- January 13th, 16:57
Rose woke warm, rested, and ravenous. She rolled carefully out of her hammock, raised her arms above her head in a glorious stretch, and then looked around the glass guest hut, hoping someone had delivered food and at least a gallon of water. What she saw was the Doctor, looking like someone had just punched him in the stomach. It wasn’t a look she’d seen on him very often. She was about to ask him what was wrong when he suddenly blushed and turned away to fuss with a tray of food. Rose stopped, afraid to take another step.
She knew the flush creeping up his neck was arousal and that turning away from her was a first. She also realized that her thin, soft borrowed garment was probably see-through, backlit by the sun coming in her side of the glass room. Her instinct was to laugh and sashay over to him and pull him down into the hot tub, or try to maneuver their way into one of the swinging hammocks. The Doctor she remembered would say something like, ‘typical ape, dancing your way across the universe.’ John would have already taken her into his arms.
“The TARDIS is ready to fly,” he informed her after a minute of awkward silence. “Do you want to eat before we go?”
“Yeah, I’m starving,” Rose said, and skirted around the edge of the pool. He gestured to the eating mat, where a low table of food was arranged on a tray. Her mouth watered when she smelled the fruit juice and some kind of savory bread, but instead of dropping down to the feast, she walked over to where he was propping up the side wall. Not a sashay, not a prowl, just a slow and steady journey over to the man she had loved since he took her hand and said ‘run.’ She didn’t know what to say; there wasn’t even a greeting card for this kind of situation. No poetry she could think to quote. No stupid song lyric would fit.
The arrival of Ganata and Alaria rescued her frozen tongue. The two Kindred entered the guest hut and bowed, then waved her over to the food with their long, slender claws.
“Eat, eat!” they chided her. Ganata even went so far as to pour out a tall glass of bright red juice for her and make sure her plate was filled with all the delicacies while Alaria gave the Doctor an update on the raptorfish. None of them had to be destroyed. The strongest and greediest ones had been separated from the rest of the group and were being calmed with an anti-anxiety compound administered through a constant humming. Rose half-listened while she ate, trying to picture those flappy, vicious little birds lulled by singing. That would have saved them a whole host of trouble back on Tides.
“It takes an entire choir of Kindred,” Alaria said, seeing Rose’s expression.
“Oh, right. Of course.”
“This planet is much better for us than Tides. We get our energy directly from the nebula, no messy rock spins. I am sorry for your trouble.”
“We’re glad it’s all sorted,” the Doctor said smoothly, giving Rose the side-eye. She smirked back, knowing that she could demand retribution or raise up all kinds of grudges, but that was no more in her nature than starting a war with weapons. Ganata moved around the room, picking up used towels and unhooking the hammocks, a subtle sign that it was time for them to go. Rose wondered if she could get the TARDIS to install one of those giant tub-pool combinations in her bathroom on board the ship.
“Thank you for returning to yourself, man of Gallifrey,” Ganata said. “Alaria speaks of your disguise, which was useful indeed for living and working on our planet of peace, but it was right that you transformed when you did.”
Rose swallowed a mouthful of orange-rosemary bread and narrowed her eyes at the Doctor, who still looked like he wanted her to keep the peace. And yeah, she wouldn’t heap guilt on the Kindred for their epic fail with the raptorfish, but she couldn’t let them think they were so scary and important that he’d gone into hiding out of guilt for the Time War, or some other cowardly reason.
“He wasn’t a human hiding from the Kindred, he was a human with the Time Lord parts in the shop for repair. He didn’t return to himself, he was himself the whole time. He didn’t transform, he was simply made whole again. You think you’re the only ones with creatures to care for, but you’re not—those humans on Tides that are protected by your treaty care for each other and they did just fine without Time Lord intervention for thousands of years. Glad we could help, though,” she added lamely, risking a look at the Doctor. He had his hands folded across his chest, his chin raised in pride and a smile on his face that crinkled his whole face with laugh lines and put a sparkle back into his eyes.
It did not escape Rose that she’d just laid waste to her own fears.
“Again, our deepest thanks,” Alaria said, but she did not bow. Rose drained the rest of her fruit juice and got up, holding her head high as she led the procession out of the guest hut and out into the warm sunshine.
A cool breeze was kicking around the corner of the main compound, signaling the shift from afternoon to evening though the position of the sun hadn’t changed at all. Her ankle didn’t hurt at all anymore and she set a lively pace back to the TARDIS, that hopeful box of blue against the light blue swirl of the nebula in the background. The closer they got, the more fervently she prayed that her outburst to the Kindred would somehow trickle down into her own pounding heart.
The Kindred stood back and raised both their hands in farewell. The Doctor and Rose both waved and lost no time entering the time machine and closing the doors behind them.
“Hurry up!” Rose said, laughing as she ran up the ramp. She stood near the console, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet while the Doctor hurriedly sent them sailing back through the nebula and into the Time Vortex. Rose breathed a sigh of relief when the TARDIS stopped shaking and settled into a normal flight pattern.
“I know what you mean,” the Doctor said. He was stroking a bit of coral as he said it, but Rose figured he was talking to both of them, her and the ship.
“They were terribly nice, the perfect hosts, but…”
“If we stayed any longer we’d be another member of the menagerie?”
“Ugh,” Rose said, shuddering. The Doctor nodded and looked around at the clean console room. Rose followed his gaze and noted that everything seemed just a little brighter. The coral had lost its dingy look, the glass tube of the rotor looked polished, even the side rails looked fresh instead of rusty. There wasn’t a single feather or bird smell anywhere.
“We’re going back to check on Tides,” he announced.
“Should I go to the wardrobe room, or do you think they can deal with jeans and a hoodie?” Rose asked, assuming he wanted her to go change out of her sheath.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you’re comfortable wearing will be fine.”
“Says the man wearing a nightgown.”
“I’ll change before we land,” he said, and started to recalibrate the fuel gauge. Rose realized this was really his first time back in the TARDIS since before he used the watch; one stressful trip with Alaria and her raptorfish didn’t count. She figured he wanted to be alone, so she just gestured to the ramp on the other side of the console and slowly started to walk away. She expected him to call her back, to ask her if she really meant all that stuff she’d said to Ganata and Alaria, but his eyes were on his precious time machine and she might as well have been invisible.
Rose left the console room jealous of the TARDIS and ended up outside the wardrobe room completely furious. The TARDIS had hidden her bedroom and kept changing the hallways to lead her just past the bins, fifth door on the left.
“Fine,” she muttered when she entered the two-story closet. “But if you think I’m going one more day without decent knickers you’ve got another thing coming.”
Rose expected there to be an outfit waiting for her, something the meddling ship would approve of, something Tides-y and itchy. Instead she wandered past rows of hanging clothes that would only fit the Doctor, including a section of evening wear and an entire rack of red robes. There were stairs that led to platforms with standing mirrors, stairs that led nowhere. There were tufted ottomans, skinny corridors, high ceilings and rows and rows of costumes in every shape and size. Rose suspected the TARDIS might be showing off a little; she only remembered a small anteroom with a velvet chaise lounge and that day’s required outfit laid out for her, accessories included. She turned the corner and stopped short. There, in front of a tall chest of drawers, was the Doctor.
In his pants.
Rose instinctively shut her eyes, because that’s what you do when you accidentally walk in on your best mate in his pants, but then opened them, because he was also her husband—technically—and he had an amazing arse. Rose licked her lips and half-hid behind the nearest coral strut. The Doctor either didn’t hear her round the corner or didn’t care that she was there. He jerked up black denims and did the zip and button, then reached over—oh, the muscles in his back—and plucked a dark maroon jumper from the back of a chair and pulled it over his head. She continued to watch as he sat down on a low settee to pull on black socks and a pair of familiar black boots. Soon, his favorite armor was back in place except for the leather jacket, which waited next to him on the bench.
All his heartfelt words about how he was the same man couldn’t pierce her confusion, but the familiarity of seeing him get dressed felt like finding all four corner pieces of a huge puzzle.
The Doctor stood up, turned around and did look surprised to see her there.
“TARDIS won’t let me into my room,” Rose explained. “Kept leading me here.”
“I kinda miss you in waistcoat and tie,” she admitted as he hung the borrowed tunic on a hanger and added it to an eclectic collection of marching band uniforms.
“Want me to change?” he asked, his eyes on epaulets and striped trousers. The entire ship seemed to hold its breath, waiting for her answer. Rose was no fool, she knew what he was asking and while part of her wanted to scream yes, please, give me my husband back, another part of her was stirred by seeing him in the clothing he’d been wearing when she fell in love with him for the first time. She left the safety of the coral strut and went further into the little alcove he used as a dressing room. She trailed her hand along the silk sleeve of a kimono and then turned to face him. He was still half a room away, his arms crossed over his chest, his face inscrutable.
“Your arse looks good in denims,” she said. He turned his head and speared her with a look so intense it was a shock her dress didn’t fall right off her body. “I’m just sayin.’”
“You used to look at me like that when you thought I wasn’t watching,” she said, waving her hand at his jacket. “I thought that after I broke up with Mickey, maybe you’d look at me like that on purpose, but you never did. You never touched me. Not like a lover, anyway. Then the next thing I know you’re sending me home to watch the TARDIS rot outside my window while you burn with your enemies, thousands of years into the future. I knew you did it out of love, but what kind of love was it if I could never get the chance to say it back? I just don’t know if you still feel towards me like you did on Tides, or if you want to go back to best mates, no touch. This is where I should tell you that I’ll take either option, but it’s not true. I don’t think I can go back to the way it was before, you hiding your feelings with sarcasm and unnecessary hours fixing the TARDIS.”
“I loved you from the moment I met you,” the Doctor said, his voice breaking at the end of his confession. “Scared the hell out of me, it did. I pushed it down as best I could but it was always too close for comfort. When you came back to the Gamestation with the TARDIS, all glowing and golden and I kissed you, it was just as much out of passion as it was to save your life.”
Rose’s jaw dropped.
“When you did what?!”
“Don’t you remember?”
“No!” Rose cried, running her hands through her hair in frustration. “I remember using Mum’s friend’s truck to rip open the front panel on the TARDIS like Blon did, ‘cause I thought when the TARDIS looked into my soul she’d see that I wanted you safe and she’d help me.”
“You don’t remember consuming the entire Time Vortex.”
“What? No! Gosh, no one’s meant to do that, they’d burn up from the inside or something.”
The Doctor rubbed his face with his hands and took a step towards her, then stopped. He looked down at his hands, clearly considering something, and then looked up at her again.
“I’m a touch-telepath, did you know that? Time Lord communication. I can make you see what’s inside my head, whether current thought or ancient memory. I’d like to show you exactly what happened on that Gamestation, Rose. I think it’s long past time you knew the truth.”
“You’re asking to go into my head?”
“You’d be in my head, actually. But yes, I’m asking permission.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, love, it doesn’t hurt.”
“Alright,” she said softly, raising and then dropping one shoulder. Her heart raced more than she thought it should when he crossed the wardrobe room to stand in front of her. He smelled the same; TARDIS laundry detergent and engine grease and the dark smell of his skin, a cross between sweat and pine and sweet, milky tea. She forced her eyes to stay on his and not go roving over the way his chest looked in that form-fitting jumper. She held her breath when he raised his hands to her temples, but then he lowered his hands and smiled gently.
“You don’t have to hold your breath,” he told her. “Just close your eyes.”
Rose obeyed, and then she felt the Doctor’s warm fingers against her skin. His touch felt good, familiar, right—and then she was hurtling down a dark whirlwind relieved by pinpoints of green and red, like she was staring at the backs of her eyelids before sleep. As quick as the whirlwind started, it stopped, and she was looking at…
Rose knew she was looking at herself, because she recognized the red hoodie and her hair, which was shorter than it was now, but her eyes blazed gold and tendrils of energy snaked out of the TARDIS, whose doors were open behind her.
“I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words, I scatter them in time and space. A message to lead myself here.”
“Rose, you’ve got to stop this. You’ve got to stop this now. You’ve got the entire vortex running through your head. You’re going to burn.”
“I want you safe. My Doctor. Protected from the false god.”
Watching herself turn the Dalek fleet to dust and end the Time War was the most incredible thing Rose Tyler ever seen in her life. From the Doctor’s perspective, she was the most fearsome, dangerous, powerful, beautiful woman in all of creation and his hearts could hardly beat fast enough with love for her. His Rose. In his mind, she was beyond brilliant, the most courageous woman he’d ever known. He ached to hold her, he yearned to possess her, but his fear was overriding his joy.
“Rose, you’ve done it. Now stop. Just let go.”
Rose knew through the Doctor’s keen senses that the wave of her hand and the boast she made about life and death had resurrected Jack Harkness. The Doctor heard Jack’s gasp of air and knew that something about his new life was just slightly off, like a fixed point that refused to be fixed, but he couldn’t do anything about it because Rose was crying, scarcely able to move for the pain in her head.
“Come here,” he commanded, ignoring the dust on his boots, the gasp and burn of new air through Jack’s lungs, the whirl of the emperor’s ship as it faded to nothingness in the blackness of space.
“It’s killing me,” Rose told him in her TARDIS-affected voice.
“I think you need a Doctor.”
In any other situation that would have been a cheesy joke, like the time they rescued Jack from the nurse battalion on Darmanica, but the Doctor was as serious as the grave—she needed him. She didn’t need a lecture or a magical remedy or a better plan than her amazing unity with the TARDIS. She needed one man in all of time and space. One Time Lord. One Doctor. Her Doctor, hers alone, forever. Rose saw her tearstained face and her trembling lips and then knew nothing except his kiss. Of course, she was seeing it from his vantage point, but it wasn’t like kissing herself, it was just a cascade of emotion—a sense of ownership with a humble gratitude. A fierce joy combined with an overwhelming sadness that she had to hurt in any way, ever. Above that, Rose was almost breathless with the surety of his love for her, which was just as bright and golden as the vortex. She felt the instant the energy began to flow from her eyes into his, and it was not clear if he was drawing it from her or Bad Wolf was giving it to him, or both. It was the sweetest, mot perfect kiss he’d ever had, and when he drew away, his own eyes blazing with Vortex energy. Rose gently fainted in his arms. The Doctor carefully laid her on the ground at his feet, stroking down her face because now she was his and he didn’t have to deny himself the beauty of touching her. Oh, how he would take his time touching her now. Then he stood and breathed all that energy back into the TARDIS where it belonged.
With the TARDIS no longer separated from her soul, the Doctor picked Rose up in his arms, kissed her forehead, and carried her into the TARDIS. He had to put her down again to fly the TARDIS, and when they were once more sailing through the vortex of time, he realized that the power that had been killing her was killing him, too.
And that could not be allowed to happen. Not now. He had to think of something, or he would regenerate and she’d be unconscious while it happened. She’d be so scared if she woke up and he wore a different face. How could he change now, when he had finally admitted his feelings to her and she’d kissed him back? How could he deny himself the lavish pleasure of loving her? There had to be a way.
The Doctor dropped his hands from Rose’s temples and peered anxiously into her wide brown eyes.
“You love me,” she said, then blushed bright pink and dropped her gaze. “I mean, we defeated the Daleks. You didn’t use the delta wave. And Jack’s alive, that’s really important, too.”
“Yes, Rose, I love you,” the Doctor said, tracing his fingers gently along her jawline to draw her eyes back to his. “Always have done. Always will.”
“I love you, too,” she said softly, the first time she’d said it to him as the Doctor. It seemed to unleash a torrent of relief and joy and passion and some kind of adrenaline she didn’t recognize, until she realized he’d taken hold of both her hands to keep his own from shaking. “You’re still telepathing, you know that, right?”
In response, he brought her hands up to his mouth and kissed them over and over, tiny butterfly kisses that renewed her blush.
“I was Bad Wolf,” she said, as much to solidify the event in her own head as to get him to confirm it.
“You were fantastic,” he said, bursting with pride. “I didn’t know you wouldn’t remember. I would have been…more specific on the video I left for you.”
“No kidding,” Rose said, and laughed. “I thought you had gone mad, or that I had.”
“I never got a chance to explain regeneration. I would change, every cell—same man inside, but not the same outside. It’s a dodgy process. I could be old, young, male, female, even ginger. You never know. I was in the middle of leaving you a message to explain everything when I remembered the chameleon-arch.”
“It’s usually a trick to hide yourself from an enemy. Best to put yourself in some remote village as a baker or a professor or something. But I didn’t need to hide, I needed to heal. Different. Clever, see?”
“Why didn’t you say all that on the video, then?!” Rose cried. “Something like, ‘Rose Tyler, I’m in love with you. That stupid human is me so don’t worry if you shag him, I’m all for it’ instead of that ridiculous, cryptic, emergency program rubbish!”
“You were unconscious. The TARDIS was ripped open. I’d just faced thousands of Daleks I thought were gone forever and we lost Jack. Forgive me for being a little overwhelmed.”
“Right, yeah. Sorry.” Rose sighed and thumped her forehead onto his chest. Then she picked her head up again as all the truth suddenly hit her at once, like her mother pulling the shade up the morning after a hangover. “You kissed me first.”
“It was epic.”
Rose laughed, throwing her head back at his deadpan declaration, then stepped even closer to him so that he had to wrap his arms around her waist and tuck his chin in a little to look down at her. It was a couple of notches down from the look that made her forget her own name, but her cheeks burned just the same.
“I’ll always need a Doctor,” she said, putting her arms around his neck.
The man she loved lowered his head and kissed her just as softly as he had on the Gamestation and Rose felt the turn of the earth, the moon and the stars, the day and the night. Pulling back with a gasp, she laid her hand directly over the Doctor’s chest, pressing down until she could feel the double-thump of his hearts.
“Stop it,” she said, smiling up at him. He gave her a wicked smirk and kissed her again. Gone was the dizziness of his shared emotion, but the lust that sparked in the center of her chest was all hers and she wished she could make him feel what she was feeling.
“I can feel it,” he murmured, his lips against her neck. Rose rubbed against him, sinuously, to test that declaration, and then it was the Doctor’s turn to gasp.
“Stop reading my mind,” she chided him, but he was shaking his head.
“I’m not reading your mind, I promise. I would never do that, not without permission. It’s just that I can smell your pheromones, feel your nerve endings picking up sensation, hear the blood rushing in your veins. It’s like...if you have perfect pitch and you tune a Stradivarius, you feel when you’ve reached the most beautiful sound in the world.”
Rose tilted her head and gave an experimental caress down her neck, tracing her collarbone, then down the slope of her breast, feeling the nipple peak under her thumb. The Doctor’s eyes widened fractionally and he exhaled a little sharply in his next breath, his eyesgreedily following her hand.
“So, when I want you you’ll know it?” she asked.
“I always know it,” he responded, reaching out for her and then drawing back and closing his hand into a fist.
“Why won’t you touch me?” Rose asked, fearing that while he was attuned to her body’s responses, maybe his physiology was not so easily coaxed into flame.
“You—you haven’t said I can,” he said, his words clipped, his pupils blown.
“Does it need saying?”
“You just spent an entire day avoiding eye contact with me,” the Doctor said. “I understand what an upheaval I’ve caused to life as you know it. I will not lay a hand on you unless you ask.”
“God, you really are the same man,” Rose said, and reached for the hem of her sheath. She pulled it up and over her head until she stood before him as she had so many times before, with nothing to hide.