Rose's green bunny slippers took turns hopping as she shifted her feet just outside the Doctor's study. She'd tried really hard, honestly, to eat and go to bed as she told him she would. She failed miserably at both of these tasks. Her plate of leftover chips was still sitting in the galley's microwave, and as far as going to bed went, all she'd managed to do was change into a pair of loose-fitting pyjama bottoms. To be fair, she hadn't made much of an effort in the way of taking care of herself since they'd returned to the TARDIS this time. Her mind was a busy beehive of activity that couldn't be made to calm down no matter how hard she tried (which she really, very seriously wasn't doing at all). She'd tried speaking with the TARDIS about her concerns, and the ship did her best to comfort her with the lull of her whirring engines and occasional gentle thrums into her feet as she roamed the corridors. But this time only the Doctor could answer the questions she had running through her mind. In the five years they'd spent together, she could count on her hands the number of times this topic of discussion came up. And almost every time he'd come up with a distraction leading away from it.
“We're not going back, Rose. They're perfectly fine.”
The door to the Doctor's study must have slid open while Rose was thinking. That was the only explanation for him leaning up against the door frame with his glasses dangling from his fingers against his cheek as he studied her with an arched eyebrow. Rose stiffened. How long had he been standing there watching her? And what had she done to make his lips curl into that all knowing grin of his?
“In fact one of them will grow up to be something like a president some day. Aren't you proud?” His smile opened up into a beam before he winked at her with a click of his tongue.
He let her into his study and slumped back into his tattered and faded blue leather armchair. Rose took her seat in the less worn version next to it. “How did you know I was going to ask, Doctor?”
“You were mumbling to yourself just outside the door,” he answered as he picked up a book and slid his specs up his nose, not looking up at her to speak. “Think you might have caught a cold on that last space station, by the by. Your chest is rattling. Pop into the infirmary some time so the TARDIS can get you something for that, hmm?” He paused. “It's not like you to want to return to some place.”
Rose picked up the Doctor's likely half empty cup of tea and brought it to her lips for a testing sip after she hiked her legs up to her chest. She sat the cup on her knees and leaned forward for another sip before she spoke. “The things those doctors did to their people, it was horrible. Cloning people and growing them in those awful tanks like sea monkeys? It's like New Earth all over again. I just never thought that it could get worse than that.”
“It's all perception.”
She barely heard him, and kept going after another sip of his cold tea. “I held one of those babies, Doctor. You saw them. They were.. there was nothing there, like they were little dolls. To have never been born! Nobody to call mummy or daddy, nobody to make their tiny little bodies feel safe cradled in loving arms, nobody to teach them how to love or walk and talk. It's wrong, Doctor!”
The Doctor dropped his book to his lap and folded up his glasses on top of it. Rose felt as though she could have been swept up in the sharp breath that he took just then. Her eyes followed his tree branch legs as they uncrossed and propped up the rest of his lanky frame in his chair. Rose felt the dusty air around her thickening with the tension beading right off his cool skin. It kept her from saying anything else. Something she'd said must have welled up the Storm a little.
“They're fine now, well loved, Rose. Promise. It's not going to happen again, not there at least.”
“Don't tell me,” she shuddered, nearly dropping the cup of tea, “that happens elsewhere.”
Rose hadn't thought about censoring herself until she felt the Doctor's eyes glaring at her, and saw his grip on his book tighten so much that his knuckles turned white. After five years of traveling with the Doctor one might think that she would have learned to navigate the mine field of sensitive topics with him. By the time he made the Storm dissipate from his expression it was too late. Rose already gathered she'd stepped on a pretty big land mine.
It had been a long five years. Rose felt like she could easily be ten years older than she actually was, 24. When she no longer had a home on Earth to return to, her perception of time changed drastically. She had no idea when the days might change from one to the next. Her diary entries, which had been a neglected and futile effort to begin with, no longer carried any dates on them. Only the TARDIS could give her any inclining as to her age. And they made up holidays when it suited them most. They hadn't celebrated Christmas last year, as Rose couldn't bring herself to pretend to enjoy it any longer without her mum or her cooking. They'd only needed to buy one extra set of Christmas crackers since Rose stepped on the TARDIS, because they only ever used two at a time.
She wasn't sad, mind. Seeing her mother with her baby brother provided all of the solace she ever needed. The Doctor had gone to all the trouble to burn up a sun for her so that she could say goodbye. Pete, her dad, made her mum happy. And they didn't need to tell her how pleased she must have been to live in his palatial home.
He offered to take her some place where she could live a normal life, any home that she might want to settle down in or ground herself to. Rose knew the Doctor couldn't help himself. He didn't need to explain his motives, and she never blamed him for his need to keep her safe. Yes, she was furious with him for a while, even long after the broken bones from her fall at Canary Wharf healed. But she never blamed him. And no matter how much she missed her mum or Mickey, Rose never regretted her actions, not once. She'd chosen to live a life with her best friend, and all that came with him.
“Life occurs in so many ways, Rose. That happens to be one of them. Not every creature is born of a womb.” The Doctor finally broke the tense silence.
Rose's heart was doing back flips in its cage. The Doctor's stony gaze left her, but she could still feel the tension building up between them. It wouldn't matter if there wasn't an end table between their two chairs. She could easily be across the room from him. She considered reaching across the table for his hand, but would it even be given when he was like this?
“How were you born, Doctor?”
And there it was, flying out of her mouth before she could properly examine it. She so seldom had opportunities as good as this one to ask the Doctor about his heritage. And when she did, he did a great job of avoiding the topic. It was probably not the best idea, given the state he was in. But she'd done worse. And much to her surprise, after taking a deep breath, he actually answered.
“Not of a womb, if that's what you're asking,” he began. “No, Time Lords were,” he growled softly, “ooh, you're not going to understand this, were loomed.” He held up his finger before she could interject with her question that he must have known was forming in her mind. “At one point they reproduced much like humans did. Different gestation, but the process was pretty similar. They built these devices called Looms, which you might call an incubator, or maybe stasis chambers if you were from a different time. Time Lords wove life, if you will, Rose. They crafted new life from existing Time Lord DNA.”
By the time he finished this explanation, Rose was sitting on the floor leaning up against the Doctor's armchair while he paced the room. She'd made an attempt at comforting him by resting her head on his leg, but he couldn't be made to sit still even when he was in a normal state.
“Is that how you were born, Doctor?” Rose asked. This question came gently, tiptoes in the night, as if she spoke any louder or less delicately she might wake the Oncoming Storm.
“Yup,” he answered while shoving his glasses in his suit jacket pocket. The way that he'd been fidgeting with them, he could have broken them. “I wouldn't say that I was born, it's not a word that's been used for my.. a long time.”
“But you said that you were a dad once,” Rose murmured. And this was pushing it. She knew that much. She watched him stop in his tracks and wheel around on his heels. She might have been holding her breath waiting for his answer.
“I was. And my child was loomed as well.”
He paused. There was more, Rose gathered. But he stopped himself. Instead, he joined her on the floor in front of his chair and hummed a sigh.
“So you've never had a baby then?” Rose asked, barely above a whisper as she looked down at her fuzzy green slipper feet.
He grinned at her. “Rose, I've never even been a baby.”
She couldn't be certain if he was hiding from her or genuinely smiling at her. But she concluded that it was a bit of both as she watched him make an attempt at bringing some energy to so his wilting hair. Rose took his hand and twined her fingers with his. His smile softened as he looked at her properly. So the first one was exaggerated then. This one, coupled with gently sparkling eyes and a little hum as his thumb rubbed along the back of her hand, was most certainly real.
Rose looked down at their joined hands. “Have you ever considered having one? A baby?”
“Not so much, no. I hadn't really met anyone that I'd wanted to have a baby with.” His grip on her hand tightened as he said this.
“Not really possible anyway, is it?”
She could feel that horribly mischievous grin spreading across his freckled face even before she looked up at him to see it. “Oh no, it's very possible.”
Rose's eyes couldn't help shifting away from their hands just a little. She'd be a dreadful liar if she said she hadn't spent a good bit of time wondering what lay beneath his tight fitting trousers. She'd never come to any real conclusion, not until a moment ago when she thought that whatever he might be equipped with might only be for decoration. He did fancy throwing a wrench into all this, didn't he?
And he wasn't finished, evidently. “You want to be a mum,” he blurted out, much in the same fashion as her questions for him.
Rose opened her mouth and then shut it again. Her hand, wanting to be buried somewhere under her bum, wasn't permitted its freedom. The Doctor's grip on her hand tightened that much further. Her cheeks were probably turning a very ripe shade of pink, even if his grin softened a little.
“You've thought about it too!” Rose threw back at him like a child caught with her hand in the biscuit jar.
“I have, yeah,” he sighed back at her, like a warm blanket falling on her shoulders. It was only fair that he catch her off guard a little, too.
“You don't want to settle down, though.”
“God, no,” he stuck his tongue out in the air as if tasting a particularly sour lemon.
“On the TARDIS?”
“Why not? There's a nursery aboard somewhere. Well, no reason we can't have the TARDIS make us a new one. Oooh, could you imagine decorating one like the Lion King?” He gasped and hummed.
Rose's heart leaped into her throat before she swallowed it, hard. “Wait. Doctor, you're not playing, are you?” If this was a dream, it was a pretty cruel one that she'd wake up from feeling pretty angry with her mind for playing such tricks on her.
He arched an eyebrow at her and sat up a bit. “I'm not,” he spoke up as he turned around to face her and crossed his legs. “Who better to have a child with than you, Rose?”
He didn't quantify their relationship, but the words were floating around in the air between them all the same. Rose hadn't ever felt a friendship stronger than the one she had with the Doctor. Given this, they'd never dared to take it a step further. Maybe they'd never felt the need to. Even if she did, they had her forever that they'd promised one another in no uncertain terms.
Now those terms might be changing. It was really happening. The fact was dizzying, and almost rendered her speechless.
“We could have a baby?”
“Yeah, d'you want one?”
Surely they'd had stranger, more surreal conversations. But at that precise moment Rose couldn't recall any of them. She was regretting finishing his tea, because at least if she had it now she could hide behind it or let its bitter sweetness settle on her tongue to ground her to reality.
“Do you?” She returned just as he took hold of her previously free and trembling hand.
He never answered with words. He never needed to. The return of that horribly mischievous grin, along with those bouncing eyebrows of his, spoke at least a thousand silent ones.