The Doctor was in the galley when he heard it—a faint ringing, coming from someplace else in the TARDIS. He set his tea down on the counter and cocked his head, finally catching the direction—the console room.
The TARDIS hummed urgently in his head, practically begging him to hurry. All right, old girl, he told her, running his hand over the roundels in the wall as he jogged to the console room. Whatever it is, we'll take care of it.
The closer he got to the noise, the more familiar it sounded. Finally, as he crossed the threshold into the console room, he realised it was a phone ringing. His phone, in fact—the one in the TARDIS door.
"I didn't even know it was possible to call that number," he muttered as he crossed the room. "I didn't know it had a number, actually."
The ringing stopped when he pushed the door open, and the TARDIS' frustration was almost overwhelming. "Who was it?" the Doctor asked his ship. "Who was calling that it was so important I answer?" She huffed and refused to tell him.
A flashing light on the console distracted him. "What's this?" The Doctor cocked his head and looked at it. "I don't remember there being a button here, and certainly not one that flashed."
After only a second of consideration, he pressed the button. "One missed call," a computerised voice announced. The Doctor leaned on the console, waiting for the message his ship seemed to think was so important.
"Doctor! Oh god, Doctor, it's me—it's Rose!" a young female said. She sounded out of breath, like she'd been running.
She also sounded like a complete stranger.
"Look, I know you said it was impossible, but we built this thing, this dimension cannon, and well… I came home. Left the other universe behind and came back. I don't… I don't know how long it's been for you, so maybe you don't want me anymore, but if you don't, could you at least pick me up and take me back to Earth in my time?"
The Doctor's eyebrows rose with each sentence. A young woman who apparently travelled with him in the future had been trapped in a parallel world and managed to find a way back on her own. Without knowing anything else about her, the Doctor was already incredibly proud of Rose.
"You have to tell me where you are," he told the recording.
"Guess you need to know where I am," she said, and her light laughter filled the console room. "I'm on Glaecius—remember the ice cream shop in the main square? And it's 17 Drayvin, in the first year of Queen Elspeth's reign." She chuckled wryly. "You'd better not show up a year late this time."
The Doctor did indeed know that ice cream shop, and when he moved to set the coordinates, he discovered his ship had already done so for him. "You must like Rose," he mused as he threw the dematerialisation lever. "I'll trust you to get us there on time then—I wonder what the story is there?"
He didn't realise Rose's message wasn't done, so when her voice filled the room again it startled him. "I guess I'd better go so you can come get me… I'm just afraid if I hang up, I'll wake up back in the mansion and this'll all be a dream."
Her voice caught, and he heard her take a deep breath. He waited for her to speak again, but instead, he heard the faint echo of his own ship's engines. The TARDIS landed with a soft thud, and her doors flew open.
The Doctor straightened his cravat, then stepped out into an alley just off the busy public square in the middle of Glaecius. Across the street, a pretty blonde woman clutched a mobile and looked at him in shock.
He closed the doors and walked towards her, a welcoming smile on his face. "Rose, I presume?"
"Ah." He ran a hand through his curls. "I am the Doctor, just not the one you were expecting. You see, when I die…"
She nodded quickly as she slipped her mobile back into her pocket. "I know. You don't die. You regenerate."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. Between her familiarity with him and his ship's familiarity with her, he suspected this young woman was more than a companion.
Rose tilted her head and looked at him. "You said you assume I'm Rose. That means we haven't met yet, doesn't it? You're my Doctor's past."
"Unless I've forgotten meeting you. This body is rather prone to amnesia, but I do hope I would remember someone as fascinating as you."
Rose blushed and rolled her eyes. "Still a flirt, in every body," she muttered. "So… Is this gonna cause a paradox? Because I know you didn't know me when we met, unless you're a really good actor."
The Doctor waved his hand dismissively. "I'm not a human, who can get caught in a paradox so easily. Once we get you back to your Doctor, I'll simply hide these memories so I can meet you properly in my own timeline."
Rose grinned, a teasing smile with her tongue peeking out. "It wasn't exactly a proper meeting," she drawled. "I was trapped in a basement, an' you grabbed my hand and told me to run."
The Doctor laughed. "I beg to differ, Rose. That sounds exactly the way a proper meeting should go, if you're meeting me."
The musical sound of her giggle tugged at his hearts in a way he didn't expect. Unsure how exactly to handle the way he was reacting to this woman, he turned slightly and pointed at the TARDIS, standing behind them. "Shall we?"
Rose hefted a bag onto her shoulder and ran past him, pulling a key out as she went. She stopped and rested her hand against the weathered wood first, and the Doctor was surprised to feel the TARDIS' happiness at the touch. She pushed the door open and stepped inside, and when the Doctor followed her, he noticed the lock had changed to an ordinary Yale lock—to match Rose's key, he guessed.
The rich wood panelling and bookcases gave Rose a moment's pause. It was beautiful, but she finally understood how Sarah Jane could say she preferred the look she'd been familiar with.
The Doctor clapped his hands together, and Rose looked at him over her shoulder. "Right!" He strode to the console. "Let's get you back to your Doctor and your TARDIS, shall we?"
Rose followed him to the navigation controls. "You can do that?" she asked. "Track down future versions of yourself, I mean? It sounds a bit dangerous—even if you are above silly things like paradoxes."
"Not me," he corrected. "The TARDIS. Since she essentially exists outside of time, to her, this me and the me who played a recorder and the me you know all exist at once… sort of. Finding a specific one of us is easy as pie."
"I'll have to take your word for it—temporal physics make my brain hurt." Rose leaned against the console and smirked at him. "An' don't think we won't be coming back to this bit about the you who played a recorder."
The Doctor winked. "Oh, but you'll be having that conversation with my future self, my dear Rose."
Rose snorted. "Is this what being a time traveller means?" she asked. "Setting up pranks on yourself?"
The Doctor flipped the dematerialisation lever, and the ship took flight. "You take your fun where—and when—you can get it."
This Doctor's attitude towards time was hard to reconcile with her Doctor's long lectures on the damage a paradox could do. Rose started to ask, but then she remembered exactly what her first Doctor had said when the Reapers had appeared.
"My people would have stopped this."
It wasn't that the younger Doctor didn't respect time or paradoxes, it was that he had a layer of protection her Doctor didn't.
Rose sucked in a breath; this was the Doctor before the Time War, before he'd had to kill Time Lords and Daleks alike. The lightness she sensed in him existed because he hadn't had to make that choice yet.
Tears choked her. Seeing this, seeing a Doctor without grief shadowing his eyes, made her heart ache for him. She wanted to protect this Doctor as much as she had always yearned to soothe away the pain in his future self.
Lost in thought, she wasn't prepared for the sudden jolt of the TARDIS landing, and she fell flat on her back. "Rose?" The Doctor's face appeared above her, and the concern wrinkling his brow made her giggle.
"Same as always," she said, accepting his hand up and dusting herself off.
She glanced at the door. "So… out there…"
The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest and rested his hip against the console. "There's a Doctor who I suspect will be very glad to see you."
Rose bit her lip, all of her uncertainty from before sweeping back over her. She'd spent three years in Pete's World. If it had been that long for the Doctor, or even half that long, who was to say he hadn't found a new companion, some other person to show time and space to?
The Doctor rested a soft hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at him. "I promise you, Rose Tyler, he will be happy to see you."
"How do you… hang on, how do you know my last name?"
A wry smile curved the corners of his mouth. "The ability to see timelines sometimes lends itself to prescience. This incarnation seems gifted in that skill." His eyes went slightly out of focus. "Rose Tyler and the Doctor, the Bad Wolf and the Oncoming Storm. The two of you are so closely intwined that I can hardly separate your timelines." He blinked, then smiled at her. "Trust me, Rose. He's just as much your Doctor as you think he is."
A shiver ran down Rose's spine, then she squared her shoulders and walked to the door. Her Doctor was waiting for her.
Outside, under the clear Dorset sky, the Doctor shoved his hands into his coat pockets. After leaving Mr. Copper in London, he'd retreated to the Vortex. He wasn't hiding; there was work to do. He still had to repair the TARDIS shields, and undo some of the other… improvements the Master had implemented.
So when he'd suddenly felt her take flight, he'd scrambled out from underneath the console and tried to get her to stop. Instead, she'd practically laughed at him, so happy to be moving, so happy to be… going wherever they were going. He'd grumbled a bit more, but her joy made him curious, so when she landed, he'd shrugged into his coat and stepped outside.
The last thing he'd expected to see was another TARDIS. After his year with the Master, he wasn't sure he wanted to see another Time Lord—not even himself. But his ship had refused to open her doors, so he was forced to wait for the surprise she was intent on springing on him.
Five minutes passed, and he was almost to the point of going into the other TARDIS and demanding to be told what was going on when the door finally opened. He caught a glimpse of the bookcases first, then he saw the face of the woman walking towards him.
"No. No no no," he muttered. "You can't be here, you're supposed to be… No, not another bloody paradox, I can't do another one."
The hurt on Rose's face smoothed out, and she walked towards him with her hands outstretched. "I'm not a paradox, Doctor," she told him. "I'm your Rose."
The Doctor was desperate to believe her, but what she said was impossible. "You can't be," he insisted. "My Rose is trapped in Pete's World and I'll never see her again. The walls are closed."
A slight frown marred her face. "Yeah, that's something we need to talk about, but later." Rose stepped forward and put her hand on his chest, in between his hearts. "I came back, Doctor. I came home to you."
At her words, a trickle of memory seeped through old locks. The Doctor gasped when he remembered it all—the phone ringing, her message, picking her up on Glaecius, even his growing (and absolutely correct) suspicions about who Rose would be to him in the future.
He looked over her shoulder to see his eighth incarnation standing leaning against the doorjamb. "I'll use Rose saying she came home to us as the trigger on the memory lock, then," he said.
The Doctor looked down at Rose, his vision suddenly swimming with tears. "Rose?" he whispered.
She smiled and wiped his tears away. "I'm here, Doctor. I told you; I made my choice a long time ago, and I'm never going to leave you." She paused, and her hand dropped to her side. "As long as you want me, at least."
The idea that he would ever not want Rose was so ludicrous, it almost made him laugh. Instead, he pulled her into a hug, his body singing when he felt hers against him again. "Rose Tyler," he whispered fiercely, "I will always want you."
She sighed and snuggled closer to him. "That's what the other you said."
The Doctor looked up at his past self. Thank you.
The other man nodded. Take care of her. He waved, then disappeared back into his TARDIS. The older Doctor could feel his reluctance to leave Rose behind, and he chuckled to himself as Doctor and TARDIS left.
Rose gasped and spun around. "But I didn't get to say goodbye!" she protested.
The Doctor rested his hands on her shoulders. "He didn't want to hear you say goodbye, knowing he'd have to wait years before he could see you again," he explained. Rose looked up at him, and the Doctor smiled and brushed a piece of hair back from her face. "Rose Tyler… that's three versions of me you've captivated within moments of meeting you."
She blushed. "Does that mean you… I mean, I told you…"
The Doctor took her hands and held them to his chest. The sentence he'd been unable to finish before came to him now, as easily as breathing. "Rose Tyler, I love you."