread wide. “We’re already making headway,” he half cheered.
“:Excuse me, what?”
He curled around her and chuckled against her hair. “You’re considering going back to me.”
“I’m considering multiple options,” she corrected. She flicked up a finger into his face. “So I’ll stay with you for a couple of days, but I’ve got rules.”
His jaw fell. “You’ve got, what?”
“Rules,” she repeated. “All of which include: No touchy feely handsy stuff.” He watched his brow furrow in confusion. “That means no grabbing my boobs, getting’ in my head, going for snogs or asking me if I want you to be my blanket.”
He held up both hands and took a step back. “No touching…” He lifted his head and tilted it to one side with question. “Does that also include hand holding, Rose? I’m rather partial to that when walking with a beautiful female companion, and so habit might see me reach for you without thinking.”
“You’re kidding me…”
He sighed. “I wish I was.”
She shook her head with disbelief. “Yeah. Then. Okay. You can hold my hand. But that’s it, mind. Just because I’ve engaged in the most incredible love making sessions in my whole life with one of you, doesn’t mean it’s a free for all with the rest of you lot.”
“Only one?” he queried. “so you and your current Doctor have never..?”
She dropped her face into her hands. “Oh my God. I can’t believe this…”
“You brought it up,” he reminded her with a smirk. “And as I consider this part of your therapy – Just call me Doctor…”
She lifted her head. “I really hate you.”
His smile faltered and he took on a more serious, yet gentle tone. “No holds barred, Rose. Sometimes to understand, we have to talk about embarrassing things.”
“Then remember, that goes both ways,” she warned him. “In order to get to know you.”
He grinned widely and shifted to thread his arm across her shoulder. He paused when he took in the look of warning in her eyes. He let it drop. “Yes. Right. Not acceptable. Understood.”
“Neither is bursting into my room without knocking, sitting on the other side of my bathroom door like a cat waiting for me to be done, or whining when I’m trying to sleep because you want me to go and do something with you.”
A brow lifted. “Oh-kay.”
“You can’t be getting’ jealous if I talk to someone else of the opposite sex. No random hugs here and there, no cutesy names for who we are as a couple.”
He looked horrified. “Older me, or newer older me?”
“Pinstripes,” she clarified. “My current Doctor.”
His eyes were wide as he blew out a perplexed breath. “Rassilon…” He shifted his eyes toward her. “And you say that he’s lost his love for you?” He shook his head. “Rose, I would say it’s quite the opposite.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Snogged no less than tthree women, Doctor. Married one he did, too!” She pursed her lips. “Okay, one of them he thought was me, but it wasn’t because someone had taken over my body, oh, and how did that happen? Because he took off and got into an elevator without me. Never mind that there’s a button inside it that can hold the door open till I got there. No, couldn’t take his hands out of his pockets, could he?”
He coughed, looked like he wanted to say something, and then shook off that thought. “Right…”
“Oh, and then, right after telling me he’d never leave me behind, he did just that – on a space station – so he could go and fool about with Reinette.” She looked him up and down. “I guess once I taught you how to start usin’ it again and all, you ran with it.”
“I told you,” he growled. “That his pledge to you means that would have never happened.” He stood straight. “I believe that you may be reading far too much into things and making inaccurate assumptions.”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
“Have you tried talking to him about your fears and insecurities?”
“Yeah,” she hissed out. “I have. But you don’t like to talk about anything, so after I get lectured on the Curse of the Time Lord and how he has to watch me wither and die at some point, he shuts down and the conversation is over.”
He seemed startled by that. “Well. That’s rather dramatic.” He looked around him. “And the life incompatibility is one that’s easily rectified. Just move back to Gallifrey, you won’t age here.”
“Excuse me, what?”
He laughed out a breathy frustrated sound. “And as for not talking about anything, well that’s absolute rubbish. Al I ever do is talk.”
“You might talk, Doctor, but you don’t actually say much.” She huffed. “And you certainly don’t answer the tough questions.”
He snorted. “tough question,” he barked incredulously. “There aren’t any tough questions that I can’t answer. There’s nothing I won’t tell you if you ask me.”
She smirked. “Then okay. Here’s one: What’s your name?”
He rolled his eyes. “Doctor.”
“Your real one,” she clarified. “I know that you weren’t called Doctor here on Gallifrey. What is your name? I want to know, but you won’t tell me.”
He frowned at that. “But Rose. I have. In my future I’ve told you my name repeatedly. I’ve said it myself twice since I’ve met you.”
Her face lengthened in surprise. “What? When?”
“My proposal,” he said softly, with mild hurt in his tone. “It includes my name – which is why it’s such a sacred phrase in my people’s language.” His voice was a whisper. “You already know my name.”
“Tell me?” she pleaded. “So I know which part?”
He shook his head. “In time, Rose,” he vowed. “When you’re ready – which isn’t right now.”
“But off that,” he declared with a wide grin and a 180 spin on his mood. “Now that we have everything agreed to: You’ll stay with me to be more level headed in your decision making, and I won’t be the octopus, or an annoying cat. We should make plans for excusions. I’m thinking a lunch on the banks of the Cadonflood river. They have an amazing rockpool at the base of Mount Lung, that has natural airflow in it – very much like a hot tub back on Earth, only not full of electrical wiring and gaudy lights…”
His eyes widened as much as his grin. “Oh, and have I ever told you about where that phrase came from, and that if you look very carefully at the La Sagrada Familia, you’ll see where I may… or may not … have had a teeny tiny bit of influence…
Rose dropped her head with a laugh. She shook her head a moment, and waited for him to finish up before lifing her head and rewarding him with a wide smile. “Fine, Doctor. I’ll go for lunch with you, but first things first.” She held her dusty and torn t-shirt at the bottom and shrugged at him. “I need a shower and some new clothes.”
He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips in analysis. “Quite right,” he agreed. “TARDIS will show you where the bathroom is, and will have a room and some clothing for you. Please take your time to freshen up, and I’ll go to the kitchen to pack lunch.”
“Promise me we’re stayin put here?”
He moved to touch her shoulder, but switched to take her hand instead. “I promise you, Rose. Until you and I are both ready, the TARDIS knows she’s not moving anywhere.”
She visibly relaxed. “Oh. Good. Thanks.” He rolled up onto her toes to kiss his cheek, but held back at the last second. “I. I’ll just go now.”
“You do that.”
They both remained in place. He gestured eagerly toward the TARDIS. “Well go on, then. Time for the Human to wash herself up. Quite frankly, my dear, you are beginning to get a little on the nose.”
Her eyes widened, she peeped, and she took off to the TARDIS. “Okay! Won’t be long.”
The Doctor shook his head as he slowly followed her rushed path. He put one hand into his trouser pocket and set the other one on the faded blue TARDIS door. He looked at his oldest friend and blew out a breath. “Dear. I hope we’re doing the right thing here.” He felt the hum underneath his hand and nodded. “I know. I know. I feel it too.” He exhaled. “She can’t leave Gallifrey … I can't allow her to. Not yet. Not yet. I just wish I knew why.”