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Not everyone on Earth has one, but enough people do that a person with a marke shouldn’t feel incredibly special. One in every three humans will find a design on their skin. Its size and shape varies greatly from person to person, so much so that in the Earth’s history, there has never been a confirmation of more than two people having the same exact marke (though there have been records of more than two people having a match, in the case of polyamory). Billions of markes have come and gone, and to those on Earth, it has a relatively low impact on their life.

Despite the relative commonality, the Doctor finds the phenomenon fascinating.

Though not a feature exclusive to humans, the pervasiveness of the marke in their society makes them stand out in the Doctor’s mind as the shining example of the strange occurrence. It’s intriguing to him that a human can be aware that someone they’re supposed to be ultimately compatible with is wandering around somewhere else in the world, and then proceed with their own lives as normal. They have a roadmap to, quite literally, the one, but few make any grand strides to find them.

While some people with a marke make finding their Match their life goal, most people continue on normally, hoping to stumble across their supposed ‘soul-mate.’ Though there have been periods where certain populations have made finding out one another’s marke as easy as possible, using renderings has created a lot of controversy. Rumors of scams usually crush the idea before it ever really takes flight, and by the late twentieth century, most humans are too wary and doubtful to even consider the idea.

As such, active seeking of one’s Match is a sort of fanciful idea, or maybe a personal journey saved for retirement.

Perhaps, the Doctor sometimes muses, it’s the use of it in media that has led to the disregard that people sometimes treat it with. The usage of the marke as a plot device has cheapened the otherwise vaguely mystical event. Soap operas have hashed and rehashed similar stories using a marke as a cliché plot device. Though the star-crossed lovers motif is now passé, it can be done right. Romeo and Juliet, two who fell in love, but Juliet had a marke that matched Paris’.

Not too original, even for their time, but the Doctor would love to hear anyone say that Shakespeare doesn’t do it best. He really needs to visit the original genius. He’s a little amazed he’s put it off for so long.

The marke can admittedly cause a great deal of drama. High school tiffs and, more seriously, when people who don’t Match build their lives together, only for one or both to stumble across their marke. The pull is supposedly so strong that it can undo years of marriage. marke-magnetism, they call it. Obviously not everyone is so flighty, but it happens so often that it’s grounds for divorce and a pre-nup.

A marke is common enough that everyone’s life is touched by it; if not directly, then by relation.

Considering that, it’s no surprise that some of the Doctor’s companions have had a marke. In fact, some of his first travelers, Barbara and Ian, discovered quite accidently that they were a Match.

Barbara’s sensible skirt and long stockings caught on a bristly tree in the dead forest on Skaro, ripping it from the knee down, and scratching her quite badly. When Ian knelt to help, he found her marke; three slim lines, the middle straight, and the outer ones curving out and then in— like a tulip. Back then it was extremely gouache to bandy about one’s marke, and Barbara was desperate to hide it.

Too late.

Ian’s expression had bewildered the Doctor at the time— the Time Lord was so young then, still in his first body. Ian, who usually kept himself well together, stutteringly tried to explain that they were a Match. He fumbled to roll up his cuff, to show the same tulip mark on the bottom of his forearm.

It was awe, the Doctor now understands. The look on Ian’s face was filled with awe and love.

At the time, the experience only led to the Doctor deciding to perhaps read up on the subject when he had nothing better to do. He hadn’t fallen in love with the human race yet, didn’t understand the intrigue that would later keep him orbiting this planet even after nine hundred years. The Doctor remembers thinking the whole markes and Matches thing was rather silly. Having arranged marriages was a much better way of creating lasting matches; if not for love, than survival. They didn’t have something like the marke on Gallifrey, or most other planets in the universe, come to think of it. Maybe a dozen or so shared this phenomenon.

Naturally, Ian and Barbara were not the only ones he’d travelled with who had a marke. Tegan had one on her wrist, which she tried to cover often with long-sleeves, gloves, and bracelets. He didn’t think she ever found her Match. But granted, it wasn’t really on their docket to discuss when he last saw her in the hospital bed.

Leela had one in the junction of her hip and thigh, something he would never have noticed if not for her preference towards skimpy clothes. Considering her enjoyment for running, climbing, throwing things, tying people up, and just attacking in general, her clothing was well chosen.

Most of his other companions hadn’t shown enough skin for him to know for certain, and he never cared to ask.

Until now.

Torn by war and stripped to the bare bones of who he is, the Doctor in his ninth body finds himself thinking about it again

And it has more than a little to do with Rose Tyler.

His first companion on the TARDIS after so long is fantastic. This bright, young girl smiles and reminds his battered hearts what kindness looks like. After the long, long, long, long Time War and all the suffering it wrought, he’d rather forgotten what kindness looked like. And, in truth, he wasn’t sure if he fully believed it existed. So when Rose Tyler agrees to come aboard, he takes her to see the destruction of her planet. He puts a human, a human girl still in her teens, through a quintillionth of what felt. Naturally, even that is crippling.

A small sense of guilt builds in the Doctor’s chest as he watches her look out the window at her planet, burning up in middle of cold space. He realizes then what exactly he’d done. Quickly, he offers to take her back to her era on Earth. He certainly can’t return, but Rose can, so it’s really the only thing choice. She exits the TARDIS slowly, as though worried the earth beneath her will burn if she moves too quickly. The Doctor can’t bite his tongue, so he fills the silence will bitter truths. Because it is true— you think it’s going to last forever until it doesn’t.

This is the turning point in his life after the war. For the first time, he realizes that he really needs help. The Doctor tried to force his companion, a simple human, into his centuries of pain, into his murky nihilism. The fact he might have well scared off Rose Tyler in less than a day is what hits the message home— he can’t go on like this.

He asks Rose if she wants to leave. She pauses, she remembers how to breathe, and then she asks for chips. He stares long enough for her to return to staring out at the crowd of people passing in front of the TARDIS. He expected fear or a bitter quip about how nothing matters when it all goes up into space particles.

But not Rose Tyler, she jokes, “They’re only going to be around for another five billion years or so.”

And as he sits across from her, sharing chips (she’s paying), he realizes that this moment has been one of the first without the pain of the war. He doesn’t know why. Maybe because he spoke about it with Rose Tyler, told her about his planet, showed her the general equivalent happening to her planet, and then she decides to go for chips anyways.

She knows that, technically, every action she makes will one day be worthless by space standards. How she did she put it? ‘All those years, all that history, no one saw it go. No one was looking.’

Less than ten minutes later, she’s taking him to get chips.

She lives so deeply in the moment, he thinks, as her lips curl up at the edges of her mouth. She flicks her salty fingers at him.

And the Doctor thinks that maybe he can’t focus on the now because he lost his ‘present.’ His home planet which kept years for him, had roots even when he didn’t want them, is gone. Perhaps what he needs is to find a new present. London 2005 with Rose Tyler isn’t a bad place to be, he thinks.

Rose shows him the benefits of those roots over and over again because she isn’t just a one-hit revelation; no, she’s an ongoing epic.

Rose proves her capacity for healing in a dozen small ways every day, if not through her gutsiness, then her personality. It’s in the moments when she listens and laughs when he rants. And then more importantly, it’s in the times the Doctor can’t bring himself to talk at all, and Rose will pull him from his mood with questions, a persistent need for adventure, and belief. Rose looks at him like she doesn’t think he’s an old, broken man. She makes him want to be better. The Doctor doesn’t much want to break her hope in the world (he isn’t sure he can, and doesn’t want to hurt her again like he did on their first trip to find out either), so he starts tucking away the darkest parts of himself in the back of his mind. Slowly, the Doctor lets her energy draw out a lighter, happier man. Amazingly, he finds it easier these days to look into the mirror. All because of this simple girl.

He wonders what the world looks like to her that she can smile and cry with empathy as beings of this universe celebrate and suffer. Even after travelling together for a fair amount of time, she still has the same empathy. It astonishes the Doctor, draws him in.

He can’t deny that he’s attracted to her being.

But not denying something is not the same as accepting. Regardless of his stance on the matter, it remains true that they can never be more.

Too young.

Too kind.

Too human.

The Doctor tries not to spend much time on the subject, but his thoughts toe the line on occasion, brought out by her tongue-in-teeth smile and optimism. That ends quickly enough.

During their visit to the underground bunker in Utah, the Doctor spies it. A marke.

Normally it would be hidden, but Rose is wearing a white tank top, and as she shifts her blonde hair it’s revealed to him.

The marke is on her upper-back, just below where her neck and back join. A smattering of dots. The darker hue of them stands out on her otherwise unblemished skin. The Doctor finds it beautiful, a constellation of all things. And yes, this celestial image is the only thing the Doctor finds is acceptable for her.

He’s still stunned by the discovery. It’s been so long since he’s travelled with humans that he’d largely forgotten about the phenomenon.

“Oh,” he utters.

Rose turns to him. “What?”

“Your back.” He jerks an elbow. “Didn’t know you had one.”

She bites her lip as her hand crawls to the back of her neck. “Sorry. Forgot to cover it. S’been so hot recently.”

“No reason to cover it.” The Doctor quickly continues, “Outdated idea you all grow past in the thirty-first century. Practically parade them about, they do. Besides...”

“Besides, what?” Rose presses.

“It’s beautiful.” He’s honest this time, no qualifiers.

“Yeah?” she asks, pleased and shy.

“Like a constellation.”

Rose laughs. “Always thought it looked more like connect-the-dots.”

“That’s all constellations really are,” the Doctor confirms. “Explains why there’s so many interpretations for what they look like in history. Everyone draws the line differently.”

“Do, um, do Time Lords have Matches?” she asks.

The Doctor shrugs. “Nope. Not in our biology.”

“Just something for silly apes then, is it?” Rose teases. She affects a false sort of casualness as she says, “Not like it matters that much though. Hardly anyone actually meets their Match these days. Might as well just be a free tattoo. M’ just lucky it isn’t anything too embarrassing.”

The Doctor only smiles as he sticks out his hand. She takes it. They walk down the hallway like nothing has changed.

It has.

This is the definitive proof he needs to tell himself, once and for all, that Rose is not his to keep. There is someone out there who, undeserving they will no doubt be, is meant for Rose. She’s taken, even if she doesn’t believe it herself.

Because the Doctor will find the person who is for her and unite them. Rose is too fantastic to never meet her Match. There’s always the chance they might stumble across them in their journeys, but if not, then the Doctor will interfere... Not now though, someday. She’s young, not ready to settle down. Perhaps the Doctor will seek her Match when she’s done travelling with him.

Though the mission of finding Rose’s Match isn’t usually his typical adventure, he’ll dedicate years to it if he has to; both because he wants Rose to be as happy as possible, and also so he can inspect whoever it turns out to be. They’ll have to be pretty damn impressive to deserve Rose.

The Doctor’s hearts are soothed even as they clench unhappily for reasons he won’t entertain.

 

+

 

After he learns about her marke, the Doctor relaxes around her (a mistake he’ll realize too late). He’s more willing to hold her hand, to even go so far as to keep eye-contact when she smiles her tongue-touched smile.

He isn’t worried anymore about giving her the wrong idea. She thinks she has strong feelings for him, but the Doctor knows it’s just a matter of finding the right person to pull her onto a safer, better track.

The marke-magnetism will be enough, he knows it will.

Thankfully, her Match is not Rickey the idiot. He apparently has a marke of his own, different than Rose’s. They were just two friends who fell into a comfortable sort of relationship, and that eases the Doctor’s mind considerably for explanations he isn’t inclined to examine too heavily.

Despite his resolve that Rose will end up with her Match, that doesn’t mean the Doctor still isn’t concerned when people come onto her. This has nothing to do with the fact that many of which include pretty boys. Despite the fact there is a chance that they could bear the same marke, the Doctor is perhaps overly wary of them. He doesn’t want any of them seducing her to the point where she’ll feel incredible guilt when she abandons them for her Match. Really, he’s trying to save everyone heartache.

There's been a couple calls that have been closer than others (the others being people like Adam and his ilk).

Captain Jack Harkness comes to mind.

It’s apparent from the moment he sees Rose and Jack that they get on smashingly— better than average, and most certainly better than people generally do with someone who is a virtual stranger. The Doctor prays that the ex-conman won’t have her marke. He’d rather Rickey the idiot have it than Jack.

After their adventure in WW2 England, Jack joins them in the TARDIS (and isn’t it so Rose to make his exclamation that everyone lives be completely true?). The Doctor pulls him aside the first night and sets the other man on the jumpseat.

There’s a few moments where the Doctor sizes the other man up. Jack returns his gaze with blatantly saucy smiles.

“You shouldn’t get any ideas about Rose,” the Doctor says eventually.

“I get it, hands off the blonde,” Jack replies. “I think we really need more lessons on sharing on this ship. Sharing is caring.”

“Not at all, thanks. And you’re wrong.” The Doctor keeps his face impassive. “She isn’t mine. She doesn’t belong to either of us.”

“What, does she have a boyfriend somewhere?” Jack raises a brow. “I didn’t see that coming. Not with all the chatter about dancing between the two of you.”

The Doctor scowls. “Let’s have none of that. You don’t know either of us well enough to jump to those kinds of conclusions.”

“Dancing is dancing, Doctor.” Jack grins. “I would know.”

The Doctor doesn’t deign to respond, merely sniffing.

“So, her boyfriend, what’s he like? Do you think he’d like to share?” Jack asks.

The Doctor snorts. “He definitely doesn’t have a claim on her. Thankfully. He’s an idiot, that one.”

“What makes you say that?” Jack looks curious, and the Doctor purses his lips. After a few moments where Jack looks calculating, he seems to understand.

“Ohhhh, she has a marke, doesn’t she? And the boyfriend doesn’t Match, I’m guessing.”

The Doctor doesn’t respond, but that seems to be enough of an answer anyways.

“What’s it look like?” Jack asks, eyes too eager.

“Like I’d tell you,” the Doctor says derisively. “You’re a conman. I bet you know how to fake a marke if you need to.”

“Woah, that isn’t how I roll. I wouldn’t do something like that to her, to anyone!” Jack says, betraying his strong feelings on the matter. “Besides, I wouldn’t need to.”

The Doctor’s stomach sinks even as his blood pressure rises. Thankfully, his superior blood vessels can handle the pressure, so he lets his physiology hover there for a moment, just to look extra threatening.

“What does it look like?” He’s not asking, not really.

“How forward.” Jack smirks. “Since I know you’ll never leak Rose’s marke, I guess I’ll just have to show you mine.” Reaching for his left foot, Jack unties the leather shoe and takes it off along with his sock. He pulls it up to show the Doctor. Inside the arch of his foot is a group of spirals, twisting in every direction.

The Doctor can’t help but exhale in relief. Their chemistry was due to Rose’s vivacity, which is understandable— it’s unavoidable and powerful just like marke-magnetism.

“I’m guessing from your reaction that it isn’t a match,” Jack says, disappointed. The Doctor can’t fault him for that. He isn’t surprised that the conman was somewhat hopeful it would be Rose. In fact, if anything, it makes the Doctor respect the other man a bit more. He seems to know that being Rose’s Match would be a real blessing.

Jack smiles ruefully. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. They say you can feel something when you meet your Match. An extra something you’ve never felt before.”

“I wouldn’t know. Time Lords don’t do this Matching business.”

Jack’s eyes are filled with distant sympathy. The Doctor looks away. Hopefully now the conman will stop pushing the silly idea of him and Rose.

“You should follow Rose’s example, get to sleep. The TARDIS probably has a room prepared for you.” Even as the Doctor speaks, one of the nearby hallways lights up welcomingly.

“Alright, see you in the morning, Handsome.” With a wink that still seems too sympathetic, Jack disappears into the TARDIS.

 

+

 

Surprisingly, the Doctor is quickly glad to have Jack aboard the TARDIS. Not only is he cheerful and playful, but he also cuts through some of the almost sexually charged moments between the Doctor and Rose (which is ironic to the Doctor, considering the ex-conman’s sense of humor). As Rose grins at the Doctor, eyes alit with something mischievous and less than innocent, Jack slips in a dirty quip and all of them laugh, even the Doctor. Although the two humans have outgoing personalities, the Doctor never feels left in the dust. On rare occasion, he wishes he could have back his full claim on Rose’s time, but the moments are few and far between. Jack is (admittedly) really good at sharing. Despite that, the Doctor is selfishly glad to see that Rose reserves his favorite smile, the one with her tongue, only for when he is looking at her.

Beyond that, Jack is very handy when it comes to trying to dissuade people from hitting on Rose, because Jack certainly had a protective streak. He radiates an assurance of self that is so powerful, that most people who are anything less than fully confident tend to steer clear.

It’s nice, but the Doctor doesn’t think that because he has a tendency towards possessiveness or anything. Regardless of what Jack has said, it isn’t like that. The Doctor just knows better that Rose does how mating works in most every planet they visit ever. Not his fault. Just doing his job by keeping her from accidently marrying people, really. Wouldn’t do for her to be a universal heart breaker. And if, often, talking is the first step to making a relationship that could potentially end in marriage, the Doctor sometimes turns people away. Just if they have that look in their eye that screams ‘I-think-I’m-hot-stuff-but-am-in-reality-beyond-unworthy-of-this-fantasic-person'. Coincidentally, that covers most everyone they come across.

Sometimes the Doctor knows his and Jack’s standards for people pursuing Rose are a little extreme, but he doesn’t see much wrong with it. The Time Lord isn’t worried that he’s turning her Match away. If they’re so easily dissuaded from getting to know Rose by a few well-placed glares and an ominous presence, then they really don’t deserve to be Rose’s Match. Rather, they can’t be. The one with her marke can’t be anyone who isn’t as adventurous and free as she is. The Doctor is sure of it.

Jack laughs and calls the Doctor overprotective. He isn’t. He really isn’t. He just wants to make sure that Rose ends up with the one she’s supposed to, the one who has her marke.

 

+

 

The Doctor examines his new appearance in a window as Jackie, Rickey, and Rose pick up the clothes and food the eldest Tyler left in the streets on her way out the door to help save the world.

It isn’t the Doctor’s mess, really, so he takes the pause to explore his new appearance.

The first thing to come to mind is that he’s definitely not ginger. The second is that he’s younger. His new hair (which is longer and almost fluffy) and slender build is a big change from his previous form. In fact, new-him is much more typically attractive than his last body. Particularly, this look is well suited for Earth standards of beauty, and a specific time period. Like, say, the twenty-first century.

Like, say, the kind of person Rose has shown inclination to—

He honestly has no idea how to feel about this. The Doctor doesn’t know if this change is just a sign that he has begun to move past the war, or if it’s some kind of manifestation of his subconscious. But both of those ideas lead back to one Rose Tyler, so he tries to stop thinking about it. Might be random, of course.

Unfortunately, he can’t help but realize that this is the kind of person who would look good next to Rose. From the looks she shot him on the Sycorax ships, she seems to appreciate new-him. Possibly. Which complicates things certainly, but he reminds himself that when it comes down to it, her marke will be enough to pull her away from this selfish old man.

Besides, hopefully his looks will help convince others to stay away, if only so that he can dissuade the unworthy by projecting an imaginary aura that says Rose is claimed (versus the time he was mistaken for her father. That was just unpleasant).

“That’s it then,” Rose says, interrupting his thoughts. He turns to find they’ve gathered all their supplies. Typically, Jackie Tyler is looking at him with narrow eyes.

“No thanks to himself over there! Admiring his reflection while we clean up his mess. Vain, you are,” she says.

“It’s not every day I get a completely new face,” the Doctor sniffs. “Besides, I certainly didn’t ask you to bring your entire pantry to the TARDIS.”

Is that rude? From the conflicted look on Rose’s face where it looks like she both wants to laugh and come to her mother’s defense, he’ll wager it is.

Either way, she has the sense to interrupt before her mother can continue. “Let’s head back to the house, yeah? Christmas dinner is still on, right, Mum?”

“Oh, all right.” Jackie huffs. “But I don’t want this one in the kitchen after what he did to the toaster. Still can’t to explain to Howard why it has sixteen slots and can toast and butter an entire loaf in under a minute.”

The Doctor opens his mouth to defend himself, because she should be grateful, when Rose loops her arm through her mother’s and steers the elder woman away.

She sends him a brilliant over-the-shoulder smile, urging him along the street. The Doctor picks up the pace, grinning. The expression comes much easier, and he wonders at what regeneration has really done for his mood. This face is better suited for smiling, he can already tell. That, he has no doubt, it due completely to Rose.

“Hey, we need to talk,” Rickey says, eyes serious as he falls into step with the Doctor. His voice is low enough the two chatting blondes shouldn’t be able to hear him, so the Doctor follows his example.

“I’m listening, Rickey.”

Mickey!”

“Right.”

“You haven’t changed.” Mickey shakes his head as they walk side-by-side. “But I guess that don’t matter much.”

“What do you want to talk about?” the Doctor asks, mostly because he honestly has no idea what Mickey could possibly have to say to him. They don’t exactly get on, do they?

“I want you to take care of her.”

The Doctor stares at him with confusion. “Obviously.”

“I mean it this time! I need you to promise to look after her,” Mickey says with such intent in his eyes that the Doctor pauses. The words come not from the determination, but the weary acceptance. Is it his new face that has led Mickey to give up? Is he that good looking? So handsome that Mickey bows his head in defeat? He definitely has the wrong idea about the Doctor and Rose if this is the case. Surely he knows about her marke. They were together long enough for him to have seen it. So why say that to the Doctor? There’s just something off about this.

“You’re being surprisingly deferential,” the Doctor notes.

Mickey shrugs. “If I’d known you were her Match, I’d never have involved myself.”

The Doctor pauses. Waits for the sentence to either clear itself up or go away. It does neither, so he retorts with a witty, “What?”

“You’re going to make me say it?” Mickey shakes his head. “Fine. She’s yours, she was meant to be with you, and I never had a chance. marke-magnetism and all that.”

“But.” His brilliant mind scrambles for words. “Her marke—“

“Yeah, saw it on your skin when I was undressing you earlier. Don’t know why you didn’t just say something before. Even Jackie woulda let you be, I think. She has one too, you know,” Mickey tells him. “Her and Pete, Rose’s dad, they was a Match. She’d understand.”

“But I’m...” The Doctor takes a deep breath, urging his respiratory system to keep operating, despite how he wants to indulge in some hyperventilation. Well, what he really wants to do is strip right then and there in the street, and he only resists because Rose is still ahead, walking and talking to her mother about Christmas din and streamers for decorations and all these things that don’t matter because the Doctor thinks the universe might be irreparably damaged. Mickey’s gaze is what brings him back to the present.

Pragmatism. He’s got to tackle this... issue logically. Rose hasn’t said anything, so it seems that (thankfully) she isn’t aware yet. Now he needs to keep it this way.

“Don’t tell her.” The Doctor finally manages to get his thoughts in order.

“She doesn’t know?!” Mickey asks, bemused.

“It’s complicated,” the Doctor settles on.

Mickey shakes his head. “It’s none of my business, but you have to tell her. If not today, then someday. Soon. She deserves to know...”

“Probably.” The Doctor knows well that while someone should know, it doesn’t mean they get to know.

“You’re pretty accepting of it,” the Doctor says in lieu of voicing his jaded thoughts.

“Well, I don’t think you deserve her.” Mickey stares him down. “Not at all. But the universe seems to think so, and so does Rose. I suppose that’ll have to be enough, won’t it?”

The Doctor shifts uncomfortably. The borrowed clothing is suddenly stifling.

“I think I’ll pop in the TARDIS,” he calls to the front, making the two women ahead turn around. “Not proper to celebrate the holiday in jim-jams.”

“Wash ‘em before you return them! I’ve no obligation to do your laundry,” Jackie says.

Unlike her mother, Rose’s brow furrows a little, like she can sense his sudden discontent and panic.

Regardless of her thoughts, she smiles. “I’ll see you soon, yeah?”

It’s such a real question that the Doctor would almost feel pity if he wasn’t so consumed with dread.

…And if he wasn’t seriously contemplating running away to a galaxy and time completely apart from this one.

“Of course.”

Her smile lightens. Rose gives him a small wave before the Doctor turns away and heads down the street, retreating to his fortress of solitude and avoiding Mickey’s searching gaze all the while. The moment the blue doors close behind him, he’s ripping the clothes off, leaving nothing but scraps. His own strength is still uncertain in his hands, he doesn’t know the altered extent of it, but even if he did, he thinks the borrowed clothes would still be in tatters.

As the Doctor looks over his body, he extends the rest of his perceptive senses.

Like the mole, he can feel it on his skin. He never felt the sensation before, never had a marke, so he supposes it’s only natural that he didn’t immediately notice how utterly abnormal it is. Now that he is aware though, he can sense the unusual energy hovering above his skin.

The sensation leads him to his left shoulder, where, among a new collection of freckles, he finds a smattering of circles, darker than his freckles. It’s the connect-the-dots constellation he knows is reflected on Rose’s back. The image feels like it’s branded on his skin, searing the shape deep into his bones. It’s pervasive, so much so that he’s not sure he could ever scrub it away even with all the radiation in the world.

It hurts. Not physically, but like how it feels when his lungs are full of water. The panic is what makes it so painful.

He touches the marke, willing it to rub away like ink or oil from the TARDIS. It remains. He pauses for a moment, leaving his finger on his skin.

There’s a sort of reverence to his touching it. This isn’t his marke, no, not at all. This is Rose’s. It’s like he’s carrying a part of her with him now, in a physical, visible way he’s never had to face before. Almost like holding her hand, just different (a good different, this time).

After some of the panic and disbelief fades, the Doctor manages to analyze the situation. Possibilities for this incredibly impossible occurrence:

  1. Her original Match died before she could meet him.

It happens. The Universe has intervened with Matches before. He’s heard about that happening, when one’s Match dies before they meet, so someone else gets a marke. But it hasn’t happened —doesn’t happen— with a non-human, never with a Time Lord. As for why the Universe thinks he and Rose could ever be compatible like that is an utter mystery to him.

  1. The Doctor was always meant to be her Match in this body.

But why not his last body? Why wasn’t he born with the marke? If it really was meant to be, it should have carried through all his transitions.

  1. He changed himself into a man who could be her Match.

The last options makes his hands tremble. Did he steal it from someone, from the person who is meant to be with her? Has someone’s marke disappeared all at once, severing the connection between them and Rose?

He doesn’t know what happened, how it happened, or, most importantly, why it’s happened. But somehow, he’s sure it’s his fault. Rassilon. He is going to pay for it now. They both will.

Because they still can’t be together.

Too young.

Too kind.

Too beautifully human.

Nothing has changed. If anything, she’s only proven to himself over time that she deserves a better life than he can offer her. Even for himself, even with the marke she still isn’t his to keep; time and old age will steal her from him one day, if tragedy and accidents don’t.

The Doctor shakes himself from the dark thoughts and heads to the wardrobe. He can ponder this matter further once night arrives and Rose is asleep. He can torture himself with it for days to come. But today isn’t about him, and he promised Rose Tyler a Christmas dinner, a proper one. Even if her mother is cooking. So after settling on pinstripes, Janis Joplin’s coat, and slipping on some plimsolls (to tie everything together), the Doctor heads back to the Tyler residence.

Pushing his troubles aside, not running away like he normally would, is worth it, if only for the glowing smile Rose Tyler gives him as he enters the home.

She likes him. This new him. And he likes that she likes this new him. For a moment he lets it sink in, doesn’t let it be tainted.

They are beautiful, and this sudden connection between them only heightens it.

The marke-magnetism is not myth. Instead, a sudden, indelible pull from within him, and it’s delightful. His psychic powers have heightened it into a nearly tangible connection. All he wants is to follow it to her. When he first woke up, he mistook it for missing her. Now he sees it’s a wonderful symbol of all they are and could be—

But the Doctor knows better than to assume they could have nice things. Before it settles further around her, and Rose notices and can place the sensation as being more than just attraction and good chemistry, he clamps down on the connection mentally. It doesn’t break, doesn’t snap into pieces and disappear like he hopes and fears it might. Instead it goes silent. It’s still there, but he doubts that Rose will be able to sense it.

He exhales in relief when her expression smoothes out, and she resumes eating. Despite that, she still sends glances his way, so warm he can’t help but smile back.

“Where are those jim-jams?” Jackie asks, and the moment between he and Rose is succinctly popped.

 

+

 

Later that night, as they hold hands and look up at the stars, both admitting to wanting Rose on the TARDIS, the Doctor thinks about what he should do.

Before he used the marke as an excuse, a way out. Nothing he did or said would be permanent. She’d find her Match and that would be that, a firm goodbye. Having experiences the marke-magnetism firsthand, the Doctor can testify that it is all that and more. It would have worked. But apparently her Match is the Doctor. Now, he needs to reexamine how he thinks about Rose’s marke (not his, never his).

His actions now have more permanence, so he knows he needs to be more careful so as not to give Rose the wrong idea. He still can’t help but squeeze her hand, because she smiles at him when he does. It’s platonic, right? Nothing suggesting more here.

As Rose heads into Jackie’s flat to sleep for the night, the Doctor sighs and decides he simply won’t make a decision on the matter. Not now. Hopefully Rose will find another place in the universe where she belongs, safe from him.

 

+

 

He was right when he assumed the person with Rose’s marke would be undeserving.

 

+

 

Despite the Doctor’s resolve to keep things more distant, he can’t stop himself from reaching out for her. Even though the connection is dampened, skin contact between them makes his hearts beat a hemidemisemiquaver faster. (He entertains, for a moment, that maybe it’s more than the marke but quickly evicts that train of thought.)

Then they go to New Earth, and the Doctor finds out just how even more closeness feels, as Cassandra in the guise of Rose makes out with him thoroughly. It’s as if before he changed, her touch was a warm tingle, and now it’s a jolt of electricity. The pulse sends electric charges skittering over his already very sensitive nerves. If he didn’t have a superior respiratory system, he’d probably be gasping. As it is, he can only stare dumbly after her as she steps past him. His voice climbs up octaves he doesn’t think he’s ever reached since he was a young Time Lord, not fully come into himself, as he utters, “Still got it.”

Realizing that it was not Rose, but Cassandra that kissed him, muddies the memory.

Cassandra takes over his body too, but thankfully he manages to keep the bond locked down, even tucked away in his mind as he is. Their entire visit is a mess and he’s only too happy to leave.

He finds it hard to treat Rose with sufficient distance to make sure she knows where they stand without hurting her because increasing their physical distance is the most obvious choice.

Only once does he try to limit the skin-contact between them. After that he stops, because when he pulls his hand away from her seeking fingers on their way back to the TARDIS in Scotland and then turns away to avoid her gaze, her eyes go wide and surprised. From the corner if his eyes, he can see her teasing smile, brought about by her (admittedly) impressive feat of getting Queen Victoria to say ‘we are not amused,' slip clean off her face.

Rose pulls herself together quickly enough, but the repressed uncertainty in her expression tells the Doctor everything she’s thinking— she's questioning whether this new Doctor even wants to touch her, hold her hand like the last him did. Does he even like her or does he merely tolerate her when she makes him unfomfortable by seeking him out physically— He sees the cogs spinning, adding unhappiness and self-consciousness to her brightness. And that can never be allowed. Not by anyone. Especially not a man. So after the minute it takes for this event to occur, he shoves his hands deep into his pockets.

"Don't have a quid on me," he says, smiling and hoping she’ll let him remedy his mistake.

She does. She always does.

Rose Tyler's wide smile returns, and she sticks her tongue out a little. "Don't know why I should be surprised. I know you're a cheap date."

She offers her hand again, and he takes hold, squeezing her delicate human ligaments lightly. Her expression brightens, and it's almost worth the buzz in his mind he has to repress and the burning of his left shoulder.

Perhaps he could have gone about it a different way, but what he's learned from that whole occurrence is that he can't hurt Rose Tyler like that. Though he's always aware of the harm others can do to Rose, hurt her physically, break her laugh, make her bitter— he forgot that he too is in a position to do that.

He decides to try and think of another option.

 

+

 

But it’s so easy to just pretend things are normal too, delay any real action on the matter. He finds he can run from their problem even as she’s by his side, glowing and gleaming in his psychic senses like his small, personal sun.

Things progress much the same as they always did, even after the incident at the school. Though it was tense at times, what with going undercover in a school filled with Krillitanes, they made it back in one piece. The Doctor and Rose Tyler... and Mickey, in the TARDIS. Admittedly it doesn't have near the same ring as the Doctor and Rose Tyler in the TARDIS, but beggars can't be choosers. Mickey represents everything the Doctor isn't and can't offer. Easy, comfortable, safe, perhaps a bit (more than a bit) boring. He symbolizes all that ties Rose to Earth. Even though they’re all relatively far from the blue and green orb, he somehow brings Earth onboard. Rose, despite her initial reluctance to have Mickey on the TARDIS, seems to at least enjoy being able to spend time with him. Which is what the Doctor wants, of course, but they’re doing boring things like watching football (the intergalactic league, bit still), and laying about the couch like normal people. Which Mickey might be (the Doctor doesn’t really know), but Rose most certainly is not. He can hardly stand to watch them.

Mickey Smith does not deserve Rose Tyler. The Doctor isn’t sure anyone does, no one they’ve come across is close to being good enough. Maybe that’s why the Doctor was so entranced with the idea of Rose having a marke. They existed, someone to be Rose’s other half, her equal. It was his end-all be-all answer for the fate of Rose Tyler. He never realizes how much he depended on the stability of that excuse until he regenerated.

Now his already-fractured faith in the universe is shattered further.

Because he isn’t Rose's other half, nor her equal. She doesn’t deserve this.

Time Lords aren’t supposed to even have a Match, or a marke. Perhaps he should have known better than to doubt anything involving Rose Tyler being simple, but this is above and beyond her usual level of impossible.

And the Doctor thinks that he doesn’t deserve this pain either. It’s cruel to practically tell the Doctor to take and have something he never can. In fact, it makes him so bitter that some days he’s nauseous.

He doesn’t want Rose to settle for boring, to let her vivacity fade into normal. But he can’t keep her either.

He’s at an impasse with the universe itself. Which isn’t as unusual for the Doctor as he thinks it should be.

 

+

 

The Doctor didn’t mean to trip onto Reinette’s bed, just like he didn’t mean to trip into Reinette’s life. The second event has probably happened due to chance and maybe fate.

It’s likely the familiar combination of fear and alcohol that explains the first.

Reinette is going to die. The history book has already been written on the subject. He’s touching and flirting with a dead woman (and isn't that what he does with Rose?). The thought is almost enough to make him laugh, but he doesn’t quite manage it. It’s a cold reminder that humans wither and die

Reinette leans over him, running her hands down his chest before moving to his buttons and tie. He catches her hand before she gets too far down his oxford shirt. He knows he's giving her the wrong idea by just being in her bedchamber, but he'd been concentrating more on the difference between holding hands with her and with Rose (Reinette's are somewhat cold, and almost dull. He's gotten so used to the warm jolt he gets from Rose's), so he wasn't really paying attention to where she was pulling him. And now he's here, sitting on her bed.

The Doctor isn’t here for sex, and won’t even consider going through with it. But Reinette is warm and willing, and he wants to be close. He wants to hold Reinette because he can’t hold Rose. He wants to stare at her blatantly, to take in all of her, the way he can't bear to do to Rose.

Their recent visit to Sarah Jane only reminded him of why the idea of them is terrible, marke or no marke. He understands, of course he does. Doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

The Doctor is using Reinette for this closeness he seeks. It's tacky, he knows. He's had eleven banana daiquiris and he's purposefully slowed his metabolic rate to cling to this mild haze. Maybe that's why he doesn't protest when Reinette kisses him, though he doesn't even dream of responding. Regardless, it seems she takes that as encouragement, because her hands go to neck before slipping down to his shoulders to push his partially unbuttoned shirt down. Before the Doctor can stop her (again), her hands still and she give a little gasp.

It isn’t a sound of pleasure. It’s a sad sort of exclamation mixed with surprise. He frowns and pulls back. He sees her eyes trained on his left shoulder and the marke practically branded there.

“I am—“ She starts and stops for a moment. “I am not the one for you.”

The Doctor knows that, but he finds it unsettling that Reinette seemingly does not.

“Reinette... She and I aren’t like that.”

“You know who it is?” Reinette says, eyes wide.

“I— yes.” It isn’t that simple, but it seems to say enough to Reinette.

“No, I am glad that you are so lucky as to know your marke.” She swallows hard and gives him a faint smile. “I am glad, my lonely angel, that you are not as lonely as you appear.”

But he is, he is so lonely. He can’t find a way to express the emotion without yelling or having any kind of outburst, so he nods distantly, and allows Reinette to button his shirt up again, her fingers now apologetic and melancholy.

When he steps back into the future, Reinette’s death heavy on his mind, he finds Rose Tyler sitting against the blue side of the TARDIS with make-up running down her face. She rises to her feet and approaches him.

He expects even more tears to come, because he is a truly despicable, careless creature.

Instead, she stares into his eyes for a long time before she speaks.

“Are you alright?”

Now he wants to cry. Guilt, anger, regret, and misery swirl around within him. He steps forward and hugs her tightly. From over her head, he sees Mickey Smith. He seems livid, and the Doctor lets some of the accusations into his hearts to dwell on later. Not all of them though.

Because Mickey Smith doesn’t have a reference for the complexity of his situation, of how difficult it is.

He isn’t like Rose, who chooses to concentrate on his state of being before judgement. She’s one of a kind. The Doctor holds her a little tighter and tells himself he’ll let go any minute now.

 

+

 

And then she’s gone.

Their small connection of a marke he kept muted for so long, spirited away. Despite how dim he kept it, the ensuing silence is too loud for him.

He makes it to the beach. There he finds pale sand and her shifting form, too impermeable for him to hold.

The Doctor manages the conversation as best he can. He proposes that she spend her time travelling, maybe she’ll even find her Match.

Because in that world, the Doctor hadn’t been there to steal it.

She shakes her head and answers flippantly. She didn’t exist there in the first place. No one would be Matched across the universe like that, where there wasn’t another of that person there.

The Doctor concedes the point. He’s sad and angry, and frustrated because a part of him is glad she won’t be with anyone else, won’t be able to have the kind of connection the two of them could.

He’s selfish and so cruel. It reminds the Doctor why he needs a good person like Rose holding his hand through the universe, but now—

She confesses to him, and he takes the words greedily, despite the fact that he can’t bring himself to say the same. He can’t tell her what she wants to hear. So he waits for the sun to burn out, draws out his words and leaves her waiting on a beach for the I love you he can’t provide. It would just cause more pain. He did what was best.

Really.

 

+

 

That’s when a bride appears on his ship, Donna.

She’s... loud. Even more so than Jackie.

The perpendicular lines on her hand bring emotions to the top of his skin and the Doctor can’t help but pry into her relationship.

“Is he your Match? This Lance fellow you’re marrying?”

Donna snorts. “As if. No one really finds their Match these days. Especially not at my age. That’s some rubbish if I ever heard it. Finding a Match is nearly impossible.”

The Doctor nods his head slowly in agreement with her words.

“Do you have a marke?” She pauses. “Can aliens have a marke?”

He hesitates too long.

“For my people, not as a rule, no.”

“But with you?” Donna asks, knows.

“Yeah,” the Doctor says. He shakes the mood from his shoulders and pulls her up. “Let’s get you to your wedding.”

Later that night, as he’s getting ready to duck back into the TARDIS, the events rolling around in his head on repeat, Donna asks him a final question.

“What was her name? Your marke,” she clarifies. Donna doesn’t have to; he immediately knows what she means.

He stares at her for a long moment.

“Rose. Her name was Rose.”

That’s all he can really take for one day. He heads into the TARDIS and down the closest hallway where he runs into a door with a color scheme favored towards Gallifrey’s red grass and silver trees. The Doctor clings to the familiarity. In this moment, it’s what keeps him from crying.

He hasn’t slept in two weeks, three days, nine hours, thirty minutes, and twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty seconds. The Doctor collapses into the bed and wills his recent life to just be a bad dream. He wills Rose’s marke away.

 

+

 

(He wakes up five hours, seven minutes, eleven, twelve, thirteen seconds later.)

(The marke is still there.)

 

+

 

Because of Donna, the Doctor is still alive in this after place, this post-Rose world. He still has breath in his lungs, so he uses it to run.

On the moon, he meets Martha Jones. Part of him knows it's a bad idea, asking her along. Mostly because when he tells her he isn't looking for a relationship, her tone changes and she quickly denies any attraction to him. That false denial, trying to convince both the listener and themselves it's true, isn't unfamiliar to the Doctor. It reminds him of leather and a certain ex-conman who always pushed— but Martha saved the world and, as usual, there are no benefits, recognition, or thanks from the people of Earth. The least he can do is take her on one trip with the TARDIS.

Marth Jones is brilliant, but she wants something he won’t pretend to have. She’s infatuated with him, really properly infatuated. He feels a sense of cruelty in his actions towards her, as dismissive as he is of her, because Martha knows about Rose, and has the audacity to try and replace her in his mind—

That isn’t the case, he knows it isn’t. He knows Martha doesn’t have context for the complexity and depth of his and Rose’s relationship. Humans move past relationships so easily. Part of their limited lifespans.

The Doctor can’t forget and even though he likely has hundreds of years left on his lifespan, he doubts he’ll find room in his heart for someone ‘special.’ He already met them, didn’t he? And he’s got a virtual tattoo to prove it. Although sometimes the marke feels more a scar these days.

When Martha leaves, he’s glad. It isn’t because she niggled at him, or tried to get him to see her romantically. No, he’s glad because Martha left when she realized that she deserves better. That’s really the best result he can have when he’s treated Martha the way he has. He can walk out of her life knowing that she’s stronger for their travels, all the good and the bad.

Still, he doesn’t much want to deal with another infatuation (blimey, this face is borderline dangerous at times).

 

+

 

Which is why Donna is perfect. In fact, inviting her aboard is one of the best choices he’s made since Rose.

Because as he carefully tells her that he isn't interested in anything besides friendship, she snaps at him—

"I don't want anything to do with you, bean-pole!"

—and he gets a mate. He sort of forgot what that was like. It also goes without saying that Donna is a mate unlike any he's had before.

Donna soothes him by taking his mind off romance. They laugh and Donna yells and gets sassy with all the natives all the time. And though Donna is a distraction, she’s also a very keen reminder of Rose all the same— but in the best way. When her immense empathy and compassion emerge from her heart as they travel (surprising both of them, most of all her), he sees the best of humanity, and he’s reminded so warmly of Rose.

In fact, some days he thinks he can sense their bond again. He vacillates between bitter and wistful about the sensation, but he can’t regret it either way.

Perhaps he should have seen the end of this healing process coming because he had a break from the most dangerous forces in the universe for quite a long time now.

Donna comes out from the fortuneteller’s tent, stumbles into him with a tight hug, and later says two words that echo in his mind.

“Bad Wolf.”

 

+

 

He’s happy for himself, really, he is. Even though he knows it’s cruel of him to leave without saying goodbye, he doubts the metacrisis him will mind that much. That him gets Rose Tyler.

“You alright?” Donna asks, her mind having slowed enough for civilized conversation, enough for her natural empathy to override any brainy, Time Lord-esque thoughts.

“Fine.”

She stares at him.

“Really, I’m fine,” he restates. “Rose and the metacrisis get to have a life together, can go on that adventure. They can finally properly be each other’s Match. I could never do that.” The Doctor shakes his head.

“I never understood why you didn’t tell her.” Donna’s brow furrows, and after a moment her eyes are suddenly awash with sadness, vague horror, and pity. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Don’t know what?” the Doctor asks.

“The metacrisis-you hasn’t got a marke.”

The Doctor’s body freezes even as his mind races.

“You— can’t be serious,” he says.

“He didn’t pop out of that hand fully clothed,” Donna says brusquely. “I kept my gaze above the waist the entire time but I still caught an eyeful. He didn’t have a marke.”

“Are you sure?! It would have been on his shoulder.” The Doctor grabs her firmly, too intently.

“No, it wasn’t there,” she utters.

“Could it have been somewhere else? Did you see anything, anywhere?”

Donna slowly shakes her head. “I don’t— I don’t think so. Nothing that could be a marke. I know what they look like.”

The relative logic of this matter makes a distressing amount of sense to the Doctor, because only two people can have the same marke. There isn’t room for a third, even if it is a partial extension. The Doctor tries to reconcile this information, but finds it’s too painful to really handle. It seems Rose will never be with her Match.

All of it is his fault. If he hadn’t been so subconsciously selfish for Rose and desired to monopolize her love, maybe he could have spared her this pain—

That’s when Donna passes out and his lot in life somehow gets worse.

 

+

 

New teeth. New man. New hair. New taste buds. A new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new Doctor.

It’s all very exciting. And a new body means new skin. She was still preoccupying his thoughts when he regenerated. The Doctor probably shouldn’t have gone to see her that final time before he changed. He’s worried she won’t have left his skin, since his mind is still full of her, but as he shifts a hole in his dress shirt up his arm, he finds nothing on his shoulder. No freckles. No marke.  A new man without a marke.

Part of him is roiling with indecision, but a larger part of him feels relief.

He should probably get out of the swimming pool now and figure out where he crashed.

 

+

 

The Doctor saved the world in under twenty minutes. It’s a new record, he thinks. The record he probably broke was likely set by an old version of himself, and it’s a rather good way to start off this new body.

He’s a new man, and as such, he needs new clothes. Well, at least ones that aren’t in shreds.

As he unbuttons his shirt down the front, his hands stall, and the clothes in his hands drop to the floor. He rips the rest of the buttons down and blinks hard, wishing for it to go away. Because on his chest, in between his two hearts, is a familiar connect-the-dots constellation. He raises a hand shakily and touches it. Gasps. The same sensation of touching her. He didn’t recognize the feel of it automatically, because now it’s a broken link, there is no Rose to complete the circuit, and that deadens the sensation of it on his skin. Touching it is the closest it’s felt like to holding her hand since he last let go. This would be the first time for new-him.

The Doctor’s hearts clench. He regenerated, he shouldn’t be that person anymore—

“You’re forceful, aren’t you?” Amelia Pond says from behind him, voice low and alight with some sort of innuendo he can’t be bothered to decipher.

“Amy!” That would be the nurse from before.

The Doctor’s glad he’s facing the other way from Amelia and the nurse while changing. This is something he can barely admit to himself, let alone another person, not when he’s a new-new-new Doctor, one who hasn’t even touched Rose Tyler’s flesh. He’s still not far enough away from her, even with the walls of a universe between them. This isn’t fair. The only explanation he can think of is penance.

It’s only the impending return of the Atraxi that enables him to push past the unfortunate discovery.

He hides Rose’s marke. He hides it under a bowtie and tweed. The dim realization that it’s in between his two hearts hurts just as much, if not more, than having it in the first place. He never asked for this, could never deserve this (all the good and bad). He has it, though.

The Doctor swallows hard and tries to put the fact his newly constructed world is still bound by Rose Tyler’s hands out of his mind. Has some Atraxi to scold.

 

+

 

Amelia ‘just-Amy-now’ Pond turns out to be just what the Doctor needs. Most of the time. She’s stubborn and adventurous and willful and complains and seems unaware of how vibrant a person she is sometimes, how she can change those around her. She’s also ginger, which is a point of endless envy.

Something he could do without is her coyness. Amy doesn’t have a marke.

It’s due to this, he thinks, that she feels comfortable pursuing him. He first catches onto her intent when she pretends to idly ask as he’s navigating them to the directions left on the homing box,

“Sooo... do Time Lords have a Match?

He gives her his new ‘silly-human’ look, which he’s been practicing quite a lot recently.

“Time Lords do not have a Match. It’s a human thing. Well, a handful of other planets have a similar system, like Terriplaxus. We can’t visit there though, the people are otters, not actually otters, but almost like them. Anyways, they live in their atmosphere. Kassiplaxus, great poet from there —she had sonnets that could make anyone giggle— poetically dubbed it an ‘acid pool.’ Not particularly friendly for you or I.”

“So you’re unattached,” Amy says, ignoring his ongoing explanation. His hearts twist at her words and the dotted skin between them seems to burn at the mere mention.

The Doctor gives Amy a dismissive shake of his head. He’s saved from having to answer verbally with words he can’t even compose, by the eventful arrival of Professor River Song.

During their entire escapade with the archeologist, Amy teases the Doctor as she grills River. Amy seems so certain that River is his wife, despite the fact neither of them say a thing on the subject. River’s eyes glimmer at the questions.

Though the evidence is telling, he hopes it won’t turn out to be the case. The Doctor knows that she can’t ever mean everything to him. Not when someone else already does. That’s (sadly) regardless of the status of their existence in this universe.

The three of them survive their brush with the weeping angels, but it is a harrowing experience. So much so that the Doctor isn’t surprised in the slightest by Amy’s request that to go back home, ‘just to visit.’

It’s interesting, being someone’s confidant. Amy slowly explains to him between deep breaths that she is going to get married to the nurse that was hanging about when the Doctor last saved Earth.

Of course, that’s when she sidles up to him and tries to kiss him. Or actually, does kiss him. And to his horror, Amy tries to go even further than that. The Doctor splutters.

“You’re getting married tomorrow!” he accuses.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t thinking anything too permanent.” Amy slinks closer. “Besides, us two un-marked people can get up to whatever we want to, can’t we?”

The Doctor barely manages to hide his wince. He has two options: one, explain that he has a marke and is emotionally entangled and might always be (if empirics are to be believed), and also, not really interested in having any kind of interaction with Amy that isn’t platonic. Of course, there will be plenty of follow-up questions, like who is it? Where are they? Why did you abandon them in a parallel galaxy with a clone of yourself without checking if the clone had the marke? Uncomfortable questions like that.

Option two; he could snag her fiancé and try to push them together so Amy forgets about trying to, er, seduce him.

No contest.

The next day he pops out of a large cake with glitter in his hair.

 

+

 

Rory enters their life on the TARDIS distraught and largely unhappy. Amazingly, travelling to different time eras and galaxies doesn’t seem to do very much to fix it. The only thing that remedies the hurt look that always seems to be in his eyes, is Amy’s affection.

The Doctor doesn’t understand their love, because he is an alien from an ancient galaxy long passed, not to mention a thousand years old. So obviously he doesn’t understand how a touch from someone beloved could soothe and grant peace to a worried heart. Or the ineffable warmth that comes to mind at the mere thought of someone who means everything. Of course not.

He tells not only Amy and Rory, but himself that too.

The human memory is fickle, and it seems that they forget rule number one; the Doctor always lies.

The Doctor doesn’t have the luxury of forgetfulness.

 

+

 

End of the world.

Amusingly, the Doctor has been in a situation or location that he could define as ‘the end of the world’ no less than twenty-six times. Perhaps it’s the proximity of this one, but it feels like this is the most harrowing end of the world he’s experienced to date.

He survives though, he survives and makes it to Amy and Rory Pond’s wedding through the hopes of a little seven-year-old alone.

Now, the honeymoon is sufficiently over, they’ve had ample time to settle into their new house in Leadworth, and Amy is likely crawling up the walls with her need to escape for a while; it’s the perfect time for the Doctor to land.

The TARDIS is being a little touchy when he finally hits the dirt of what he expects is likely their garden. He opens the door. Yes, right on the chrysanthemums, which is quite alright with him— they’re an ugly sort of flower anyway. He steps out of the TARDIS as is suddenly hit by a wave of something. It’s a feeling half-forgotten from over a century ago. And it is impossible.

“Doctor!” Amy calls out.

“Not the chrysanthemums! Why did you land there? I just planted them!” Rory says, exasperated.

The Doctor doesn’t care. He walks past them, not taking in the colors or shapes around him. All he can think of is the impossible person who he senses in the Ponds’ kitchen.

And it can’t be. It really can’t be. But he steps into the room and she’s here.

Rose Tyler is standing beside the table in the Ponds’ kitchen, looking ready to flee on sight. Her body hasn’t changed much, but her eyes are wide and complex. He forgot, for all his perfect memory, the exact shade of amber her irises are. She hasn’t moved. He almost worries that this is during her time using the dimension-cannon. But she hasn’t smiled, or run towards him with reckless abandon. No, she is looking at him like the world is ending, but not in any way related to the stars going out. Admittedly, the world may very well be on the cusp of an end and the Doctor wouldn’t notice. He can’t feel anything except the searing sensation between his hearts.

Rory stumbles over his words as he tries to explain. “Ah, Rose! Uh, this is our friend. He—"

"Visits," Amy supplies.

"Yes, he visits sometimes,” Rory says. Then he pauses, and he seems to understand that there is something so much more at work here.

“This is Rose, our new neighbor.” Amy hasn’t picked up on it. “You might see him around. Sort of an odd duck. But, well.”

“Doctor?” The single word slips through Rose’s lips.

“Rose,” the Doctor exhales.

There’s a moment where they can only stare at one another.

“I’m guessing you two have met.” Rory’s words are slow and through a curtain.

Painfully obvious. The Doctor nods absently nonetheless.

Rose takes a step, two steps, and then five steps until she’s standing right before him. He expects a hug, a slap (maybe both), but instead she waits.

“Where?” It’s a demand, nothing less. Rose knows, the Doctor thinks faintly.

“Between my hearts,” he replies softly.

Rose nods and goes straight for the jugular.

“Doctor!” Amy shouts.

Rose isn’t attacking him though, her hands are hastily, tremblingly undoing his bowtie. He exhales heavily.

“Oh, um.” Rory stutters awkwardly as Rose throws the bowtie over her shoulder and starts on the Doctor’s buttons. “We should— Amy, don’t watch.”

“I’m watching.”

The Doctor doesn’t care what the Ponds do. His gaze is trained on Rose, whose attention is locked onto his shirt.

Despite all her focus, it takes her two minutes to undo the first few buttons with her hands shaking like they are, and he watches her like a star collapsing in on itself. Then, she reaches it, sees the top of the connect-the-dots constellation between his hearts. She sucks in a harsh breath and grabs the sides of his shirt, and pulls, undoing the buttons all at once like he did when he first found her marke on himself after regenerating.

“I think we should le—“

“Rory.” Amelia stops and tries again. “He has a marke.

Rory utters a small sound of incomprehension.

Rose doesn’t seem to be aware of their audience. She reaches forward and places a palm to his chest, touching her marke on him like she doesn’t believe it exists.

The circuit that was once disconnected completes itself and bursts back into life, making both of them gasp. He doesn’t try to hide it, doesn’t try to mute it. He lets the sensation roll painfully through his mind. If fills him with wonderful aliveness, bringing to mind that he was so empty before, but it doesn’t matter because she’s here, and he’s full, complete.

“I almost thought you lied to me,” Rose says eventually. “You said that full-Time Lord you had a marke. It hurt my heart to think that you had a Match out in the world, and that I wasn’t it. I wondered if you met them, if they died on Gallifrey. I was glad when you told me it hadn’t transferred over though, because it meant you could belong to me. You told me that was why you never pursued anything serious with me, was because you had a marke. It never crossed my mind that you would omit the most important detail.” She takes a harsh breath.

The Doctor can only watch with his hearts in his throat.

Rose exhales. “You told me on your deathbed. You made me promise to not be alone, you told me you loved me, and then you finally admitted that your marke was a Match for mine!”

Her voice is so pained, the Doctor just wants to reach out for her, but her fingers slacken, slipping down his chest before she removes them altogether and steps out of reach. His metacrisis-self died before Rose. Pretty soon after he left, it seems, because Rose doesn’t look any older.

“You knew. The whole time we were travelling. You knew.”

“Only after I regenerated,” the Doctor manages. “I wasn’t— Time Lords don’t have Matches. Then I regenerated and it was there.”

“And you hid it from me,” Rose states.

The Doctor nods.

“Didn’t want to be a Match with a stupid ape?” she asks, and the Doctor is gobsmacked.

“What? No!” he splutters.

“I think that is the case. We wither and we die and you hate us for that, don’t you.”

Old anger, not at her, but at the universe, rears up. “I don’t have a choice! Even if I acted on it Rose, I could never keep you! I couldn’t do that.”

“You could! You can!”

“I can’t!

“You can!”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep!” he exclaims.

Me?!” she shouts back. “That should be you! You lied about the metacrisis-you!”

“I did not!” he snaps. "I didn't know he didn't have the marke! I wanted the two of you to Match and have a relationship and grow old together."

Rose’s hands clench. “You have no idea what you’ve done, do you?”

“Hey!” Amy Pond shouts, interrupting them.

“Sorry, Amy,” Rose says as she realizes they have an audience. She starts moving away from him in short steps backwards. Her body is actually faintly trembling, not that she appears to notice. In fact Rose barely blinks when her back hits the counter. She’s still so young, he thinks. Rose rubs her hand, a spark of light. Yes, that’s a wedding ring he sees. His body shudders.

“Rose—“ the Doctor calls.

“This is not a good impression to make as a new neighbor. I think I’ll just go to my house and sit down for a moment,” Rose says distantly as she escapes out the door. The Doctor automatically moves to follow her, but Rory gets a firm grip on his forearms.

He starts following after Rose anyways, barely noticing that he’s tipping Rory off-balance with his superior Time Lord strength.

“Doctor!” Amy snaps, all fury.

He blinks and stops moving, largely uncertain as to when he started.

“Doctor, are you alright?" Rory asks.

"I don't… I don't know," he admits, finally removing his eyes from the door Rose left from.

He’s standing partially clothed and wholly bewildered in the Ponds’ kitchen, feeling more lost than he has in centuries.

His expression must relay some of that, because Rory gives him a sympathetic look and says, “Let me get you a shirt.” He goes up the stairs to give the Doctor a moment. Unlike her husband, Amy seems intent on getting answers now.

"You have a marke," Amy states, eyes narrow. Every so often, her gaze flickers down to the marke still fully displayed on his chest.

"Yes," he replies.

"And you have a Match, and you already know them," Amy says.

"Yes."

"And you didn't think we'd like to know that maybe?!" The redhead's temper finally boils over. "We've been with you for over a year, I’ve known you even longer! And you flat out lied to me! I asked you if you a marke and you lied to me."

Beneath the ire is the hurt his lie has caused. But the Doctor is hurting now too.

"It wasn't your business."

Amy’s mouth falls open.

Rory comes down the stairs, offering the Doctor a generic grey T-shirt to wear. The Doctor takes off his damaged button-up and shrugs the grey shirt on. The normal, human-y fibers make him shift uncomfortably. Rory sets the tone when he takes a seat at the kitchen table, clearly inviting Amy and the Doctor to do the same. Part of the Doctor doesn’t want to; this implies an actual conversation about this utter madness, but a bigger part of the Doctor is so tired.

He's so tired that the thought of continuing to hide this part of him is exhausting. He hasn't even dampened their bond yet. Rose’s energy is surging against him, tempting him away to follow the line back to her. And he can for the first time in decades and suddenly he doesn’t know what he’s doing here—

However, there is hurt, real hurt in Amy Pond’s eyes, so he slowly lowers himself into a seat.

"Doctor, you're our best friend. It is my business," Amy starts again, sitting with a huff.

Rory cuts in against his wife. "Amy... You know that stuff's private."

"You could have shared with us," Amy persists. "We would've kept it a secret if you wanted us to."

"It isn't about my trusting you." The Doctor pauses to run a hand through his hair. "And I didn't lie to you, not really."

"Seriously?!" Amy asks, incredulous and angry now. "On our way to Byzantium, I asked you if you had a marke."

"You asked if Time Lords have Matches," the Doctor corrects. "And they don't."

Rory's brow furrows. "But you do? Why?"

Isn’t that the tredecillion treazant question?

"This is a rare moment," the Doctor says with false humor. "I have no idea. No Time Lord before me has had a marke. They looked down on the practice, really. Used to think it was a primitive way of finding a mate. Time Lords chose based on which marriage would be most advantageous, politically, economically, or otherwise."

"I knew you were weird, but I never knew you were weird even for your own people." Amy’s tone is light, and it soothes his mind momentarily.

"We never did get along," the Doctor says wryly.

"‘Did?’" Rory swallows. "Why are you using past tense?"

Amy's eyes go wide.

"They're dead. I'm the last one left."

Amy's mouth falls open in horror, and even Rory looks taken aback by the extremeness of it.

 The Doctor pauses. “Have I ever told either of you that I was in a war?”

Amy slowly shakes her head, but Rory’s eyes narrow. The Doctor wonders how much of his time as a Centurion has stuck with him. A soldier knows another soldier.

“There was a battle, between the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and the Daleks. In the end, I was— I—“ He fumbles with his words. “I’m the one who ended it. All of it.”

“What do you mean?” Rory asks quietly.

And then the Doctor does something that surprises all of them, especially himself; he tells the truth.

“I killed them.” His voice is flat when he says it aloud. “I killed all the Time Lords and all the Daleks. The battle was spilling into the universe, and the rest of the galaxy was at risk. Both were too powerful, and everyone was going to suffer.”

“Oh, Doctor.” Amy places a hand over his, water on the edges of her eyelids.

He smiles weakly. After confessing to double genocide, the Doctor wasn’t expecting her kind reaction, but she seems to trust in his intention, she believes the best of him.

“After that, I was in a rather bad place. Not only was I the last of my kind, but the one who’d eliminated them was me.” He sighs. “The sudden silence almost drove me mad. Time Lords are a very telepathically sensitive race. We were all distantly connected by the communal consciousness. When the war ended— when I ended the war— everything was so quiet.”

There’s a long pause before the Doctor musters the strength to continue.

“I was a bit of a mess after the war, as you can imagine.” Understatement of his life. “I was prickly, broody, and just angry at everything— especially myself.”

“What happened?” Rory urges him along, breaking his mind from the memories.

“I hadn’t travelled with a companion for a long time. Then, when I was on earth, dealing with a Nestene conscious, I ran into a shopgirl. Her name was Rose Tyler.”

“Rose, as in our new neighbor, Rose?” Rory clarifies.

The Doctor nods. “I saved her, she saved me, we saved the world; it was the usual stuff. But I hadn’t done it in so long, and it felt wonderful. After all, it’s better with two. At the end of the day, I asked her to come aboard.” He musters a faint smile. “She said no.”

“She said no?” Amy retorts, unable to keep the look of disbelief from her face.

The Doctor sighs. “I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I had just let her go... but there was something about her. I knew she was important, special. So I left, battered about the universe for six months before I went back and asked again. I never asked twice before her.” He smiled a little more genuine. “I went back to the second I left and told Rose that the TARDIS travels in time too. And she came with me.”

“When did you find out about the marke?” Rory asks.

The Doctor shifts. “This is where things get a bit more complicated. When I met her, I didn’t have a marke.”

“What do you mean? Is this an alien thing?” Amy asks. “Is it to do with Time Lords not having Matches?”

“Yes. Well, sort of.” He pauses. Telling the truth involves much more disclosure and explaining than the Doctor expected, but it’s unpleasantly necessary for this story to make any kind of sense. “I’ve never explained regeneration to you two before, have I?”

“Regeneration?” Rory asks.

“Time Lords have a trick for cheating death; we regenerate every cell in our body, replace it with a whole new one from a different DNA format. Well, the Time Lord equivalent of what you think of as DNA.”

“A different DNA set? But… wouldn’t that mean—“ Rory starts.

“Yes, we change literally everything about ourselves. We become, in effect, completely different people. New body, somewhat new personality—“

“New taste buds,” Amy whispers.

The Doctor smiles. “Precisely.”

She speaks slowly. “That day with fish fingers and custard. You’d just regenerated, didn’t you?”

The Doctor nods. “Barely finished the physical change. Bits of me kept regenerating through the day though. Think I startled you.”

“That really wasn’t the strangest thing you did.” Amy snorts. “I barely noticed.”

“So when you regenerated, you had a marke then?” Rory asks.

“Er, actually, it was the regeneration before this one, but not the first one Rose knew. I’m the third incarnation Rose has met.”

“Wow. You go through bodies that quickly?” Amy asks.

“I had a tougher time keeping alive back then. Rose Tyler is the definition of jeopardy-friendly. I’m doing much better this time around,” the Doctor counters.

“The last version of you, that’s the one who had the marke?”

“When I regenerated, it was just there.” The Doctor pauses. “No Time Lord has ever had a marke before. Never. I was naturally unsettled by it, but even more so when I realized it was a Match for Rose’s.”

“So you hid it?”

The Doctor nods. “I hid it.”

Amy’s expression is complex, and the Doctor distantly wonders what her opinion is on Matches. Does she find them sanctified? Does she think him detestable? The Doctor isn’t really in a position to disagree at this point in his life. Though admittedly, he really was feeling much better about things as of late.

“Is that why you stopped travelling together?” Rory asks.

“Oh no, you’re mistaken if you think I have that much common sense.” The Doctor sighs. “She was trapped in a parallel universe, couldn’t get back.”

“Oh,” Amy utters.

“Did you love her?” Rory asks, startling all of them with the frankness of the question.

Perhaps it’s his old age finally catching up to him, because at this point the Doctor can’t much seem the point of lying anymore.

“Yes.”

Do you love her?  Now, I mean,” Amy continues.

“I don’t think I know how not to,” he admits. “I tried to stop. Believe you me, I tried very hard. Seeing her here today…”

His answer seems to satisfy Amy.

Rory isn’t completely sated. “And she loves you?”

“She did once, I don’t know about now.” The Doctor exhales gustily. “I’ve put her through a lot of pain. I wouldn’t be surprised if she no longer does.”

“She said she was married,” Amy says after a moment, biting her lip. “We were having tea before you arrived. Um, apparently she was looking for new scenery after her loss. I’m guessing it was to someone else…”

The Doctor is more than willing to move on from this disturbingly honest talk of emotions. Even though the thought of clone-him and Rose marrying is not entirely enjoyable, it’s preferred, because after all the work she went through, she got her reward, for a moment, at least.

“Yes, speaking of complicated things. I lost my hand when I regenerated once. A friend found it and held onto it. Later I was damaged rather irreparably, but rather than change my body, I funneled the energy into my hand, which my friend finally returned.”

It’s a testament to both Ponds that neither of them ask questions about a single detail of his summary.

“What does this have to do with Rose getting married?” Rory asks.

“I’m relatively certain a clone of myself was the dashing groom,” the Doctor clarifies. Very important clarification in his opinion.

“You have a clone.” Rory deadpans.

“I had a clone. I think he died.” The Doctor frowns. “Rose was stranded in an alternative universe, and I left her clone-me to be with. The clone was mostly human, well in all the ways that mattered. He should have been able to grow old with her, and be a proper Match to her. Only later did I learn that he didn’t have the marke. And it seems like he died too, quickly, if I had to guess. I can’t even get a metacrisis clone of myself to work properly.”

“I don’t think he died too soon,” Rory says after a second.

The Doctor’s brow furrows. “What do you mean?”

Amy continues. “Rose said she lost her husband, but that they’d been together a long time, twenty-years she said.”

“Twenty years?!” The Doctor splutters. “How could you believe that?! She looks barely twenty-five, and that’s pushing it!”

“She could maybe be in her mid-thirties, I don’t know! Good genes and all that. People get married young sometimes, wasn’t my place to judge!” Amy replies.

“She was lying then.”

“Why lie though? What does she have to gain through making her story look less credible?” Rory asks, bewildered.

Maybe if she’s just telling the truth because lying is too painful these days. The Doctor would get that. He’s just reached that point now. He thinks back to the ring he saw, remembers the dents and dings of a marriage spent running, he now imagines.

“Pretending the two of us aren’t barmy for a moment,” Rory says. “What does that mean though, if Rose said she’s been with him for twenty years but doesn’t look over twenty-five?”

The Doctor’s mind reaches a conclusion too good to be true, so he tosses the idea and works on others. Two minutes pass and he’s considered thirty-two different hypotheses, but the first, impossibly, remains the most likely. Holmes unhelpfully springs to mind.

“Doctor?” Amy presses. Apparently, she’s spent enough time with him to recognize when he’s reached a conclusion, especially one he doesn’t like.

“It’s possible that Rose isn’t aging.”

The Ponds blink.

“That’s perfect!” Amy says after a moment.

He gives her a withering glare, which she then returns, full ginger fury.

“Why isn’t it?!” she demands.

“She’s cursed to my life.”

“Yeah, but if you keep each other company…” Rory trails off pointedly.

“Besides, she clearly still cares about you!” Amy says.

The Doctor splutters. “She practically ran when she saw me!”

“Yeah, ‘cause she was overwhelmed!” Amy replies. “Having heard the story, I can see why.”

That’s fair, but he’s really trying not to be too hopeful now. Amy isn’t having any of that though.

“Don’t you see?! There is still time to be each other’s Match!” she exclaims.

“No,” the Doctor says firmly. “She probably hates me. And besides, she already married a clone, someone different, physically and in other ways.” Handy was human. And how could the Doctor hope to compete with that?

Rory shakes his head. “Don’t throw away a good thing.”

“I’m not throwing anything away,” the Doctor asserts. “I just understand that there are some things that I can’t… If my story with Rose proves anything, it’s that she doesn’t need me in her life.”

Amy’s mouth opens, no doubt to offer more arguments, but Rory cuts through them quietly.

“Ask her. Before you decide to shut her out. Ask her what she thinks.”

Rory can’t know how much those words pain the Doctor. Or maybe he is aware. Maybe he knows the Doctor well enough to know that all the decisions about his and Rose’s relationship have been made by the Doctor alone. It’s a saga of him trying to pull away while helplessly being drawn towards Rose Tyler— marke or no marke. And he doesn’t see it stopping any time soon. Perhaps it’s time to try a different strategy.

And if Rose cusses him out of her house, it’ll be easier to stay away at least.

The Doctor grimaces but heads out the door.

“It’s the house on the left!” Amy eagerly shouts before the door closes.

The Doctor doesn’t need her to tell him that. The pull is alluring in its insistence. He tries not to pay too much attention to the sensation, but it’s hard to say the least. His pace is helplessly quick and excited. His body is honest about his desires, even though the rest of him isn’t.

There’s an awkward moment when he hovers at the door, unwilling to concede the normative gesture of knocking for a meeting he is certain will be anything but. So he leans his head against the wood of the door and calls out to her.

“Rose?”

There’s no way she can’t sense his proximity. She hasn’t tamped down the sensation, he can tell. The Doctor steps back and waits. After a too-long pause, she opens the door.

Her eyes are red and still complicated.

“We should… talk,” he manages after staring at her for a moment.

“I’ll make tea.” She shuffles through the entrance hallway, leaving him to follow after. Rose leads him to a sparsely decorated living room connected to the kitchen. Everything from the pillows to the few decorations is simple and tasteful, nothing like the garish pink she used to love.

Standing there in this foreign space, wearing a different face and Rory’s tee-shirt, it strikes him how far away they are from where they started.

“How do you take it?” Rose asks as the kettle starts heating up.

The fact that she doesn’t know how he takes his tea anymore makes him more weary than hurt. Another day it might’ve been a stab in the chest.

Stranger, how do you take your tea?

It belies all the intimacy they once held, but today nothing is normal, nothing is as it should be, so he tells her the answer simply and takes a seat at a small, circular wooden table with only two chairs.

Something tells him she doesn’t entertain many people here, and it’s even less likely she’s contacted Shareen or Mickey since she’s been back.

Rose sets a mug in front of him, hands tightly gripped around her own, before she takes a seat across from the Doctor.

And to punctuate the insanity of the day, the only thing that comes to his mouth is,

“How’s Jackie?”

She stares at him before speaking. “Did you come up to my house to ask about my mum?”

The Doctor shifts in his chair. “Not especially.”

“Good.” Rose nods. “Because we have too much to get through. My mum can wait.”

He wants to ask if they’ll be addressing things chronologically, alphabetically, or seismically, because they’ll need some kind of organization system to muddle through. Part of him feels the need to ask how she’s here, but a larger part simply doesn’t care at the moment.

“How long has it been for you?” Rose asks.

“Over a hundred years.” He keeps an eye on her expression, looking for a tell of her thoughts.

He doesn’t get one. If anything, her expression closes off more.

The Doctor takes a steadying sip of tea before he returns the question. “How long for you?”

“Fifty years.”

Despite the fact it confirms his suspicions, he still can’t help but choke on his tea. His eyes run over her youthful features, the apples of her cheeks and the smoothness of her forehead. Twenty-five is laughably overshot.

“You still look nineteen.”

“Bad Wolf happened when I was nineteen,” she retorts.

“So this whole time…”

“I suppose so.”

“Amy… Amy told me that you were married to Handy.”

“Don’t call him that. He was you, Doctor,” she corrects softly, fondly, sadly. “But we called him James for identification and if we were in public.”

“James.” The Doctor nods.

“We were married five years after you left.” Rose takes a sip of her tea.

“Did I become that patient as a human?” the Doctor wonders.

Rose makes a hapless gesture. “You have a lot of issues, Doctor. As a human, you had more, somehow. James… struggled to adjust. What with being human, and then genocide…”

Right. The Doctor almost forgot that meta-crisis him would’ve been coping with that. Still.

“Five years though?”

“Wanted to be good and ready.” Rose shrugs.

“By that point I must’ve realized that you weren’t aging though,” he notes.

Her lips quirk. “Yeah. We decided to go through with it anyways, despite all your griping.”

“Well, it isn’t exactly enjoyable watching everyone get old,” he defends his other self.

“No,” she says, suddenly solemn. “It isn’t.”

He curses inwardly as he realizes what he’s said. The Doctor honestly forgot for a moment what exactly they were discussing. When was the last time someone had been around long enough for that fact to apply to them? For it to apply to anyone but himself? Centuries, it seems.

“Right, sorry,” he mutters.

“S’okay.” She bites her lip. “It was hard at first, with Mum. But I had you for a while, and then Tony after. Then Tony had children, and a grandchild by the time I left.”

“I’m glad you weren’t alone,” he says honestly.

“Me too.” She drinks more of her tea. “That’s part of why I came back.”

His hearts lurch with a painful amount of hope. Because even if she doesn’t want his love, being with her is more than enough to satisfy him.

“For me?” he asks.

“Yeah.” Rose makes a soft sound of irritation, as though she can’t fully believe herself either.

“I thought you might hate me,” he admits. For leaving you on the beach, for getting you into this, for not telling you about the marke, for never giving you those three words—

“I did,” she says bluntly. “After you—James died, for about twenty years I stewed and hated you for so many things.”

Though he understands it, the Doctor can’t hide his wince.

“Well,” he hedges, as he takes a long draught of his untouched tea. He hides his face in the mug for a long moment, gaze trained away from her amber eyes.

Part of him is ready to show himself the door and put this meeting behind him, but the other part is doing maths. Because if James died after twenty years of marriage, plus five years of dithering before committing, and then adding twenty years of apparent loathing, their calculation is still five short of her fifty year timeframe. As if to prove his half-hearted hopes, Rose continues, tone much gentler.

“I more-or-less came to terms with it on the twentieth anniversary of his death.” Rose graces him with a half-smile. “Tony asked me if I regretted it, if I would take any of it back. And I still can’t bring myself to say that I would.”

The Doctor’s hearts skip of beat, the words settling in his mind, but not fully sinking in, because it really shouldn’t be possible. He needs more evidence to prove her mad words to himself.

“You still… care about me.”

“I don’t know how to not,” she replies.

The Doctor smiles weakly in disbelief. “I said the same to the Ponds.”

Rose laughs, the tone is a little darker than he remembers, but still so warm, and so her. “We’re a pair, the two of us.”

“Most certainly.”

There is a pause, more comfortable than the Doctor could have hoped for, but the sudden silence only draws attention to the connection between them that has been hovering in the background the entire conversation. It’s warm and human in a way the Doctor hasn’t allowed himself to indulge in since he left Rose on that beach with Handy— James.

“I don’t…” Rose stops herself. “I don’t know what to do with this.” The energy around her seems to twirl with her indecision.

“I admit I’m also at a bit of a loss. But I assumed that was mostly to do with being a Time Lord.”

“What, there isn’t a file on this in the TARDIS?” Rose asks, tone playful. “You told me there was a file on everything.”

He soaks in her levity. “You’re too impossible for all the Time Lords on Gallifrey to predict. So you can hardly blame them for not coming up with a file for Rose Tyler.”

“S’pose not.” There’s a hint of tongue in her smile. It slips after a moment, as she realizes how quickly they fell back into old patterns. Instead of drawing away like the Doctor suspected she might, she instead says, “Though I meant it when I said I can’t not care about you, I’m not sure I know you anymore, and you don’t know me.”

The Doctor dislikes the thought, but sees the truth of it. Thankfully, it has a wonderful solution.

“Don’t suppose you’d fancy seeing the TARDIS again? Maybe visit a few planets,” he suggests.

She smiles, and this time it’s warm, too-wide, and utterly perfect.

“You know,” he prompts after she takes a beat too long to reply. “She travels in time too.”

Rose laughs. “Okay, I’ll come. Just promise me you won’t drop us on an impossible planet on our first trip.”

“The nerve of you, Rose Tyler! That’s the kind of adventure saved for a fourth or fifth trip at least!”

“Can’t wait.”

With the soft glow of the bond, everything… slides into place, forming a picture he never really allowed himself to imagine. Still distant, still a little unfamiliar in some places, but it’s her. And him.

He quite likes what he sees.

 

+

 

“I lied about what I said before.”

Rose sips hot cocoa while sitting on the TARDIS stairs that lead to the mainframe. They’ve just wrapped up their third adventure in Barcelona —the planet, not the city— and subsequently prevented a civil war without necessarily trying to.

“What about? Have you been lying about disliking the bow tie? Because I must inform you, Rose Tyler, that bow ties are very cool.” The Doctor twists his arm to aim the sonic screwdriver properly into the TARDIS’ inner workings.

“So you’ve said.” Her lips curl up, but she isn’t distracted. “I meant I lied about not wanting to change anything I’d done with you.”

“Oh?” he asks mildly, like he isn’t dying to know.

“Mmm.”

The Doctor can’t help but pull off his work goggles and moves closer to her.

She takes a sip of cocoa before talking. “I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to pursue you. I wish I’d danced with you more, and teased you more, and been braver about caring about you.”

The Doctor fidgets. “I wasn’t really in a place to receive that kind of attention.”

“No, but I still regret it” She pauses for a long moment. “I think I want to try it now, right my regrets and all. But if you still aren’t in a place to get that kind of attention, then I want you to tell me.”

This is decidedly not a question he’d expected to face when he woke up two months ago. It wasn’t even a question he dared entertain after learning about her presence on this side of the parallel worlds. The Doctor can’t treat her query with anything less than total honesty— it’s the least he can do after all she’s been through to get here.

“I’d like to try. I’m not totally sure, but I want to try,” he says.

“I have time to wait until you’re ready— all I have is time.” She shrugs. “I waited five years for you to come to terms last time. So there’s no rush.”

The bond, constant and warm in the background, suddenly springs forth. The Doctor doesn’t know if he or Rose is more surprised that he’s the one who called it forward. Generally it’s Rose who manipulates it, using it to tug on his soul, to direct his awareness, to remind him he’s not alone— This time, it’s all him. He lets it curl around her, trying to solidify his intentions and certainty in her mind. He wants to try.

She smiles. Despite the still-hard edges of her expression sometimes, it’s as fresh and true as it was when he first met her all those years ago. Rose reaches a hand forward and cups the underside of his jaw. Her thumb strokes over the skin.

“Me too,” she says.

 

+

 

The Doctor is pleased to announce that it takes him four years and three months less time than James to come to terms with loving and living with Rose Tyler for their foreseeable future. And their foreseeable future is long and winding.

He’s never thought of eternity with so much fondness before. But then, he never had the assurance of a Match, of Rose Tyler, by his side. He tells her so at night as he holds her to his chest, constellations touching each other.

It takes him nine years to stop calling it Rose’s marke. Something he only ends up growing out of after hearing Rose say our marke enough times that he grows accustomed to the ring of it, even in his inner monologues.

One-hundred twenty years and four months after that, they marry in Terriplaxus. The Doctor offers to take her to Earth, but Rose tilts her head and smiles and tells him she doesn’t care. She’s not defined by her planet anymore, she says. The Doctor isn’t either, he realizes, and it’s a good thing.

Eleven hundred nine years later, Professor River Song and Rose Tyler meet on an abandoned ice-cream truck in the middle of a Mandaskarian green fire-fight. (Rose wanted to celebrate Christmas.) They two women get along famously.

Three hundred years and a tremulous brush with Certain Death after, Rose rediscovers the constellation on his scalp, hidden by curled, salt and pepper hair.

From that day in the kitchen when they reunited, it takes Rose one thousand five hundred thirty-eight years and eleven months for her to admit that bow ties are indeed cool, and by that point he’s too eyebrowey to care anymore.

He cares about her though. Always. Forever.

The Doctor isn’t worried about how he runs anymore, about his frantic footfalls through the galaxy, because he can always rely on the constellations on their skins to guide him back to her.

Though really, she’s barely ever a stride behind or a step ahead from him ever.

Dots-on-skin, hand-in-hand, stride-by-stride, they race through the galaxy.

They draw lines between the stars until all of it has meaning, each one a step in their story, and all of the universe is

theirs.