Notes

This is the prologue, setting up the action for the rest of the story. This is where everything went a bit pear-shaped (if you'll pardon the term). It's an AU look at the events of Stolen Earth and Journey's End. And it's my answer to the question "What would have happened if TenII had not been created?" The answer is: nothing terribly happy. At least not at first. It's not that I don't like TenII that I'm leaving him out here. I adore that guy and if anything, I think this little glimpse shows just how important he was and how much BETTER everything ultimately turned out with him there. But fanfic is for exploring the "what ifs" and this is a BIG what if. Hold on folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride!

Chapter 1

"Why don't you ask her yourself?" Donna said, a small smile quirking the edge of her mouth. She'd been looking over his shoulder and the Doctor was suddenly so scared to turn around but at the same time, he couldn't turn around fast enough.

And there. Down at the end of this bombed out street scattered with debris and abandoned vehicles, stood a blonde woman with a very large gun hanging from a strap around her shoulders. He stared hard for a long moment, willing this not to be an apparition, like so many of the other apparitions he'd had since the day he'd lost her at Canary Wharf. She was staring right back at him until her face could no longer contain her delight. A smile bloomed across her features until her euphoric expression was all he could see.

He began to run, not even feeling the ground beneath his trainers. He ran like he hadn't run in years suddenly wanting nothing more than to already have Rose in his arms again. It had been so long. She ran equally as fast towards him, gun bouncing against her hip and a giddy expressionon her face.

He was so focused on her that he didn't even see the Dalek roll out from behind a car. He didn't see it, but Rose did. As the Dalek swung around, targeting him, she halted in her tracks and brought the gun up with practised ease. A moment later, the Dalek was a smoking hull. He stopped and stared first at it and then at her.

"Rose?" he asked, still stunned.

She closed the distance in between them and wrapped her arms around him. His went around her automatically and oh, that was the scent of Rose filling his senses. He held her close to him, just enjoying the familiar but painfully missed feel of her body against his. Oh, how he wanted to kiss her. All those times before, he'd told himself that he shouldn't. Now, she was here and in his arms again and he suddenly couldn't think of a single reason not to indulge in every single fantasy he'd had about her during the time they'd been apart.

Unfortunately at that very moment, there was a flash and crack and Captain Jack Harkness appeared right next to them, carrying his own massive gun.

"Rose!" he cried, spotting them instantly.

Rose released the Doctor and shrieked excitedly as she grabbed Jack in a hug. He rolled his eyes and tried not to look too aggrieved at the interruption. The moment, for now, was lost.

"I hate to break up the reunion," Jack said, letting go of Rose at last, "but I've detected a squadron of Daleks closing in on this location. We'd better get into the TARDIS."

Unfortunately for them all, the TARDIS was soon transported onto the Dalek Crucible which was hanging in tenuous orbit amongst the 27 stolen planets. Things were looking pretty grim and while the Doctor always felt fairly confident of his ability to work his way out of a jam, this time he just wasn't sure. He grabbed Rose's hand and gave Donna a bolstering smile as they walked out of the TARDIS to face their fate together. Jack hung back a little long, however, and before he could join them, the doors to the TARDIS snapped shut and wouldn't reopen. The Doctor could hear Jack pounding on the doors before as the Supreme Dalek crowed about the might of Dalek fleet as they were surrounded on all sides. He begged with the Supreme Dalek to let his ship go but in a breathtaking display of gleeful hate, a hatch was opened underneath the TARDIS, sending it plummeting down into the neutrino core of the Crucible. The Doctor shook from head to toe. His TARDIS, his last remaining link to Gallifrey… and it was gone! And poor Jack, trapped in there! He, Donna and Rose were forced to watch on a monitor as the TARDIS was swallowed by the burning, pulsing fires of the core. His hearts pounded painfully in his chest as he felt Rose's hand slip into his.

They were escorted to the Vault and the Doctor barely remembered the walk there. The three of them were flanked by Daleks who took delight in prodding them with their weapons if they faltered in their steps. He couldn't stop thinking about his TARDIS and how he truly saw no way out of this predicament. He finally had Rose back by his side and he would never get to enjoy that now. Davros would surely have them all killed, but not before he toyed with them a bit for his own amusement. Jack, always a strong asset in situations like this, was gone too. Things looked utterly hopeless.

In the Vault, they were placed into holding cells powered by invisible forcefields. Rose was just adjacent to him, he could almost reach out and touch her if not for the field surrounding them both. She looked at him with sad but encouraging eyes. Even now, she was holding him up. Davros droned on about how the Doctor was now subjugated and on a better day he might have even cared.

However, he found he cared quite a bit when a few familiar faces were brought to the Vault to join them. Jackie, Mickey, Sarah Jane and Martha were all trooped in and placed in their own holding cells. They all looked regretfully at him, as if apologising for not being able to save the day. What sort of burdens had he put on these humans that they thought he expected them to fight against a force like Davros and the Daleks?

But it got worse. Because Davros wasn't content to just taunt him with his failings. It wasn't enough to detail his convoluted and diabolical plan to harvest the energy from the 27 stolen planets to fuel his reality bomb. No, he wanted to hurt him and he knew exactly the best way to accomplish that.

"I think that maybe you'll have to see what your influence does to your precious human companions," the desiccated creature rasped as he flicked a switch on his wheeled console. Instantly, everyone but him began to convulse and shake and call out in pain as waves of directed electricity passed through their bodies, targeting their nerves with the sole purpose of causing

pain. The Doctor's hearts twisted in his chest as he looked at these brave people who had done nothing wrong besides stand up for him cry out for mercy. Rose didn't plead but her obvious attempt to hide her pain from him was somehow even worse.

Davros noticed his focus and cackled. "So, this one is special, is she? Who is she? What is she to you?" he demanded to know.

"Just… stop this, Davros. Torture me instead!" he pleaded, watching the sweat stand out on Rose's brow as she grit her teeth. The others in the cells around them relaxed minimally as Davros focused his attentions on her. The Doctor could dimly make out Jackie shouting about Rose but he couldn't pick out the words over the pounding of blood in his ears as he watched Rose being broken right in front of him.

"She is different," Davros intoned as he wheeled closer to her cell and regarded her closely. "Even I can see that from here. There is something about her… And you, who love all your human companions, she is set apart somehow… Is she your lover?"

The Doctor felt like he was going to be sick. He wanted to roar at this abomination of a man that he could not dare to speak of Rose like that but he knew it would only fuel Davros' cruelty further. "No, she's not," he answered honestly, his eyes meeting Rose's as her torment was eased for a moment. Tears ran down her cheeks but she was still trying to send him her strength. Even now.

"But you would like her to be," Davros pronounced and the Doctor found he didn't have the strength to deny him. He kept his eyes on Rose, hungry for her strength and reassurance even though he should be the one giving it to her. His guilt was a hundredfold. "Oh, yes. The Last of the Time Lords has fallen for a human woman! What would the council say?" Davros cackled with his discovery. "And now you shall have to see what happens to the love of a Time Lord."

With a fist, Davros pounded at a button on his console and the Doctor was forced to watch as a scream was torn from Rose's throat. It was unlike any noise he'd ever heard before in all of his lives and he knew in an instant that he would remember it until the day he finally died. His hearts both tore in two as he watched her arch her back and buckle underneath the onslaught that Davros had unleashed upon her. He screamed at Davros to stop, to torture him instead, anything just please stop hurting her.

The attack must have only been going on for a few minutes at most but to the Doctor it felt like it lasted for a millennia. He wanted to look away but he couldn't. If she had to suffer in his name, then he would damn well be suffering with her. His throat was raw from his cries when he became aware of another noise echoing through the chamber. It was a noise that he never expected he would hear again. The grinding grew louder, a wind whipped around and everyone turned to stare. Everyone except Rose, who was struggling to regain her composure after Davros finally lifted the current from her nerves.

There was no denying it… that noise was the TARDIS materialising right there in the middle of the Vault. The Doctor's mind struggled to find a reason for it as the blue box solidified before

his eyes. The TARDIS couldn't fly herself… could she? He was still grappling with the impossibility of this moment when the doors opened and out stepped… Captain Jack Harkness. He'd survived. And he's piloted the TARDIS. A dumbfounded smile tripped across his face as he remembered teaching Jack how to fly here back in his previous incarnation. Of course. That brilliant but still oh-so-wrong man.

Davros and the Daleks in the Vault were clearly caught off guard, as struck dumb as the Doctor was. Jack moved quickly, blasting Daleks in his way with the enormous gun still slung around his body. He stopped by a console, flicking a few switches. "Miss me?" he called to the Doctor with a wink.

"Jack!" Martha cried. "Let us out of these cells."

"Stop him!" Davros shrieked. Jack swung around, and blasted Davros, sending his wheeled conveyance flying back across the Vault. Jack returned to the console and flicked a few more switches, deactivating the holding cells. The Doctor flew into action, shouting over his shoulder to Donna and the others for them to help Rose while he ran to the console to help Jack. He directed the other man on what buttons to flip as he quickly typed in commands on the keypad. Together, the both of them sent the stolen planets back to their proper locations. The mood was urgent and the Doctor didn't bother to keep the sharpness out of his voice as they hurried to right the wrongs before it was too late.

Of course, Davros wasn't as incapacitated as one might have hoped and he took that moment to send a bolt of electricity towards the panel Jack was feverishly working on, exploding the circuits and sending Jack to the floor in a dead heap. Spent, the evil creature curled in on himself, his breathing laboured.

"Jack!" Rose cried, wrenching herself from the arms of Martha and Jackie who were trying to get her to stay still in the wake of her torment. She flew towards Jack, grabbing at him. "He killed him!"

"Donna, can you take Rose into the TARDIS?" the Doctor called as he investigated the damage to the console. Damn. The controls for returning the planets were fried and of course there was one planet left and of course that planet was Earth.

"NO!" Rose was shrieking and he looked up in time to see Donna, aided by Sarah Jane and Martha trying to tear Rose away from Jack's side. She didn't know, of course, and now was not the time to explain. It was clear he needed to intervene so he stepped forward and took ahold of Rose, tossing her back over his shoulder as he stalked into the TARDIS. She beat at his back but he could tell her blows were weakened by her recent trauma. He placed her as gently as he could on the captain's chair and then braced his hands on either side of her, trapping her.

"Rose, listen to me," he said. She looked at him then, confusion in her features.

"He killed Jack! Don't you even care?" she asked, her chin trembling.

"Of course, I do. But right now I have to fix this. I need you here, on the TARDIS, so I can do that, okay?" he told her. The others began to file into the TARDIS then, coughing at the smoke that was filling the Vault. Everything was exploding somehow and he looked sharply at the monitor on the TARDIS console. "What?"

Someone had set off a self-destruct sequence for the entire Dalek Crucible including the assembled fleet and every Dalek on the planets below. Every single one of them was going to be snuffed out of existence and he hadn't done a thing to cause it himself. The Doctor hurried out of the TARDIS in time to see Jack, back on his feet again, working at a different console. It was him. He was doing this. "Jack!" he yelled. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Saving everyone's bacon," the other man replied flipping one last switch and turning towards him with a devastating smile on his face.

"Get in the TARDIS, right now!" the Doctor shouted. Jack gave him a mock salute as he passed him and strode through the TARDIS doors.

The Doctor surveyed the Vault for a moment, his eyes landing on Davros. He was still, somehow, alive. He pointed a shaking finger at the Doctor. "You did this," he rasped weakly. "Remember that, Doctor. You are a destroyer of worlds!"

He cringed as a flaming beam landed in front of him, a close call. He ducked back into the TARDIS and ran up to the console, dematerialising the TARDIS from the Crucible before it exploded. Everyone was standing around the console, embracing each other and talking a mile a minute. The Doctor looked up to see Rose hugging Jack, happy tears tracking down her cheeks. That whole situation was going to require a conversation that the Doctor wasn't looking forward to at all.

"I hate to break up the party," he said to everyone assembled, "but we still have one planet to return to it's proper place in space and I'm going to need everyone's help."

Soon, with the assistance of Sarah Jane and her son, Luke, her computer and K-9 back at home, they were able to harness the Earth and begin to tow it, for lack of a better word, back home again. The Doctor danced around the console, instructing everyone on what controls they needed to manipulate and how. The TARDIS shuddered as she began to move and… the Earth followed. It was working!

It was a rare moment of triumph; everyone was working together and smiling and cheering and spirits were most definitely high. The day had been won. Hadn't it?

Once the Earth was back in stable orbit around Sol 3 and everyone was celebrating with one another, the Doctor took a moment to himself. No one even noticed as she slipped into the

corridor and down hallway to his room. Rose had been busy chattering away with Martha and Mickey and he was glad she was distracted so that he could have a moment to think without her presence.

He opened the door to his room and crossed to the overstuffed arm chair that he favoured before slumping down into the cushions. Today had been a roller coaster ride of emotions like none he'd ever experienced before. He'd been so happy to see Rose at last. He'd hoped that this would be the reunion he'd been dreaming about for so many years now. But then the events on the Crucible had taken place and everything had been thrown up in the air. Rose had been tortured, violently, because of him and how he felt about her. If Davros could do that to her, any number of his enemies (and oh, he had so many of those) could do it as well. And would. Not only could he not bear to give the universe's bad guys the ammo against him, he couldn't bear to watch her become a pawn like that. A life with him was dangerous and now that he had these feelings for her, he felt that danger had been inexorably ramped up.

Rose wasn't safe with him. And Davros was right. This is what he did to the people in his life. He couldn't bear to do it to her too. Not her. The Doctor suddenly felt very old and very tired. He had already had a long day and it was about to get even longer.

There was a soft knock at his door and before he could get to his feet, Rose was poking her head into the room. "Are you hiding from everyone in here?" she asked, standing back into the corridor as he approached. He stood in the doorway and tried not to notice the way she was chewing her lip nervously. He was also trying very hard not to think about how badly he wanted to nibble on that lip himself. Rassilon, this wasn't going to be easy as it was, he didn't need thoughts like that making it harder. Or rather, more difficult. Yes.

"I was just, erm, collecting myself. That was quite the… interlude," he said, feeling very lame. He looked at her then, concerned. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Rose shrugged a shoulder. "I'll live," she replied and then as if she found that funny, she stifled a snicker. "But really, I'm fine," she assured him, sobering. "I was more worried about you."

That was just like her. She's the one being tortured and she's worried about him. "Don't worry about me, Rose," he told her. "I'm always alright."

"I was hoping that maybe we could talk," she said, biting at her lip again and he felt his hearts slam in his chest. That wasn't a good idea. For one thing, if he let her in his room then the likelihood that he would let things get out of hand with her would increase exponentially. For another thing, if things did get out of hand then he would never be able to do what needed to be done.

"Erm, I really need to get us back down to Earth, start getting everyone sorted with where they need to go," he replied.

Her face fell. "Okay. Maybe later?

He nodded vigorously, hoping she wouldn't notice the way he was reluctant to meet her eye. "Yes. Later."

As it turned out, later wasn't going to happen either and he'd known it full well at the time. After they dropped Sarah Jane back off with her son, Luke, the Doctor had taken Jack and Martha back to Torchwood. Mickey joined them, which surprised him. He'd expected the other man to want to stay near Rose. Of course, he hadn't known what the Doctor had planned, but from the way he saw the timelines coalescing around Mickey, he realised that his future was entangled with Martha's. He definitely hadn't seen that one coming.

That left Jackie and Rose and so he set course through the Void to Bad Wolf Bay in the parallel universe that Rose had called home for the past few years. At first, Rose didn't realise what he was intending. It was natural that Jackie would want to return to Pete and her baby, Tony. Rose had even begun saying her goodbyes to her mother on board the TARDIS, in a way that was so reminiscent of the scene in Torchwood Tower before he'd tried to send her away that it made his hearts ache.

But after they had landed and he and Donna had joined Rose and Jackie out on the beach, she'd been quick to realise his intention. She whirled around to fix him with an accusing glare "You're leaving me here?" she cried, incredulous. Even Jackie looked stunned.

"It's what's best for you, Rose," he tried to explain, his hands jammed deep into his pockets. Donna stood by the TARDIS, looking pained.

"After I came all this way, after everything I did to get back to you, you're just leaving me behind?" Rose went on. Tears were gathering in her eyes and she looked frustrated as she blinked them away. "I can't believe you would do that. You promised me you would never leave me."

"I know I did, and I'm so sorry," he said.

She threw up her hands. "Don't be sorry!" she shouted. "You're always so sorry. Tell me why!"

"It's safer for you here, Rose, with your family," he told her. Her eyes flashed angrily at him.

"Safer? Safer!" she exploded. "Fuck safer! What about happiness? Does my happiness count for nothing here?"

"You'll be happier here in the long run," the Doctor promised her. He wanted to believe that was true. He had to believe that was true.

Rose laughed but it was a bitter thing. "You know nothing about the long run and how it concerns me, Doctor," she informed him. "And can't you even give me five minutes to talk to you about

it?"

He glanced anxiously back at the TARDIS as she made a grinding noise. "I haven't got five minutes," he said. "The walls between the universes are closing. This reality is sealing itself off. For good, this time."

"What if I'm happier with you? What if you're happier with me? Doesn't that count for anything?" she asked, her voice now pleading as she took a step towards him. He stiffened and she stopped, looking wounded.

"It's not enough, Rose," he said sadly. "Not this time."

Rose looked at him, a tear tracking down her cheek. "Answer me this, then. When I last stood on this beach on the worst day of my life…. What was the last thing you said to me?" He hesitated, pulling out a hand to tug on his ear. "Go on, say it."

"I said, 'Rose Tyler'," he answered, admittedly stalling for time.

"Yeah? And how was that sentence going to end?" she prodded.

The Doctor took a deep breath. She was never going to let him leave her here unless he let her believe that he didn't care. He never liked lying, and he liked lying to Rose Tyler even less. But he had to do this. For her. "Does it matter? That was then and this is now," he said.

More tears formed in her eyes, falling down to her cheeks and the sight just about broke him. "How can you say that?" she whispered. "Don't you still love me?"

So. She had known. His clever Rose. He'd thought she'd known. He'd hoped.

"No, I don't," he replied, keeping his voice steady and his eyes on hers so that she'd believe him. The lie nearly stuck in his throat but if he didn't say it, she would never let him go and he knew it.

The Doctor forced himself to watch as Rose crumbled before him. She turned from him towards her mother, as he'd hoped she would. Jackie rushed forward, fixing him with a hard glare as she took Rose in her arms. She began to murmur soothing encouragement and the Doctor turned back to the TARDIS, to leave her behind for good this time.

He gave Donna a pointed look as he stalked through the wooden doors and she followed after him, looking very much like she had quite a lot she wanted to say about the whole thing. The Doctor wasted no time sending the ship across the Void and into the Vortex.

Chapter 1

Chapter Summary

It's been five years for the Doctor. He's having some second thoughts. Given recent events, he's not in the mood to give up control. What will he do to right his wrongs? I've fudged some more with canon... we haven't had End of Time or premonitions of regeneration but we have had Waters of Mars.

Huge thanks to my partner in crime, fogsblue, for inspiring me with this story and making sure that I'm keeping it on track. And another huge thanks to aintfraidanoghosts/onabearskinrug for being a fearless beta for this monster.

The Doctor usually hated to admit when he was wrong. He was one of the most brilliant beings in the universe, if not the most brilliant. Or at least he was now, now that he was the last one. And brilliant beings were never wrong. Or at least were rarely wrong. Very only occasionally. It wasn't important how often he was wrong, what was important was the fact that when this rare thing occurred, he was usually very wrong.

About Rose Tyler, he had been very wrong.

He'd forgotten some very important key factors, including how much he needed her to keep him whole and sane. Yeah, that was an important bit, as it turned out. He hadn't really thought through the implications of what lying to her that day on Bad Wolf Bay would do to his soul either. She'd been distraught when he'd uttered those three terrible words to her and every time he closed his eyes, he saw her crumple with grief all over again. He saw Jackie's accusing glare. He felt the sting of Donna's harsh reproach when he'd scampered back to the TARDIS like the coward he was.

Oh, Donna was furious with him. After she unloaded on him, she went to her room and he hadn't seen her for several days. He suspected the TARDIS had been on her side, keeping him away from her. He had lots of pears in the icebox and cold showers and stiff sheets for a while. There were lots of shocked fingers at the console and bumpy landings. The TARDIS always did feel fond towards his companions and Rose had been a particular favourite.

Donna never quite forgave him. The few times she did speak to him, it was to berate him again over giving up the one thing in his life that could have done him some good. Finally, he decided that he should make it easy for his best friend. He went back to the Library, to the day they'd last been there. The Doctor had instructed Donna to remain on the TARDIS and she'd snapped that it was just as well as she wasn't interested in going anywhere with him at that moment. It hadn't

taken him too long to track down Lee McAvoy. In fact, that was something else that added to the pile of guilt he felt on his shoulders. He really hadn't worked as hard as he could have before to find him for Donna and a part of him knew that it was because he'd been anxious to keep Donna on the TARDIS. He'd been selfish. And now he had to let her go, like he'd had to let Rose go. He only brought pain to those he cared for most. Davros had been right about that.

Lee had come quite willingly with him back to the TARDIS, keen to see Donna again. They had a tearful reunion around the console that had made the skin on the back of the Doctor's neck prickle unpleasantly. When they embraced, he left for his room, unable to witness any more.

Donna came to find him some time later. He'd been reading a book, trying to keep busy. He was trying to avoid sleeping. She asked him to take her and Lee back to Earth, to her time and her home. She was leaving, just as he figured she would. But she'd touched his arm with a gentle look in her eye. She'd made him promise to call her from time to time, pop in for a visit when he could. He didn't think she was forgiving him, but she was making an effort and he nodded at her, not wanting to sever that connection completely.

And so he was alone.

The Doctor was alone, more or less, for five long years. Oh, he had the odd adventure here and there. He'd gone back to a Victorian Christmas and helped a man who'd had his memories altered defeat a Cyberman invasion. He'd even ridden a double decker through a wormhole to a devastated planet and worked with UNIT to save the day once again. There'd been little joy in it, but he'd put on a good facade. He kept on with his facade, growing lonelier and lonelier. His bitterness expanded until he was nearly as bad off as he'd been before meeting Rose, finding his salvation in the basement of Henrik's department store. Still, he kept going, kept traveling, kept himself busy so that he wouldn't have to sit alone on the TARDIS and stew over "could-have-beens".

But then things went pear-shaped, the irony of which didn't escape him. He landed on Mars on a lark and got embroiled in events at Bowie Base One. That was when he finally lost his tenuous grip on his own sanity. He was just so tired of having events out of his control because of what was right and because of old, antiquated rules. So he snapped and he took the Laws of Time into his own hands. There was no one to stop him anymore, there was just him.

Adelaide had wrested control of her own destiny back from him. How was it that it that he was always surprised by the ingenuity of human beings? There was no race in the universe as adept at improvising and insinuating themselves as they were. She shot herself, tragically, and he'd been forced to acknowledge that he couldn't control everything. He couldn't control what people wanted.

That was the tipping point, as it turned out. Back in his room on the TARDIS, he thought about what Adelaide had done. He'd made a decision for her, for everyone, and she had made it clear in her own way that that was unacceptable. And he couldn't help but relate that back to what had caused his whole downward spiral in the first place; Rose. That had always been a touchy

subject for her, even when they'd first started traveling together all those years ago. She couldn't stand him making her decisions for her and the Doctor hadn't been able to stop doing it, especially when her safety was in question.

That's what he'd done on Bad Wolf Bay. He'd left her there for her safety and he'd known his logic in doing so was sound and good. But as always, he'd forgotten a very important detail. He was the one who had made the decision to leave her there on that godforsaken beach. He hadn't consulted her or even warned her. He'd just decided for her.

The Doctor spent the next few days, skulking through the TARDIS, mulling things over. And the more he thought about it, the more he knew he'd made a huge mistake. Rose had come back for him and he'd pushed her away without even the courtesy of a decent explanation. And he'd lied to her, on purpose, to break her heart so she would let him go. Eventually, he knew that he had to find some way to reach her. He had to apologise to her and tell her that he had been wrong and tell her that he did love her. He couldn't even begin to hope that she'd want anything to do with him, of course, but shouldn't he at least tell her he was sorry?

Once the idea took hold, he couldn't shake it. He spent weeks, months, buried in the TARDIS library. He read through countless texts and studied numerous charts and figures. He barely stopped to rest and eat while he searched for an answer on how to get through the Void. He finally found what he thought was a satisfactory solution; it wasn't without its peril. There was a chance that either he, or the TARDIS, or both of them wouldn't survive the journey. He worried about the TARDIS, but about himself he didn't care. If he survived, he would see Rose again and it would be worth it. If he didn't, however, he didn't really care to keep going without her anyhow. Because she was his compass. She was the voice of reason in his head. Without her, he simply wasn't worth a damn.

The Doctor made his decision. He would attempt the crossing. There was a gap, a very small gap. Negotiating it would be tricky and it would require all his fortitude. He took a quick kip and fixed himself a meal. As he strode into the console room, wearing a fresh suit and his hair artfully arranged once more, the TARDIS flashed her lights and made a warning hum. He didn't think she agreed with his plans. He also very much didn't care. "Come on, old girl," he murmured, stroking the console. "I'm going to need your help if we're going to have a chance here."

There was a grinding noise that sounded distinctly grudging and he smiled. He ran the calculations he'd made one more time through the ship's computer before setting the course. He had to believe that this was going to work and that he and the TARDIS both would make it through to Pete's World intact.

The flight went less than smoothly. If he'd had any fillings in his teeth, they would have been rattled loose for sure. As it was, bits and pieces broke off the console and clattered onto the grating. He struggled to maintain the course heading as the TARDIS lurched through the Void. But things didn't improve once he made it through to the other side. The TARDIS wasn't calibrated for travel in this universe and the Doctor had to manually pilot the ship to land in London. He would never admit it out loud, but manual piloting had never been his strong suit. Besides, this was one of those occasions when having a full crew would help matters dramatically.

The ship hurtled, nearly out of control and the Doctor struggled to hold onto the console as they tumbled through the atmosphere. He did his best, but his grip eventually slipped and he went flying backwards. With a sickening crack, he knocked his head against one of the coral struts. His vision swam before his eyes until blackness finally claimed him.

The Doctor came to a short while later. His time senses were a little dulled in this universe, but he figured he'd been knocked out for maybe ten minutes at the most. He got shakily to his feet, smoothing his suit with his hands as he moved to the monitor. He read the readout anxiously before his face relaxed into a relieved smile. He'd made it. He was in Pete's World and London to boot! But then his face fell as he continued to read the monitor. No… there must be some mistake. The TARDIS was telling him that he'd landed about two hundred years after he'd left Rose on Bad Wolf Bay. But that couldn't be! He'd programmed the coordinates to land no later than one year after he'd left her. It was hard to pinpoint, being a different universe and all, but he'd checked and double checked his figures. How could he have been so off?

It had to be a mistake, that was the only explanation. He'd just sent the TARDIS through the Void and her systems were scrambled a bit. Feeling certain of this, he opened the TARDIS doors and stepped out into the watery sunshine of a spring day in parallel London. It looked to be a park, not unlike the park he and Mickey and Rose had first landed in all those years ago. Looking up, he saw the ubiquitous zeppelins hanging in the sky but there seemed to be fewer of them. And they seemed rather advanced from what he would have expected. He knew that Pete's World had some fairly sophisticated tech that the other universe lacked but this seemed significantly futuristic. He wondered if that was Torchwood's hand in things.

The small park was adjacent to an airfield of some kind. He would have said it was a spaceport but he was pretty certain that even Pete's World didn't have those yet. Unless… unless the readout on the TARDIS monitor had been correct. Panic gripped him as he scanned the park and noticed a man sitting on a bench nearby, obviously absorbed in the screen of his digital reader.

"Excuse me," he greeted, approaching them. "I know this sounds like a silly question but can you tell me what year this is?"

The man lowered his reader and squinted up at him. "You must have been off planet for a while, eh?" he remarked. "It's 2205."

The panic surged again but he forced a casual smile onto his face. "Thank you," he replied. "And yes, I have been."

The Doctor turned and hurried back to the TARDIS. He had to get out of here and get to the proper time before he learned anything else. However, the TARDIS seemed to have other plans. When he tried to send them into the Vortex, she remained stubbornly stationary. Cursing, he tried every trick he knew until the console sparked against his fingers and she sent him a distinct image in his mind of a kitten sleeping.

Okay, so the TARDIS wanted to rest. That was understandable, given the journey they'd just completed. He should be able to handle waiting, right? Of course, that was always easier said than done and a half hour had gone by before he was positively itching to do something. Perhaps a little peek at 23rd century Pete's World wouldn't hurt, right? He wouldn't go far, just stretch his legs.

The Doctor stepped outside once again and this time focused his attentions more on the neighbouring space port. Because he was now certain that's what it was. Earth in the prime universe wouldn't have space ports until closer to the 24th century but Pete's World was a bit more advanced and bit more in contact with alien civilisations. Curiosity got the better of him and before long, he was wandering into the terminal to have a look around. What sort of craft was around, he wondered. Xral IV Warp Class cruisers? Eirole Warships? He strolled through a door and out onto the observation deck to watch the comings and goings. The Doctor stepped to the rail just in time to see a Aleran Mach V Crusier come into dock. Brilliant! He hadn't seen one of those in years. Great little ships, a lot of punch for the price. He watched with interest as the cruiser was skilfully manoeuvred into place and was about to go back into the terminal to see if they had a little shop to poke around in when he saw the cruiser's captain step out of the hatch.

His jaw fell open. She was young, blonde and so familiar it made his hearts ache. The resemblance was uncanny. She wore a pair of black trousers and a leather jacket, not blue of course but instead a battered black, with a green jumper. It was a rather familiar outfit, honestly, but he chided himself and said that it was only because so many people wore similar combinations. She turned briefly in his direction and he got a good look at her face. He would have sworn it was her… but maybe this was a descendant of hers. Spatial genetic multiplicity and all. It wasn't outside the realm of possibility. He wondered if this woman had ever heard stories about him, passed down through the family. The Doctor briefly entertained the notion of introducing himself to see if she recognised him before he chided himself. That wasn't a good idea, he didn't want to know too much about Rose's fate. In fact, just seeing this woman now was dangerous. He should go. He should really just… go.

Instead, he found himself walking towards the woman as she neared the observation platform.

He couldn't seem to stop himself because he had a feeling, a very, very bad feeling and he had to make sure he was wrong. She was shouting an instruction over her shoulder to one of the ground crew, but he missed whatever it was she said in his distracted daze.

The Doctor reached her just as she was stepping up onto the observation deck. She looked up and saw him and stopped suddenly in her tracks. The recognition in her eyes was unmistakeable and he felt a stab in his chest. She stared at him in stunned disbelief for almost a full minute before she composed herself and drew herself up to her full height. "Hello, Doctor," she greeted mildly.

Rose Tyler guided her Aleran Cruiser into the landing pattern and let the automatic controls take over. She was long overdue for a trip to Earth as it had been a good couple of years since her last visit. There just wasn't much reason to stay on her home planet anymore. She snorted softly to herself as she flicked a few switches and then swung her captains chair around from the console. She released her safety harness and got to her feet, doing a quick check of the cabin. This wasn't really her home planet and it never had been. Her home planet was in another universe and she'd been cut off from it quite effectively. She'd tried to get back to it, tried to get back to the man who had captured her heart, but she'd had that heart torn in two when he'd just brought her right back here.

Rose tried not to think about that day anymore. It didn't do any good, after all, to rehash those events. After he'd told her he didn't love her, she'd had to pull her life back together. For days, she'd been inconsolable. After she and Jackie had gotten back to London and the Tyler Mansion, she'd shut herself in her room. A lot of her time had been spent crying, sure, but she'd also been focused inward. She'd vowed to herself that she wouldn't let this event define her. She was Rose Tyler and she wasn't going to let a man, albeit the most amazing man she'd ever met, decide her life for her. She took a week to work past the sting of his rejection, the sheer frustration at his unwillingness to even let her talk to him before he'd fled from her. At the end of that week, she'd left her room with her head held high.

She'd tried to return to Torchwood, knowing that the field work there would be excellent for keeping her mind focused and sharp. But enough people were familiar with the Dimension Canon and with her desire to return to the Doctor, that she found nothing but stares and whispers wherever she went. At first, the looks she got were sympathetic which was bad enough as far as she was concerned. She certainly didn't need anyone's pity. But then the whispers had turned harsh and catty, particularly among her female co-workers. It didn't take long for Rose to realise that she wasn't going to be able to get much done working at Torchwood anymore. If this was how they reacted to her humiliating love life, what would happen when suspicions inevitably were raised about her health and age?

Because aging wasn't in the cards anymore for her. She hadn't realised that little tidbit until she'd begun dimension hopping, trying to find the Doctor. Time back in Pete's World stayed constant but she had spent years traveling between parallel worlds. Pete had actually talked her into carrying a chronometer with her on her jumps to track how much time she was spending. By the time she'd caught up with the Doctor, about five years had passed on Pete's World since the Battle of Canary Wharf and she'd spent an additional five years jumping through worlds. However, her face and body was still that of a 22 year old woman. Pete had ordered some genetic tests be done, on the down-low of course, to confirm this. Time was passing but her age remained constant.

Sickness was also a thing of the past. Well, mostly. She caught the occasional inter-galactic bug here and there but something as mild as a common Earth cold? Not a problem. And if she nicked herself while shaving, she was healed by lunchtime. She'd learned that bit fairly early. She hadn't learned the extent of her healing abilities until she was shot on one of her dimension jumps. UNIT had been there in that world and they had told her when she woke up on the cold, steel table (scaring the pants off that poor technician), that she had been technically dead for a good hour or two.

Since then, mercifully, the process had become significantly more efficient and she was no longer out of the game for more than a handful of minutes, depending on the injury. Even with eternity at her fingertips, Rose Tyler had no time to waste lying around resurrecting herself. There were worlds to visit, civilisations to save, dictators to topple.

She'd tried to tell the Doctor all of this, had been excited to share her news with him. At first, there hadn't been time. They had needed to deal with Davros and the Daleks and the stolen planets. But afterward, she'd tried to bring it up only to have him brush her aside. Even on the beach he'd been more concerned with running away from her than he was with whatever she had to say to him. She figured he'd run from her because he was afraid of her fragility. Davros had scared him when he'd tortured her on the Crucible and she wasn't so ignorant that she hadn't recognised that. She might have argued with him more if not for him admitting that he didn't love her. It could have been a lie, something he said 'for her own good', but she'd never known the Doctor to lie to her. Plus, it played into her fears too neatly for her to ignore. In the end, it had been easier to just let him go. If that was how he wanted to play it, she didn't want to play at all.

After she'd decided to leave Torchwood, she'd also decided to leave Earth. Rose had hitched a ride with some visiting aliens from Milios 8, determined to be of some use to

someone, somewhere. Rose continued to do some 'off-site' consulting work for Torchwood since she did have a rather specialised understanding of most issues concerning aliens. Pete paid her generously for her help and while she'd initially argued with him about it, she began to see the opportunity this money could provide her and she started saving. She earned money elsewhere too, rewards for services rendered mostly, and it all went into the Self-Sufficiency Fund, as she called it. Before too long, she'd had enough to purchase her Aleran Mach V Cruiser. It wasn't the fanciest ship in the galaxy, but it suited her needs perfectly. Quick, armed, reliable and full of personality. Just the way she liked it. The ship made trips to Earth to visit her family that much easier since she no longer had to rely on bumming rides from traveling

aliens.

At first, she'd visited regularly. Rose watched her little brother grow up, spent shopping and spa days with her mother, and helped Pete work on hybridised technology in his workshop. She showed up for birthdays, anniversaries and sometimes just because. Hitting the important days was much easier once she refined her Vortex Negotiator. The sleek little wrist unit, which resembled a golden bracelet if one didn't know any better, was derived from the Dimension Canon technology and was also a little homage to Jack Harkness' Vortex Manipulator. She was able to control is using some of the Vortex essence that was still contained within her, thanks to Bad Wolf, which was handy since if it fell into the wrong hands, no one but her could be able to use it. Rose had worked on this brilliant bit of technology with Pete on many rainy Saturday afternoons in his workshop and with it, she could negotiate the Vortex and travel through time with a decent degree of accuracy. She could also travel through space with it, though not as accurately and not over great distances. For instance, she couldn't travel outside this galaxy but she could pop between civilised planets and space stations within the same system. So between her Negotiator and the Aleran Cruiser, Rose Tyler had the universe at her fingertips and the freedom she experienced as a result was intoxicating.

Still, her life could be very lonely. So she visited her family as often as she could in the beginning, soaking up their acceptance and love and shared history. But time marched on and eventually the inevitable caught up with her. Pete passed, followed by Jackie and Rose lost a lot of her desire to return to Earth. She continued to visit Tony, but she made the meetings just the two of them. It was easier than having to explain her circumstances to his family and Tony appreciated her desire to keep things as simple as possible. It is hard, after all, to explain why your big sister looks so much younger than you do. She'd meet him for lunch a few times a year, catch up on what was new with him and his family and share with him some of her adventures. When Tony died, she no longer had that tie to Earth and her visits became a lot less frequent.

Rose had ways to keep loneliness at bay, however. She'd never had trouble making friends before and that was still, mercifully, true. She had friends in nearly every system she'd ever visited and she'd visited quite a few. No matter where she ended up, there was always someone to talk to, hang out with, grab a pint with. Now and then she'd indulge in an anonymous hookup in a bar at some remote outpost but she preferred having a friendly understanding between herself and her shagging partner. Rose wasn't the least bit interested in forming a relationship with anyone, given all her past issues and her 'condition'. It was much easier to find a friend who could understood this and who wasn't going to make any demands on her afterward.

In fact, that was why she had come to Earth this time. She preferred to visit in her own timeline, just so she could keep a handle on how old she actually was and so she could see the steady march of time and how humans were advancing. Even if she wasn't entirely human herself any longer, she still felt an associated pride with seeing how they continued to move forward, inexorably. So she came to 2205 and she was thinking that maybe she'd call up Teena and see if she wanted to go shopping. Or she'd call Peter and see if maybe he wanted to go out dancing. Then again, maybe he'd want to stay in and get reacquainted. Grinning as she packed a small knapsack with a few clothes and supplies, she thought maybe staying in sounded like just the

ticket. She'd give him a call as soon as she got herself some chips. Because no matter how much an alien diner advertised their chips as the "best in the galaxy", she'd yet to find anywhere in the universe that had chips better than good ol' London town. And she had a craving that wouldn't quit. Yes, chips and then she'd give Peter a ring. Hopefully, he'd be available.

Rose did one last check of the cabin of her ship. The Aleran Cruiser really was a great vessel and it suited her very well. It wasn't big, the bunk she slept in was just behind a curtain and a tiny galley was tucked into the back. But it was home, her only home anymore. Everything seemed in order now, so she grabbed her knapsack and opened the hatch.

The familiar, cool blast of breeze over her face was invigorating and she turned her face into it for a moment before she dropped onto the ground and began walking towards the terminal. The ground crew rushed forward to register her ship and she called to them to mind the clamps on the landing gears. The last time they'd left a pretty nasty gash in the undercarriage and she wasn't interested in having to buff out another scratch.

As she approached the observation deck, Rose became aware of a set of eyes watching her. She was used to getting looks where she went, she knew she looked good after all, but this was different somehow. As she climbed the steps, she looked and what she saw was enough to cause the air in her lungs to gush out and bring her steps up short. It was him, the Doctor, standing right there looking exactly as she'd remembered him from nearly 200 years before.

Stunned didn't begin to describe how she felt. Rose wasn't naive enough to assume that she'd never see him again, even with him being in the other universe. Who knew how long her lifespan would be and that was a lot of years to cover without seeing another equally long-lived being. Still, she thought she'd have more… time. She'd hoped that she'd have the opportunity to gather herself before seeing him again, to prepare herself against the wave of neglected emotions she would inevitably feel when she saw him. Then again, knowing him and knowing how things always had been with the both of them, running into him when she least expected it held a certain amount of poetic justice.

Rose might have been gobsmacked but she wasn't about to let him see her flounder at the sight of him. Besides, if the thunderstruck expression on his face was any indication, she had the upper hand here. As unexpected as his return to 'Pete's World' was, he clearly wasn't reckoning on seeing her here. So she squared her shoulders and regarded him with a deliberately bland expression.

"Hello, Doctor," she said.

Chapter 2

Chapter Summary

Rose and the Doctor have a little catching up to do. How will Rose react to seeing him again? Will the Doctor be able to make things right between them?

Thanks again to Fogsblue for all the hand-holding.

"Rose? What-? How?" the Doctor cried, his brown eyes wide and panicked as her looked her over. Rose fought the urge to chew on her lip, more nervous than she would like to be under his scrutiny.

"It's a long story," she told him acerbically, "and last time I checked, you weren't interested in hearing it."

The way his mouth flapped open and shut as he struggled to find words should have been amusing but Rose was finding her annoyance was growing. Truly, this man was a genius and he really should have been able to at least piece this together by now. She put a hand on her hip as she watched him sputter for a moment before he finally regained his voice. "How are you still here?" he demanded to know.

He was so predictable. "Listen, I'd love to play 'catch up' here with you, Doctor, but I'm really rather starved," she replied casually. "I'm going for some chips. You're welcome to tag along if you like but I'm not going to stand here and let you interrogate me while my stomach is growling like this."

Rose brushed past him and didn't even bother to look over her shoulder to see if he was following. She knew that he would, that he wouldn't be able to resist it. Because she was a mystery now and if she knew the Doctor like she thought she did, she knew he couldn't resist a mystery.

There was a chippy just down the street from the terminal and she walked straight there. The Doctor caught up to her as she was placing her order at the counter and she didn't even spare him a glance as she paid with a credit chip and then took a seat next to the window. He slid into the booth across from her and the look on his face was dark and quite possibly ticked off. Good. Better that he be a little ticked off because she was rather ticked off herself.

Rose decided to jump in first before he had a chance to get started. She knew that once he got to grilling her, he wasn't likely to give up until he was satisfied he had all the answers and she still

needed a moment to gather herself. "So where's Donna?" she asked him.

The Doctor's eyes clouded slightly. "She was angry with me, after I left you," he explained. "I wasn't a very pleasant guy to be around. I took her to find someone we had met on a previous trip. They'd had a virtual life together, long story, and I knew she'd be happier with him. She didn't fight me on it but says she wants to keep in touch."

"So you're alone?" she asked. He shrugged a shoulder and then focused his intense gaze back on her.

"How are you here, Rose?" he asked.

"I flew here in my ship. I'm guessing since you were on the observation deck you saw me land? I would have thought it was all rather obvious," she said, knowing she was being difficult but not the least bit interested in making this easier for him.

"You know what I mean," he growled. "How are you still alive? Did you travel through time? How many years has it been? Why do you look like you haven't aged a day?"

"Woah, tiger," she remarked. "One thing at a time, okay? I'm alive because I am." She shrugged a shoulder.

The Doctor's forehead was furrowed with confusion. "How long?"

"Since you left me here? Two hundred years. But I think you'd already guessed that. It's amazing how time flies, isn't it?"

All pretence of anger drained from his features. "Your family?" he asked.

She looked down at the chipped formica of the table and ran a finger along the uneven surface. "Long gone."

"How is this possible, Rose?" he asked and his voice was gentle with sympathy. So gentle, in fact, that she felt more annoyance prickle at her. She didn't want his pity. She didn't want anyone's pity.

"You didn't want to know two hundred years ago, why all this interest all the sudden?" she bit out. He looked stunned, as if she'd slapped him.

Just then, her chips were placed in front of her and she busied herself with preparing them just the way she liked: plenty of vinegar and salt. She bit into one of the chips and closed her eyes, fighting back an audible moan at the taste. Oh, how she'd missed these stupid chips. She focused on eating for a few minutes, studiously ignoring the way the Doctor was staring at her.

Finally, he asked, "What do you mean by that?"

She swallowed her bite and then met his eye. "I mean that two hundred years ago, after we saved the twenty-seven planets and the fate of the multiverse, I tried to tell you that I had changed. But you didn't want to talk. Do you remember that?"

Rose watched as his adam's apple bobbed. He did remember and she tried not to let the guilt that she saw flash across his face get to her.

"I'm sorry, Rose," he told her earnestly.

"If I live to seven hundred, I never want to hear you say those words to me again," she muttered, stuffing another chip into her mouth.

"But I am. I should have listened. I made so many mistakes that day. That's why I'm here now," he explained.

She shrugged. "A little too late, don't you think?"

The Doctor tugged on his ear and looked unhappy. "I tried to be here sooner. I set the coordinates to land here no later than one year after… before. I don't know what went wrong."

She paused and picked up a chip, studying it. "I thought you said travel between the dimensions was impossible. I mean, I know I proved that wrong once before but those were rather special circumstances, the walls were already breaking down and I just slipped through," she said. "Unless the multiverse is in danger again?"

He smiled ruefully and shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of," he returned.

"And you found a way that wouldn't cause everything to collapse?"

He pulled on his ear and she didn't find that telling gesture very comforting. "My calculations were accurate," he said lamely as a way of explanation.

"This was something you couldn't have done sooner? Say, after Canary Wharf?" Rose was getting more annoyed now.

The Doctor rubbed at the back of his neck, another nervous gesture that made her suspicious. "I wasn't… ready then."

She bristled. "And you're ready now? So how long has it been for you?" she asked, nibbling at the chip in her hand and raising an eyebrow at him.

"Five years," he replied before stealing a chip off her plate. He winced as he bit into it and she had to smile; he'd never cared for her liberal use of vinegar.

"Not quite as long then," she remarked, sitting back. She hated to admit that a part of her was pleased that he'd "cracked" after only a few years. To think she had that sort of influence in his life was a little intoxicating. But only a little, she reminded herself. He still had treated her horribly and she would do well to not forget that.

"It was long enough to know I made a huge mistake," the Doctor admitted.

"What was the mistake?" she asked.

"Pardon?"

"What was your huge mistake?" she repeated. "Was it not wanting to talk to me? Was it telling me that you didn't love me? Or was it dumping me off in this universe without even asking me if that's what I wanted?"

"All of it?" he said, sounding sheepish. "I thought you'd want to be here with your family."

Rose snorted. "But you didn't even ask me, did you? You just decided for me. Even if you didn't want me with you, even if you didn't love me, you could have left me on Earth there. But you didn't even ask."

The Doctor chewed on a chip and kept his eyes downcast. Then, he sighed and leaned forward. "That was wrong me of me, Rose. But you have to believe me, everything I did was because I was trying to do the right thing for you."

Rose gaped at him. "Are you fucking joking?" she cried. right thing is? You didn't even have all the information! love me 'the right thing'?"

"And who are you to decide what the And how was telling me that you didn't

He tried to reach across the table to take her hands in his but she snatched hers away and tucked them into her lap. "I thought that was the only way that you'd let me leave without you," he answered.

She stared at him for a few long minutes, just marvelling at his audacity. Rose had known that he had an ego on him, but this stole the show. Then there was the matter that what he was saying now seemed to imply that what he'd said then hadn't been exactly on the level. "Are you saying that you lied?" she asked carefully.

His eyes held hers and she could just barely remember a time when he had looked at her like this. So long ago. "Yes," he said quietly. "I lied to you."

Emotions rose up in her, each one battling for dominance. There was relief and fear and hope and anger and joy and bitterness. She didn't know which to embrace and her vision began to cloud as she realised she was breathing hard. She stumbled to her feet, needing some fresh air and some distance and fuck, she just needed to be able to think.

Rose pushed out of the stuffy chippy and onto the pavement. She grabbed a scrawny tree that had been planted too close to the roadway as she fought to regain herself. He'd lied to her. The Doctor had loved her. He might even love her still. After all, he was here now in this universe, presumably to see her. What else could it mean? It had been just five years for him, too long by half if what he was saying was true, but considering this was the Doctor…

No. Rose couldn't and wouldn't let this change anything. She was her own person now, in charge of her own life and she rather liked that life. It was a good life. She was making a difference in the universe and no one told her what to do. Maybe the Doctor did love her still, but from where she stood, it was far too little and far, far too late.

A hand touched her shoulder then, resting there. "Rose?"

"You can't do this," she told him. "You can't come here now and tell me this and expect it to change anything."

"But it's true. Rose, I had to come here and at least try to explain and to apologise…"

"Two hundred years ago it might have made a difference," she murmured. "But now?"

"Do you still love me at all, Rose?" the Doctor asked and he sounded so much like a little, lost boy that if she'd been a different woman, if she'd been the woman he'd left on that beach, she might have crumbled for him then.

Rose turned to face him and reached up to remove his hand from her shoulder. "I don't think I do, Doctor," she answered as honestly as she could. "Not anymore. I think that ship has sailed."

The Doctor couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe any of it. He'd traveled across the Void and lived. He'd found Rose right away, somehow impossibly alive. And despite those two incredible miracles, everything was going completely wrong. He was finally able to apologise to her, to tell her that he loved her and now she was saying that it was too late? That she didn't love him anymore?

He'd known the universe could be cruel, especially towards him, he just hadn't expected it to be this cruel.

"Rose, please, can't we talk?" he pleaded.

"We are talking, Doctor," she replied.

"Some place private. Please."

She sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. "Fine. You got a flat nearby?" she asked dryly.

"The TARDIS," he said. Her eyebrows rose but she nodded.

"Lead the way," she said, gesturing in front of her.

He offered to take her knapsack as they walked the short distance back to the park where the TARDIS was waiting but she assured him that she could handle it. She was different, he noticed. She had edges that she hadn't had before. He wondered just how many of those edges he was directly responsible for. And how many he was indirectly responsible for. But she was no less lovely than she'd ever been, maybe even more so, somehow. Her hair was longer, a more subtle honey colour with thick waves that bounced just past her shoulders as she walked beside him. Her face was more slender, causing the lines of her jaw and cheekbones to become more pronounced. But her lips were as full and pink as ever and her eyes were still that same whiskey brown that had never failed to bewitch him.

Rose paused as the TARDIS came into view and she pressed a hand over her chest. "What is it?" he asked, stopping next to her, curious at her reaction.

"It's just… I never thought I'd see her again," she replied softly. She stepped forward and pressed a hand to the worn blue wood of the door. The Doctor blinked, surprised. He'd never considered that Rose might miss his ship. He stepped forward and unlocked the door, holding it open so she could walk in ahead of him.

As he followed her up the ramp towards the console, he was further surprised by the way the light of the central column pulsed and how the hum of the motors changed in tone. It was undeniably a pleased welcome and he realised he hadn't expected his ship to miss Rose either.

She turned around, leaning back against the console and faced him. "So, talk," she said matter-of-factly.

"Not here," he said. "Let's go to the library, where its more comfortable."

She shrugged and without waiting for him lead the way again, set off down the corridor in the direction she remembered the library to be. He followed after her, feeling a bit out of his depth with her. Plus, he was getting the impression that maybe even if the library had moved, that the TARDIS would put it back just for her.

Indeed, the library was where she remembered it being and she walked in ahead of him, securing a seat on the long divan located before the large river rocked fireplace. She stretched her legs out and the message she sent to him clearly stated: Find your own seat.

Message received.

He settled for the wingback chair adjacent to the divan. "What happened, Rose?" he asked quietly.

"Do you mean, why do I still look like a youthful girl fresh off the estate when I'm over two hundred years old?" she said.

He nodded, hoping she was planning on dropping the snarky attitude sometime soon.

She proceeded to tell him the whole story. She told about how she'd come to learn of her rapid healing powers in the months after the Battle of Canary Wharf, how she didn't get sick anymore, how they discovered she wasn't aging when she jumped dimensions. She'd known about this when he'd seen her last and he'd foolishly pushed her away before she could tell him. Oh, he was a stupid, old, fool.

She also told him about her family and Torchwood and traveling the stars and buying her ship and making her Vortex Negotiator and how she tried to do good wherever she went and he felt so damn proud of her that he thought he might burst with it. After the way he'd treated her, she could have broken down entirely and withdrawn but she hadn't. Rose had fought for what she wanted and achieved it and he was in such awe of her strength and her spirit.

But he could still see those edges to her. She was harder, especially about him. Her tone would soften when she spoke of Jackie and Pete and Tony and her friends and the many people she had helped over the years. But whenever the topic came back around to anything to do with him, her voice would turn brittle and he could see her muscles stiffen.

"I feel like it's all my fault," he said, when she'd finished her story.

Rose sat up and fixed him with a withering look. "Don't flatter yourself, Doctor. You may have been the initial reason that I changed, but what I've done with this life of mine is all me."

"I thought I'd taken all of the Vortex out of you though, that day on Satellite Five," the Doctor protested. "I died taking it out of you. And now you're stuck like this and you've already lost your entire family and that's all my fault."

She waved her hand as if those details didn't matter to her. "But you didn't and what's done is done. I'm dealing with it fine, ta."

"Come with me?" he asked, hoping his smile was charming enough and knowing somehow that it wasn't. "Travel with me, again?"

Rose sat up further on the divan and twisted around so she could look at him better. "I don't think so, Doctor," she replied. "I've been there and done that."

He wondered how many times this made it now that he'd asked her to join him and how many of those times she'd said no. His average was suffering greatly when it came to Rose Tyler. His hearts twisted painfully.

"Please?" He hated to beg but he couldn't bear to leave here without her.

She shook her head and stood up. "Like I said, that ship has sailed. I don't need you to see the universe, to travel in time. The difference being that now I don't have some egotistical git making my choices for me."

He gaped at her and before he could get to his feet, she was already headed towards the door. "Don't bother," she told him. "I'll see myself out."

She walked out and he was powerless to move from where he sat. What would he say to her anyhow? Everything she'd said was right. Rose had good reason to want him out of her life. Still, he ached to have her with him. Seeing her again now did nothing to quench his need for her and now he had to let her walk away. She had a life here, a fulfilling one from the sound of it, and as much as he needed her, she didn't need him. All he had to give her was his heart and she'd made it clear she didn't want that any longer.

The Doctor eventually shuffled into the console room some time later. He'd stayed in the library for a time, just thinking. Then he'd stopped by the galley for a cuppa. It didn't help. By the time he stepped up to the monitor, it had been two hours, five minutes and twenty-six seconds since Rose had walked out. He was so absorbed in thinking about her, that he almost didn't see the flashing on the monitor as he debated on whether or not to send the ship into the Vortex for the return back to the prime universe.

But he did notice the flashing monitor. Mauve. He noticed it and everything sort of bottomed out all at once.

"No… No, no, no! Oh, please, this can't be!" he cried, grabbing at a handful of hair. Every diagnostic he ran gave him the same story, however. Oh, it could be. It was.

Pete's World, this universe, was collapsing and it was all his fault.

Nine minutes and thirteen seconds later, he was running out of the TARDIS. He'd used the TARDIS computers to track Rose's bio-signature and she wasn't terribly far. She was at a pub just around the corner, in fact. He wondered if she'd been there this whole time.

It wasn't a very reputable looking place, in fact, it was the sort of pub that he would have

warned Rose away from back in the days when they'd been traveling together. He reminded himself that she was a different woman now and she was obviously capable of taking care of herself.

Smoke hung in the air as he pushed through the doors and loud music was playing and for being a rather questionable looking place, it was fairly packed with people. Being that it was barely past tea-time, the Doctor found that a little surprising. He scanned quickly through the pub's inhabitants and quickly located Rose sitting up at the bar, nursing a pint of lager. He started towards her and then noticed that a slightly greasy looking chap sitting on her left was chatting her up.

That riled him up more than it should, especially given that it looked as though she was trying to ignore the bloke. Then there was the fact that he had zero claim on her whatsoever. Still, jealousy when it came to Rose had always been a weakness of his and there was something oddly comforting in discovering that was still very much the case.

"So, I have a flat nearby here," the greasy bloke was saying, slurring his words as he leaned towards her. "You wanna get out of here?"

Rose looked up to respond, annoyance evident on her face when she spotted the Doctor approaching. Her eyebrows shot up. "What are you still doing here? I would have thought you would have scampered off by now," she said.

"I need to talk to you," he told her.

The lothario at her elbow swung around to give him a dirty look. "Hey, mate, I'm already on the pull here. Go find your own bird."

Rose ignored him and focused on the Doctor. "You're kidding me, right? Is this a jealousy thing? Because that is just ridiculous."

He huffed impatiently. "Rose, please. It's important."

She made a face but glanced at the bloke who was gulping at the rest of his lager and seemed to come to a decision. "Alright," she agreed reluctantly. "What's up?"

"Not here," he said, glancing at all the people around them.

"Fine," she replied and slid off her barstool. She walked to the exit and he followed behind. On the pavement, she turned to face him. The sun was rapidly disappearing beneath the horizon and the evening glow captured her features in a striking manner. He wanted to reach out and touch her face but stopped himself, knowing she wouldn't appreciate the manoeuvre. He realised that he was staring when she cocked an eyebrow at him expectantly.

"Oh. Right," he mumbled and he rubbed at the back of his head nervously. "The thing is, I was

about to leave in the TARDIS when I got a mauve alert on the monitor."

The Doctor noticed the way concern automatically laced her features. "What is it? Invading alien forces? Plague?"

"Not exactly," he said and he cringed. This wasn't going to go well. "It's the universe. This universe, specifically. It's… it's collapsing."

"Collapsing?!" she cried. He shushed her as a few people walking by on the pavement turned to stare at them. She continued in a lower voice. "What do you mean, collapsing? How? Why? What do we do to fix it?"

He took a deep breath and paused for just a moment to admire her reaction. Rose slipped into action like some people slipped into pyjamas. "I mean, this reality is collapsing. It's already begun at the edges and is getting closer to this moment. I'm sorry, there's nothing I or you can do. If there was, I'd be doing it," he explained.

She stared at him, her mouth hanging agape. "Did you cause this?" she asked quietly. "By coming here, did you do this?"

The Doctor cleared his throat and tugged on his ear. He nodded. "Yes."

She turned abruptly and paced down the pavement, away from the front of the pub. Anxious, he followed after her, nearly crashing into her as she came to a sudden halt and whirled back around. "So, let me get this straight," she said through clenched teeth. "You told me that travel across the void was impossible. You told me that it would collapse the universes and that's why you couldn't come through properly. But now… You just decided what the hell? You did it anyway?"

"Yes. Erm, I mean no! No, Rose," he stammered. "I did a lot of research on this. I found a way to push through without causing any damage to the prime universe. There was no information about what might happen to the parallel universe, but the theory was that there would be no damage there as well."

"You just risked the lives of everyone in two universes because someone had a theory?" she exclaimed.

"There was no reason to believe that the theory wasn't correct," he told her. "I had to try, Rose. I had to."

Rose had her eyes clamped shut as she rubbed her hands over her face. She made an irritated growling noise. "So what went wrong then?"

"It would appear that the initial theory held true. There was no damage made to the prime universe when I traveled through, just a pin-prick in reality that would easily seal itself after I

returned, hopefully with you," he said and she gave him such a glare that he rushed on. "But the problem came when I entered this universe. The tear was a lot more catastrophic, a lot more damaging. Think of it like… an exit wound. With a certain sort of ammunition, if you shoot a person or an object it makes a very small hole when it enters but when it exits, it creates a gaping wound."

Tears were gathering in Rose's eyes as she pressed her fingers to her mouth. "All these people. All this life here, in this universe and it's going to get snuffed out because of me." She paused and glared again at him. "Because of you."

He nodded, knowing she was right. "I'm so sorry, Rose."

"Stuff your apologies," she growled. "Is the same thing going to happen to the prime universe when you return?"

The Doctor shook his head. "No, we should be able to travel back through the initial gap without causing any more damage. Then I can repair the hole."

"'We'?" she repeated. She laughed harshly. "Oh, there is no 'we' here. I'm not going with you," she told him.

"Rose! Don't be ridiculous. If you stay here, you'll die along with everyone else! No, that's not even it. You won't just die, you'll cease to exist. Everything here will cease to exist, as if they'd never existed in the first place!" he argued.

"Then so be it," she replied evenly, notching her chin up to meet his eye steadily. "But I am not coming with you."

"And I am not leaving here without you," he said just as firmly. "Rose, now is not the time to indulge in a snit because you're ticked at me. The universe is collapsing. I figure there is about two hours left so we need to get out of here, now."

"If you won't leave without me, then you'll just have to wink out of existence along with me," she told him. She started to march past him, back to the entrance to the pub. "I'm going to go have a few drinks before the world ends."

The Doctor grabbed her arm, whirling her back around to face him. "We are not arguing about this," he snapped. "Get in the TARDIS. Now!"

Rose swung with the arm he wasn't currently gripping and slapped her hand across his face. The resulting crack echoed down the sidewalk. "Fuck. You," she muttered.

He knew then, as his cheek smarted painfully, that she wasn't going to come with him willingly. The Doctor hated to be in another situation where he was removing her choice, given that his habit of doing that seemed to make up a good 90% of what she was currently angry with him

about. But it was her life and he couldn't just let her die with this universe. If she wasn't going to see reason, then he would have to take control of the situation.

He reached out and told hold of her with one arm, drawing her up to him. He would only have a moment to do this and he didn't waste a single nano-second. With his other hand, he pressed his fingers to her temples. Time slowed to a stop as the Doctor entered her mind for the first time.

He took barely a breath to notice the security she had in place and it made him realise that in addition to her other gifts, she must have some telepathic abilities as well. He focused quickly on what he needed to, the consciousness centre of her mind, and as he reached out for it, he became aware of a great, golden wolf charging at him from the depths of Rose's mind. Quickly, he pressed on the centre, forcing Rose into unconsciousness and withdrew from her mind before the wolf apparition could pounce.

They stood on the sidewalk, Rose slumped into his arms and him breathing hard as if he'd just run a mile. Yes, it definitely would appear that she was very capable of taking care of herself. He looked down at her face, now relaxed and pushed a lock of hair off her forehead tenderly.

He leaned down and pressed a kiss there, murmuring, "I'm so sorry."

The Doctor scooped her up into his arms and began to hurry back to the TARDIS. He imagined she would be furious with him when she regained consciousness and he didn't look forward to the confrontation he was sure would follow. He was sorry for taking her choice yet again, but he wasn't going to be sorry for saving her life.

The TARDIS sensed their approach and her doors swung open to allow them in. He carried Rose back to her old bedroom which he'd left untouched from the days she'd traveled with him. He'd visited this room many times during his weaker moments, sometimes just to feel a little bit closer to her. Glancing briefly now at the floral pink decor, he imagined that this room was no longer her style. But she would undoubtedly be more comfortable waking up in here than she would in his room or anywhere else for that matter. He laid her down on the bed and removed her boots for her.

Satisfied that she was as comfortable as she was going to be, he left for the console room and the journey back through the Void.

Chapter 3

Chapter Summary

The Doctor has done the unforgivable and now he and Rose are going to have it out.

The story earns it's rating here, just warning you now.

BIG thanks to fogsblue for saving this chapter and to aintfraidanoghosts for her fearless beta services.

Rose gained consciousness slowly. She became aware of a familiar but almost forgotten humming noise. The sound and barely perceptible vibrations were soothing, almost lulling her back into oblivion. A soft pillow supported her head and she realised she was laying on a bed. She shifted and opened her eyes.

Soft lavender walls greeted her, lit from an unseen source. She saw a dresser and a small desk and… oh good lord. This was her old bedroom on board the TARDIS! Rose quickly sat up, staring around her. The room looked exactly as it had when she'd last traveled with the Doctor. No bottle of perfume was out of place, no photograph of her mum was moved from its spot around the edges of the mirror over her dresser. She imagined the drawers contained all those clothes that she used to wear when she was young and considerably more naïve.

Oh, the TARDIS. It had hurt to lose her almost as much as it had to lose the Doctor that day on Bad Wolf Bay. The brief time she'd spent on board while they'd sorted out the twenty-seven planets had been enough to make her aware of an increased connection with the TARDIS that she

hadn't experienced before. It was as if she could "hear" the ship in her head. But instead of words, it was more like… feelings and pictures. Impressions. Rose had been keen to explore that connection a bit more, but never got the opportunity.

She stood up from the bed and noticed her boots had been removed. The Doctor. Rose tried to remember what had happened last, how she could have ended up here. They'd been talking… she'd told him that she didn't think she loved him anymore. That hadn't been a lie. It wasn't as if she'd spent a lot of time examining her feelings, especially as they pertained to the Doctor. No, what was in the past was better left in the past. Everything he'd done to leave her behind in Pete's World and all the years in between had changed her.

Rose was pretty sure that whatever feelings she'd once had for the Doctor were at least dimmed significantly. Attraction on the other hand… well, that particular awareness needed no logic or time it would appear. Just one look at him today had stirred up all her old thoughts about his fingers and his hair and that darned tongue…

Anyhow, Rose had left the TARDIS after their talk and had gone some place… a pub! She'd found a pub just a few streets away and had decided what she really needed was a couple of pints of lager. Earth beer was notoriously weak, but it would be cold and would, eventually, give her a pleasant buzz.

Okay, so she'd been drinking and getting hit on by some ridiculous bloke when… the Doctor had found her. The memory swirled around the edge of her mind, foggy. He'd wanted to talk. She'd thought he was jealous at first but there'd been no mistaking his urgent demeanour. He'd had something important to tell her. Bad news. Mauve alert. Shit… what was it?

Rose remembered in a rush. The parallel universe was collapsing because he'd come there to see her. He'd foolishly risked everything and now countless civilisations were in danger of never existing because of his impetuous behaviour. That pompous git! He'd wanted her to come to the TARDIS so they could return, safe and sound, to the prime universe and she'd told him to bugger off. She didn't want to go anywhere with him in this universe or any other. And then…

Oh god. He'd done something to knock her out because there was no way she would have come willingly. He must have carried her here and…

It wasn't as if she'd been eager to die but after two hundred years, what was the point of living? Maybe it would have been a relief. She hadn't even had time to really think about it.

Rose was running through the corridors to the console room before she could let the thought fully form. She hadn't even bothered pulling her boots back on. Her only thought was to find the Doctor and to stop him before it was too late.

She crashed into the console room and saw the Doctor sitting casually on the jump seat, leafing through a leather bound book as if he didn't have a care in the world. "What have you done?" she demanded.

He looked up and saw her. His expression was purposefully neutral as he set his book aside and got to his feet. He shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets. "I sent us back through the gap. We're in the prime universe now," the Doctor told her. Rose's heart sunk to her feet. Oh, god, it was too late.

"You BASTARD!" she cried. She rushed up to him and before he could react, she drew back her fist and socked him in the jaw. His neck snapped back and he stumbled against the console. Pain radiated up her arm but she barely registered it.

The Doctor stared at her, cupping his jaw with his hand. "You punched me!"

"That was my world, my universe!" she sobbed, not even trying to stop the tears that began to course down her cheeks. "I didn't want to leave and you fuckin' went and did it again! You took my choice away from me!"

And to think he wanted her to travel with him again? She hadn't even taken him up on it and he'd already slipped back into his old habits! Oh sure, she'd felt a thrill run through her when he'd first asked… Rose supposed she'd have to be dead not to have a moment of excitement over the prospect of traveling the universe with this man. However, reality was quick to intrude and this time was obviously no different. No, if he was expecting her to change her mind now, he had another thing coming.

The Doctor was still rubbing his jaw as he stared at Rose. It ached terribly; she had an incredible right hook. While he rather supposed he deserved it given the circumstance, he didn't much care to be hit. Even by Rose. Probably especially by Rose. She was glaring at him now, tears running down her reddened cheeks.

"I can't believe you hit me!" he exclaimed, then waggled his jaw, checking the range of motion there.

"You deserve that and worse, you fucking, overbearing git!" Rose shouted. "I can't believe you did that. I told you no and you knocked me out and took me anyhow! What's the matter with you!"

The Doctor felt his blood surge through his veins as he tried to tamp down his rising temper. "I'm sorry for that universe, Rose, but I will not be sorry for bringing you with me. I wasn't about to just let you die with the rest of them."

"What if I wanted to?" she shouted and he tried not to wince at the implication.

"Rose, I had to bring you back with me," he told her as calmly as he could. "If you had stayed there and ceased to exist along with that whole universe, it would have caused this universe to unravel as well."

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. "How do you figure?"

"Because, you belong to the prime universe."

"So did my mum! And now she doesn't exist either!" Rose cried, fresh tears crowding her eyes. The Doctor swallowed nervously.

"Rose, you forget. There was a Jackie Tyler in Pete's World before. When your mum left the prime universe, it compensated as though she had died here," he explained gently. "And when she arrived there, Pete's World recognised her and accepted her as Jackie. But you… you never existed there. Only ever here. No other universe has a Rose Tyler. When you left the prime universe, your spot here was 'kept warm', in a manner of speaking. If you had ceased to exist in another universe that you didn't belong to, it would cause the fabric of this universe to unravel. Do you see?"

Rose huffed, her arms crossed over her chest. "Why couldn't you tell me that like a normal person?" she demanded. "Instead, you clobbered me and drug me back to the TARDIS like some caveman."

"I did not 'clobber' you," he replied defensively. "I… gave you a mental nudge. That's all."

Her eyes widened. "You went in my head? What the hell is the matter with you?"

"I couldn't risk you not letting me bring you back, Rose," he said. "Please understand. I'd already caused the destruction of one universe, I couldn't be responsible for two."

"So we're back now, you said. Are you sure you're not going to break this universe too?" she retorted. Her eyes were flashing and he had to force himself to look away from the way her lip trembled with barely restrained rage.

"This universe is just fine, Rose, I explained that to you already. And the other universe collapsing sealed up the gap for me so the job is well and truly done," he reminded her, stepping closer.

"All those people, all those planets and civilisations… do you even care?" she asked.

That was too much, she'd gone too far. He grabbed her arms. "Stop it, Rose! Don't you dare make it out like I don't care about what happened to that universe!"

"Why? You barely seem bothered at all and didn't you get what you wanted in the end? Me in

your TARDIS?" she spat out. She was shaking underneath his fingers and he knew it was from rage. He was nearly shaking with rage himself. He couldn't believe she would even suggest that he didn't care what had happened. She knew the guilt he carried as a result of the Time War.

"I never would have wanted that universe to collapse! And I can't believe that you think I'd be in any way pleased about this!" he yelled, releasing her to spin away and plunge an unsteady hand through his hair. He spun back around, his anger spilling over. "I can't believe that you, of all people, would even suggest that!"

"What am I supposed to think!" Rose shrieked, throwing her hands up in the air. "You risk two universes to show up two hundred years after you dumped me on a beach without so much as a 'by your leave' and you want me to travel with you? You make no bloody sense!"

Her jaw was clenched and her eyes were dry now but her shoulders were squared and her chest was rising and falling with the force of her breaths. Two spots of colour sat high on her cheeks and he hated how much he wanted her even now, in the middle of a terrible row.

"I did it all to keep you safe, Rose!" he exclaimed, clenching his jaw. "I did it because I still love you!"

Rose's face drained of all colour and her jaw fell open. For a moment, he wondered at her reaction and he stepped closer to perhaps draw her into a hug. But her eyes flashed angrily and she swung again at him, clearly hoping to land another punch on his face. The Doctor saw her coming this time and grabbed her arm easily.

"Don't. Hit. Me," he said sharply, not releasing her wrist.

Rose struggled against his grip, trying to get away. "Let go of me," she demanded.

"So you can hit me again? I don't think so." The Doctor gripped her wrist tighter as she tried to twist and loosen his hold. She continued to struggle against him, leaving more than just his emotions worked up, and he saw the sudden movement of her other arm, signalling another attempt to hit him so he grabbed that wrist as well.

"Get your hands off me!" Rose grunted as she pulled against his grip. She bumped against him and each slide of her body against his was cutting efficiently through his aggravation. She seemed to come to the same realisation at the same moment and suddenly stilled her movements. He had both of her wrists encased in his and pulled behind her back, which caused her heaving chest to press against his. She looked up at him and he could see her eyes darkening as her gaze traveled from his eyes down towards his mouth.

They both moved at the same moment, in complete synchronicity with one another. Their teeth clacked together, their noses bumped and their mouths didn't quite match up, at least not at first. It was perfect. His lips slid along hers and her mouth opened just as his tongue thrust into her mouth. The Doctor released her wrists and Rose plunged her hands into his hair, holding his

head to hers as they tasted one another hungrily. He wrapped his own arms around her, one hand grasping the back of her head and the other splayed low on her back, under the edge of her leather jacket.

The Doctor's mind raced as he sought to catalogue everything he could; the taste of her tongue as it slid wetly against his, the softness of her lips as his massaged hers (he was utterly unable to decide which lip was his favourite, the top or the bottom), the minty sweetness of her breath as he swallowed down her gasps, the heat of her skin as the fingers of his left hand brushed under the hem of her jumper just above the back of her waistband, the curves of her body as they fit so perfectly against the angles of his. He'd wanted to kiss her like this since she'd saved him from murderous shop window dummies and now that he was, he was hard pressed to recall why he hadn't done it sooner.

With a strength he was unaware she possessed, the Doctor felt himself pushed back into the wall, Rose's kiss turned ferocious as she wrested control away from him. She bit his bottom lip hard and thrust her tongue into his mouth without warning. The Doctor struggled to regain control, pushing his tongue against hers, but ended up groaning loudly when Rose grabbed his erection through the thin cotton of his trousers and squeezed. He broke the kiss and saw she was watching him with a smirk.

Unwilling to let that stand, he flipped them around so her back was against the wall. Rose moved her hands to undo his trousers, almost ripping the fly in her impatience. He grabbed her hands to stop her. The Doctor had wanted to take his time, this first time with Rose. He'd had a long time to imagine out every detail and his fantasies usually included guiding her to his room, laying her down on his bed, and spending however long he wanted getting to know her body from head to foot. But, standing before one another with arousal pounding in their veins, they were a freight train and he knew he could no sooner stop what was happening here between them than he could have prevented Pete's World from collapsing. Still, he had to ask.

"Rose, do you want this?"

Rose shook his hands off, opened his fly and shoved his trousers down. He was as yet undecided if forgoing the pants today was a good idea or not, but he was starting to lean towards the former as she grabbed and stroked his length, growling in his ear, "Just shut up and fuck me already!"

Not wanting to argue, or to admit how very turned on he was at Rose's coarse language, the Doctor eagerly complied. He leaned back in to kiss her again, trying to keep it soft but she was not having any of that as she turned her head and sunk her teeth into his neck. Groaning, and more than a little aroused by now, the Doctor unfastened the fly on Rose's jeans and shoved his hand inside her knickers. He slid his fingers into her folds and found that she was already quite wet. So, he wasn't the only turned on by this fight they were having. Was it even a fight anymore?

He softly stroked his finger through the wetness before Rose grabbed his wrist and said hoarsely, "Enough."

The Doctor wasn't about to argue with her about this right now and instead looked at her face, taking in her expression. She was undeniably angry; fierce and aroused, and he thought she'd never looked more amazing. And then she noticed the way he was looking at her and rolled her eyes. She shoved her jeans and knickers down, kicked them off, and pulled him towards her.

Unwilling to waste any more time (hadn't he wasted enough?), the Doctor grabbed Rose's bum in his hands and lifted her up. She wrapped her legs around his waist and reached between them to take his length in her hand, positioning him just below her entrance. Just as he pushed his hips up, she dropped hers down. They crashed together on a mutual shout and Rose reached up behind her, grabbing ahold of the wall to use it as leverage.

The Doctor stilled for a moment, letting his forehead drop to her shoulder, letting the sensation of being buried inside of her wash over him, before he slowly began to pump in his hips. Rose was hot and wet and tight and he knew he wasn't going to last long at all.

"Harder," she groaned, as she brought one arm down to grip around his back. He had no trouble complying with her request, each push from him getting stronger and harder as she dug her nails into his back. She'd leave a mark, he knew that. He also found he wasn't bothered by this idea in the least. He was hers now and any marks she left were just further superficial symbols of that.

As he pushed in and out of her warm, welcoming body, he knew that he would have to tell her. The Doctor was doing all of this out of order, hardly surprising for him. When did he ever do anything the conventional way? Normally, Gallifreyans would have their bonding ceremony first and then complete the physical bonding after. But, no matter, they could take care of the rest of it later, after he explained it to her. The important thing was that now that they were joined together, there would be no letting her go. It's why he hadn't let things come to this when they'd traveled together before, no matter how much he had wanted it. Because it would never be just sex for them. Definitely not with her. He'd been so afraid to let that happen, knowing he wouldlose her, but now it was happening and it was so right that it made his blood sing in his veins.

Rose was gasping and moaning and making such lovely noises in his ear, and his hands were grasping the soft flesh of her arse as he pounded in and out of her. She released the wall with her other hand and brought it down to where they were joined, feeling the slide of him in and out of her folds and he very nearly lost it right then. Then she was pressing on her clit, rubbing it furiously and he could feel her inner walls begin to flutter around his length.

"Fuck! Yes!" she cried out, throwing her head back and he watched as she flew apart. Her wild abandon, her hips bucking against his, the long line of her throat, her hair cascading over her shoulders… it was easily the most glorious and most erotic thing he'd ever beheld and he knew the sight of it would be forever imprinted on his mind.

Rose slowly came back to herself and with her hand still down between their bodies, she once against reached for where his cock was now pushing erratically in and out of her entrance. She encircled the base with her thumb and forefinger and squeezed, just enough that it immediately

unleashed the aching, coiling pleasure in his balls.

"Rose!" he gasped, his legs shaking and his cock pulsing as he emptied into her, his fingers digging into her arse and the Doctor knew it had to be painful but he couldn't help himself. He continued until he was completely spent, before his knees buckled, bringing them both to the floor in a tangled heap of limbs.

As awkward as their position on the grating was, the Doctor continued to hold her, stroking her hair and murmuring into her neck as he pressed kisses into her skin. Rose shivered a little, the sweat on her skin undoubtedly cooling her more than was comfortable. He tightened his arms around her, hoping to fend off a chill.

"That was… amazing," he said gruffly, when he finally found the power to speak again. He could just barely feel a tingling in his mind where she was supposed to be and it felt like an itch… one that he very much wanted to scratch.

"Not bad at all," Rose agreed and she sounded almost surprised as she settled against him. He wondered if he should register indignation.

A moment later, she was pushing at him and getting to her feet. He watched as she located her jeans and pulled them on, neglecting her knickers which he supposed would turn up eventually. Or they wouldn't.

The Doctor sighed, supposing he should put himself back together as well. He stood up and pulled on his trousers, zipping them up. He ran a hand through his hair as Rose quietly excused herself to go find her shoes back in her room.

She wasn't saying much but she had to be feeling the same things he was. And besides, everything was different now. He might not have gone about it in the best way possible, but he'd made his feelings known and it had lead them to this moment. They were here, together, in the prime universe. Her lifespan was no longer something that could keep them apart. They

had shagged, for the love of Gallifrey. Clearly, the situation was obvious.

Wasn't it?

Rose returned to the console room a moment later and she had her knapsack over her shoulder. He stared at it in shock for a long moment before he asked her, "What are you doing?"

"Could you drop me at Cardiff? can manage it," she requested.

Anytime is fine, really, but I'd prefer early 21st century if you Her tone was very casual, as if she were ordering supper, but he

also noticed that she wouldn't quite meet his eyes.

"What do you mean, 'drop you at Cardiff'?" he sputtered. "What are you going to do there?"

Rose shrugged a shoulder and he could see through her studied nonchalance. She was nervous, poised to run. He knew because he recognised the behaviour. He'd always been the sort to want to shag and run and now here he was, on the receiving end.

"Whatever I want to do, I wager," she replied. "I don't have a ship any longer, you saw to that. And this," she shook the wrist where she wore her Vortex Negotiator, "needs to be calibrated to this universe before it'll work, most likely. But Jack's in Cardiff and I imagine he wouldn't mind letting me use some Torchwood resources to get it up and going again."

The Doctor gaped at her and his hearts pounded in his chest as he realised she was most definitely serious about this. Then he thought of something else. "Jack's not in Cardiff."

"But he said that's where he was when we talked after we saved the twenty-seven planets. He said he worked for Torchwood 3 in Cardiff."

The Doctor swallowed. "Yes, he did. But… things happened. I can't take you to that time. Torchwood 3 was destroyed and Jack left Cardiff."

"Well, where'd he go then?" she asked.

"I don't know, exactly."

"But you can have the TARDIS track his Vortex Manipulator, yes?"

The Doctor sighed. "Yes. But Rose, you can't leave," he protested.

Rose planted her hands on her hips and regarded him with a stare. "I most certainly can," she informed him. "You can't keep me here."

He leaned back against the jump seat and considered. "Well, I could… I could probably find some way to keep you here for as long as I like," he said and he watched her face tighten with suspicion. His hearts fell. He'd been joking, of course, but the way she seemed to think he might actually do that very thing made him feel unbearably sad. That told him more than anything else that this moment between them hadn't fixed what had happened to them at all. It hadn't even come close.

"Oh, Rose," he sighed. "Of course I'll let you go, if that's what you want." The Doctor turned away so that she wouldn't see his face. He didn't want her to see how this was hurting him, not in light of what they just shared. Most of all, he didn't want to see pity in her eyes where there should be love or at the very least, friendship.

"It's what I want," she told him and he knew he must be imagining the uncertain timbre of her voice. Wishful thinking.

"Alright," he mumbled and stepped up to the console. He ran the tracking system that he'd already connected to Jack's Vortex Manipulator previously, his fingers flying over the controls so that they wouldn't start to tremble. He could barely breathe for the grief crushing his lungs and right then he just wanted to escape to his room or some other dark corner of his ship so that he could be alone to process everything in peace.

The TARDIS shuddered as she flew through the Vortex. The Doctor would drop her in 2010, right on Jack Harkness' doorstep. And he would try to let her go as graciously as possible. Because maybe if he did this for her now, she might be more willing to see and talk to him again later. Maybe if he could show her that he could comply with her wishes, she wouldn't close the door on him for good. He had to hope for that, it was really all he had left.

There was a small bump as the TARDIS landed.

He felt a touch on his arm and he looked at her, being careful to school his expression. "You hoped I would stay with you," Rose said matter of factly.

The Doctor fought the urge to cringe. "Of course, I did," he answered. "I thought that maybe… maybe now things would be different for you. We hadsex, Rose."

He noticed her swallow visibly and look down at her boots. "I know. I didn't mean to go that far with you, I promise. I just got swept up," she tried to explain. "But it's just not enough for me, not right now. Not by a long shot. I can't trust you, Doctor."

"Why not?" he asked.

"You know why," Rose replied, her voice harsher again. "I can't deal with you trying to run my life for me. It's my life. I might have put up with it before but it's been a long time and I've been through too much."

"I can try to change," he said, well aware that a pleading note was working its way into his voice. "I would do that for you, Rose."

"Doctor, please don't," she begged. "Listen, it was a great shag, yeah? You were brilliant. Please, let's not spoil it."

He closed his eyes against her flippant assessment. "It was more than just a shag for me," he told her through gritted teeth. He reopened his eyes and he saw the last thing he ever wanted to see from her. Pity.

"I'm not looking for someone to run my life for me," she told him. "I'm not looking for a relationship, period. Look, I just need some time, okay?"

He nodded numbly. Rose rocked forwards and backwards on her heels for a moment before she stuck her hand out at him. He looked at the offered appendage as if it would hurt him. A handshake? After everything they'd just done and she wanted to say goodbye with a handshake?

"I'll see you later then, Doctor?" she said. He took her hand reluctantly and gave it a shake, letting his fingers linger against hers for a moment. He could feel a sizzle of… something pass from her to him. Slight though, and ever so brief.

"Yes, Rose, I imagine you will," he replied. He would see to it. This wasn't going to be the end for them, not by a long shot.

He listened as her boots clattered down the ramp and then out of the TARDIS. Then, silence descended on his ship and he stood at the console, staring at the time rotor. He was alone now and it was all his own doing.

Chapter 4

Chapter Summary

Rose reconnects with Jack and the Doctor has to deal with the reality of traveling without Rose again. Years pass but their problems persist. Will things ever get better?

HUGE thanks to Fogsblue for her advice and encouragement, to aintfraidanoghosts for her beta services and to littlewhomouse for her help with the banner!

Rose strode out of the TARDIS and was surprised to find they had set down amidst a forest of towering pine trees. The ground was sloped and the air was thin and crisp and fresh, not quite cold. They must be in the mountains. A breeze blew about her, rustling the tops of the trees high above her head and making a whooshing noise. She glanced back at the TARDIS before looking around her. She saw a squat, nondescript building a few yards away. There were no signs or markings on it but it bore all the resemblance of an observation outpost from her original time period. A pickup truck sat next to the building, parked on a gravel driveway that wound down through the trees and presumably lead to a road.

Rose headed to the door and knocked swiftly on it. She didn't have to turn around to know the TARDIS was still there; she hadn't heard the engines start up, after all. Maybe he was using the rift to fuel up a little after the stressful trip to and from the parallel world. Or maybe he was watching to see if she would change her mind. She tried to push that thought from her mind, telling herself that there was no reason she should feel this niggling guilt at leaving the Doctor behind the way she had. He'd left her behind, and not just the one time either. No, this was for the best for them both.

The door swung open and there stood Captain Jack. He didn't look any older than he had the last time she'd seen him but he looked haggard. Those beautiful blue eyes of his were heavy and haunted and his face was set in hard lines. His mouth fell open when he saw her standing there on his doorstep.

"Rosie!" he gasped, swooping her up into a hug. His arms were strong around her, almost bruising, but she hugged him back just as hard. He held her for a long time and eventually, Rose heard the familiar grinding of the TARDIS engines as she dematerialised behind them.

"Was that the Doctor?" Jack asked, finally letting her go so she stood in front of him.

"Yes, it was," she replied.

"You wanna talk about it?" His eyebrow quirked at her and she smiled a little ruefully.

"No, not really," she admitted. "But I probably should. And I want to hear about you too. The Doctor didn't tell me much."

He invited her inside, taking her knapsack from her shoulder as she passed him. She'd been right, it was an observational post. There were only a couple of rooms; the main operational room with a small kitchen tucked in the back corner, a small room containing an equally small bed and dresser and a highly functional loo that included a small shower. This wasn't the sort of place that spoke of comfort, but rather utility and Rose found she liked it right off.

Jack guided her over to an old, overstuffed sofa and she sat down. He sat next to her, fixing her with an expectant gaze. "So tell me what happened? Why are you here now? Last I saw you, Rose, you were taking off for your happily ever after with Donna and the Doctor."

Rose signed and leaned her head back against the cushions. "Oh, Jack," she groaned. "It's been so long since then. For me, at least. For the Doctor it's been about five years. Let's see. He took us to Bad Wolf Bay, back in the parallel universe. But instead of just dropping off my mum as I'd thought he was going to do, he dropped me off there too. He told me he didn't love me and then he scarpered."

"He WHAT?" Jack cried. "You've got to be kidding me! Rose, you should have seen the guy while you were gone. He was a miserable git. An idiot could see how plainly he missed you. I can't believe he would do that, he had to have been lying."

Rose snorted. "He was. He showed up in Pete's World… I guess it'd be the equivalent of yesterday. Found me right off and explained his whole thing. You weren't there on the Crucible, you were stuck in the TARDIS, but Davros tortured me. He tortured all of us, his companions, but he took great pleasure in bringing me pain, just to watch the Doctor squirm. I think that made him scared. I think he thought I'd be better off away from him where I was safe from megalomaniacal pricks or something. So that's why he pushed me away."

"Well, that's good, right?" he asked. "The Doctor came back and he explained himself. I'm impressed, actually. I didn't think admitting to his mistakes was in that guy's range."

"He didn't just pop in a few months after the fact, Jack. He came back two hundred years later," she explained.

Jack's eyes widened and he looked her over now, more carefully than he had done before. "But-But you don't look any different from the last time I saw you! Rose, what happened?"

She shrugged and felt her eyes welling with tears. She willed them back. "Bad Wolf, I guess? I brought you back, didn't I? Just like that. And I wanted the Doctor safe, I wanted to be with him. I suppose I made that happen too."

"Are you like me now, then?" Jack looked very concerned and she could tell he understood that while her intentions had been in the right place, being "gifted" with infinite life wasn't always the blessing some people might think it was.

Rose leaned forward and covered his hand, which was resting on his knee, with hers. "I don't think so. At least, not completely. I think I'm something else altogether. I don't die, I don't age… I heal rapidly and I don't get sick. I can resurrect myself but its almost a conscious decision rather than an automatic thing. It's hard to explain. Anyhow, I knew all this when I found the Doctor before. I tried to tell him but he wouldn't listen. He was too busy running from me. So, I lived over in Pete's World; I watched my family grow old and pass away, I traveled, and I made myself useful."

"Were you happy?" he asked gently.

"Were you?" she replied and he watched her evenly. "You know how it goes. I had happy moments. I was happiest when I knew I was making a difference. Didn't leave much room for moping around. I had a ship and I had this," she said, lifting her wrist to show him her Vortex Negotiator. He raised an eyebrow at it. "I did okay. But then he comes swanning back in, expects me to be thrilled to have him there to rescue me, I guess. I basically told him to bugger off. It hurt, him leaving me. I wasn't interested in inviting that kind of hurt back in again."

Jack nodded, understanding. She went on to explain the rest of the events of the day before, from the Doctor's reaction to her age and condition, to their arguments, to the realisation that him coming to Pete's World had in fact destroyed that entire universe. A dark look traveled over her friend's features at this news. She continued, telling him how the Doctor had taken her aboard the TARDIS anyhow and how furious and grief-stricken she'd been. And though she was feeling more than a little ashamed about it now, she told him about how their rowing had led to them shagging each other right there in the console room.

At this news, Jack chuckled. "You two could never do things the normal way," he muttered.

"No, I suppose we couldn't," she agreed. "I let him know, after, that it didn't change anything with us. He was kind of surprised at that, actually. I think he thought it really would. I asked him to take me to you and so that's why I'm here."

"How did he know to find me here?" Jack asked.

Rose shrugged. "He said something had happened before, to Torchwood in Cardiff. He didn't tell me what. Then he said he could track your Vortex Manipulator and find where you were now, so that's what he did."

A sad expression crossed Jack's handsome features. "I thought about leaving Earth, you know. It hurt so much. But I decided I wanted to do some good. Kinda like you, I guess, I wanted to do something and make a difference," he told her. "When I saw you before, with the twenty-seven planets, I'd already lost most of my team."

She nodded and patted his hand again. "I remember. It had just happened for you, yes? How did they die?"

He told her about Owen and Tosh and their amazing sacrifices and their bravery at the end. And their love for one another that never really got a chance to take flight.

"After the twenty-seven planets, things went downhill pretty fast," he told her. "We were getting by, Mickey and Martha were doing great with Torchwood. Oh! I didn't tell you! They're together!"

"What?" Rose exclaimed.

"They're a proper couple! They worked with me at Torchwood and they ended up getting married. Can you believe it?"

"I really can't!" she said, laughing. "That's wonderful news, though!"

"Yes, it is," he agreed. "Mostly because they were on their honeymoon when the 456 happened, so they weren't there. If they'd been there, they might not be alive today." He quickly explained to her what had happened with the 456 and the horrible role he'd played in those events, starting with the encounter in 1965. His eyes teared up as he told her about the children and the fear and panic everyone felt. He told her about his daughter and grandson and about losing Ianto and how he'd felt the crushing weight of his guilt and loss when he'd woken up next to his lover's corpse.

Rose's heart when out to him, imagining everything he'd gone through and keenly feeling the ache of it all. When Jack got to the part where he'd finally figured out a way to defeat the 456 and save the children of Earth, he broke down into sobs. She held him, rocking gently, as he cried into her shoulder. She couldn't even fathom his loss and the weight of his decision.

"Have you been alone ever since?" she asked in a soft voice some time later, after Jack's sobs had mostly abated.

He sat back a little, wiping at his eyes. "I had to be," he said. "I couldn't bear what I'd had to do. Gwen and Rhys were trying to pick up their lives. She was expecting a baby for crying out loud. I couldn't burden them with my issues. And I couldn't bear to be around anyone else.

Crowds, cities… The government, heck, the world was pretty appreciative for what I'd done with the 456. They said I could have any position I wanted, anywhere in the world. I chose to come back to the States, to a remote post. The mountains sounded good, this is remote enough to give me the quiet I want but near enough to Lake Tahoe and civilisation that I don't go stir crazy either. The other guy who works this place with me, Jerry is his name, is on vacation this week. I don't mind being alone so much. But it also helps to be able to talk about it to someone."

Rose smiled gently at him. "You can always talk with me. I'll be here."

Jack smiled back. "Yeah, you will, won't you? I'd always thought the only other being who could understand me, who knew what it was like to live so long and lose so much was the Doctor. And he pretty much abandoned me. You remember how he was after the Crucible, accusing me of genocide. Do you know how many times I asked myself if that was why he didn't come help during the situation with the 456?"

Rose's breath caught as she looked at her friend. She didn't want to think it of the Doctor, even considering everything he'd done to her life lately, but at the same time she couldn't blame Jack one bit for wondering. "Oh, Jack," she whispered.

"Maybe if I hadn't destroyed the Daleks, Ianto would still be here," he said. His smile was wobbly and her heart broke for him.

"Please don't think that," she begged him. "It won't do you any good to think that."

He hugged her, pressing a kiss into her hair. "I know. But I did wonder. Anyhow, as I was saying, I thought the only one who could understand me was the Doctor and now here you are. Right when I need you the most."

She pulled back and smiled at him again. "And you're also here right when I need you the most. What can I say, Captain Jack Harkness, it was meant to be!"

His eyes twinkled at her and she saw a glimpse of the Jack she once knew. He was going to be okay and so was she. They might not have the Doctor, but they had one another.

In the weeks that followed, Jack helped Rose get back on her feet and she helped draw him out of the shell he'd surrounded himself with. She learned more about what had happened, how

Torchwood 3 had been blown up by the government by planting a bomb in his stomach. Just imagining the agony that must have been for him, coming back to existence after that, had her sobbing and hugging him to her and whispering constant apologies in his ear.

Jack helped her recalibrate her Vortex Negotiator, whistling over how much classier and more efficient hers was over his. He reassured her that she was doing the right thing with the Doctor. She was already starting to miss him and it hadn't even been a whole month yet and was beginning to wonder if she hadn't made a huge mistake by walking away from him. There was a niggling feeling, almost like an itch, that made her want to see him again. But Jack talked her down and assured her that she was doing what was right for her right now.

Jack found a group of friendly, traveling aliens for Rose to hitch a ride with. He made her promise to keep in touch with him somehow and if nothing else, they would reconvene here at the outpost. She promised to be safe and gave one of her oldest friends a huge hug goodbye. As she headed off into space once again, Rose hoped that Jack was right about the Doctor and that this would all get much easier with time.

Watching Rose embrace Jack on the TARDIS monitor after she'd walked away from him was one of the more difficult things the Doctor had ever done and that was saying something. The fledgling bond that was begging to be completed in his mind itched terribly at the merest idea of her with another man, even though he knew things were platonic between the two of them. After a moment, he couldn't take anymore and he'd dematerialised into the Vortex.

He'd remained there for a few days, sulking. The TARDIS had been sympathetic with him at first but eventually even she had grown weary of his moping. He could tell that she wanted him to do something but he didn't know what exactly. Finally, she gave him a gentle nudge to his mind and he knew it was time that he got back out into the universe.

The Doctor was still hopeful that Rose would come around and somehow try to find him when she was ready. He would pick up the occasional companion to travel with him but it was never the same as it had been with Rose. It wasn't even the same as it had been with Martha and Donna or any of the companions he'd traveled with so long ago. He kept himself apart, he knew that, but he preferred to have it that way. As he traveled about, doing the sorts of things that he did best, he started to worry that maybe Rose wouldn't know how to contact him if she wanted to. It's not as if he'd given her his phone number. It's not even as if he had a number to give her. And in his distress at her leaving, he hadn't explained their fledgling bond. She wouldn't know that all she needed to do was focus on him, call out with her mind, and he would get the message. It wasn't nearly as strong or easy to manage as if they had a full bond, but the groundwork was there.

It also didn't help that she didn't even know about it.

So the Doctor began to keep his eye out for Rose in his journeys. He did it casually at first. He would look for obvious signs of her, a head of blonde hair in a crowd, a story told amongst the natives. At first, he found nothing but eventually, stories began to filter their way back to him.

He'd hear tales about the yellow haired woman, sometimes accompanied by a tall, handsome and charming man (and it didn't take the Doctor three guesses to figure out who that would be), but sometimes alone. She would travel around, visiting and helping and being Rose. Many times, the Doctor would arrive somewhere to find that Rose had just been there before him. Whatever had been going wrong would already be taken care of and the locals would be singing her praises.

This happened so often, in fact, that the Doctor began to suspect the TARDIS was taking him to these places on purpose. His companions began to get suspicious after a few such stops, asking him questions he wasn't prepared to answer. The Doctor suspected that the TARDIS was letting him just miss her so that he could see the influence Rose was having on these other worlds. He thought it was cruel at first, but then he realised what the TARDIS was trying to show him. She wanted him to see how Rose existed outside of him. Humility had never been the Doctor's strong suit, no matter which incarnation.

From what she'd told him, this was what she'd been doing in Pete's World before he'd bumbled in and destroyed everything. Of course, she was the sort to pick up where she'd left off. From the stories he heard, it sounded as if Jack had been able to help her recalibrate her Vortex Negotiator. It didn't sound as if she had a ship of her own yet, he imagined that would take more time and money. Many of the stories had her hitching rides with other travellers or simply appearing with a flash of light and a whiff of ozone. That had to be the Vortex Negotiator.

There were other stories he kept hearing and he was trying not to pay too close attention to them. They told of a young, vibrantly beautiful blonde woman capturing the hearts of men and women across the galaxy. She never stayed in one place very long, of course, just long enough to make a lasting impression. One young woman had been more than happy to talk his ear off when he'd asked her about Rose. She'd met Rose when an evil despot had threatened to take over her planet's government and enslave the native people. Rose had swanned in and, according to this young lady, put an end to the whole farce with little more than a few fancy words and a large dose of charm. The despot had then willingly stepped aside and the native people had regained control of their own capitol. There'd been an enormous celebration after that, with Rose as the guest of honour. Men and women alike had lined up all night long just to get a moment with her to thank her in person and the young woman telling the Doctor this story had been lucky enough to get a "private audience".

The young woman was eager to give him a detailed accounting of what had happened during this "private audience", but he cut her off before she got too far into the retelling. He'd blushed furiously and thanked the young woman before hurrying out of the establishment.

Yes, it became apparent from the stories that Rose wasn't afraid to share herself along with her

world-saving talents. It didn't sound like anything excessive… a small mercy considering she was spending so much time with Jack Harkness. After all, she could have been taking a page out of his book.

But these sorts of stories, the ones that told of mostly friendly encounters, seemed to take place only very occasionally over the years he spent searching for her. In twenty years, he'd only heard of two encounters. In forty years, he'd heard of five. Why, by Captain Jack standards, that was practically celibate. And while Rose might not technically be human any longer, surely her system still contained human hormones and as the saying went (or at least used to go, it was hard to calculate these things as a time traveler), "a girl has needs".

What about a guy, then? The Doctor had needs too and he saw to them as he always had in the past. Interestingly enough, his encounters seemed to mirror Rose's, for the most part. Swan in, save the day, impress a lady or two, get properly "thanked" before scarpering back to the TARDIS. All in a day's work. Nice enough, but none of these encounters ever left him satisfied, not the way they had before he'd ever met Rose. And certainly not the way he'd felt after they'd shagged in the console room. The Doctor indulged in a little less variety than she did, but he'd always had something of a one-track mind and Rose apparently had a two-track mind. Both of them utterly paled in comparison to Jack Harkness, who had an all-track mind and in his travels and searching for Rose, the Doctor found more stories of Jack's conquests than he found of anything else.

Still, it prickled at the fledgling bond that was getting more and more demanding in his head. The thought of Rose with anyone else, casual or not, caused his hackles to raise. Even his own semi-regular excursions were becoming less and less fulfilling and more and more guilt-inducing. This couldn't go on much longer. He had to talk to her.

Finally, after an aching fifty years had passed since she'd walked out of his TARDIS, their paths finally overlapped. He was just coming out of his ship when he saw her across a field, talking to a few locals. She was clearly saying her goodbyes and he knew he needed to intercept her before she literally disappeared before his eyes.

The Doctor ran flat out, finally reaching her just as she turned from the small group of well-wishers. "Rose!" he gasped. She looked amazing, she always did, but he hadn't seen her in so long. Her hair was even longer now, reaching down her back in soft waves. She wore a no-nonsense outfit of jeans and a raglan shirt and had a small leather pack strapped to her back. Her trademark hooped earrings hung at her ears and her Vortex Negotiator glinted at her wrist.

She whirled around and their eyes met. He drew in a sharp breath at the almost electric connection that passed between them. She seemed to notice something similar as she jolted and tore her eyes away from his. "Doctor!" she finally returned, sounding equally breathless. "Fancy running into you here."

"I've been trying to catch up with you for forever, Rose," he told her. The people who had gathered, glanced at one another and wandered away. Clearly, what was happening here was a

private moment. "Please, can we talk?

"I was just about to leave," she said, gesturing towards the sky.

"Please," he repeated. "Some chips, perhaps?"

Rose paused for a long moment. She was looking at the horizon and he could barely remember the last time he'd seen her so conflicted. Finally, she seemed to shake herself out of it and she smiled briefly at him. "Sure. Chips it is and you're buying."

It seemed no matter where in any universe Rose Tyler went, there was always a chippy nearby. Or some place that served chips, which was nearly the same thing as far as she was concerned. She sat, huddled in a booth, while the Doctor stood at the counter, procuring them each a basket of chips.

It was probably stupid of her to agree to this. She didn't feel ready to deal with the Doctor just yet. Then again, it had been fifty years and if she wasn't ready now, she might never be ready. And there'd been that thing between them, after he'd run up to her. Whatever it was, it seemed to amplify that little tickling she felt at the base of her skull these days. And he looked so

damned good. His hair was as artfully tousled as ever, his eyes still held that impish twinkle she loved so much. Her fingers ached to dance along his sideburns and that strong jaw of his, feeling the coarse stubble there. When he'd asked to speak to her, despite the instinct to run as fast as she could from him, she'd also felt a strong compulsion to simply attach herself to him.

So chips had seemed a reasonable alternative.

The Doctor settled into the booth across from her, setting the steaming baskets down on the table. He looked good enough to eat, she thought, and so she forced her eyes onto her chips as she fixed them up with vinegar and salt.

They drifted into small talk. He asked her about Jack and she told him that she was keeping in touch with their old friend. Rose tried not to hint too heavily that the Doctor should reach out to Jack as well. The two men had never quite worked through their problems with one another. She asked him about the TARDIS and if he'd seen Donna or Martha lately. She'd gone back to 2011 about ten years back and seen Martha and Mickey but perhaps the Doctor had seen them more recently. He had; he'd stopped by their house for Christmas 2012 just last year and had met their new baby. Donna and Lee were doing well, according to him. They'd gotten married and had children right away. Things between him and the fiery ginger had improved, apparently, and Rose was glad to hear it. They had been best friends once upon a time and she didn't want to be the one to come between that.

This meeting was going pretty well, she thought, and she relaxed some as she chewed through her chips. She even laughed at some of his jokes and he smiled at her, that smile of his that she missed so much. Maybe it was past time that they reconnect.

"So what else have you been up to?" she asked him casually.

"This and that. Same old life, last of the Time Lords," he replied. The Doctor watched her closely. "You?"

Rose snorted. "I think you probably know," she said. "You've been following me, after all."

"You've been busy," he murmured, biting into a chip. She caught a flash of something in his eye at the words.

"So have you," she returned and she cocked an eyebrow at him when he looked up. "I might not be following you, but I still hear the tales," she pointed out.

The Doctor looked distinctly uncomfortable, a muscle in his jaw leaping and that tell-tale dimple at the corner of his mouth that only seemed to appear when he was feeling particularly aggravated.

"Are they as interesting as the ones I hear about you, I wonder?" he asked and his tone was biting. Rose's eyes narrowed.

"What are you talking about?" she asked slowly.

"It seems you have made quite a few friends in your journeys. Friends that aren't exactly discreet about your exploits." He pushed his mostly finished basket of chips aside, looking ill.

"Are you kidding me?" she asked, her jaw dropping open. "Please tell me you're joking. That you aren't pulling this bullshit jealousy thing here right now."

"How could I joke about it, Rose?" he asked her, his tone biting and his eyes glaring at her. "It seems you don't discriminate either, I've heard tales from women as well as men over the years."

Rose swallowed down the wave of hurt that flooded her at his words. He was judging her. Him, of all people. She'd known the Doctor could be thoughtless and impulsive but she'd never known him to be deliberately cruel. And right now, he was trying to hurt her and he was succeeding. "Doctor, that's enough," she warned him, her eyes now downcast as she struggled to keep her tears at bay.

"Maybe you've been taking some pointers from Captain Jack, eh?" he continued, seemingly unable to let it go now that he was letting it out. "Following in his depraved footsteps now? Are you going to turn into him next?"

Another stab of hurt and this time she felt it in her skull, in that place that she couldn't soothe and it nearly choked her. Anger joined her pain and she now glared at him, her own eyes flashing a warning, "I said, that's enough," she growled. The Doctor seemed to look startled, sitting back in the booth. "It's one thing to say these horrible things to me but you will leave Jack out of it."

He was still staring at her, wide eyed and open mouthed as she got to her feet. "This was a mistake," she mumbled. "I should have known better."

Rose marched out of the shop, letting the cool breeze dry the tears already falling down her cheeks and stinging her eyes. She cursed herself for allowing him to make her feel this way as her fingers danced over the Vortex Negotiator at her wrist. In a flash of golden light and twinkling mist, she disappeared from the planet.

The Doctor now hurried after Rose with new determination. He had to apologise for what he'd said to her in that chippy. He hadn't meant it; he'd just been so jealous and filled with images of her with other men and women that he had lashed out before he could stop himself. He'd felt her hurt and anguish along the fragile bond between them and it had brought him suddenly back to his senses.

The tears in her eyes and her trembling jaw as she stormed out of the chippy would have been enough to tell him how much he'd hurt her, even if he hadn't had the bond to fill in the blanks. The Doctor had feel like the lowest of the low and had rushed after her to apologise but she'd disappeared before he could catch up.

That was the story of his life these days.

A week later, he was lucky enough to catch up again, however. She was with Jack this time and he spotted the two of them across a crowded marketplace, examining some Nelosian trinkets and laughing together over some shared joke. The Doctor clenched his jaw and felt a tingling of annoyance.

Rose's head snapped up, as if she sensed his presence and his thoughts, and she spotted him directly. One nudge of her elbow to Jack's side and he looked up too. The other man leaned towards Rose's ear and murmured something. She nodded and after fiddling with her Vortex Negotiator, dissolved before his eyes in what looked to him like a cloud of huon energy particles.

Jack, however, straightened his shoulders and approached him with a stern look in his eye. "We need to have a talk," he told him.

The Doctor gave him a curt nod and followed him into a nearby alley where they could have some relative privacy. "How is she doing, Jack?" he asked.

"How do you think?" Jack snapped. "Listen, what you said really hurt her."

He hung his head. "I know that, Jack. I don't know what came over me."

"I've stayed out of whatever is the deal between you two so far, but if you can't even have a conversation with her without acting like a complete asshole, you and I are going to have a problem," Jack told him, his blue eyes flashing.

The Doctor had known that Jack and Rose were close these days. But he was a little surprised to see just how protective they were of one another. He tried to tamp down the flame of jealousy that threatened to flare up. Not only was Rose close to someone who wasn't him, but they had a comfortable relationship and the Doctor had, well, almost no one. His current companion was a girl from 1980's Scotland and while she was very nice, she was also so very distracted with her own life and her own problems. She'd asked to visit home earlier that day and so here he was, all by himself.

He was fine with keeping that distance. He got to travel the universe with someone else but not have to worry about getting too attached. It was ideal for him, really. Still, he missed the connections he used to have. It hurt when those connections were severed, of course, but while he had them, they were precious to him. He was realising now just how true that was. Without Gallifrey, he hungered for connections, somewhere and someone to belong to. Just after the war, he'd had Rose and he hadn't really thought much about it. She'd filled that need nicely for him. Then she'd been gone and he'd had Martha and Donna and they'd been brilliant as well.

Maybe he just needed to try harder with his companions. He didn't know anymore what the best answer was. Anytime he tried to over think it, he just ended up making the wrong decisions.

Meanwhile, Jack was still fixing him with a glare, waiting for his reply. The Doctor sighed. "I'll do better, I promise," he vowed.

"You better," Jack warned. "And if you can't, then you stay away from her."

He walked off, his greatcoat swirling around him as he strode out of the alley. The Doctor caught a white-blue flash indicating Jack had operated his Vortex Manipulator and was now gone. Stuffing his hands in his trouser pockets, the Doctor walked back to the TARDIS, having completely lost the desire to browse the marketplace.

Chapter 5

Chapter Summary

The Doctor makes a very unwelcome discovery but it leads towards a conversation that has been a long time coming.

***WARNING**** There's some developments in this chapter that might upset some. Please read at your own risk.

HUGE thanks to aintfraidanoghosts for the beta, littlewhomouse for the help with the banner, and fogsblue as this story would not exist without her.

The TARDIS was long overdue for a refueling. That was how the Doctor found himself piloting his ship to the rift outpost located in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. There were other rifts to refuel at, but none as large and efficient. Refuelling the TARDIS with rift energy could take upwards of a week, depending on the rift, but at this particular location he was able to fill up in just a few hours.

He'd gone too long between refuelling and the energy reserves were particularly low. The Doctor wasn't going anywhere until he got his girl all full up. Generally, he tried to schedule his visits to times when Jack wasn't around. It was probably a cowardly move on his part, but he wasn't interested in another confrontation if he could at all avoid it. Besides, he rather enjoyed the introverted Jerry, Jack's co-worker. The first time he'd come by for a fill-up, years before, Jerry hadn't shown much outward surprise at a big blue box parked outside the outpost and the tall, skinny alien that came with it. He'd invited the Doctor in and offered him coffee and donuts while he waited. The Doctor had thanked him for his hospitality and murmured something about,

"It's not tea and chocolate biscuits, but it'll definitely do." The next time he'd come by, a good 10 years later for him but just 6 months for Jerry, there had been tea and chocolate biscuits.

Bless that Jerry. He didn't talk much, but he listened when it mattered.

The Doctor flicked a few switches on the console, opening the TARDIS's energy hatches wide open so she could suck up the beautiful rift energy. He stepped out of the TARDIS, breathing in the fresh air. It was a warm day, must be the middle of summer, but there was still a breeze blowing through the pines. Then, locking the door behind him, he strolled up to the door of the outpost. Even if Jerry weren't there, if it was Jack instead, he could always ask what the latest word on Rose was.

He'd seen her over the last few years, of course he had. The TARDIS seemed to bring him to the places she was at more and more often now. And it felt wonderful to see her, even if it was just across a room. The Doctor hadn't really tried to talk with her again outside of friendly greetings in passing. Rose seemed to always be hesitant around him, unsure of how to act or what to say and some of that rubbed off on him. He knew he'd blown it a bit the last time they'd talked but he hadn't expected Rose to take so long to relax around him again. Maybe Jack would have some good advice for him or some insight at the very least. The Doctor snorted as he soniced the locked door of the outpost and pushed it open. He never would have figured he'd be going to see the rogue Time Agent for romantic advice.

The Doctor headed into the room and froze. A sight that he would never have wished to see greeted him. On the sofa against the west wall, Captain Jack Harkness was "entertaining" some company and both of them were quite without clothing. The Doctor couldn't get a clear look as Jack was on top and blocking the view, but he saw enough to ascertain that his partner was indeed a woman and she certainly looked human enough, which was a relief. He still recalled, a little too vividly, the time he'd walked in on Jack years and years and years ago when he'd been embroiled with a quadruped and that was an image he'd had in his head for far longer than he'd wanted to.

He was about to clear his throat or quietly back out of the room (he hadn't decided which quite yet), when he noticed something about the pair that made him pause. The woman… he now saw her blond hair fanned out on the sofa cushion, the curve of her cheek as she pressed her face into Jack's shoulder. In a flash, he saw a mole he remembered all well on the curve of her hip and familiar fingers pressing into the flesh of Jack's back. The sounds that had been filling the room; the hum of a radio, the squeaking of the springs on the sofa, the all-too-familiar female moans and the wet sounds of coupling faded away until all the Doctor could hear was his own harsh breathing and the doubled thump-thump of his heartsbeat in his ears.

He heard a voice, strangely distant and realised it was his own. The pair on the couch sprung apart. The Doctor had a moment to see Rose's tantalising curves before she was grabbing a blanket that lay spread across the back of the sofa, yanking it across herself. Jack was left to cover his dignity with a small throw pillow. They both were gaping at him; Jack looking wide-eyed and incredulous and Rose blushing and biting her lip. A pain pulsed in his chest and at the

base of his skull, leaving the Doctor gasping for breath as he turned and walked right out of the building, slamming the door behind him.

A few seconds later, the door flew open and Rose came running out after him. She was wearing just a long t-shirt that skimmed the tops of her thighs and her feet were bare on the pine needle strewn ground.

"Doctor! You're not running away now," she yelled after him. He paced in front of the TARDIS, knowing he couldn't leave yet and still wanting so desperately to get as far away from this scene as he could. He clenched his teeth and concentrated on not looking at her.

He heard Rose huff in annoyance as she marched up to him. "What are you doing here?" she asked, sounding worried.

Finally, the Doctor couldn't help it any longer and he looked at her. Her blonde hair was mussed, her face was makeup-free and luminous and her eyes were troubled and she was rubbing her own arms.

"Refuelling," he replied. "Rose, what… ! You and Jack…?" His voice cracked but he covered it as best he could with a cough.

"It's not what you think," she said.

"Yeah?" he said sharply. "And what do I think?"

Jack came running out then, buttoning his trousers as he came towards them. The Doctor's eyes flashed to him and he felt a growl building in his chest. The other man threw his hands up before him, palms out, as if he were indicating he was safe, that he was unarmed. Oh, he was armed all right.

"Doc, we can explain," Jack said and he wasn't sure if it was the calming voice he was using or the use of the pronoun "we" or the fact that he'd very much just caught him with his cock inside of the love of his life, but the Doctor wasn't the slightest bit soothed.

He also wasn't the least bit interested in being soothed either because he'd just about had enough of this whole scene. And if Jack took one more step towards him, Rassilon help him, he was going to lay him out with a punch to that pretty face of his.

As Jack moved cautiously closer in an effort to calm the Doctor's obvious rage, Rose watched the pair of them nervously. She could see the way the Doctor was tensing, his fists clenched

tightly. The Oncoming Storm was brewing in his dark eyes and Rose knew that a line had been crossed.

"You can explain?" the Doctor repeated icily. "How can you explain what I saw with my own eyes so clearly?"

"It's not... like that," Jack told him firmly.

"You two were shagging. How long has this been going on, hmm? Since Rose had me bring her to you almost seventy-five years ago?"

"No!" Rose denied. "It's only been once in a while, the last twenty years or so."

A shadow flickered over the Doctor's eyes as he considered that number in his mind. She knew he was thinking back to that disastrous conversation they'd had, when he had said such horrible things to her about her encounters and about Jack… It was the accurate conclusion to come to. It was after that scene that she'd first been intimate with Jack. But at the same time, he needed to know that it wasn't like what he was thinking either.

"Is that so," he murmured, his voice quiet, looking at her with an appraising eye.

"How could you Rose? I'd heard all those other stories but those were people you didn't know, didn't have a history with."

"It doesn't mean what you think," she protested. "It's just Jack. We're friends."

The Doctor scoffed. "Is that what you're telling me? Does this mean nothing to you, does giving yourself to someone mean nothing?"

Jack didn't seem to like the way the Doctor was looking at her. "Back off, Doc," he warned. "Leave her alone. Haven't you done enough?"

"You," the Doctor warned, pointing at him with a shaking finger. "I'm warning you, Jack, I don't want to hear it from you."

"No, I have the right to speak up," Jack replied. "Why should you care about who she sleeps with? You didn't care when you left her in an alternate dimension."

The Doctor moved so fast that she didn't even notice him move until his fist was already connecting with Jack's jaw. Jack stumbled backwards into the trunk of a pine tree and braced himself against it, glaring at the Doctor. Then he pushed off, moving swiftly towards the other man, landing his own blow across the Doctor's cheekbone, causing his head to snap back. He growled and made to move back towards Jack and Rose jumped in between them, placing a hand on each man's chest.

"Stop it! Both of you!" she shouted. The tendons on the Doctor's neck were standing out as he

gritted his teeth and he glared at Jack and she could feel Jack's muscles jumping underneath her fingertips. She turned to Jack then and smoothed her hands down his arms soothingly.

"I need to talk to him," she said quietly.

"Rose, I'm not sure that's a great idea," Jack replied, his voice strained. "He's obviously on the edge."

"I'll be fine," she assured him. "I trust him."

"What has he done in the last seventy-five years to earn that trust, Rose?" Jack asked her, rubbing her shoulders with his thumbs.

"It's complicated, Jack," she said, smiling. "You know that. You've always known that."

He huffed and looked over her shoulder to where she knew the Doctor was pacing agitatedly in front of the TARDIS, most likely watching them angrily. "Okay, but if you need me, I'll be right out here," he told her, tapping her on the nose with his index finger. She grinned.

"Thanks, Jack," Rose murmured, tipping up on her toes to press a chaste kiss to his cheek.

Then she turned back to the Doctor and fixed her expression to one of firm determination. "Okay, Doctor. You and I need to talk," she said, approaching him.

He nodded stiffly, torn between looking at her and glowering at Jack. "In the TARDIS."

Rose agreed and he turned around, opening the door and holding it for her. She stepped in, the first time she'd been in the TARDIS since she'd walked out of it almost seventy-five years earlier. It still looked the same, smelled the same, sounded the same. She breathed it in. It felt like home, as much as she hated to admit it.

The TARDIS hummed at her, her lights flashing happily and Rose couldn't hide her smile. She felt a warmth envelope her mind even as the cool interior caused goosebumps to rise on her arms. It felt good to be missed. Rose rubbed at her arms and the Doctor approached her, settling his long coat over her shoulders. Immediately, she was surrounded by his lingering warmth and his familiar scent of honey and bergamot and time. She closed her eyes momentarily and breathed it in.

"Why don't you have a seat?" he suggested. Rose could feel his hand just barely at the small of her back through the layers of coat and t-shirt. She fought back the urge to shiver as she crossed to the jump seat and perched on it. He stood across from her, leaning back against the console.

"Let me explain somethin', Doctor," she began. "Jack is special to me. He's my best friend in the universe."

"I thought I was your best friend," he said and he sounded nearly petulant. It was enough to make a smile tug at her lips.

"Doctor, we haven't been exactly close, you and I, the last several decades," she pointed out.

"Yes, because you left. You were the one that wanted that and I just went along with your wishes," he reminded her.

Rose shifted on the seat. "Okay, point taken. I had to leave though. Don't you see?" she asked, wanting him to understand. "You were going to smother me. You wouldn't have meant to but… you were in this spiral of taking charge and making these dangerous decisions and… It scared me, Doctor."

He looked down as he scuffed his trainers on the grating. "I know, I wasn't… That was a hard time, for me. I was desperate, Rose. I needed you," he admitted.

"Can you admit to me, at least, that you went about it completely wrong?" she asked him.

He nodded, looking up and meeting her eyes. "I should have been more careful, trying to get to you. I should have taken the time to make sure I wouldn't damage Pete's World. And I shouldn't have forced your hand when I was there and you said you didn't want to leave," he said earnestly.

"You shouldn't have lied to me on that beach, Doctor," she said softly. "All of this could have been avoided if you had just talked to me in the first place."

Rose watched as the Doctor squeezed his eyes shut. He seemed to be taking a few deep breaths and she knew what she'd said had affected him. But it was true and she wasn't going to start sugar-coating it now. It was a few long moments before he opened his eyes again and when he looked at her, he was composed once more.

"You and Jack. Do you love him?" he asked simply.

She exhaled noisily. "Jack is my oldest friend, besides you. He remembers me before and he's been there for me, without judgement, since. He understands when to listen and when to offer me advice and when I just need a hug. You know him, he's a very physical sort of guy. Even back on the TARDIS, he would often try to pull me." At this, the Doctor's eyes darkened and Rose chuckled. "I told him at the time that if he touched me, you would cut his hands off. And that he'd be lucky if that was the only thing you cut off."

The Doctor huffed but looked pleased to hear it. Then his expression shifted as he remembered how he had come across them. "So what changed?"

"A lot of things changed," she replied. "Myself included. I got used to a different sort of life there in Pete's World. It was very lonely and I had to make connections with people in order to

keep myself from losing my mind. I'm not like you, I can't just distance myself from others. It hurts to lose people, of course it does, but I found it was more important to hold onto that part of myself. And yeah, some of it was my humanity. I might not be exactly human, but I don't want to lose that need for other people. Can you understand that?"

"Once upon a time, I would have said no," he answered her, thoughtfully. "Humanity and their motivations were as foreign to me anything you could imagine. Here was a race of people ruled by their emotions and hormones and ingenuity. I suppose it's why I've always been fascinated with them. The more time I spend with humans, the more I think I understand them. But I'm not sure I understand this, Rose. You say that it's 'not what I think' with Jack? Tell me then, what do I think?"

"You think that I love Jack romantically, that I want to have a life with him and that he is my life's partner, or that I'd like him to be," she guessed, watching him carefully now. The Doctor's mouth was drawn up tightly and she could see the firm line of his jaw. "Am I right?"

He nodded stiffly. "Are you saying that's not how it is?"

Rose shook her head. "No. Not even close." He looked at her sharply, his eyes searching hers for any hint that what she was saying wasn't true. "Like I said, Jack is one of my oldest friends. We are a comfort to one another. You should talk to him sometime, listen to him, hear about some of the things he has been through. As lonely as I am and as much as I need… certain things… I think he has needed them more. And he needed to have that with someone who knew and loved him. I was happy to be that for him and he was happy to be that for me."

The Doctor straightened and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets as he paced around the console. Rose found she was holding her breath, anxious for what he thought and that surprised her. After everything that had happened between them, so long ago now, she thought she'd been through with him. She felt a tickling at the back of her head and an awareness spreading through her as she realised she would probably never be through with the Doctor. It was an unsettling thought, given their problems.

He stopped in front of her and now he was tugging on his ear in that adorable way that he had. "I'm so sorry, Rose," he murmured. Rose's mouth fell open. If he'd just told her that the moon was in fact made of cheese, she couldn't have been more surprised. The Doctor watched her reaction carefully and continued. "Time Lords weren't always the repressed, shut-off culture that they were there at the end. Gallifreyans, before Rassilon reformed things, were far more ruled by their primal instincts. That's part of why we reformed, because it was decided that our… baser instincts were dangerous. And they were right, in a way. Such strong instincts, uncontrolled, can be very dangerous especially in a species as powerful and long-lived as the Time Lords. But it's also wrong to try to just deny who we are on a fundamental level."

Rose wasn't sure where this was going, but she was very sure that he had a point. She settled back against the jump seat, content to listen. He leaned a hip against the jump seat next to her, almost as if he'd like to sit next to her but was hesitant to make the move. "Those instincts, what

Rassilon tried to eradicate from all Time Lords, were things like pride, possessiveness, lust, addiction… and, of course, jealousy. All these things my people felt so much more strongly than even you humans. It was interfering with our advancement so Rassilon 'civilised' us; he reformed us. With some Time Lords, the change took very well. With others…" He trailed off and looked at her sheepishly.

Rose couldn't hide her grin. "So, you're saying that you're just a jealous bloke? Blimey, I could have told you that."

The Doctor gaped at her, almost looking insulted. "Rose, I'm trying to explain why I've been so… out of hand with you. It's not easy," he admonished.

She schooled her features into a more serious expression. "Sorry, Doctor. It's just… I've known you were a jealous man, ever since we met. 'Rickey the Idiot'?, Adam? Scoffing at pretty boys? Am I ringing any bells?"

"Okay, okay," he grumbled peevishly. "You've made your point."

Rose reached out and touched his arm gently. "What I mean to say, Doctor, is that I know this about you. It's okay to be jealous," she told him. "But it's also important to talk about these things and not just let them overwhelm you."

"I know," he admitted. "But you have no idea how hard it is to hear that you've had… lovers over the years. And then to see you and Jack…"

"Are you telling me that you haven't sought out companionship yourself?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him. His eyes skittered away from hers. "I know you have, I've heard stories too."

"Rose," he began, sounding pained.

"How is that any different?" she asked.

"It's not, I suppose. Because, it was like you said, companionship. Loneliness. Good old fashioned need," he muttered.

Rose smiled ruefully at him. "We're rubbish, you know that?"

"I would have much rather have had you," he told her, his voice deep and rumbling and Rose felt a quiver low in her belly.

"Me too," she whispered, watching his mouth for a moment before shaking herself out of the reverie she'd nearly allowed herself to fall into. "But that wasn't a good idea. Considering our issues."

The Doctor sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. "I've been wondering, actually, why

you… that day in the TARDIS, when I brought you back from Pete's World… We had sex, Rose. Why? And why did you push me away after?"

He was looking at her with such a broken expression and it made her heart twist. "I didn't mean to do that with you," she admitted. "I got swept up and it was irresponsible of me to… encourage you like that. I'm sorry."

His expression fell and Rose felt even worse. "Are you saying that you… that you didn't want that? You didn't want me?"

She wasn't explaining this very well. She pushed off the jump seat and now it was her turn to pace around the console. The Doctor settled onto the jump seat, looking very deflated.

"I'm saying that I wanted it too much, I wanted you too much… And it wasn't right. Not like that. It shouldn't have happened because I was angry and feeling too much and… It wasn't fair, to you or to me."

He met her eyes with his. "It was the greatest moment of at least several hundred years for me," he told her earnestly. "It meant something to me."

Rose sighed and rubbed a hand over her eyes. "It meant something to me too, and that's the problem. Because it would have been so easy to just stay with you after that. I would have ignored the fact that you continually make these big decisions for me and I think I would have resented you for that eventually. I couldn't trust you to let me live my life on my own terms, Doctor."

The Doctor looked pained. "I just wanted what was best for you, Rose."

"I understand that, but you need to let me decide that too! I'm not a child and I'm not stupid."

"I know that," he insisted.

"I think you forget," she argued. "I would love to travel with you if you'd let me just travel with you, and not behind you."

Rose stopped pacing in front of him and took in his expression. The Doctor was staring at her, eyes wide and searching. "Do you mean it?" he asked, his voice a breath. "You would travel with me again?"

She chewed her lip and considered. After everything that had happened with them, could she even think about it? She definitely wanted to, more than anything else. She missed the TARDIS and the adventures she had always taken them on almost more than she missed anything she'd else she'd lost in her life so far. Sure, she liked traveling on her own, meeting different species and helping out where she could, being her own boss and seeing the universe on her own terms. But there was something missing.

"There's a lot of things you need to get across this universe… warp drive, wormhole refractors…" she murmured almost absently. "You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold."

The Doctor's features smoothed and he smiled at her, clearly remembering having told her the very same thing so long ago for both of them now. "Yes, you do," he agreed.

"The thing is… I don't know if I can trust you, Doctor," she said. "I'm not sure if I want to trust you, yet."

"All I can do is promise to try, Rose," he pointed out. "And I will try. I think it's worth trying, don't you?"

She'd spent many years convincing herself that her time with the Doctor was better left in the past where it belonged. She'd been complete rubbish at it, of course. Thoughts of him snuck into her head every day despite herself. Somedays it was as simple as remembering something he'd said or shown her. Other days, it was complicated and she remembered every touch of his fingers and tongue and the way that they had fit together so perfectly, if just for a moment. Once upon a time, she'd thought if she could just get him out of her head and move on with her life, that it'd be easier and she could move on. Apparently, that plan wasn't working so well and it was time she admitted that perhaps she would never get the Doctor out of her head.

"I think maybe… it might be worth trying, Doctor," Rose finally said, exhaling as she did so. "Clearly, trying to forget you isn't working."

The Doctor chuckled, the crinkles around his eyes standing out and causing such a twinge of fondness in her chest that she had to quell the urge to reach out and smooth them with her fingers. "I could have told you that, Rose Tyler."

"I'm just not ready for… anything else," she admitted, and she ducked her head. She didn't know why she felt embarrassed to admit that. Here she was, Rose Tyler, Defender of the Universe and she was head-shy around a bloke? It didn't matter that that bloke was the Last of the Time Lords, he was still a bloke. It felt suspiciously like weakness.

He bobbed his head, a little too enthusiastically for it to be completely casually. "Yes, of course. We can even… start over? Right from the beginning," he suggested and the hopeful note in his voice made her smile.

"Do you think we can?" she asked, quirking an eyebrow. Rose doubted her own ability to keep things neutral and she was pretty sure she had excellent self-control.

"Yes, I do," the Doctor replied firmly. At her continued questioning look, he sighed, exasperated. "Rose, I'm a thousand years old. I do have some self-control."

Rose grinned and he grinned back. "Okay," she agreed. "But can I have some time to think it over? I don't want to rush into anything and I just want to… make sure."

"Sure, you can have all the time you need," he assured her, standing up from the jump set and standing before her. The Doctor seemed like he might like to hug her but he was unsure about making the move.

"I appreciate it," she murmured. "I'd like for us to be friends again, maybe? If we can?"

She watched the movement of his adam's apple as he swallowed. "Sure, Rose. We can be the best mates ever."

They both chuckled and Rose knew he was thinking the same thing she was. They'd need more than just luck and whatever self-control they could muster to make this work. But the Doctor was right, it was worth trying for. She'd go talk with Jack, make sure he understood where she was coming from and that she would be okay. She would take a quiet day alone to centre herself. Rose had taken to meditation in the intervening years and had found that when her emotions were in turmoil, the calmness that meditation provided always grounded her and helped her to refocus.

But… first things first.

Rose moved forward and before she could second guess herself, she wrapped her arms around the Doctor, pulling him into a familiar hug. He held himself stiff for a moment, clearly hesitant about making a wrong move. But his wavering only lasted a moment before he was wrapping his arms around her in return. As he squeezed her, so much the way he used to, she could hear just the hint of that happy noise she used to love to hear him make in the back of his throat.

She let go of him before he let go of her and he stepped back, nervously clearing his throat. Shrugging out of his coat, she handed it back, almost reluctant to lose the warmth and aroma. He accepted it and looked just as reluctant. Rose smiled and said her goodbyes to both him and the TARDIS. She walked out the doors feeling more optimistic than she had the last time she'd walked out of this beautiful blue box. Nothing was really solved, not yet, but she felt a little better about the road she was headed towards at least. Rose walked back towards the outpost as the TARDIS dematerialised behind her. She wanted to share with Jack what she and the Doctor had talked about and discuss with him what she was thinking Perhaps he would have some insight for her.

Chapter 6

Chapter Summary

It's a fresh start for Rose and the Doctor. They embark on new adventures together, hoping to work through the many issue that they still have between them

BIG thanks to aintfraidanoghosts for looking at the chapter for me, to fogsblue for being the constant inspiration and to littlewhomouse for her help with the banner. :)

Rose double checked her duffle bag. She didn't have many belongings to pack, just what little had been in her pack when she'd left Pete's World for good and the few things she'd picked up here and there over the years. It was a fairly transient lifestyle that she led these days and as she hadn't quite gotten around to purchasing her own transport yet, so she had no place to

gather things. That was just fine with her, for the most part. She had her photos of her family and some clothes to wear and her favourite hairbrush and what else did a girl really need? Anything else was completely replaceable.

Still. It might be nice to have a place to belong to again. She hadn't had that in a long, long time.

Rose looked out the window at the crystal blue lake. It was autumn in the Sierra Nevada mountains and the weather was just starting to change. She'd been up here in these mountains enough times lately that she was familiar with all the seasons and was convinced there was no time of year that this location wasn't absolutely gorgeous. She was staying at a hotel in South Lake Tahoe since she'd spent the last couple of days with Jack. She had wanted more room to spread out in than just that little observational post he called home fifty percent of the time. It

was a nice room: Jack had insisted on her letting Torchwood foot the bill and once she'd seen the gorgeous view and the soft white linens, she'd stopped arguing.

It had been a little over a month since she'd had her big conversation with the Doctor. Rose had done just what she'd said she was going to do. After she'd told Jack all about the conversation, his initial reaction had been to advise her not to travel with the Doctor again. He'd been concerned about her, naturally. After some more discussion and explaining how she felt things were unfinished between her and the Doctor, Jack had finally admitted that it was probably the best idea for moving their troubled relationship forward. Still, Rose had wanted to make sure she was doing this for the right reasons. Her instincts seemed to be shouting at her to run back to the TARDIS, and Rose had learned to trust her instincts more than anything else.

Then again, her hormones had been shouting pretty loudly as well and she wanted to make sure it was her instincts telling her to go with the Doctor and not just said raging hormones. She also needed to make sure that she could control those hormones. Rose had been serious when she'd told the Doctor that she wanted to be friends with him. And only friends. He'd suggested starting over and that seemed like the best solution. Now, she didn't want to shut the door of possibility on their relationship growing into something else. But if it did, she wanted it to because of who they were now and not who they'd been then.

Finally, she'd felt sure that her decision was a sound one. She'd come here to Lake Tahoe again, to visit with Jack and to call the Doctor and let him know she was ready to travel. He was going to pick her up here at the hotel, in fact. Rose checked the clock on the bedside table. She'd better get down to the courtyard since he was due to arrive any minute now.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than a familiar wheezing noise filled the room. Rose watched, amused, as the familiar blue box materialised in the corner of her room, right next to the television set. She should have known he would have been eager enough to just come to the room. Some things never changed.

The doors creaked and a familiar head poked out. "Oh! Hello!" the Doctor greeted, and he had the biggest grin on his face. It was hard not to match it with her own. "Oooh, nice view!" he remarked as he stepped out and looked toward the window she'd been gazing out of.

"Yes, it is," she agreed.

"So," he said, drawing out the vowel and ruffling a hand through his hair. "You called and I can only assume this means that… you want to travel with me?"

He sounded so hopeful that it tugged at her heart. Rose smiled at him, "I told you so, didn't I?" she teased. "A few ground rules first though."

The Doctor nodded seriously and sat on the edge of the bed, the very picture of studied concentration. Rose stood before him, leaning back against the dresser with her arms crossed over her chest. "Okay, first things first: No making decisions for me. You do that, it's a deal

breaker. I'm out of there."

"I said I would try, Rose," he reminded her. "I don't know if I can promise."

"Fine. Just so long as you know I'm out of there if you decide for me without consulting me." She paused and he looked a little troubled at her declaration but she pressed ahead. "Secondly: we are starting over. That means we're just mates. You have to leave what happened between us in the past, okay? I'm going to try to do the same."

"I can agree to that," he said. "But what if… one of us starts having feelings?"

Rose rolled her shoulders. "Then we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," she said. "What about you? Do you have any ground rules?"

"I don't want any pretty boys on the TARDIS," he pronounced and Rose's eyebrows shot up.

"I suppose," she murmured thoughtfully. "But you just mean no shagging on the TARDIS, right? Off it is fine? A girl has needs, you know." She was teasing of course, wanting to see if she could still get a rise out of him. She wasn't disappointed.

The Doctor looked horrified and she almost laughed at his expression. He schooled his features quickly but still looked sullen as he clarified, "How about we just agree no bringing any strays on board?"

"Deal," she agreed.

"And no wandering off," he added, shaking a finger at her.

Rose gaped at him. "I didn't wander off half as much you just left me behind!"

He opened his mouth to argue but then seemed to think better of it. The Doctor scuffed his trainers against the carpet for a moment before replying. "We'll both not wander off, how about that?"

Rose thought it was doubtful but she nodded. "Sure."

"Is that enough rules, now?"

"I think so."

He stood up and grabbed her duffle bag before gesturing towards the TARDIS. "After you, my dear," he offered.

She quelled a chuckle at his chivalry. He was really trying hard, she could tell. Chivalry wasn't exactly the Doctor's strongest trait. Tilting her head at him, she walked ahead of him into the

TARDIS. Like before, the lights dimmed and brightened and the hum deepened. She was being welcomed home and perhaps this time it was for good. Rose hoped so, at least, and she had a feeling that the TARDIS hoped so as well.

She strode up the ramp to the console and rubbed a hand along the smooth edge, dancing her fingertips over some of the controls. A warmth touched her mind and there was once a time that such a sensation would have caused her alarm. Now, she welcomed it; embraced it. She distinctly saw an image of two old friends hugging in her mind's eye and Rose smiled fondly at the sentiment. She sent her own image back, a vision of a woman spinning in place, her arms wide, a grin stretched across her face. The TARDIS trilled in her mind; it was a happy sound.

When Rose looked back up, she saw the Doctor following her up the ramp with her duffle bag in hand. He was staring at her with such wide and incredulous eyes. Clearly, he had seen some of reunion with the TARDIS, maybe he'd even felt it in his mind since she was fairly sure he was bonded to the TARDIS. She had to remind herself that he probably wasn't very aware of her enhanced telepathic abilities. They hadn't really talked about it, there hadn't been time. He dropped the bag unceremoniously at her feet, staring at her still.

She flushed. "Why don't you take a picture, it'll last longer," she muttered peevishly.

"Were you… talking with my TARDIS?" he asked.

"Of course, I was. Old friends saying hello and all," she replied breezily.

"Rose… I know you've probably already done this all before but please, humour me," the Doctor said. "Can I check you out in the med bay? I'll feel so much better if I know what's going on with you now. Physically."

Rose made a face. He was right, she had done all that before. She didn't think he would learn anything she wasn't already well aware of herself but knowing the Doctor and his endless curiosity as well as his propensity to sulk when he didn't get his way, she knew it would just be easier in the long run to go along with him. "All right, Doctor. Lead the way."

She followed him dutifully. The med bay, like everything else on the TARDIS it seemed, was just as she remembered it. She perched on the exam table while the Doctor collected his scanners and other examination equipment. He murmured to her as he ran his tests, checking all her vitals, taking a swab of her cheek and collecting a sample of her blood to study under a microscope. He was quick and efficient and she was grateful for that. If there was one thing Rose hated these days, it was feeling like a test subject. She'd gone to great lengths to avoid being in that position, after all.

While he examined the results of his findings, she talked to him about some of the things she'd done recently. He seemed to like to hear about the planets she'd visited that he'd also been to in his travels. It was an interesting thing, having common experiences with the Doctor. It made Rose feel like they were finally on more even footing. Her inexperience and lack of knowledge

had never been a problem for him before, she'd known that much, but it had made her feel like a bit of a "stupid ape". Now, she felt like she'd had enough experiences on her own that she could finally relate to him as a peer and not just as an authority figure. The Doctor was always sort of the "designated driver" and he'd always been responsible for her in some way no matter what their feelings for one another were.

"Well," the Doctor finally said, adjusting the glasses on the end of his nose as he peered at a print out, "I can safely say now that I've never seen anything quite like you before, Rose Tyler."

"I should hope not," she quipped, grinning crookedly at him.

"You bear a lot of similarities to an advanced human being, but you also have some traits in common with Gallifreyans. And there's other stuff in you that is unlike anything else," he told her.

"Bad Wolf," she replied knowingly.

The Doctor nodded. "Yep. Bad Wolf. I can't reason out the whys and hows… such as why you have the vascular system of a human being but the cellular regeneration and DNA markers of a Gallifreyan… But it seems to be working for you and you are stable, so I guess we just go with it."

Rose chuckled. "I've been 'going with it' for over 200 years now, Doctor. I'm not saying that the first time I died wasn't a shock for everyone but I've certainly gotten much more efficient with that." She paused and noticed his dumbstruck expression. "What?"

"You've… died?" he gasped out and his face was pale as ash.

She hadn't even considered that the news of this would bother him and she felt a pang of guilt. "Just a few times is all," she said with a shrug.

"Rose! You've died!" he cried and his eyes were wild as he stared at her. "You can't just… Stop being so cavalier about it! You don't know how your lifeworks now, you don't know when you might be killed for good. You have to be careful!"

"I am plenty careful!" she argued, getting a little annoyed in the face of his concern. "But listen, in that other world I had no one else. My family was gone and all I had was the good I could do out there in the universe. If I died while helping others, then so be it. And don't you dare pretend for a second that you haven't felt that way yourself. I bloody well know that you have."

The fight seemed to drain out of him as his shoulders slumped. "Fine. Just… Can you promise me that you'll try to be more careful from now on? Because I care if you die. I'm here now, and I care."

Rose sighed and then smiled tentatively at him and he smiled back tightly. "I'll do my best," she

promised.

In the beginning, it was very much just like it had been when they'd first begun traveling together. The Doctor kept to his room and the console room mostly, while Rose watched movies in the media room or read books in the library or worked on redecorating her room in the TARDIS. Her old room was painfully out of date, at least by her standards. With help from the sentient ship, she was able to change the walls from a soft lavender to a more sophisticated pale grey. Instead, she chose to use some pink accents here and there throughout the room, a pillow here, a throw rug there, a light fixture there.

Her renovations kept her busy during their downtime, which mercifully was few and far between. The Doctor kept them on a tight schedule of adventures, probably hoping to ease over any awkwardness between them with plenty of activity and excitement. It worked, for the most part.

One of their first adventures happened when the Doctor accidentally landed them on the planet Ensoumer instead of Esoume like he'd intended. They quickly learned that Ensoumer was a media-obsessed culture who had a particular fondness for old Earth reality television programmes and liked to force non-natives to participate in their games for the entertainment of their citizens. They'd found themselves thrust into a slightly altered version of the reality television show "Survivor", which would have been awkward enough if they'd been on opposite tribes or even the same tribe. But this game was pairs instead of tribes and they were paired together for four weeks.

All that meant they had a lot of time to spend together, which wasn't exactly unusual from all the time they spent together on the TARDIS, but this was still different somehow. It was televised, for one thing, which made both of them act a little more stiffly with one another than they might have otherwise, at least initially. For another thing, there was something about sharing a dinky rudimentary shelter together that was far more intimate than the spacious living conditions on board the TARDIS. The tension between the two of them was palpable within one day and only grew during the duration of the month.

The challenges they had to compete in against the other pairs were ridiculously easy for them, even without the Doctor's sonic screwdriver (it had been confiscated, along with the TARDIS, as soon as they had landed). Where the Doctor maybe lacked some of the agility and more aggressive skills, such as archery, he excelled at the puzzles and strategising. Rose picked up his slack, being a natural at archery and swimming and anything that required stealth. They were both marvellous at endurance and easily won the last challenge, outlasting the remaining team by standing on a log without moving for a good six hours with plenty of endurance left to spare.

The upside was that they were not only winners of the game in the end (and therefore allowed to leave the planet), but they'd had a crash course in working together again. They'd been awkward together at first but by the end, the Doctor and Rose were a well oiled machine. The downside, of course, was that tensions between them were reaching unbelievable levels. Rose knew he'd caught sight of her without her top on more than once and he'd noticed her watching his bum at almost every challenge. Then there were the nights they'd fallen asleep, side by side, only to wake up wrapped around each other, legs hopelessly entangled and arms wrapped around one another. After about the fifth morning of that, they stopped acting embarrassed around one another but Rose had noticed the Doctor giving her quite a few long looks after that.

She reminded herself that sexual tension had always been a large part of their relationship, even when they'd been fairly new to traveling with one another. Rose could still recall, with startling clarity, the smouldering looks the Doctor had given her on just their second adventure together to 1869 Cardiff when she'd worn that beautiful period dress. She could also remember how she'd felt that night back in her bedroom on the TARDIS as she tried to imagine that her fingers belonged to the Doctor.

Rose guessed that a little sexual tension was appropriate, in that regard. And yes, it was time for a repeat performance the first night they were back in the TARDIS after their "Survivor" debacle. This time, she had electronic help courtesy of a sex-shop on twenty-fourth century Earth, but it was the same thing in the end. She was able to work out her frustrations while thoughts of the Doctor filled her mind.

The next morning, the Doctor had barely been able to meet her eye over their bowls of cereal in the galley. Rose had a moment's horror at the thought that he'd known what she'd been doing in her room, before she realised that she didn't really care if he did know or not. In fact, she rather hoped that he did know. It would serve him right, after everything, knowing what she was doing without him there. That's even if he was still interested in her that way.

They hadn't really discussed their… feelings for one another. It had been a long time since they'd shagged that day on the TARDIS. Rose was relatively certain he still had feelings for her, that he probably still wanted her at least a little. But she wasn't entirely sure. Since she'd stepped back on board, a veil had been drawn over the past. They'd agreed to start over, so that was probably for the best. It still was strange though, to go from talking frankly about the status of their relationship to tip-toeing delicately around it.

It was strange, and perhaps, a little thrilling, in a way.

Rose could hardly be blamed if she enjoyed the idea of the Doctor being deliciously tormented with the knowledge of her… activities while alone in her room. She wondered, for a moment, about his activities while alone in his room. Did the Doctor… wank? The image that flooded her mind at that thought was so completely exciting and thrilling that she felt a flush cover her cheeks.

Just like old times, however, she didn't have much time to dwell on such thoughts before the

Doctor was spinning them away on another adventure. Their next landing found them on a war torn planet, Beltextra, at the edge of another galaxy. The Doctor explained to her that this civilisation had been locked in bitter civil war for so long now that those fighting no longer knew the original reason they'd gone to war. Apparently, at least according to him, the fight had begun when the West had insisted that the East had stolen their supply of cheese. Of course, as it turned out, the cheese had disappeared because the West had gotten rid of all their milk producing livestock, claiming they were dirty and cumbersome creatures to keep. The East had kept their livestock and therefore still had plenty of cheese. It was a really stupid reason for a war, admittedly, but apparently these were really stupid people.

Of course, the Doctor had an easy fix for the whole conflict, involving bringing over some livestock from the East to the West where they could breed and produce milk and cheese could once again be produced. Before he was able to manage this, however, Rose got caught in the crossfire of an impromptu gunfight. Her injuries weren't bad enough to trigger her regenerative properties, but they were enough to lay her low for a few days. She healed easily enough but apparently there was a strain of bacteria on this planet that her body was unfamiliar with. The resulting infection kept her bed-ridden as her body adjusted to fighting off the effects. The military physicians had assured both her and the Doctor that Rose only had a day or so to live. Apparently, when their people were struck with this infection it was only a matter of time before the aggressive bacteria overwhelmed their physiology. Of course, Rose was another case altogether and she amazed the doctors and nurses with the quickness of her healing. Though she quickly improved in health, she was still not ready to leave bed and was getting rather frustrated. She knew the Doctor was out there, solving this ridiculous conflict, and she wanted to be a part of it with him. On her last day of confinement, he came swaggering in, all grins, and pronouncing the day as being saved. She fixed him with a glare and told him that next time she would be doing the day-saving, thank you very much. He chuckled as he helped her from the bed on legs that were still just a bit weak.

Rose was able to keep her word, as it turned out. The next planet they visited unearthed a dangerous and potentially timeline-disrupting assassination plot against the popular king there. The plot wasn't the trouble, as it turned out, so much as the Doctor's unconscious flirting with the king's very beautiful and eligible daughter. If Rose hadn't been there herself to witness it, she might have doubted his protestations of innocence. In actuality, all he had done was compliment the princess on her lovely beaded handbag. It just turned out that such a compliment was equal to making a very lascivious proposition in that culture and the Doctor was promptly thrown in the gaol for his audacious impropriety. Rose knew she could get him out right away, but she was still feeling a little annoyed at being stuck in that hospital bed for the duration of their last adventure so she left him to sit in the gaol while she sorted out the assassination attempt.

After everything was taken care of and the king had showered Rose with praise and gratitude, she decided to take care of the Doctor. She broke in to the gaol late at night after the rest of the palace had gone to sleep. She found him, huddled in the corner of his cell, sulking and looking generally miserable. He looked very relieved and happy to see her, at least until he caught the smug look on her face. Then the sulking was back in full force. Rose laughed as they ran back to

the TARDIS together and the Doctor vowed never to compliment another woman on her choice of handbag ever again.

They spent a few days in the Vortex after that, relaxing and recuperating, before setting off on their next adventure. This time, he was promising to take her to see the signing of the First Intergalactic Alignment Treaty in 5479. He promised her that the experience was quite unlike anything she'd probably studied in school as a child as intergalactic politics put simple Earth politics to shame with their complexity. She assured him that she'd probably long since forgotten anything they tried to teach her way back then. He gushed about Joriah Scott, whom he declared a personal hero of his.

"He was an inventor, Rose, and a brilliant mind," he enthused, setting the coordinates into the TARDIS console. "I can't wait to properly meet him!"

Rose had to chuckle. If there ever was a history fanboy, it was the Doctor. Even if it wasn't quite history from her perspective. At least the chances of him running of and snogging this influential figure were pretty low. Though when he told her what a ladies man old Joriah had been, she wondered if she might not end up being the one fending off advances this time around.

As it turned out, she was quite right to wonder.

The Doctor didn't want to admit out loud how much he was enjoying traveling with Rose again lest he jinx the whole thing. It wasn't just like it had been before. It was similar in small and lovely ways, but in other ways it was different and better. Rose proved to be a valuable resource. She always had been, of course, and that hadn't changed. But she brought with her some expertise she might have lacked before that had proven helpful in some of their adventures so far. He was glad for the help and had to admit that for the first time in so very long, it felt like maybe the weight of the universe didn't rest solely on his shoulders.

Their little "Survivor" adventure had definitely tested his self control. Sharing sleeping quarters with her like that had been just about unbearable. Waking up with the scent of her filling his nostrils every morning and being unable to do anything about it had been akin to torture. If there'd been any question of whether or not he still desired her before their detour to Ensoumer, that question was handily laid to rest. Plus, he had reason to believe that regardless of the depth of her feelings about him, or lack thereof more specifically, she still desired him too. There'd been that night after Ensoumer, back on the TARDIS, when he'd felt arousal pulsing strong and clear through the fractured and incomplete bond that still resided in his mind.

Oh, and that had been a revelation indeed. Firstly, that she thought of him like that, that she desired him enough to entertain thoughts of him while she pleasured herself had amazed him.

That knowledge alone had nearly driven him to the edge. It had required all his of his remarkable self-control to stay out of her room and not storm in there and take what his body was screaming out to him was his. Secondly, it appeared that their fledgling bond was strengthened significantly by physical proximity as well as the depth of emotion being felt by either party. That bit made him a tad nervous and he wondered if he would be able to keep the half-formed bond's existence a secret much longer. If Rose found out about it now, she would likely be very angry and they would be right back where they started. He didn't want to risk all the progress they'd made recently.

The Doctor continued to tread lightly around Rose, ever careful to keep things as casual between them as he could. He held her hand now and then, indulged in the occasional celebratory hug, but he was careful not to take it any further than that. It was Rose's wish that they remain just friends and if she changed her mind on that, that was one thing. He certainly wasn't going to potentially ruin things just because he was feeling frustrated and impatient.

Then there'd been that blasted civil war on Beltextra over cheese of all things. He'd thought it was going to be a cut and dry situation. He and Rose would go in, sort things out, and be back at the TARDIS in time for tea. But then she'd gotten caught in that crossfire and while he hadn't worried as much about how she'd recover from the gunshot wounds, the aggressive infection that had set in almost immediately had done a number on his nerves. He'd ended up having to leave the hospital as soon as Rose had regained consciousness for fear that he would show her how upset the whole thing had made him.

The whole experience was proof that while Rose had remarkable regenerative abilities, she was not completely infallible. And he really didn't know what might actually kill her. Her whole existence was a bit of a question mark and that made him feel very, very nervous. The Doctor had done an admirable job at hiding his fears, however. When he'd returned to the hospital a few days later, Rose had been restless and irritable and if he'd hugged her a little tighter than he normally would have, she didn't notice or say anything about it.

Their next adventure had been a bit embarrassing for him. He'd always bragged to Rose about how proficient he was on the customs and cultures of all these different plants and then he went and got himself arrested for complimenting a princess's handbag. It was humiliating. Honestly, if he was going to be thrown into a gaol for treasonous impropriety, he'd rather liked to have felt that he earned it properly. Though, truth be told, the only person he was interested in indulging in impropriety with these days was Rose. He had plenty of time to think about all the ways they could get arrested for impropriety while he waited for Rose to break him out. He would have gotten himself free if they hadn't nicked his sonic screwdriver, he reminded her as she opened up the door to his cell. She'd had the forethought to reacquire it for him and she tossed it back to him with a smug grin that he longed to wipe off her face with a thorough snog.

But he resisted and he rather thought he deserved some sort of medal for that.

The Doctor decided he wanted to take Rose to see an important moment in history next. Well, not her history. More like the future, actually. He'd always admired Joriah Scott and other than

briefly in passing when he was a previous incarnation, the Doctor had never really had a chance to get to know the man. Mr. Scott was responsible for aligning all the human settlements together into one federation in the year 5479. And not just that, but he was responsible for any number of significant discoveries and inventions that helped propel the human race further into space than ever before. He was a bit of a futuristic Ben Franklin, actually, and that's what convinced Rose in the end. She'd always wanted to meet old Ben, she told him with a wink and a grin.

The signing of the First Intergalactic Alignment Treaty in 5479 seemed like the perfect sort of outing for them to partake in. There was little chance for trouble and lots of fantastic influential figures to meet. They wouldn't even have to leave Earth and Rose always seemed pleased to see what Earth cities looked like in the future. This particular event was going to happen in Seattle, Washington and she told him she'd never been there, in the future or in the past. And that was another reason this would be the perfect outing. He did so love to make Rose Tyler happy, after all.

Of course, when did everything ever turn out the way he hoped it would? He was blaming this one entirely on the TARDIS, as he was completely certain that it was her meddling that landed them thirty-four years earlier than he'd been aiming for. And so it was the TARDIS he was going to blame for the fact that Joriah Scott was snogging his Rose.

Chapter 7

Chapter Summary

The Doctor is feeling jealous and the tension between him and Rose is coming to a boil.

BIG thanks to fogsblue for her continued support and to littlewhomouse for helping with the banner!

Until he had met Rose Tyler, the Doctor could probably count on one hand the number of times he'd been jealous in all his many lives. Maybe on two hands at the most. Most Time Lords didn't experience jealousy at all, so he had already been bucking the norm as it was. Then Rose came along, wormed her way into his psyche, and suddenly jealousy was an ever-present emotion for him, simmering just under the surface.

Right now, the Doctor was experiencing very sharp jealousy. The TARDIS had landed them years and years before the signing of the First Intergalactic Alignment Treaty. Finding and meeting Joriah Scott hadn't been difficult at all, as it turned out. He was a fixture in Seattle society and had his finger in many different pies there. The Doctor had been so excited to meet him, this fellow man of philanthropy and science. And then… Mr. Scott had gone and flirted with Rose.

The Doctor had tried to brush the extra friendly behaviour off at first. Joriah was a charming fellow, and he'd known the man had a bit of a reputation with the ladies. He was just being charming, something the Doctor knew a thing or two about as well. Shoot, the two of them should be bonding over their similarities! A pint down at the local pub and some comparing of

their favourite female conquests! Right. Except that it turned out the Doctor found he rather wanted to give ol' Joriah his hardest Oncoming Storm glare and tear Rose away from his eager attentions.

They were trying to help, of course, because it was impossible for the Doctor to land anywhere without there being some sort of problem to solve. This was an easy one, thank goodness. Joriah's latest experiment was giving him trouble and he lacked the parts with which to fix it. Enter the Doctor, who was willing and more than well equipped to help. He'd been eager for the task at the start; here was a chance to rub elbows with someone he admired and be of great help to him as well. Plus, it was important that this invention of Joriah's be working before the end of the week because it was vital to one of the great human advancements of the time. Fixed points, and all that.

But then, tonight, the Doctor had gone out to the TARDIS to find a couple more parts he needed to help complete the repairs. The three of them were very nearly finished with the work and the Doctor had the impression that Rose was itching to move on. When he'd returned to the workshop a short while later, he'd found Joriah Scott himself pressing Rose up against a wall, and he was snogging her.

The Doctor had no idea what Rose's actual reaction to these events was because all he could see in that hearts-stopping moment was a haze of angry red covering his vision. That spot in his mind where he was supposed to be linked to Rose flared painfully as his emotions overran him. He didn't even know properly who he was angry with. Rose, for allowing these advances? Joriah, for being a randy git? Himself, for any number of reasons including bringing them here in the first place?

He stormed back to the TARDIS then, ignoring Rose's calls for him to stop and wait up. All the frustration that had been building up the last few months traveling with Rose was reaching a head and he wanted to be some place private when he finally exploded with it. The Doctor pushed through the doors and stalked up the ramp, tossing his long coat over one of the struts.

He paced around the Time Rotor a few times, stewing and cursing to himself. No, he really needed to be in his room where he could unleash some of his frustration. The TARDIS never appreciated it when he had his fits right there in the console room and as much as he

blamed her for this current predicament, it wouldn't do to tick off the sentient ship. She'd proven in the past that she could make his life substantially difficult.

The Doctor was just about to stride down the corridor towards his room and was already yanking at his tie and flipping open the buttons of his suit jacket when he heard the TARDIS doors open and then slam shut. He whirled around to see Rose storming up the ramp towards him, her eyes snapping fiercely.

"What do you think you're doin', charging off like that!" she demanded. "Didn't you hear me calling after you?"

"Rose, now's not the time," he told her, his tone warning.

"No, now is the perfect time," she corrected him. "We're going to talk about this."

All Rose had done was compliment Joriah on his skills with thermal transducers. She hadn't even considered that he might construe that as a pick-up line. The Doctor had warned her that this bloke was a bit of a ladies man and she'd certainly spent enough time around Jack that nothing Joriah did should have astonished her at all. Still, she'd been taken completely by surprise when he'd turned to her and taken her in his arms.

He wasn't a bad kisser at all; a man like him didn't acquire a reputation like that without having some finely honed skills in the arena of seduction. But her heart wasn't in it and she was on the verge of pushing him gently away and admonishing him when the Doctor had burst into the room, interrupting them. Joriah had released her at once and had been genuinely stunned by the thunderous expression on the other man's face. Rose hadn't imagined the Doctor would be happy to catch her mid-snog with another man, but the anguish written on his features had shocked her. She felt a crackling at the base of her skull, almost as if she was receiving an electric shock and she had the briefest thought that maybe the Doctor had caused her to feel that sensation somehow. Before she could wonder aloud about it, however, the Doctor was turning and hurrying out of the workshop. Rose called after him but he didn't even acknowledge her as he slammed out of the doors.

She was about to rush after him when Joriah touched her arm. When she turned to face him, he looked apologetic. "I'm so sorry, Rose. I didn't know…" He trailed off and looked chagrined. "When you got here, you both said that you weren't a couple and I just thought… But I see how it is now."

Rose sighed and smiled at Joriah, reaching up to brush a hand down his cheek. He was an attractive man and should things not have been so complicated with the Doctor, she might have entertained a little dalliance with him. He had messy, almost curly auburn brown hair that piled on top of his head and curled around the edges of his ears adorably and striking sea-green eyes that sometimes looked more blue and sometimes looked almost grey, depending on what he was thinking about. He had a flirtatious, gregarious and easy-going manner that was easy to get along with. She suddenly hated that he was caught in between whatever was going on with her and the Doctor. He didn't deserve that.

"Don't be sorry, Joriah," she admonished. "You didn't know. He's… a complicated sort of guy."

"He has feelings for you," he told her, his eyes twinkling.

Rose smiled. "I think so, yeah."

"And you have feelings for him."

Her smile faltered a little. "Maybe…" she murmured. "It wouldn't be unheard of."

Joriah chuckled knowingly. "Go after him. He has some feathers that need to be smoothed back down." He nudged her towards the door and she went willingly enough.

It was a short walk back to the TARDIS and she let herself in with her key which was back to it's old spot, hanging around her neck. As she entered, she saw the Doctor walking towards the corridor, his shoulders set stiffly as he ripped at the buttons on his jacket. He turned around and his expression was irritated and haunted.

"What do you think you're doin', chargin' off like that? Didn't you hear me calling after you?" she called to him.

His face twisted a little. "Rose, now's not the time," he said darkly. This was the Doctor she remembered. The man who wanted to run from anything that was remotely intimate and uncomfortable. Well, she wasn't going to let him do that this time.

"No, now is the perfect time. We're going to talk about this," she told him. He didn't move from where he stood next to the entrance to the corridor so she marched up to him. He stiffened and shifted away from her, his eyes fixed on the floor.

"I don't get much say in who you choose to snog, Rose," he mumbled. "Its none of my business."

"It is your business if you're bothered by it," she said, "which you clearly are."

"I was just surprised, that's all."

"I was just as surprised as you were," she explained. "I wasn't expecting him to kiss me. Honestly."

He met her eyes then and his brown depths were unreadable. "Are you saying that you didn't want to kiss him?"

Rose smirked. "He's an attractive guy, and very charming. But no, kissing him wasn't on my mind at all."

The Doctor's shoulders relaxed a little. "I know it's no business of mine to care," he said quietly. She felt a little sorry for him. He was trying very hard to give her the space she'd requested. She'd be lying if she said that he'd been doing a great job of it so far, but she could tell that he'd been trying and that had to count for something.

"I do have a question though, Doctor," she said while she thoughtfully rubbed at the back of her head.

"Oh?"

"When you… found us… before? I felt something at the back of my head, almost like a static electricity charge or something," she said. "I've felt little buzzes and pulses there before, I always thought it was just part of the telepathy thing… I've trained it up somewhat but I've admittedly fallen back on that since coming back to this universe."

"Ahh," he murmured and he rubbed at the back of his own head, as if in sympathy.

"I was wondering if you knew anything about it? I thought, well, just for a minute, that maybe it was you? In my head?" she asked and his eyes skittered away from hers.

"Maybe it's just, erm, residual feeling due to being in close proximity with another telepath," he suggested, yanking on his ear.

Rose regarded him suspiciously. What he was saying made some sense but the way he was acting told her there was something he wasn't telling her.

"Are you sure that's all it is?"

He bobbed his head. "Yeah, sounds like it to me," he replied. "Maybe we should work a bit on your telepathy training, now that I think of it."

"Oh? That's something you can do?"

The Doctor gave her a very withering look. "Of course I can, Rose. In fact, I dare say I'm the foremost expert at such things."

She smirked and reached out to touch his tie with the tip of her finger. "Not the least bit modest, I see. That certainly hasn't changed."

He looked down at her stroking his tie and when he looked back up, his eyes were dark. "When have I ever had anything to feel modest about?"

His words were teasing but his tone was almost as dark as his eyes. Rose glanced quickly at his mouth, at that pouty lower lip of his. She could almost remember how it felt to take that lip between her teeth, to rub her tongue along it, to press her own lips to it. And as these thoughts were wheeling through her mind, she was drawing ever closer to him. His spicy-sweet scent filled her nostrils and he dipped his head down towards hers.

The Doctor hesitated for a small moment and as they breathed together, Rose knew he was

waiting for her to make the move. She realised that he wouldn't make that move himself. And though there were warning bells going off in her head, she found that she simply could not resist. Raising up on her toes to cover the rest of the distance separating them, she brushed her lips across his, ever so lightly.

Still, he did not move to respond to the kiss or even to touch her but she was aware of a shudder running through his body. She knew she should pull back. She should retreat and mutter an apology and escape to her room. But she did nothing of the sort. Rose pressed forward again, this time fitting her lips against his more firmly.

This time, he did respond. The Doctor didn't grab her or pull her against him but he opened his lips and brushed his tongue along her top lip, ever so tentatively. It was Rose's turn to shiver and she tried to remember if their last kiss had been anything like this. It couldn't have been; she surely would have remembered it.

But she did suddenly remember the other circumstances surrounding the last time they'd kissed. The reality of their situation together now came crashing in and Rose withdrew hastily. The Doctor tried to chase after her lips for a moment with his own before he seemed to catch himself and he stepped back, his face flushing pink.

"Ah… I- I," he stuttered, jamming his hands into his trouser pockets and stepping further away from her. "I'm sorry."

"No, it's okay," she assured him. "That was my fault. Let's just… forget it? Yeah?"

The Doctor nodded and he didn't meet her eye.

"Great," she replied. "I'll just… be in my room." Rose backed away down the corridor. He remained stiffly against the far wall, studiously not meeting her eyes, as if afraid to show her what was hiding there. It was too late of course. She'd already seen it.

Swiftly, she turned and strode to her room. She'd get ready for bed and then maybe she'd take care of a little business. It was safe to say that levels of sexual frustration on board the TARDIS had now reached critical mass.

The Doctor waited until Rose had retreated before he expelled the breath he'd been holding. He repeated to himself that the kiss didn't necessarily mean anything. This was Rose and while many things had changed about her in these years, there were some things about her personality that persisted and remained true. She was a loving, giving, affectionate person. Shoot, Joriah Scott had noticed that, hadn't he? Maybe she was just being… nice?

Still, that dark look in her eyes hadn't been just nice. The Doctor could be a dunce about a great many things, quite a few of them deliberately, but he knew what desire looked like. He'd seen that desire in her eyes and the flush of her cheeks as plain as he could see the shifting of Timelines around them.

However, desire, much as he'd like to pretend otherwise, was not the same as love. Desire was not their biggest problem. He'd do well to remember these things and not read too much into Rose's kiss. He had to trust that if her feelings for him changed, that she would tell him.

The Doctor was still standing there, minutes later, reasoning through what had happened between him and Rose. He was just starting to think that he should move; go talk to Joriah and clear the air between them or work on the TARDIS or do some research in the library. He was about to push off the wall when he felt a tickling at the back of his head and he stilled. He'd felt this tickling before a few times and had studiously ignored it because what good would it do him to acknowledge the times that Rose was feeling aroused? There wasn't a bloody thing he could do about it, after all. He'd gotten quite adept in the last few weeks at differentiating between the times she felt mere arousal and the times that she was… well, doing something about it.

Rose was definitely doing something about it right now. The tickling turned into a throbbing and he had to stifle a moan.

The Doctor hadn't fully lied to Rose when he'd told her that what she was feeling in her head could be attributed to being in close proximity to another telepath. Having Rose on board the TARDIS had definitely amplified that half-formed connection between them. He could feel her when they were together off the TARDIS of course, but when they were both on the TARDIS, it was like tapping into a direct line. The sensation was utterly intoxicating, especially when she was feeling like this.

He felt himself begin to harden a little as the pulses of Rose's arousal throbbed in his head. He dropped his arm, just a quick press of the heel of his hand to relieve the pressure, and he could tell that it wasn't going to be nearly enough tonight. After the scene with Joriah and then the kiss and nowthis, the Doctor's normally airtight self control was seriously flagging.

Now, he finally moved away from the wall he'd backed against earlier. He strode purposefully down the corridor to his bedroom and let himself inside. He activated the lock, though he doubted that Rose would come looking for him here tonight.

The Doctor undressed quickly, tossing the pieces of his suit onto a nearby chair haphazardly. He sat on the edge of the bed and unlaced his trainers, loosening them and pushing them off with so that they thumped softly on the rug. He pulled off his socks too, because he always felt strange when he left his socks on but had his shoes off. It felt very unfinished somehow. And as much as he was trying to concentrate on these mundanities of getting undressed, it wasn't distracting him from the throbbing in his mind and the echoing throbbing in his stiffening cock.

He stood up and released the button and zip on his trousers, letting the fabric fall and pool around his ankles. He kicked the trousers aside and now he was clad in only his steel grey boxer briefs. Before he could second guess himself, he sat back on the bed and scooted backward until his shoulders rested against the pillows. He lay back on his bed, trying to focus on anything but the insistent feel of his arousal. Now that he'd decided to go ahead and do this, he wanted to draw it out and take his time. A quick jerk off wouldn't be nearly as satisfying and right now his body craved satisfaction. His hand coasted down over his abdomen, the soft hairs on his belly tickling his sensitive palm slightly. He'd been doing this more and more often since Rose had come back on board and he'd developed something of a foolproof technique in the last few months. The Doctor lifted his hips and wiggled out of his pants, kicking them off his foot so they flew halfway across the room.

His erection bobbed; he was already so hard just from thinking about Rose and feeling the ghost of her arousal in his mind. The Doctor groaned as another flash of sensation pulsed in his mind and he wrapped his fingers around his flesh, feeling the way it filled his grasp and the pulse of his hearts there. His eyes slid closed and a moan escaped his lips as the sensations began to pool in his groin.

He continued to stroke and pull, and he drew his legs up so he could rest his heels on the mattress and give himself better access to what he was doing. His other hand snaked down to cup and tease at his scrotum and he let his head fall back to the pillow as the sensations crested and ebbed over and over again.

As he bit his lip, he pictured Rose. He imagined that she were here in this room, touching and exploring him. He could practically see her sharp, interested gaze as she watched him stroke his erection, her tongue flicking out to wet her lips as she nudged his hands aside and took over the job herself. The Doctor strained the limits of his imagination, trying to trick himself into thinking that maybe his hand was hers instead. Long, tapered fingers were replaced in his mind by shorter, softer digits. And then maybe… the ghost of her breath across the sensitive head of his cock as her other hand stroked at his scrotum, exploring and pressing in exactly the way he wanted her to.

Oh sweet mercy, just the notion of her mouth near his aching erection was enough to cause his blood to surge anew and he sped up the movements of his hand, adding a little flick of the wrist and a press of his fingers just under the tip. Oh, he was close.

The Doctor leaned his head back into the pillows, biting his lip hard now and straining to hold off his climax for as long as he could. But as much he tried to calculate pi or alphabetise the stars and planets in the Hephedron Galaxy, he was unable to banish the vision of Rose from his thoughts. Her body rising over him, naked skin glowing golden in the dim light. Blonde hair, cascading down over her shoulders and brushing the tops of his thighs. He shuddered and rubbed himself even harder, his hand pumping up and down erratically.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Rose's arousal that had been thrumming away at the back of his mind flared and sent out shockwaves that only seemed to build in intensity rather than fade right

away. He was quickly overwhelmed, knowing that it was Rose's own orgasm that he was sensing through the half-formed bond. She was coming. Hard. He crested the wave of his own arousal, coming with a shout of her name that echoed around the room.

The Doctor lay there, gasping for breath despite his impressive respiratory bypass, for a few minutes afterward. That had been… unexpected. He'd felt her arousal and the effect of her activities before. But it had never been while he'd been engaging in similar activities. And it made him automatically wonder what it would be like to truly share a sensual experience like that with her, in the flesh, with that bond in place. His toes curled unconsciously at the very thought. Such an encounter would truly be unlike anything he'd ever experienced before and the Doctor found that he hungered for it.

Slowly, he got up and padded into his adjoining ensuite to clean himself up. As he stood in his shower, washing the evidence of his self-pleasure from his body, he felt his muscles begin to relax slightly. The Doctor hoped that things would change for him and Rose soon because he couldn't see them keeping up this denial of their attraction for one another for too much longer without going completely barmy.

Rose lay on top of her duvet, breathing hard and staring at the ceiling in shock. What in the bloody hell was that? She'd just had the most powerful orgasm she'd had in years, if not ever. She switched off the vibrator she'd been using and set it aside. There had been that feeling in her head, the one the Doctor had told her was just due to her proximity to another telepath, and that feeling had definitely enhanced the experience in a way that it hadn't ever done before.

Considering the muffled shout she'd thought she'd heard just as she'd come, Rose was feeling somewhat suspicious. What was going on with her head and why was the Doctor acting so cagey about it? The subject had made him obviously uncomfortable earlier when she'd brought it up and there was no reason to be uncomfortable unless there was something he wasn't telling her. Something possibly important.

Rose sat up and slid from the bed, taking the vibrator with her. She washed up quickly in the ensuite, both herself and the toy, and brushed her teeth, suddenly feeling exhausted from the day and more than ready for a few hours of shut eye. She surveyed herself in the mirror over the sink, taking in her cotton vest and sleep shorts, musing that she was already getting tired of the view. Maybe the Doctor didn't have a bad deal, being able to change his whole body. A person could get bored looking exactly the same for all eternity. Maybe she should dye her hair and she wondered what the Doctor would say if she showed up in the console room with ginger tresses.

Back in her bed, Rose pulled her duvet up over her shoulders and snuggled down into her pillow. She'd have to prod the Doctor a little more about this thing in her head. She wasn't

stupid though and she knew he'd likely dodge the questions if he was uncomfortable about answering them. The good news for her was that she had a few tricks up her sleeve for getting the Doctor to cooperate with her. She could be equally as stubborn as him.

Still, Rose wished he would just be honest and forthright with her. How could he expect her to ever trust him again if she couldn't expect him to be on the level with her? She was trying, she really was, to work through her former resentment towards him. She was making quite a bit of progress so far, deciding to go ahead and travel with him again had turned out to be a great decision. She was feeling happier and more fulfilled these days and she suspected that he was feeling the same way.

The only thing she didn't know was if they could bridge the gap between friendly traveling companions and something more. And if someone had told her all those years ago when she'd been a naive young woman traveling with the Doctor that she'd be debating having a deeper relationship with him, she wouldn't have believed it. Having an intimate relationship with him had always been her dream back then. Then again, she wouldn't have believed that he would lie to her and leave her, broken and alone, on a beach in another universe.

Rose would do good to remember that.

Chapter 8

Chapter Summary

Things are going great for Rose and the Doctor and they are on the verge of finally coming together. What happens when a run in with a cruel alien race throws everything they've built together out the window?

HUGE thanks to fogsblue for the hand-holding and littlewhomouse for the help with the banner and to everyone in chat for cheering me on when I'm feeling especially discouraged.

After that kiss, Rose had expected things to be awkward between her and the Doctor. But, if anything, their relationship only improved. They sorted everything the next day with Joriah Scott, getting his experiment back on track. They made their goodbyes, as they often did, before setting off for a new adventure. The Doctor seemed reinvigorated and Rose felt happy with things as well.

Their life was now very reminiscent of how it had been way back when they'd first traveled together, in the months after his regeneration and after their experience in Pete's World. They'd been so carefree back then, flirting and dashing from one adventure to the next, hugging and holding hands and saving the day in brilliant fashion.

These days, when they weren't saving the day, they settled into an easy, nearly domestic routine on board the TARDIS. Almost every night they would meet in the media room to watch a movie together. Sometimes she would pick the film and sometimes the Doctor would. They would share a great big bowl of popcorn and have fizzy drinks to go with it. The Doctor loved movies,

especially the old westerns as it turned out, and so did Rose (even though her preference was more for murder mystery). A couple of times, they would pick something deliberately cheesy and play out their own version of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000", complete with snarky remarks and tossing popcorn at the screen in frustration.

Now and then, they would indulge in quieter evenings in the library, reading books either aloud to one another or alone. Rose loved when he would read to her from something written in an especially lyrical language, like an old volume of poetry or something. She would stare into the fireplace and get lost in the sound of his voice until she drifted off to sleep.

Everything was going great. In fact, if there was anything wrong, it was Rose's growing frustration regarding her feelings for the Doctor. So many times, be it on an adventure or cuddled up together on the sofa in the media room, she was nearly overwhelmed with the urge to snog him silly. In that respect, it was very similar to how she'd felt when traveling with him before. The only difference was that this time, she was a lot more certain of his feelings for her in return (though she still wondered if he really did still love her as he had when he'd come back to Pete's World for her). So what was stopping her from moving forward into a relationship with him?

Her anger at him had faded over the years, as she'd expected it would. The Doctor had apologised over and over, and she suspected if given half a chance, he'd apologise again. But it was his actions that really proved his sincerity to her. He'd let her go, even when he hadn't wanted to. There'd been a slip up or two, but considering this was the Doctor and emotional maturity wasn't exactly his strongest trait, she thought he'd done pretty well at holding himself in line. Especially this last year that she'd been traveling with him again.

He'd made great efforts to include her opinions and ideas into their adventures and often boasted to others how invaluable she was to him. Rose felt like she truly was an important part of their team and even times when she suspected the Doctor would like very much to wrap her up in cotton wool, he would step back and leave her to do her own thing. She appreciated his efforts and they said a lot more than any simple "I'm sorry" ever could.

They needed to have a talk. A long, long talk. Rose had things she needed to ask him and make known to him and he probably had a few things to say as well. Perhaps after their next adventure, she'd pull him aside. If she still had the guts to do it.

Their next adventure ended up being a trip to the planet Jelspar, in the 62nd century. According to the Doctor, they had the most brilliant annual banana festival there and the 62nd century was the peak of the celebrations. Naturally, he was very excited about this trip and began detailing all the different banana themed dishes he planned to gorge himself on later, followed by all the banana themed products he hoped to pick up in the marketplace. Rose just shook her head and grinned and only teased him a small amount about his banana obsession.

They landed during midmorning on Jelspar. Rose had dressed in a cheery yellow sundress and denim jacket and had slipped on comfortable canvas trainers just in case they ended up needing

to run. It never hurt to be prepared, after all. She didn't often wear dresses but she was feeling rather flirty and thought the Doctor would appreciate the banana yellow colour of the dress. Which he did.

She and the Doctor ended up going their separate ways once outside the TARDIS. He'd been better about that sort of thing in the last year. Rule #1 was no longer "Don't Wander Off". In fact, what rule #1 was these days was never very clear. Some days it was "No flirting with pretty boys" and other days it was "No insulting lesser species" and just last week it had been "No walking into Rose's room without knocking first". The Doctor told her that he liked to do things with her rather than without her, but if she needed to wander off, then so be it.

Rose knew that this meant he trusted her and that trust meant a lot. She generally agreed; she didn't like to leave his side very much these days either. But she had business down in the marketplace. They had plans to return to Earth to meet up with their friends for Christmas in 2013. Jack had secured a vacation rental home at Lake Tahoe and Martha and Mickey and Donna and Lee and Sarah Jane and all their families were going to be there. Rose was very much looking forward to it and even hoped that maybe Jack and the Doctor could finally have a talk and put their issues to rest during the mini-holiday. She already had everyone's gift purchased and just needed to pick up a couple more things for the Doctor. The banana festival seemed like the perfect opportunity to hunt for gifts and she didn't want him breathing over her shoulder while she shopped.

Jelspar was a lovely planet and the people were friendly and helpful. The grass was aquamarine, the sky was pale yellow, the clouds had a pink tinge to them and the dirt was a deep reddish brown that spoke of fertility. And truly, the Jelsparans were an agricultural people, making their livelihoods off the land. According to the Doctor, their banana groves supplied many other galaxies whose climates and soil were not as well suited to growing bananas themselves. The people themselves were humanoid, but shorter than the average human. Rose herself was about 168 centimetres tall and she wagered that the Jelsparans were about 138 centimetres at the most. They made up for their stature in their stocky, muscled builds however, and from what she observed as she made her way through the marketplace, she imagined any one of these people could easily pick her up and cart her around as if she weighed nothing.

Rose browsed a stall that sold banana themed clothing and contemplated a particularly amusing pair of banana themed boxer shorts. They were silly, what with the little faces on the fruits, and looked to be dancing about the navy blue fabric. They were also fairly humiliating and therefore were very much him. All she had to do was imagine him opening them up on Christmas morning in front of Jack and Mickey and everyone else and she was sold. She was just starting to haggle with the stall keeper when the peace of the morning was broken by the harsh whine of hovercraft engines.

Rose looked up, squinting against the glare of the sun, and saw a number of unfamiliar spacecraft settling over the market place. A moment later, humanoid figures that were not Jelsparan were rappelling down ropes. These were far taller beings, taller than her even. These aliens had long limbs and long jet black hair and piercing green eyes. They wore shining silvery armour and had

various weapons strapped to their hips. She didn't need any Torchwood training to know that these beings meant business and that business wasn't going to be friendly.

She turned to the stall keeper she'd been bartering with. "Run!" she yelled at him, making a shooing motion with her hands. He was staring at the invaders, his eyes wide, but he nodded and turned around and ran away from the marketplace.

Rose ducked down and tried to take stock of the situation. These aliens, whomever they were, didn't seem interested in killing anyone. There was screaming and shouting but it mostly looked as though they were just grabbing everyone they could get their hands on. Once people were grabbed, they were fitted with what looked like high-tech handcuffs and another of the aliens was herding these people into a line, marching them out of the marketplace.

Her mind was racing, trying to figure out what was going on and how she was going to handle it when there was a high pitched squeal followed by a cry of anguish. Rose tried to maintain her cover while craning her neck to see what this commotion was.

A young boy, he couldn't have been far past the toddler stage, was being dragged away from a woman who was obviously his mother. The little boy was obviously terrified, tears streaming down his face, his chubby hands reaching for his mum. The woman was beside herself, already being drug off in another direction by another alien.

It was one of those moments where Rose knew she couldn't be everywhere she wanted to be all at the same time. She spared just a breath of a moment to wish that the Doctor were here because this was a situation that called for two heads and two sets of hands. They worked together like a well oiled machine these days, anticipating each other's movements and thought processes. If he were here, he could distract the invading aliens while she made sure the woman and her son escaped to safety.

But the Doctor wasn't here and Rose was going to have to manage this one herself. No biggie, just an increased chance that she'd be captured herself. If she was, she would handle it; it would hardly be the first time and she was more than capable of getting herself out of a jam. The fact of the matter was that she couldn't let these brutes get away with this. That was the most important thing.

The good news was that she was successful in getting the mother and her son freed. The bad news was that she had to watch them flee the marketplace as she herself was placed into shackles and roughly shoved into line with all the others.

Rose liked to see the silver linings though and she knew that being captured wasn't ideal but it was going to give her a better chance to find out what was going on and who these aliens were. The more she knew, the better she'd be able to try to fix things. She tried to listen to the conversation between the aliens that were herding her and the other captives through the market place and towards the centre of town where the humble palace was located. They didn't reveal much but she heard one name mentioned more than any other, "Toffam." It didn't take a genius to

deduce that Toffam must be the man in charge of this operation.

The palace looked like an average building and was devoid of any outward or inward ornamentation. On Earth, Rose would have supposed it was an office building or a community centre. She knew that being brought here likely meant that these beings had already overwhelmed the local government and had taken control. They were certainly organised, she had to hand it to them.

Just before they reached the palace, the queue came to a halt. A few sharp orders were barked and the other Jelsparans she'd been standing with were separated and marched off in another direction, out of the city.

"Where are you taking them!" Rose demanded, breaking her silence. The guard nearest her, the one who looked like he might be in charge, fixed her with a disdainful look.

"They are being taken to the mother ship where they will be processed into containment," he told her, his voice bored. "That's all you need to know."

"And why aren't you having me sent there as well?"

"You are not Jelsparan," he replied, looking over her shoulder and snapping his fingers at someone behind her, indicating for them come forward. "So you are to be taken to Toffam. He will decide what is to be done with you."

Well, that had to be good, didn't it? If she got to talk to the man in charge, maybe she could find some answers and find a way to get out of this jam. A guard appeared at her elbow and the man who had been speaking to her instructed him to take her to Toffam. Her arm was gripped painfully hard and she was shoved forward. Scowling over her shoulder at the brute, she walked into the palace.

The entrance and the hallways were strictly utilitarian. The pictures on the walls of former monarchs were simple with plain frames. Maps and photos of the planet were more informative than they were decorative. The main reception room was large and mostly empty at the moment.

A few of the aliens stood by the doors and at the far end of the room, there was a man who was sitting in a chair, looking almost bored.

"Your Excellency," the guard who still had her painfully by the arm said, while pushing her forward, "we found this woman in the marketplace. She is not Jelsparan and so we've brought her to you for you to decide what to do with her."

Rose surveyed this man before her. He wore his long black hair tied back with a leather strap. His eyes were nearly catlike as he looked her up and down, a finger stroking the goatee on his chin absently. He held himself as though he was used to power and used to being respected.

She wondered how many people, if any, had ever said no to this man.

"Interesting," he murmured in a voice that was so slick that it automatically set her nerves on edge. "What is your name, woman?"

She glared at him before the guard poked her painfully in the back with the muzzle of his gun. "Rose Tyler," she replied, notching her chin up defiantly. "And you are?"

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Ah, we have a minx," he crooned, sitting forward in his chair. "I don't have to answer you but I will because I find you entertaining. My name is Toffam and I am the leader of the Krikorians." He gestured at the guards around her. She'd never heard of the Krikorians before and figured that they probably not existed in Pete's World.

"Why are you here? Jelspar is a peaceful society."

Toffam chuckled. "That's why I'm here, my dear. Our planet was… destroyed. We've found a new planet, not this one but one near here that suits our needs. However, we need labour to bring our civilisation back to its former greatness. That requires harvesting slaves from peaceful planets. Jelspar is the perfect planet for us to acquire slaves from as its people are strong and hard working but peaceful and unlikely to retaliate against us."

Rose's eyes snapped angrily and she gritted her jaw. "You're here for slaves? To do your dirty work for you? You're monsters!"

"Says you," he drawled, his tone bored. "Frankly, its none of your concern. And where are you from?"

She studied this vile man and thought quickly. Did she tell him she was from Earth and risk him turning his greedy eye towards her home planet? Humans were not peaceful by any stretch of the imagination, but she didn't want to tempt fate. "I'm from many places and many times, Toffam," she told him, hoping she sounded sure and calm.

"Interesting," he murmured again and his gaze once again traveled over her. This time, she knew exactly what he was thinking and it made her blood run cold. Right, time to start thinking about escape routes. "Who are you with?"

"Who says I'm not here alone?" she asked.

"A pretty thing like you?" he scoffed. "Unlikely. No, I think you're here with someone. You will tell me who it is."

"You don't know him."

"Try me. I know many beings in this universe."

"Well, I'm not telling you," she replied easily. Toffam flicked his wrist and suddenly she was grabbed on both sides by guards and forced to her knees. She struggled, but their grips were

deceptively strong.

"You will tell me," Toffam growled, "one way or another."

She was about to spit in his face and tell him that he couldn't make her do a darned thing when he suddenly reached forward with both hands and grabbed her head, pressing his thumbs roughly into her temples.

Her world shattered into pain as she felt his presence sweep through her mind, pushing aside her meagre defences and plundering her thoughts, ripping the name and the image of the Doctor from her mind as though she offered no resistance. But she'd trained for this! She had defences! She pushed back as hard as she could and Toffam went tumbling out of her mind.

He breathed heavily and then laughed as Rose tried to regain herself. She forced herself to look up at his smug face. "Very interesting!" he cried. "That's quite the pet you have in there, keeping things safe. A golden wolf. Don't see that every day."

"You bastard," she muttered.

"I've been called that and worse, my dear," he told her, sitting back in his chair. "Anyhow, I got the job done. His name is the Doctor and oh… yes, I do know him. I know him quite well, in fact. Not by that face, I'm afraid. But that's just Time Lord trickery. It's still the Doctor and he's still the man who is responsible for the destruction of my planet."

Rose wasn't the least bit surprised. This man was just the sort of over-hyped despot that would be on the Doctor's list of People to Deal With. Apparently, however, he hadn't finished the job.

"I'm sure he's on his way here to stop you, Toffam," she told the man bitterly. "He won't stand for you enslaving these people like this."

"I'm counting on it, Rose," Toffam said in a silky voice that sent shudders down her spine. "See, I saw more than just his face and his name in your mind. I saw a little something else that I never would have expected to see. No, not from a Time Lord. High and mighty, they always were. But it would appear that the Doctor has allowed himself to… join with you. Most interesting. And I think I can very much use that to my advantage here."

Now, Rose was getting nervous. She wasn't sure what Toffam had seen in her head but she didn't like the way it was making him smile at her. No, now was the time to be getting out of there and finding the Doctor so they could put an end to this madness and help these poor people.

"Whatever you're thinking, it won't work," she warned him. The guards had slackened their hold on her somewhat and she thought that she could maybe wrench out of their grasps if she pulled a specific manoeuvre or two. If she could knock the guards heads together, maybe knock them unconscious, she might be able to scramble to safety before the other guards shot her. She had to try.

"I think it will work," Toffam predicted. "I think it will work brilliantly, in fact."

He lunged forward, grabbing at her head again and Rose's scream died in her throat as his mind pressed on that spot at the very back of her mind that was so sensitive these days. White hot agony suffused her entire being as every fibre of her cried out for mercy.

The Doctor had been in the middle of eating the best banana split of all of his lives when the aliens began their invasion. It was a shame that the fantastic banana confection he'd been enjoying had to be tossed aside, but there were priorities. His first thought was that these were Krikorians and he knew exactly what that meant. Enforced slavery of peaceful planets and ruthless, despotic behaviour at the hands of Toffam. Oh, he'd tussled with the man before. Toffam had blamed him for the destruction of his planet, which was ridiculous since that had been Toffam's own doing. He just didn't want to accept the responsibility for his own selfish actions.

His second thought, which followed quickly on the heels of his first, was about Rose. The Doctor felt a pang, wishing she were at his side right now. Not just so he could be assured that she was safe, but because he knew she'd be marvellous at setting this whole situation to rights. He looked to the sky as more hovercraft gathered over the food stands and he could see even more craft in the direction he knew the marketplace to be. Rose was aware by now what was going on, even if she didn't know who the Krikorians were. He trusted that she would keep herself safe and also that she would be trying to help in any way she could. Still, he'd feel better when he was by her side so he began to devise the best way to make it over to the marketplace without attracting the attention of the Krikorian guards unnecessarily.

He watched the aliens rounding up citizens, marching them out of town towards where he imagined the mothership was located. What he should be doing was trying to get to the ship so he could stop this at the source. Provided that was the source. If Toffam himself were along on this little jaunt, he'd probably be holding court somewhere. The palace, probably. But Toffam wasn't a man that liked to get his hands dirty and the Doctor wondered if he would actually be here on the planet, watching the devastation as it unfolded.

Actually, no, that sounded just like Toffam.

The Doctor was just working out a possible diversion so he could make it over to the marketplace when he felt it. It started as a low level buzzing at the back of his mind and within seconds, increased to an agonising wail. He had to stop what he was doing and clutch at his head with his hands, as if doing that could somehow dull the spine-melting pain. Amidst the blinding agony, he could make out a scream. His name. Doctor!

It was Rose. Somehow, she was screaming out for him across their half-formed bond. It was impossible, of course. She didn't even know about the bond, it wasn't even complete, and yet

there was no mistaking the intent.

The Doctor gathered himself and headed towards the source of the call. He was aware of guards chasing after him, laser bolts whizzing past him as they shot at him, but he didn't care. He couldn't care. Rose was calling out for him and she was in pain and it was bad.

The psychic call led him to the building he knew to be the palace in the centre of the city. The Doctor was immediately grabbed by a pair of guards but if Rose was in the palace, that was where he wanted to be. He could work out an escape scenario for both of them after he was assured that she was okay. His thought process was narrowed to that one point and he had a hard time focussing on anything else while their rudimentary bond throbbed painfully in his head.

He was brought before Toffam himself and nearly sagged with relief when he saw Rose being held, off to the side. Her eyes searched him frantically as he was brought forward. The Doctor nodded curtly at her to indicate that he was okay. She nodded back, to tell him the same but he still searched her face for any signs of trauma. What had caused that call along their bond?

He shifted his attention to Toffam and with a sinking realisation, he remembered that the Krikorian was especially talented at psychic penetration. He must have invaded Rose's mind, no doubt a painful incidence, and found the bond.

"Hello, Doctor," Toffam greeted him smoothly. "Long time no see. You've got a new face, I see."

"Toffam," he returned. "I see you haven't learned a thing since our last meeting."

"Oh, but that's where you're wrong," the Krikorian purred. "I've learned a great many things. One thing I have learned is that this creature here," he prodded Rose with the toe of his boot and she glared fiercely at him, "has quite the connection to you."

The Doctor struggled to calm himself but he could feel the fear gripping him. Rose was looking at him curiously, as if she could sense that fear as well and he tried even harder to tamp it down. "Let her go, Toffam, and we'll talk," the Doctor said.

Toffam chuckled. "Oh, I don't think so. I think this Rose of yours is quite the bargaining chip. While I have her, I'm willing to wager that I can get you to do anything I want you to do. Including letting me round up these slaves and leave the planet."

"Then you really are as stupid as you look," Rose spat at him.

"Oh, am I?" Toffam asked, looking at the Doctor. "He knows what I'm capable of. What I would do to you… with you. You have a power in you, Little Wolf, and I know how to use that. Oh, yes. I don't think he's going to risk me taking you away or killing you. I don't think he could bear it."

The Doctor kept his eyes downcast as Rose looked at him. He could tell she expected him to reply with some sort of snappy come back, to negotiate and outsmart and save the day. Or at least bring about a distraction so the both of them could flee. But he knew Toffam and he knew the Krikorians. It wouldn't be that simple and the chances of this evil man doing exactly what he said he would do were too great for him to risk.

"Please, Toffam. Just let us go," he pleaded quietly.

"Doctor! You're joking, right?" Rose cried, confused. He cringed, upset that he would be disappointing her, but he had no other choice.

Toffam smirked. "There's a good lad. I knew you'd see reason. I'll just have my guards escort you back to your ship and then we can both pretend we didn't have this meeting here today, yes?"

"Yes," the Doctor agreed.

"And if you do not leave, I will be forced to execute you both. Or, well, you at least. Her, I'm undecided about," Toffam mused.

Rose struggled as they were lead out of the palace. First, she screamed threats and accusations at Toffam and then she turned her anger on him.

"What in the world are you doing, Doctor?" she cried. "This isn't you! This isn't what you do! We have to save these people! We have to put a stop to this!"

"Rose, we can't. Okay? We just- can't. It'll be better if we just go," he said.

"No, it won't!" she argued. "What's the matter with you? And what is going on with my head? And your head? How was Toffam able to call you and how did I know you were scared when you arrived?"

He didn't answer and kept his eyes on his trainers as they were marched out of the city and towards the TARDIS. What could he say that wasn't going to make her even more infuriated with him? "Not now, Rose," he replied.

She quieted, but he could tell her anger was still simmering as they neared the blue box. The guards stood by as they entered and he marched up the ramp to activate the controls that would send them into the Vortex.

"Don't you dare!" she shouted.

The Doctor stopped and looked at her. Rose was practically vibrating with rage. "You're in my head somehow, aren't you?" she asked, her voice now quiet. He might have preferred the shouting.

He nodded, keeping his eyes down. "Yes."

"What is it?" she asked, her voice flinty.

"It's a bond. The start of a bond," he replied, pulling on his ear. He looked up at her and she was gaping at him, her brown eyes wide and disbelieving.

"You knew about this? You knew and you didn't tell me?" she cried.

"Rose," he began, stepping forward and reaching out. She darted out of his reach.

She grabbed at her head, yanking on her hair. "And those people! You would just turn your back on them? Doom them to a life of slavery? Why?"

"I know what he would do to you, Rose," the Doctor tried to explain. "I couldn't allow it. I couldn't risk you."

"Don't you dare," she spat. "Don't you dare say that you're doing this for me. I would rather die than sacrifice those people just for me."

The Doctor clenched his jaw. "I know you would and that's why I couldn't let you be a part of it. I'm going to go deal with it. Me, alone."

Rose stared at him, her mouth popped open and he saw it. He saw it clear as day. All the progress they had made to come together this last year was melting away. He knew he was taking away her free will about this but he literally didn't know what else he could do. He couldn't allow Toffam to take Rose, to use her Bad Wolf powers, whatever they actually were. The Krikorians needed to be stopped, there was no doubt about that. But the Doctor wasn't about to sacrifice Rose to get it done.

"You are not leaving me here," she told him.

"I think you'll find that I am," he replied. He produced a pair of handcuffs from inside one of the infinitely large pockets on his great coat and in the blink of an eye, he had Rose handcuffed to the console. "I'll be right back," he promised her.

The Doctor strode out of the TARDIS with the sound of Rose's cursing filling his ears.

Chapter 9

Chapter Summary

Has the Doctor ruined all that he's rebuilt with Rose? How will the threat the Krikorians pose be dealt with? This chapter delves into the fallout.

Thanks to fogs for continuing to help guide this fic, to littlewhomouse for her help with the banner and to all the girls in chat for their fantastic encouragement when I'm feeling entirely *discouraged*

Rose watched the TARDIS doors slam shut and yanked on the wrist that was cuffed to the console. Her mind reeled as she tried to digest everything that had just happened. The Doctor had done it again, making a major decision for her. There was also, apparently, a bond with him in her mind? She could just about guess where that had come from. Why hadn't he told her about that? She'd asked him pointedly about it just recently too! And now he was walking into an extremely dangerous situation by himself and was likely to be killed.

She stopped her struggles for a moment and rested her forehead on the edge of the console, trying desperately to gather her thoughts. The TARDIS hummed soothingly in her mind, sending her an image of a mother rubbing an upset child's back. In any other situation, she might have chuckled at the idea.

"Why is he doing this?" Rose groaned out loud. "I thought we were getting better, me and him." They had been so close, she was sure of it. She'd really thought she could trust him again. Her chest ached as she thought about it and she felt like a prize idiot.

The TARDIS sent her the image of a man rescuing a woman from the jaws of a crocodile and followed it with a placating trill. She sighed.

"I know he wants to protect me but we had a deal," she said, slumping against the console and, just for a moment, giving in to the urge to give up altogether. Rose felt tired, drained from the effects of the psychic assault Toffam had subjected her to. And she was discouraged by the Doctor's actions. But she knew there wasn't much time for wallowing and she pushed aside her anger over being manipulated. For now.

"He's going to get himself killed," she murmured, sitting up straighter and forcing herself to focus on the primary issue. "He's going to waltz in there like a bloomin' idiot and get himself killed."

The TARDIS' hum pitched higher and she sent her an image of, well, of herself when she swung on the chain and rescued the Doctor from the Nestene Consciousness. Oh yes, he'd needed saving that day. And he needed saving now. Rose turned to the console and grinned.

"I think its time I saved the day, don't you?"

The Doctor was apprehended almost as soon as he walked out of the TARDIS doors. He hadn't actually expected to get very far and knew that getting captured by the guards was the most efficient way to get him back in front of Toffam. As for the rest of the plan… well… he was more of a 'think as you go' sorta guy anyhow.

The guards, who had just escorted him and Rose to the TARDIS, slapped some restraints on his wrists and led him back to the palace and the Doctor tried not to think of what he'd just done to Rose. She was mad; the inventive curses that had followed him out the doors told him that much. He hoped, if he lived to make it back to the TARDIS, that she'd be able to forgive him. But he couldn't regret what he'd just done.

He couldn't let Toffam get his greedy hands on her. The Doctor had dealt with this sociopath before and he was dangerous and unpredictable. He could keep Rose and try to use her, as he'd threatened. Or he could kill her. Try to, at least. Either way, the Doctor couldn't let Toffam get the chance. Not while there was still breath in his body.

The walk to the palace was quick and before long he was back in front of the evil Krikorian leader. Toffam didn't look terribly surprised to see him, in fact, he looked rather weary about it.

"You just can't take a perfectly good deal and run with it, can you?" he asked, shaking his head.

"I can't let you enslave these people, Toffam. You know that," the Doctor said seriously.

"Oh, I know. You're nothing if not predictable, Doctor," Toffam replied with a wave of his hand. "But I'm thinking I might switch things up this time. I know where your TARDIS is now, after all, and Rose is inside it. I'll get my hands on her eventually. And then I'll have both of you to toy with."

Toffam leaned forward in his chair to pierce him with his gaze. The Doctor remained impassive on the outside but his nerves were jumping inside. How was he going to fix this one? He had to get away and find some way to get the Krikorians to leave and to free the Jelsparans they had already captured… His considerably large mind raced through scenarios and possibilities. He absolutely could not let the other man's words get to him.

"I could think of many ways I could repay you for destroying my planet, Doctor. With Rose in my custody, I think I could get quite inventive. I wonder how long it would take to break you," Toffam mused out loud with an ugly smirk.

"Whatever it is you're trying to do, it won't work," the Doctor informed him. "I'm warning you; free the Jelsparans and leave this planet now."

While Toffam cackled, the Doctor twisted his restrained hands as surreptitiously as possible, easing his fingers into his jacket pocket, reaching for his sonic screwdriver. He could change the setting, stun the guards, perhaps. Maybe even set off a small smoke screen to confuse everyone and cover his retreat. If he could get to the mother ship, he could free the slaves they'd already loaded on board. Maybe even disable the ship. It wouldn't take care of Toffam and the rest of the Krikorians but he could deal with them later. One thing at a time, after all.

"Are you paying attention to me, Doctor?" Toffam barked, interrupting his thoughts.

"I'm sorry, giant mind, wanders a bit. Could you repeat?" the Doctor quipped.

"I was just saying that what I am doing is already working as I have you here in my custody and will soon have your precious Rose as well," Toffam told him.

The Doctor had the sonic tucked up into his sleeve and, behind his back, was trying to cut through his restraints as quickly and stealthily as possible. It was going to take some time to cut through the metal so he would have to distract Toffam. It was a good thing that he was an expert at distraction.

"Ah yes," he chirped. "Sorry, you start hearing the same thing over and over and over again, it all starts to blend together into a big, toneless hum in your head."

Toffam looked insulted. "You should not mock me, Doctor. I'm not a man to be crossed." "Really? I think you're exactly the sort of man who should be crossed. Begging for it, you are."

Yep, getting him angry would definitely work as a nice distraction.

"Perhaps execution is better for you. I could finally still that incessant mouth of yours," Toffam growled.

"You'd be surprised at how ineffective killing me can be," the Doctor mused. Almost there. Just a moment more…

"I'm sure I could just keep killing you until you run out of lives. Or just finish the job before you get a chance to regenerate. Or maybe beheading? Oooh, I wonder how that would work!" Toffam's eyes lit up. He gestured to one of the guards standing nearby. "Bring me an axe. I want to try it."

The Doctor swallowed. He was very close to freeing himself, he could feel the restraints beginning to give. The nearest guard brought an axe from another room and offered it to Toffam. He shook his head.

"I'd rather watch, thanks."

The Doctor was pushed to his knees and his head forced down. The entire room tensed as the axe was brought up over his neck. The restraints were just about to give and he screwed his eyes shut as he pulled his hands free and… nothing.

No one was moving. Well, no one except for him. The destroyed restraints clattered to the floor and the Doctor thought he caught a flicker in Toffam's eye at the noise and movement. Hmm. He was frozen somehow, but aware. Interesting. The Doctor quickly ducked out from underneath the axe, which had already begun its descent, but was now held motionless in space. The guard wielding it could only move his eyes, the expression within them nothing less than panicked.

"What in the blazes is going on?" he sputtered. "How is it that I can move?"

"Quiet, my Doctor, or I shall freeze you too," an unearthly voice said from behind him.

He whirled around to see Rose standing at the rear of the large room. Wait, no. It was not Rose. Or it wasn't just Rose. Her eyes were glowing gold, her hair moving as though a wind was blowing through the chamber. Her pretty yellow sundress swirled around her knees. This was the Bad Wolf. The Doctor swallowed reflexively.

"Rose, what are you doing?" he cried. She moved through the room, appearing to float towards him. Every hair on his body stood on end as she neared him and his time senses flared painfully in his head.

"I'm saving you, my Doctor," she replied evenly, her voice echoing itself just slightly, "from the over-stuffed and egotistical beings who would take you from me."

"I had it under control," he muttered, kicking the abandoned restraints with the toe of his trainer.

Rose, the Bad Wolf, laughed and it was such a melodious and captivating sound that the Doctor felt his hearts thud painfully in his chest at the sound.

"Your control is an illusion," she breathed with a dismissive wave of her hand, her skin glowing golden. She fixed her glowing eyes on Toffam now, who was still frozen, but beads of sweat forming on his forehead belied his agitation. "As for you, your time is at an end. You will forget this notion about subjugating this planet and you will leave. If you do not heed my command, I will be forced to take further action. You see my power, you sense it, and you know that I speak the truth."

Rose glided towards Toffam and reached out a hand, pressing a digit against his temple. "Feel my power and know my truth," she uttered and her voice deepened, rattling the walls of the palace. The Doctor stared, half intrigued and half horrified, as Toffam's eyes rolled back into head as whatever she was doing to his mind, whatever she was showing him, was clearly on the verge of overwhelming him.

"Rose, stop this. You don't want to do this," the Doctor said, reaching out a hand towards her but knowing better than to touch. He didn't know what she would do, and that frightened him more than a little bit.

She drew back from Toffam and if the man could have, the Doctor was sure he would have slumped in relief. As it was, his eyes dimmed. "I'm saving you, my Doctor, and the rest of the beings on this planet."

"Okay, well, consider me saved. Let's go get the people from the ship and then we can go, okay? We can forget this ever happened!" he urged.

"The Jelsparans are already freed," she murmured. "I took care of that before coming here to clean up your mess."

The Doctor's jaw flapped uselessly as he tried to find words. It wasn't often that he felt ineffectual but somehow Rose seemed to manage it, even when she wasn't Bad Wolf. She smirked at him and he knew he was utterly lost to her. As if there'd ever been any doubt.

She closed her eyes and tilted her head back and a ripple passed through the room, nearly knocking him over. Everyone swayed and returned to themselves, frozen no more. Rose opened her eyes and looked at him. Her irises still burned gold. What was she playing at?

Toffam was bent over in his chair, gasping. Rose stepped up to him again and he looked up at her, visibly shaking. "Do we have a deal?" she intoned.

The Krikorian stared at her, stunned and scared and apparently unable to speak. She lifted a finger and all around the room, the weapons in the hands of the Krikorian guards glowed and

turned to glittering dust. Several of the guards began to retreat towards the exits, clearly wanting to get away from this vengeful goddess.

Toffam stared around him, at his deserting guards, and then gaped at Rose again. He looked at the Doctor next, his eyes wide and disbelieving. Frankly, he understood the man's alarm all too well. And clearly, whatever it was Toffam thought he knew about Rose's powers, it was obvious now that he hadn't ever imagined this.

"I tried to warn you," the Doctor told him. "I think you'd better leave before she changes her mind."

Toffam got to his feet, stumbling a little as he edged around Rose, keeping his eye on her as he moved towards the exit. "I won't forget this, Doctor," he said, feeling a little more bold as he put more more distance between the glowing woman and himself.

"I expect you won't," the Doctor replied. "And neither will we."

He watched as Toffam scurried out of the door and then he turned to see Rose. He expected her to release the golden glow or something, to return to herself, but she didn't. Instead, she gazed at him serenely.

"You shouldn't have done that," she said in that haunting voice.

"Done what?" he asked.

"Rose is rather angry with you," she answered, her echoing voice growling. "We couldn't let them kill you, we want you safe. But she is still veryupset."

"I had to do it," he tried to explain. "I knew what Toffam would do with her and I couldn't risk it."

"You are a fool in love," she stated simply and walked past him towards the doors.

The Doctor gaped after her for a moment before following along, curious about where she was going next. Rose, or the Bad Wolf (he was rather unsure of how to think of her when she was like this), didn't speak as they walked out of the palace and towards the edge of town. All around them, the various shuttles that had so quickly descended over the city earlier that day were retreating towards the mother ship which he could now see was resting on a knoll overlooking the city. Hatches on the ship's hull opened up and the various crafts disappeared inside.

Crowds of Jelsparans, some of them just recently released from within the ship, gathered around them as they all watched the mother ship begin to lift off from the ground. The enormous craft gained altitude rapidly, the downdraft blowing everyone's hair and clothing and the Doctor squinted to keep watching. Rose stood next to him, her expression impassive as she kept her

golden eyes trained on the retreating ship.

The mother ship had just about reached the edge of atmosphere when Rose lifted her hand. The Doctor looked at her, alarmed, before looking back at the ship in time to see it dissolve in a shower of a golden, sparkling dust. It was just like the Daleks on Satellite Five. The Jelsparans gasped with surprise and then began to cheer, hugging one another. Obviously, they were relieved that the threat of the Krikorians was well and truly destroyed. But to the Doctor, it reminded him far too much of what had happened with the Sycorax trying to leave Earth when Torchwood had shot them down.

"What'd you do that for!" he demanded angrily. He wanted to grab her shoulders and shake but she was still glowing that eerie gold and, frankly, he was afraid to touch her while she was like this.

"I did what must be done, Doctor," she replied calmly. She turned her golden eyes on him and as horrified as he was, he was transfixed by the goddess before him. "I saw into Toffam's mind and I knew what his intentions were. He was already planning his next invasion. He would never stop his ruthless campaign and so I had to stop him myself."

He still felt aggrieved as he watched the golden dust continue to rain upon the planet and the citizens celebrating around them. "I don't like it," he muttered.

"Of course you don't, my Doctor," she said, sounding vaguely amused. "I wouldn't expect anything else."

Her reaction brought him up short and the Doctor rubbed at the back of his neck as he tried to think of an suitable come back. The fact was, he had nothing. No, he definitely didn't like Rose, or Bad Wolf, or whoever virtually unmaking the Krikorian mother ship. He didn't like it one bit. But the fact of the matter was that he believed her when she said she'd seen in Toffam's mind that he planned to keep enslaving peaceful planets like Jelspar. And, perhaps, the universe was better off without his particular influence upon it. Destroying the Krikorian ship

wasn't right, but then again, Rose hadn't exactly been looking for his permission either.

This was a strange feeling, all right.

"Let's get back to the TARDIS," he grumbled peevishly, striding up the hill towards his ship. She followed behind him, as casually as though she were taking a stroll in the park.

When they approached the familiar blue police box, the Doctor got out his key to open it up, but Rose just lifted one of her hands and the doors blew open. She walked in and he followed, rolling his eyes.

As soon as she approached the console, Rose stopped and placed a hand on the Time Rotor. Instantly, the golden glow that surrounded her seemed to flow out of her and back into the console. Rose was left sagging against the controls, and he rushed forward to help support her

up. Her eyelids fluttered as she leaned against him and he watched her, concerned, for any after effects. After a long moment, her eyes opened and she gazed up at him, her lids still heavy. All traces of gold were gone, leaving her familiar whiskey coloured eyes.

"Hello," he said, smiling at her.

A line appeared between her brows as she regarded him for a long moment. He could feel her gaining her feet and he loosened his hold on her. What he wasn't prepared for, was for her to lean back suddenly and slap him hard across the face.

As the crescendoing song of the TARDIS and the Time Vortex faded from her mind (but it never fully disappeared these days, did it?), Rose became slowly aware that the Doctor was cradling her body protectively. Several thoughts surfaced at roughly the same time. The first thought was how good it felt to be held by him like this. There was a sensation of rightness in his embrace that seemed so much bigger than anything else. The second thought, however, was how he had broken their deal and made a major life decision for her. That made her angry. On its heels came the realisation that there was a half-formed bond between them that he not only hadn't told her about, but had openly lied to her about.

Right then. That made her good and pissed off.

Rose drew out of his embrace and he looked a little puzzled in the instant before her hand connected with the side of his face. He stumbled back, releasing her, and his hand cradled his cheek protectively.

"Ow!" he cried, nearly pouting.

"You're lucky I didn't punch you again," she growled, her hands balled into fists at her sides.

The Doctor looked very confused and if she'd been in a more charitable frame of mind, she would have said that he looked adorable with his forehead all wrinkled and his lower lip pouting out so deliciously. But she was not feeling remotely charitable, not towards him. Not right now.

"What in the name of Rassilon are you angry about now?" the Doctor groused.

If they hadn't been attached to her face, Rose was sure her eyebrows would have flown off her head and hit the ceiling of the console room. "You're joking, right? Do you not remember handcuffing me to the console and walking out of here to meet your certain doom earlier?"

"Ah. That," he murmured as he ran a hand through his hair absently. "Rose, I had to."

"No, you most definitely didn't." She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him angrily.

"I know you think I took your choice away from you, but Rose, I had to get you away from Toffam. I've met him before; he's a megalomaniac. He's unpredictable and immoral and I could not let him get his hands on you," the Doctor tried to explain.

"Then why couldn't you have told me all that at the time? You didn't even give me the decency of an explanation! You just tied me up and took off!" she shouted.

"There wasn't time!" he insisted, his teeth gritted.

"There's always time! When it comes to us, to you and I, there should always be time," Rose argued.

The Doctor stared at her and his eyes were dark and searching. "Rose, you don't understand," he murmured. "I'm so… scared. Any moment I could lose you forever and I know that I couldn't take that. Anything I do, I do because I'm trying so hard to just hold on."

"But, Doctor, you can't do that," she explained. "You hold me too tightly, you'll suffocate me. You have to trust me, and leaving me here like that told me that you didn't trust me."

"That's not what I was trying to say at all!" he asserted.

"And then there's this… bond. I'm assuming that was created the day that we… that you and I…?" She trailed off and looked at him, watching him nod and look down guiltily at his trainers. "You didn't tell me."

The Doctor cleared his throat. "I didn't have a chance that day, as it turned out," he replied. "The next thing I knew, you were running away and I was so caught up in all of that."

"But you had plenty of chances to tell me later," she pointed out.

"The next time I spoke to you," he said, tugging on his right ear nervously, "I made a mess of things. And after that, I was too scared to bring it up for fear of making you angry all over again. We were just starting to come together again."

"I asked you, outright, what it was. I felt it and you felt it too and I asked you! You lied to me!" she cried indignantly.

Now, he looked distinctly uncomfortable and that was so very him. The Doctor never had liked being called out on his lies, after all. "Like I said, I was scared. I didn't want to ruin what we were rebuilding, Rose. Everything was going so well!"

"It was going well, Doctor," she admitted. "But now I feel like the foundation of all of that was built on lies. How can I trust you? You didn't trust me to tell me the truth or to be able to handle Toffam. Trust is a two way street and right now it's a no-way street."

"I remembered how you reacted when you first learned the TARDIS was in your head, translating languages. What would you say if you knew I'd done something to your head, even unconsciously?" The Doctor raised an eyebrow at her in challenge.

"I can't believe you're bringing that up as your justification. I was little more than a child back then, Doctor. I'd just left home, with an alien I hardly knew and was thrust into this situation on a space station with even weirder aliens and… I was scared! I was young and I was scared and you didn't explain anything to me back then," she yelled, tears threatening to spill over.

"How was I supposed to know you'd mind so much? How could I have possibly explained it to you so that you'd understand?" he asked her, his eyes wide.

"You could have tried. I got used to the thing with the TARDIS didn't I?" she reminded him. And she had. It hadn't been long at all before the thought of the TARDIS in her head, translating languages to her, seemed as normal as breathing.

The Doctor shrugged a shoulder noncommittally. "I suppose so."

"If you'd just have explained this bond to me, explained that it was unconscious and told me a little bit about it and how Gallifreyan bondings work, I would have listened!" she shouted, and the tears now spilled down her cheeks before she could try to keep them at bay. Rose wiped at them impatiently

There was silence for a moment as they both paced around the console. The Doctor's jaw was set so tightly she thought it might crack. He kept jamming his hands into his hair as he paced. He came to a stop just before herand he was looking at her with such a pleading look that she had to look away. Rose's own thoughts were a jumble. She felt as though the walls were closing in on her again and panic began to rise up in her chest. She needed to get away and think and sort this all out. How could she decide how she felt about all this with him standing there staring at her like that? Still unsure what she wanted to do, she walked out of the console room and towards her room.

But the claustrophobic feeling wouldn't leave her. Even in her room, she felt the anxiety pressing in on her. There was only one solution for it. She had to get out of here, by herself. She had to run. Rose grabbed her duffle bag from under the bed and began to grab clothes out of the dresser and wardrobe, stuffing them into the bag haphazardly. She would be back, she was sure of it, so she wasn't concerned about leaving anything behind. She just needed some space right now. Hopefully, the Doctor would understand and would let her go.

When she returned to the console room with the bag, however, she could tell that he wasn't understanding. "You're leaving? Again?" he sputtered, his eyebrows drawing together.

"It's just for a few days," she said quietly. "I need to think and I can't think here right now."

"Think about what? Rose, don't leave!" he pleaded, crossing the room to her stopping just short of reaching out for her.

"I'll be back," she promised. "I can't think about this with you here. You cloud my judgement. You know you do. And I need to be sure, okay? I have a lot of time on my hands these days, and I can't afford to make impulsive choices about my life."

He took her shoulders in his hands, his fingers pressing into her flesh. His expression was imploring. "I know I've hurt you in the past and I'm so sorry about that, Rose. I was foolish. But you and I… I know that's right!"

She shrugged, trying to dislodge his hands but he held firm. "I'm not as sure about what's right for us right now, Doctor. I need some time, okay?Please."

The Doctor looked very much like he'd like to argue with her. She imagined he was very tempted to take her and hold onto her forever, if he had to. But he seemed to remember her saying that he would suffocate her and he stepped back, letting his hands drop to his sides before stuffing them into his pockets.

"I can give you time, Rose," he finally said. "I can give you whatever you need. Just please, don't give up on me yet."

His eyes met hers and she was very nearly drawn into the open pleading she saw there. But this time she was prepared for the mental nudging of the fledgeling bond and she braced herself.

"I can't promise anything other than I'll be back. You still have a phone here on the TARDIS, yeah?" she asked.

"No, I gave Martha hers back years ago," he replied.

Rose opened her bag and rooted around a little. She withdrew an older model phone, not unlike the one she'd carried all those years ago when she'd been 19 and young and naive. She tossed it at him and he caught it easily. "That's my backup phone. I've learned it doesn't hurt to have a spare around," she explained, shrugging. "My other mobile number is programmed in there, under my name. Call me anytime. And if I need you to come get me, I'll call you. Deal?"

He nodded, but regarded the mobile suspiciously. He dropped it into a slot on the console and then thrust his hands into his trouser pockets once more as he faced her again.

"This isn't forever, Doctor," she told him, hoping she sounded reassuring. "Just a few days, yeah?"

"Just… tell me that I didn't mess everything up between us forever," he said softly.

Rose bit her lip as she looked at him. "I hope not," she answered truthfully. She reached up and cupped his jaw, feeling the slight stubble there and the way his muscles tensed under her fingertips. She smiled a little at him, but he didn't return it. "I'll be back," she promised again.

Then she dropped her hand and reached down to grab up her duffle bag. Rose walked to the TARDIS doors without looking back at him and stepped out onto Jelspar. She took a moment to take a few breaths and collect her thoughts before raising the wrist with her Vortex Negotiator on it. She punched in the coordinates to a planet and a time she was well familiar with and hit "send". Within moments, she was surrounded by golden particles and she began to feel the familiar tugging sensation of the Negotiator pulling her away.

Chapter 10

Chapter Summary

Both Rose and the Doctor discover that being apart isn't all it's cracked up to be and the Doctor gets himself into a bit of a jam.

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with this story. We're getting much closer to the end now. And thanks to fogsblue for her encouragment and littlewhomouse for her help with the banner.

He should bloody well be used to this by now. Being alone was hardly a new situation for him. And Rose Tyler walking out of his TARDIS was hardly new either. But the Doctor found that he liked the whole scenario less and less all the time. The added knowledge that it always seemed to be his fault certainly didn't help.

After Rose had walked out, the Doctor had paced around the console, grumbling aloud to himself and kicking at the coral struts. Or, at least he had until the TARDIS groaned loudly and sent him the image of a mother sending her naughty little child to his room. Glaring at the Time Rotor, he'd barked out an aggrieved "Fine!" and stalked off to his room to throw his fit in private.

After he threw a few books, kicked his bed, and cursed loudly in Gallifreyan, he finally settled down. He raked his hands through his hair a few times before walking out of his room and back to the console room. Once there, he felt a little sheepish. He stroked the console and murmured a quiet apology.

The TARDIS hummed softly and sent his mind the image of a little girl patting a dog's head. The Doctor made a face and wondered just who was supposed to be the dog in this scenario, all the while knowing that it was him. That just made him more annoyed.

He didn't want to follow her. Rose needed her space right now, to think things out herself, and he needed to respect that. The problem was, he was quite sure he could not help himself. The Doctor didn't want to interfere, but he also wanted to know where she was and if she was okay. It wasn't that he didn't trust her, it was that he didn't trust himself. His heart ached when he didn't know where she was and it was so much worse than it'd been before.

"Can we do it?" he asked the TARDIS. "Can you find where she went?"

The TARDIS' hum sharpened and it was clear she didn't approve of his desire to meddle. But she flashed an affirmative in his mind and that was good enough for him.

"Well, let's go then!" he announced, releasing the handbrake. The Rotor whirred to life and off they went, following the time trail that Rose had left behind.

The TARDIS landed on Taklek Prime, a moon in the Hermes System that was known for it's leisure offerings. It was the twenty-seventh century, a very stable time period. The Doctor wasn't surprised, not entirely at least. She probably wanted to blow off steam and Taklek Prime was a great place do just that. He tried not to think of the proliferation of sex clubs, prostitution establishments, and less than savoury pubs and instead thought of all the gaming clubs and luxury resorts. Just because he automatically envisioned her at a seedy pub didn't mean that's where she'd gone.

However, that was exactly where he found her. It was actually the first place he looked for her, though he told himself he absolutely had not used that fledgeling bond to guide him to where she was. The pub was called "The Randy Ranger", and he tried not to think about that too much as he stepped inside and peered through the thick and boisterous crowd.

The atmosphere was actually a lot more casual (and a lot more fun) than he imagined when he first arrived and that alone helped him relax a little bit. The Doctor spotted her at last, standing just off the make-shift dance floor and surrounded by other people. She stood out among the rough looking crowd, bright and fresh in her yellow sundress. Rose was laughing and obviously having a good time. Quickly, before she could see him there, the Doctor slipped back out the door. If she was having a good time, that was the important thing. He knew where she was now and that made him feel a bit better.

As the Doctor wandered down the high street, he wondered what to do with himself. He couldn't bear the thought of going back to the TARDIS right now. Maybe he needed to blow off some steam too. But a seedy pub just didn't seem like his speed. He continued west down the high street until the buildings became cleaner and taller and straighter and the people milling about out on the street were wearing finer clothes and speaking with affected accents. Perhaps a more cultured establishment would do the trick.

The Doctor sauntered into a building that proclaimed itself to be "The Westbourne Club". Well, it certainly sounded pretentious enough. Quiet, tasteful music was piped in on hidden speakers

and stylishly dressed people sat at tables, drinking their colourful beverages and talking in subdued tones. The atmosphere wasn't terribly festive, not like "The Randy Ranger" had been. But he also realised that the likelihood of him having to actually deal with someone was very low in a place like this. The snooty types that congregated at places like this weren't the sorts to mingle with the likes of him, generally speaking.

He found a table in a back corner where he could watch the room, have a drink or two, and think. He ordered a banana daiquiri from the smartly dressed waitress and watched the comings and goings of the elite. The Doctor was just thinking how much Rose would be scoffing and rolling her eyes at this stuffy atmosphere when he was approached by a woman in a very fancy dress. He had to do a double take; she looked almost exactly like Madame Du Pompadour.

"Is this seat taken?" she asked, her voice smooth and cultured. Just like Reinette, actually.

The Doctor covered his surprise well enough and gestured at the empty chair to indicate that it was available before he could think better of it. She smiled and pulled it out, settling herself down primly. Then she extended her hand across the small tabletop. "My name is Cyline. Cyline Fairdawn," she greeted. "And you are?"

"Cyline!" he exclaimed, the name suddenly making so much sense that laughter unconsciously bubbled forth from his throat. "Sorry! I'm the Doctor." He shook her hand and she looked quizzically at him.

She was Cyline Fairdawn, better known to history as Princess Cylinadran of Carpathix IV. She had a reputation for being rebellious and frivolous and for starting a war that subsequently ruined five different civilisations. Notorious? Oh, definitely. And her resemblance to Reinette could probably be attributed to the rumours that had always circulated around Carpathix IV that her family was distantly related to Old Earth French aristocracy. Which was… interesting. The Doctor started to get an uncomfortable feeling and he did what he always did when he got that feeling. He tugged on his ear. Maybe he should have told her that seat was taken…

Cyline was still looking at him strangely as she asked, "What brings you to Taklek Prime, Doctor?"

"I could ask you the same thing, Cyline," he replied. "It's a long way from Carpathix IV."

She nodded. "Fair point. I like to let down my hair now and then, and this is a good and fairly anonymous place to do it."

"Mmm," he murmured in agreement. "Well, that's why I'm here too."

"Really?" she purred, leaning across the table in such a way that he knew she intended for him to notice her ample cleavage spilling out over the top of her gown.

All this was, at least in this moment, was harmless flirting. He'd always been good at flirting,

even in his other incarnations. This particular incarnation was especially skilled at the craft. But before he could even think about replying with a clever rejoinder, the Doctor stopped. He didn'twant to flirt with Cyline. In fact, he would be happier if she'd just go on and leave him be to drink his daiquiri, which had just arrived at the table.

He took a sip of his drink, thinking about what to say to her. Best to go with the honest truth, yes? He set the glass aside and leaned forward, almost mimicking her pose. "Cyline, I think you might be wasting your time with me," he told her.

She raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow in an expression of disbelief. "I don't believe in wasting time," she replied, winking at him for good measure. "I believe everything that happens before I ultimately get what I want is just progress."

Blimey. So much for letting her off gently. "I'm not interested in having a flirt with you, your highness."

"Then how about we skip right to the fucking?" she suggested, her lips quirking up.

The Doctor resisted letting his head fall forward until it smacked against the table top in frustration. But just barely. "How about… not," he replied and he held her eyes with his so she would know he was being sincere. She blinked at him confusedly. "I'm sorry, but I'm not even remotely interested. I'm flattered by your attention, really I am. But you'd do better to go pull someone else."

Twin spots of colour formed on Cyline's cheeks as her confused expression changed to something more indignant. Her eyes flashed angrily at him as she hissed, "How dare you turn me down! You'll regret this, Doctor!"

Good grief. He was regretting it already. He should have stayed on the TARDIS. The Doctor watched as the princess sashayed away to where her entourage was seated on the opposite end of the club. He returned his attention to his drink, hoping that perhaps Cyline would attach herself to some other interested bloke and forget her empty threat. He didn't really feel like dealing with any extra drama tonight.

Especially when his thoughts were still just so full of Rose. He thought back to how he'd handled things with Toffam and while he knew he couldn't do anything about his overwhelming desire to protect her, he did have to admit that he could have explained himself to her a little better. And there was no good reason to have kept the bond a secret from her. He should have trusted that she would understand what the creation of the bond entailed.

She was definitely upset with him, but he had hope that maybe she wasn't so angry that she would leave him again. She'd almost seemed reluctant to go this time, after all. That knowledge should give him some small measure of hope. He vowed that when he got back to the TARDIS, he'd call her mobile. She might not answer, still out having fun, but he could leave her a message. He didn't know what he'd say but something would surely come to him.

The Doctor lingered a while longer, drinking another banana daiquiri, before deciding to head back to the TARDIS. Perhaps there was a book in the library that would capture his attention. This club had lost its charm and he no longer wanted to be in the company of others.

He was just walking out after dropping a few credit chips on the table to pay his tab when a couple of muscled men wearing official uniforms flanked him, each grabbing one of his arms.

"Hello, can I help you?" he asked mildly as they continued to steer him out the door and onto the street.

"We were sent to have a word with you, Doctor," the man who had a vice grip on his right arm growled.

"May I ask what this tete a tete is about, gentlemen?" the Doctor said, his mind already racing, hoping that this was one of those situations he would be able to talk himself out of.

The men, whom he assumed were royal guards, steered him around the corner of the building and into a dark and rather dank looking alleyway. He was released and pushed forward roughly, jarring his shoulder against a rough brick wall. He tried to cover his wince as best he could, keeping his expression light and friendly.

"You have insulted Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Carpathix IV," the other guard informed him and he crossed his large arms over his chest, the muscles there flexing menacingly. The Doctor swallowed nervously.

"Now, my friends, I didn't mean to insult Her Royal Highness. I merely told her that I wasn't interested in any… funny business," he explained. "That is the extent of it, I promise."

"That's not what Her Royal Highness told us. She was very distressed when she returned to the table, telling us you had made lewd suggestions to her, propositioning her as though she were a common… well…" the guard clarified, trailing off and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

The Doctor blinked as he looked between the two burly guards. Clearly, Cyline had fed them some sort of story about how he had come on to her when the opposite had been true. Being that these were official royal guards from Carpathix IV, he figured the odds of them taking his word over hers were slim to none.

"It's not what you think," he protested, putting his hands up in front of himself in a gesture of compliance. "I'm sure I can explain everything."

"We're not here to listen to explanations," one of the men growled and he made a fist.

"We're here to teach you a lesson," the other finished for him.

The Doctor's eyes widened as both of the men advanced on him, their eyes glittering and their hands fisted. He raised his own hands in a defensive pose, though he knew his efforts were likely going to go to waste. He was a smart man, but it didn't take a genius to know that this was going to hurt.

Rose was trying her hardest to enjoy herself. In the past, a trip to the pub here on Taklek Prime had always done wonders to clear her mind of whatever was bothering her. This time, however, her troubles seemed to be following her. The couple of bottles of hyperlager she'd had weren't even helping.

She drank a little, she danced some more. A few people she recognised from previous visits were here tonight, at "The Randy Ranger" (and of course it had been Jack who introduced her to this establishment), and she was having a decent enough time. But her thoughts were filled with the Doctor. She was wondering what he was doing now, if he was thinking about her, if he missed her as much as she was missing him.

Why was she missing him so much? He'd done exactly what she'd warned him not to do. And he'd lied to her about this… bond between them. He'd been in her head! Then again, she did believe that the formation of the bond had been mostly unconscious on his part. Did that excuse him from keeping its existence from her? Was she just overreacting? Because right now she wanted to pull out her mobile and call him up and ask him to come get her. Rose didn't want to be at "The Randy Ranger" tonight or any other night without him. The TARDIS was where she belonged and it was where she'd belonged since the first moment she'd stepped on board.

A young human who had introduced himself as Rees was currently trying to get her attention. He was tall, slim, had tousled, gorgeous hair and glittering eyes. He was definitely a pretty boy. And, Rose was loathe to admit, she definitely had a type. Or at least, she'd had a type before. Once upon a time, this Rees would have been exactly what she was looking for. A cute bloke that she could maybe pretend was someone else. A cute bloke who was interested in her. At least, interested enough for one night.

But now, Rose found she wasn't the least bit interested. She didn't even feel like a harmless flirt or a spin around the dance floor with Rees, cute as he was. In fact, she didn't even feel like pretending here in this club any longer. She might not call the Doctor back yet but maybe she could go find Jack and crash on his couch or something.

Rose had just made her excuses to the lovely Rees and was leaving the pub when she felt a stabbing pain at the base of her skull. She actually had to stop and brace herself on the doorway, her fingers pressing into her temples as she fought to catch her breath. Then she straightened and looked around the pub and out onto the street, searching frantically.

Time was, she might have thought it was a particularly nasty migraine. Now, she knew it was

this half-formed bond. And she also strongly suspected, from things that had happened recently, that the bond was felt more acutely during times of emotional and perhaps even physical duress and when proximity was close. That told her two things: that the Doctor was nearby and that he was in trouble.

Rose turned west and the pain in her head sharpened. She sucked in a breath at the sting before shaking her head to clear it. That way. He was definitely that way. She hurried down the street, ignoring the curious looks of the locals and tourists alike who were wandering about, looking for some place to have a good time.

It was a couple blocks away that she heard the sounds of a scuffle. It was muted, around the corner of the building and away from prying eyes. She hurried into the alleyway and found what she was looking for.

The Doctor was being beaten to within an inch of his regeneration. One burly man wearing a posh looking uniform was holding him up while another landed blows on his torso. And the Doctor looked a mess, there was a cut above his eye, his lip was split and his cheek bruised. Something leapt in Rose's chest at that moment. Something fierce and protective.

"Oi! You lot!" she shouted, striding forward. "Leave him alone!"

Both of the uniformed thugs looked at her, the one busy pummelling the Doctor dropped his fists and turned to face her. Both wore identical looks of incredulity as they looked her up and down skeptically. The Doctor sagged back against the wall, his breath escaping in a pained wheeze.

"Move along, little girl," the man who had been holding the Doctor up said with a growl. "This is none of your concern."

Rose crossed her arms over her chest and cocked an eyebrow. "I beg to differ," she replied. "I think this is very much my concern."

"Unless you would like to be next, I suggest you move along," the other bloke suggested, leering menacingly at her.

"Rose," the Doctor gasped. Her eyes darted to him, taking in the way his breath was hitched and that protective tightness flared in her chest again.

The men noticed this and now looked at her with mild surprise. "You know this bloke?"

"Damn right I do. And unless you want me to have to get unpleasant, you'll be on your way now," she threatened. She wasn't entirely sure what exactly she would do. She doubted she could call on her full Bad Wolf powers without making contact with the TARDIS but maybe she could summon enough strength and pyrotechnics to get these guys to move away.

"Is he your mate?" the man who had been holding the Doctor up asked, now stepping away and

toeing at the Doctor's slumped form negligently.

Rose debated for a long moment how to answer. The truth was, she wasn't entirely sure. There was the bond in her mind and they did have sex that one time and they were definitely friends or had been until their latest fight… She squared her shoulders and made a strategical choice.

"Yes, he is. He's my responsibility, so whatever he's done I can assure you that I'll take care of it."

Knowing the Doctor, he could have done any number of things to insult these guys. She figured the most likely reason was that he'd beaten them at cards or something and they thought he'd cheated them. If that was the case, she was prepared to give these bullies whatever money she needed to to get them to shove off.

The other guy smirked at her. "Then I think you should know that we are Royal Guards from Carpathix IV and this man was forcing himself on Princess Cylinadran. We are defending Her Highness' honour."

Rose glanced at the Doctor, to where he was now crouched on the ground, his arms shaking with the strain of holding himself up. He raised his head and met her eyes and she saw such desperation in his expression that her breath caught in her throat. "No, Rose," he groaned. "I wouldn't-"

"Shut it," one of the men barked, kicking him in the side roughly, causing the Doctor to collapse on the ground with a grunt.

"If that's the case, I think you've dealt him plenty of punishment already, don't you?" Rose pointed out, eyeing both of the guards sharply. "I'd say he's learned his lesson. Haven't you, Doctor?"

The Doctor looked up at her and he looked so pathetic that she had to fight the urge to cradle him in her arms. She had to get rid of these brutes first. She softened her gaze and plead with him silently. He lowered his head shamefully. "Yes, I have," he replied and he coughed weakly, spitting blood out onto the pavement.

Rose turned back to the guards who were eyeing her and the Doctor suspiciously. "See? I'll thank you to be on your way now," she said dismissively, throwing in a shooing gesture for good measure.

The men looked reluctant. While they'd done their worst to the Doctor, she'd clearly interrupted their "fun" for the evening. She placed herself between the Doctor and them, sending a clear message that if they wanted to continue beating him, they'd have to get through her first. Both men pulled a face and looked at each other regretfully. "All right. Let's get back to Her Highness, make sure she doesn't need anything else this evening," one of the men said to the other.

"Fine. Let's get back inside," the other agreed and then he leaned around Rose to address the Doctor directly. "Don't let us see you back in this club again, you understand?"

Rose once again placed herself between the men and the Doctor. "We understand. Don't let us keep you." Her words were soft but she made sure to fix them both with her strongest glare. They both glared back but moved away, out of the alley.

Once they were gone, Rose dropped to the ground before the Doctor, balancing on the balls of her feet, her hands fluttering over him, unsure of where to touch for fear of causing him more pain. "Where does it hurt the most?" she asked matter-of-factly.

He grunted, still on his hands and knees, one hand weakly bracing his midsection. "Everywhere," he gasped.

"Do you think you can stand up?"

"Maybe."

She experimented with grabbing at his upper arms and he didn't seem to flinch against her grasp too much so she tried to pull him up to a sitting position. He scrabbled, gasping in pain and soon was sitting next to her on the ground. Rose let him rest a bit, catch his breath. She took the opportunity to catalogue the injuries to his face. The damage looked mostly superficial and would be quick work for the dermal regenerator back in the TARDIS medbay. But the way he was bracing his arm over his abdomen made her think he probably had a broken arm and some internal bruising at the very least.

"Rose," he murmured, startling her from her examination. "I didn't do… what they said."

It took her a few moments to figure out what he was trying to tell her. "We'll talk about it later," she told him. "Let's get you back to the TARDIS first." She got to her feet and braced her weight on both legs and she bent down to grasp him under the arms.

"But Rose," he protested. "It's important… guh… I don't want you to think…" The Doctor panted with the exertion as she helped him get to his feet. His knees buckled a time or two but she was right there to brace him. His face was white as a sheet by the time she got him standing and he hunched over, clinging to her shoulder.

"Doctor, please just concentrate on walking for now, okay?" She took one of his arms gingerly and pulled it around her shoulder. "Here, hold onto me like this. Don't be afraid to brace your weight against me a bit if you have to. I'm stronger than I look."

"You… you're the strongest… person I know… Rose Tyler," he grunted as they began to shuffle together out of the alley.

Rose chuckled a little, but it was a nervous thing. She didn't like the grey pallor that his face

was taking on and the way each movement was causing obvious and substantial pain. She'd feel a lot better when she got him back on the TARDIS.

They were mostly quiet as they moved slowly down the street towards the TARDIS. He would point, to indicate which direction to head in and she would steer them as straight and steadily as she could. She was beginning to tire out but knowing that she had absolutely no intention of leaving him even for a minute gave her the strength to keep going.

The TARDIS had just come into view when he spoke again. "Reinette," he groaned, his hand tightening on her shoulder. Rose stiffened a bit, wondering if maybe he was hallucinating now. Why else would he bring up Reinette, of all people? The mention of her name stung more than she would have expected it to, after all these years.

"What?" she asked, panting with exertion. He was leaning more heavily against her now and her legs were beginning to shake.

"She looked… just like her," he said. "She was hideous."

Now she knew he was hallucinating.

She reached the TARDIS doors and was about to try to dig her key out from the chain around her neck when the door opened for her. She patted the wood fondly as she half-dragged the Doctor inside. "Thanks, old girl," she murmured. The door eased shut behind them.

The Doctor seemed to rally a bit now that they were in the TARDIS and he leaned a little less heavily against her as she walked them across the console room and towards the corridor that led to the med bay. She found the door sooner than she expected and figured the TARDIS had maybe moved it closer for her benefit. She sent the TARDIS a mental image of a woman presenting someone with a plate full of warm cookies and received a warm pulse in return.

Inside the medbay, she manoeuvred him over to the examination bed. The Doctor dropped onto it with a pained sigh. Every line of his body was tensed in pain and she tried to push her emotions back as she tried to arrange him as carefully as possible.

"Sorry," she told him. "I don't want to hurt you, but I need to get some of these clothes off of you, so I can see your injuries and fix them."

He nodded sharply, his eyes squeezed shut. His breathing was shallow and his colour was still far paler than she would have liked. Quickly and efficiently, Rose removed his clothes, starting with his trainers and his tie. She tried to be as gentle as possible, urging his hips up so she could pull his trousers down and off of his legs. His jacket and oxford were easier. She unbuttoned both and then supported his shoulders as she pulled the fabric away from his bruised body.

The Doctor was panting with the effort, wearing now just his boxer briefs. Sweat stood out on his brow and she knew from experience that it took quite a bit to make a Time Lord sweat. She

brushed a hand over his cheek before turning to gather the equipment she needed to repair his injuries.

Rose washed her hands in the small sink and dried them on a towel before collecting the dermal regenerator, a scanner and various tubes and ointments as well as a few syringes that she knew contained wonder drugs that the Doctor had picked up here and there in his travels. She'd had plenty of experience in the med bay, both when she'd traveled with him before and during the last year. She was often in here, needing to get stitched up or have a bruise repaired. The Doctor often needed patching up as well, hazards of the lifestyle, so Rose was fairly confident in her nursing skills.

She started with the scanner, talking soothingly to him as she ran it over his legs and his abdomen, torso and arms. Luckily, the worst of it was a few cracked ribs. The rest was just bruising. Using the dermal regenerator, she worked on the ribs and the bruising, trying to ease his discomfort as much as she could.

After his more serious injuries were taken care of, she rubbed some ointment on the areas to ease the sensitivity. Then she attended to the cuts. The lacerations weren't too bad on his body but his face was in pretty bad shape. She cleaned the cuts and dabbed on antibiotic ointment, which made him gasp and grab at the edge of the bed. Her own eyes watered sympathetically as she began to apply the healing ointment. She ran the dermal regenerator over the worst of the cuts and bruising; his forehead and his cheek and his eye and over his poor split lip.

When she was finished she sat back in the chair next to the bed, her hands shaking. Rose was more affected than she expected she would have been. The Doctor turned his head to look at her and seeing her expression, his switched from grateful exhaustion to confused concern.

"Rose?" he questioned.

"I-I'm okay," she assured him, clutching her hands in her lap to stop them shaking. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm…" She trailed off, unsure how to finish that sentence.

"Thank you," he said, his eyes holding hers.

She smiled at him, feeling some of the tension she'd been holding leak out. "Don't mention it."

"How did you know? How did you find me?" he asked, holding his hand out towards her and she leaned forward, taking his hand. His fingers curled around hers and she felt grounded once more.

"I felt it," Rose replied. "In my head, there was a pain and I just… I knew it was you."

The Doctor looked amazed. "You felt that? And you knew how to follow it to me?"

She lifted a shoulder. "I was running on instinct. The sensation was rather… urgent. I didn't

take much time to analyse it."

"But Rose, that's incredible," he murmured, gazing at her with undisguised admiration. "Your telepathic training has been rudimentary at best. You yourself said you hadn't had any further training since coming back to this universe. To be able to focus in on my signature like that, and follow it… it's nothing short of incredible."

She flushed under his praise. "I'm just glad I was around and could help," she said. Then her brow furrowed as she started to wonder. "Actually, how is that possible? Why are you here on Taklek Prime? Did you follow me?"

The Doctor looked sheepish and he let go of her hand, reaching up to tug on his ear. "I did follow you," he admitted. "The TARDIS was able to lock onto your bio signature and… I knew I shouldn't. And I promise I wasn't…. I just wanted to know where you were."

"But you followed me!" she protested. "You didn't trust me!"

He sat up a little, wincing at the stiffness of his healing muscles. "No, Rose, that's not it at all," he insisted. "I just wanted to know where you were. Honest. You were actually in the first pub I stopped at so I left. I didn't want you to see me and think I was checking up on you. I wanted to give you your space."

Rose wanted to be annoyed. She was, a little. But probably not as much as she should be. As she reached forward and brushed his hair off his forehead, letting her fingers linger for a moment against his cheek, she realised that she was ready to talk. Her anger from earlier, with the Krikorian's and his manipulation and the bond and his lies about it had faded. She still needed to talk to him, to work a few things out for her own peace of mind, but she knew at that moment that she was tired of fighting. She was tired of pushing him away.

Chapter 11

Chapter Summary

Rose and the Doctor have a long-awaited talk and a few things are realised between them.

Big thanks to fogsblue and the rest of the gals in chat for their encouragement and to littlewhomouse for helping me with the banner. We are getting very close to the end! I hope you don't mind where I left this off. ;)

"Rose?" the Doctor asked, sitting up in the exam bed a little straighter. Rose had a look on her face that he didn't dare put a name to. His stomach fluttered nervously, the various fading aches and pains in his body fading even further.

"I think we need to talk," she told him quietly. "That okay?"

He nodded. "Okay. Can we do it someplace a little more comfortable though?" He gestured around the Med Bay at the exam bed and stiff-backed chairs.

Rose got to her feet and extended a hand to him. "Sure. Need help getting up?"

The Doctor took her hand just so that he could get to his feet. His newly healed bones and skin were tender but the pain was now gone, thankfully. He dropped her hand as soon as he was standing, however. He'd never been the sort that liked to admit he had any weaknesses. He was the Doctor, a Time Lord, the Oncoming Storm and he wasn't supposed to be weak. And, as silly

as he knew it would sound, he hated showing weakness in front of Rose even more.

He'd had no choice tonight, of course. As much as his masculine pride had taken a beating, so had his very manly body. If Rose hadn't come along… well, he'd probably have eventually been fine. The guards probably would have stopped soon anyhow; he doubted they would have wanted to beat him to death. And as a Time Lord, he healed quite quickly. But it still would have been hours before he could have moved himself out of that alley. And if someone had taken half a mind to grab him during that time… he shuddered to think.

No, Rose had done a wonderful thing for him tonight. She'd been so gentle and caring and patient with him. They'd had a terrible fight earlier, but she'd come to help him anyhow. The Doctor wondered if he'd ever be able to thank her for what she'd done for him. And it made him wonder and hope that maybe… maybe she wasn't through with him yet. Now she wanted to talk and he had to assume that was a good thing.

"I've got it," he assured her as she hovered near his elbow. She backed off, but watched him carefully as he took a few steps. He looked around and then flushed. He was still largely without clothing. "Erm… is there a dressing gown nearby?"

The Doctor noticed Rose was having some difficulty tearing her eyes from his body and he regained a little bit of his lost pride as her face flushed prettily. "Unless you'd like me to walk about in my pants?" he suggested with a smirk.

"Yes, well," she murmured distractedly, finally tearing her eyes away so she could look around the room. Next to the door was a row of hooks and hanging from them were a couple of dressing gowns. She plucked one down, a dark brown fleecy number, and handed it to him.

He pulled it on and cinched the belt around his waist. "Where would you like to talk?" she asked him. "Where would you be most comfortable?"

The Doctor thought about that for a moment. He was tempted to suggest his bedroom but he worried that she might read things into that that he didn't intend. Well, that was a lie wasn't it? He most definitely wanted Rose in his bedroom. But she was right, they did need to talk. First things first.

"How about the library?" he suggested. It was neutral ground, to be sure, and a lot more comfortable than the Med Bay.

Rose nodded. She held out a hand again. "Need me to walk you down there?"

"No, I've got it," he said quickly. The Doctor stepped past her, eager to prove that he was back to full health again.

He caught her smirking at him. "All right, tough guy. How about I get us some tea and biscuits and meet you there then?"

"That is a brilliant plan, Rose Tyler. I like the way you think," he told her with a wink.

They each went their separate ways and the Doctor was grateful to have a moment to collect himself and his thoughts. This was his chance to clear the air fully with Rose and to ask her the questions that he still had. The last thing he wanted to do was overwhelm her but he felt this particular conversation had been a long time coming between them. He found he was feeling oddly excited about it.

In the library, he started up a fire in the fireplace (which really was as simple as laying a hand on the wooden mantle, closing his eyes, and sending the image of a roaring fire to the TARDIS. She did the rest.). The Doctor debated lighting a few candles as well, but decided that might be overplaying his hand a bit. As would putting some soft music on the sound system. He settled for turning on a couple of lamps. Then he perched in the wingback chair next to the fireplace, the one where he did most of his reading, and waited.

Rose entered the library a few minutes later, carrying a tray loaded with a teapot, a couple of mugs and a sleeve of his favourite chocolate biscuits. He beamed a smile at her and she grinned back, crossing the room to set the tray on a table next to the sofa.

She settled onto the sofa, pulling off her denim jacket and kicking her trainers off, pulling her feet up underneath her. She sipped at her tea and hummed with pleasure. He watched her while he dunked a biscuit into his own mug, taking a big bite of the soggy treat. They ate and drank in companionable silence for a few moments before Rose cleared her throat.

"I didn't… do anything," she said quietly, studying the rim of her mug thoughtfully.

The Doctor glanced at her and set his mug down. "Excuse me?"

"On Taklek Prime, in the pub? I didn't pull anyone," she explained. Then she looked up at him and her expression was careful. "I would have done, before. That is, before you and… me. I thought maybe I would this time. But I didn't."

He tried to tamp down his relief at this news. "Why not?"

"You know why," she told him, picking at the hem of her sundress. He blinked at her.

"I really don't, but I wish you'd tell me," he replied.

"It's you," she said simply, lifting her head to meet his eyes again. "I didn't want anyone else because of you. You're the one that I want."

The Doctor swallowed, feeling his hearts speed up. It was so tempting to accept that as enough but he had to do this properly. "Okay, you say you want me," he began. "But is that all it is? You told me once that you weren't in love with me anymore."

"Well," she drawled, lengthening the vowel the same way he always did and it made his insides squeeze. "I did say, 'I think'."

His breath caught. "Rose?"

"Doctor, I never stopped loving you," she said and then his breath stopped altogether. "After you… left me on the beach… I did what I had to do to move forward. I had my family to distract me for a while and that was great. I dated a few guys and tried not to read too much into how I never could fall in love with anyone else. I told myself that you were the past, that what I felt for you wasn't right, that it wasn't real, even. I had two hundred years to convince myself and I can be a pretty good liar."

The Doctor listened to her and felt a twinge as he realised how familiar her words were to him. Hadn't he done the very same thing for centuries? It was a large part of why he'd been so reluctant to follow his hearts with her in the first place. And hadn't he done that very thing after he'd lost her the second time?

"It was easier to go through that life pretending like you didn't still own my heart. And let's face it, it was easier to wake up in the morning and pretend you hadn't thrown my heart back in my face that day on the beach," she continued and while her words were hard, her voice was soft and his hearts lurched painfully.

"Rose, I didn't mean to throw your heart back in your face," he insisted. "I was a foolish, foolish man. I was scared and upset by what Davros did to you."

They hadn't spoken about the torture before. Even now, he still felt so guilty for allowing her to be used in that way. Used against him. All at once, he was reminded how familiar that scenario was to the recent events with Toffam.

Rose leaned forward on the sofa to put her hand over his where it rested on the arm of the chair. "That wasn't your fault, Doctor. And what happened with the Krikorians wasn't your fault either. I was okay then and I'm okay now, got it? I wouldn't change anything about it." I wouldn't miss it for the world. Some things never changed.

"I don't think you understand how hard it is for me to see that or to know that's happening. If there's anything I can do to prevent it or stop it, I'll do it. How can I not?" He turned his hand underneath hers so he could wrap his fingers around hers.

"I know that, Doctor, but you also can't be afraid of that sort of thing happening. Please don't use that fear as an excuse to shut me away or to push me away from you. I can't bear that," she pleaded.

"How about…" he began and he paused, shutting his eyes and steeling himself. "How about we compromise? I can promise that I will not shut you out if you promise to help me. This whole

relationship situation is new to me and I'm not used to relying on anyone else. But, I need you. You help me keep the darkness away. This is more than just holding my hand, Rose. It's holding me. Can you do that?"

Tears sparkled in Rose's warm, brown eyes. She nodded. There were a few moments where she visibly worked on composing himself and watching her made his own throat feel tight with emotion. Finally, she spoke again.

"I've loved you for so long. I barely remember what my life was like before you anymore," she admitted. I'll have little visions, little snatches of my life back then. I can see Mum and Mickey and the estate and all of that. But it's so grey in my memories. Its like I didn't see colour until you came along, grabbed my hand, and told me to run.

"I'm not that same girl anymore. I haven't been her for over two hundred and fifty years now. Traveling with you and loving you, it has defined who I am now. It was your influence that has followed me all these years, helping me to make choices and explore the universe and showing me how to help others in need. I'm not the same as I was but I started in the same place. I just wonder… can you put up with who I am now?"

The Doctor stood up from his chair and hurried to her side, sitting next to her on the sofa and pulling her into his arms. "Oh, Rose," he murmured into her hair. "Please don't doubt yourself. And its like you said, there's that same girl inside. You've just grown and moved forward and that's brilliant. I wouldn't have it any other way. I've had a little time this last year to get to know who you are again. I know you, Rose."

She drew back and met his eyes. "I've said awful things to you. I've done awful things."

He brought a hand up to her face, rubbing the apple of her cheek with his thumb. "So have I. And honestly, if you want to talk about someone changing, wouldn't you say I take the prize, between the two of us? I'm quite sure that during the tenure of our relationship, I've changed more than you have."

Rose smirked a little. "Okay, that might be true. But you're still you inside. You're the same man with the same heart. I loved you then, you know."

The Doctor blinked at her. "You did?" he breathed. "Even with the ears?"

She chuckled and it was such a glorious sound he almost forgot that he was in awe over her revelation. "I loved those ears. The ears, your nose, your beautiful blue eyes… everything about you, Doctor. That's who I fell in love with first."

"When?" he blurted before he could second-think it. It was amazing to him that she could have loved the battle-scarred, gruff and unfriendly soldier that he'd been back then.

Rose let her head fall back against the cushions of the sofa and she stared at the ceiling, clearly

searching her thoughts. "God, I don't know. I feel like I loved you from the moment I knew you, but maybe… maybe it just took me a little while to realise it? I knew it for sure when you sent me home from the Games Station. I couldn't stand the thought of you up there, on your own, dying on your own. It felt like… I was being torn to pieces just thinking about it. And I knew that I felt that way because I loved you and I knew that I must have felt that way for a while."

"And then I went and changed on you," he murmured thoughtfully. "You'd only just realised these feelings and then the rug was yanked out from under you."

She lifted her head to look at him and cocked it to the side. "It was quite the shock at first, as you well remember," she reminded him. "But I got used to it. Pretty quickly, in fact. It didn't hurt that suddenly you were all the fantasies I'd ever had as a hormonal teenager rolled up into one skinny bloke."

He could feel himself flushing. "Well, then, we got lucky with this regeneration, didn't we?" he said, hoping he sounded cheeky rather than bashful. "But Rose… chances are I'll regenerate again someday and you'll have to deal with that all over again. Are you sure you'll be up for that?"

"Definitely," Rose replied without any hesitation. "Doctor, I have loved you, I do love you and I will love you. Face it, you've ruined me for all men."

Her tone was flippant, but he knew better. And maybe he knew better because he too was ruined because of her. He gazed at her, his eyes tracing the curve of her cheek, the fullness of her mouth, the line of her jaw. He thought of all the wonderful things he'd seen her do during the last few months they'd spent together, traveling. How could he not be ruined for all other women?

All these thoughts crowded in his mind at once so that all he could choke out in response was a hoarse, "Ditto."

The Doctor didn't miss the playful glint in her eye. "I've ruined you for all men?"

"Minx," he muttered, reaching up to tweak her nose.

"Seriously though, Doctor," she said, her expression sobering. "I have changed a lot and things haven't exactly been easy for us the last seventy-five years. After everything, could you still love me? I know you said– you said you loved me back when you first found me in Pete's World, but that was so long ago."

"I'll answer you," he promised her, "but first I'd like if you could answer a question that I have."

She looked intrigued. "I'll do my best."

"If what you say is true, if you have loved me all this time and you never really stopped… then why did you leave me seventy-five years ago?" It was something he'd always put down to her

saying she didn't think she loved him any longer but if she had… why had she left?

"I was very angry with you, if you recall," she said. "What you had done and the way you treated me, it scared me. I thought that if I stayed, then it would be like telling you that it was okay to make these decisions for me and to treat me that way. I had struggled for so long to really find myself, Doctor, and I didn't want to lose myself in you. There was a time I would have gladly done just that."

He rubbed at the back of his neck a little ruefully. "I wasn't in a really good place right then anyhow. I'd lost all of you after the twenty-seven planets and I… was a bit rubbish. I'm pretty sure I told you all this before. I know it doesn't excuse what I did, but maybe it helps? To know that I was in a… desperate frame of mind?"

"Maybe," Rose said, chewing her lip lightly and watching him. "Are you going to answer my question now?"

The Doctor chuckled. "Rose, you can't possibly not already know the answer."

She levelled a look at him that he recognised all too well from the time they'd first traveled together. "Just answer the question," she all but growled at him.

He leaned forward and cupped her face in his hands. "Love is a very small word and it doesn't begin to encompass how I feel. But yes, Rose Tyler, I do love you. I never stopped…

I couldn't stop. After I made the colossal mistake of leaving you on that awful beach, I tried to stop and I couldn't. Even these last seventy-five years, I never stopped. Traveling with you these last months has been incredible because I've gotten to know you as you are now. If anything, I love you even more now," he told her earnestly, smiling when he saw tears form in her eyes at his words. "Does that answer the question?"

Rose nodded and she reached out to stroke his face as well. He leaned into her touch, trying to resist the urge to let his eyes drift closed. He didn't want to miss the look in her eyes, which had gone from touched to tender to… what was this look? Her eyes drifted down and he was rather certain that she was now looking at his mouth. That gave him an idea. He looked down at her mouth too and felt his hearts stutter in his chest.

Her plump lips were parted, just barely, pink and glistening in the firelight. He was drawn in, inexorably, by her gravitational pull until his nose was brushing alongside hers. She didn't pull away and her breath lightly brushed his cheek as he hesitated for a long moment. The Doctor wondered briefly just how long he could draw this out, what it would be like. If they could bear the anticipation. If he could bear the anticipation. Finally, he decided that he

simply couldn't and he leaned forward the rest of the way, brushing his lips against hers. Rose didn't react other than to press her fingers into the skin of his jaw a little tighter. He drew back and waited until her eyes opened again and met his. This time, he knew what he saw

there. Want.

He leaned forward again and captured her lips more quickly this time, already missing the feel of their warmth against his. This time, she was the one to draw back and he very nearly whimpered at the loss, but then he caught the mischievous glint in her eyes. She took her turn, burying both of her hands in his hair as she took his lower lip between hers. He felt the gentle scrape of her nails across his scalp at the same time he felt her teeth nip at his lip and there was a sound, a moan, and he realised dimly that it had come from him.

The Doctor wrapped his arms around Rose which served several fine purposes. Firstly, it brought her body closer to his, so that her torso pressed deliciously against his. Secondly, it helped to still the trembling that had developed in his hands in the last few minutes. Lastly, it served to encourage Rose to deepen the kiss. Her mouth opened against his and he needed no further invitation than that. Bracing his hands against her shoulder blades and at the small of her back, he pressed his tongue forward to brush against hers.

He sampled her leisurely, exploring the taste of Rose like he'd been unable to really do all the other times they'd kissed. She was wonderfully responsive, and her fingers stroked through his hair while she arched her body against his and he could her breasts pressing against his chest through the fabric of her sundress and his dressing gown. His focus began to narrow until he was only aware of her and the way she moved against him and the way his blood pounded through his veins on its way towards his groin.

The Doctor pulled back, gasping. He'd completely forgotten to engage his respiratory bypass. Rose was breathing hard as well and her face and chest were delightfully flushed. They stared at one another, hands and arms still full of one another, neither one wanting to let go.

"Rose?" he questioned and he didn't even know how to phrase what he wanted to ask or what he wanted to ask her first but he just had to ask. Because there was a slim but delightful chance that the answer could be yes.

"Doctor," she murmured. "That definitely answers my question."

That breathy little giggle surely couldn't have come from him. He swallowed his mounting nerves. "Rose, I– I want to… with you…" he stammered awkwardly. "Do you?"

She smiled and it was unlike any other smile he'd seen on her face since he'd first known her. It was shy and nervous and completely gorgeous. He couldn't resist swooping down and kissing her again. But his desire for her flamed almost unbearably and he had to pull back before he ended up pushing her back onto the sofa and having his wicked way with her right there. It was then that he realised he hadn't let her answer.

"Well?" he asked, resisting the urge to let go of her and yank on his ear with everything he had.

"Oh, yes," she replied, her eyes dark. rubbed her thumb over his lower lip.

Her hands left his hair to drift down his face and she "But first…"

"Yes?" he prompted, his anxiousness to move this interlude forward getting the better of him.

"You need a shower," she told him, poking a finger in the centre of his chest. He blinked at her, the change of subject so abrupt that he was having a hard time keeping up. What did showers have to do with him tasting every square inch of her body?

He must have been gaping at her because she threw back her head and laughed. "Your face!" she crowed, gasping for air. "I'm not saying no, Doctor. I'm saying you need to have a shower first. You're clearly feeling better but you've got dried blood and ointment all over you."

The Doctor blinked again and looked down at himself. He'd very nearly forgotten about his beating at the hands of those brutes. This was the power Rose Tyler had over him, apparently. "You're right," he said, rather regretfully. "I am a bit on the manky side."

Rose nodded and then winked at him. "To be fair though, I could probably use a rinse myself." He surveyed her, how her pretty sundress was a little rumpled with alleyway dirt and, gads, some of his blood even.

"We could…" he began and then his tongue seemed to grow five sizes in his mouth and he wondered how he was going to get this out. "Together?"

She expelled a loud breath and he was glad to see that the idea at least held some appeal to her. More than a little, actually, if the way she was flushing and biting her lip told him anything.

"Better not," she finally said, her voice husky and sending a tremor right down to his groan. "I think that might be a little distracting, don't you?"

"Oh, I don't know," he said softly, trying to keep his voice from shaking too much. "There's something to be said for that sort of distraction."

Rose chuckled and extricated herself from his arms. She got to her feet and wiped her hands on the front of her sundress. "Maybe… later?" she said, cocking an eyebrow and grinning that tongue-touched smile at him.

His hearts knocked together almost painfully. Later. Oh dear. This was going to be an interesting shower indeed. "It's a date, Rose Tyler," he told her darkly and he was rewarded with another flush that crept across her chest and into the neckline of her sundress.

They eventually parted, but not before Rose pressed another soft kiss to his lips that almost made him want to forget showering altogether and push her against the wall. The Doctor watched as she disappeared down the corridor towards her room before he blew out a breath and ran his hand back through his hair. He was going to have to get a grip.

Guh. Not that kind of grip.

Okay, his mind was clearly running rampant and maybe a shower was just the thing he needed to clear his thoughts. It was a quick walk to his bedroom and the Doctor distracted himself by reciting the Shadow Proclamation charter to himself on the way there. He stalked into the en suite and flipped the knobs in the shower, so that every nozzle was spraying. He hung the dressing gown on the hook behind the door and stripped off the boxer briefs, tossing them into the chute that led to the TARDIS laundry. Bare, he stepped into the oversized shower and let the spray pound into his stiff muscles.

He felt infinitely better all at once. The steam cleared his senses and he remembered that he really did need to wash up. He grabbed a bottle of wash and set to work with a flannel, making sure he was devoid of dirt, blood and the medicine-y smell of ointment. And if he deliberately steered his thoughts away from imagining how right this moment, Rose was in her own shower, washing herself up for him, that was only because he wanted to make sure that he didn't linger any longer than was necessary.

Out of the shower, he quickly dried off and cinched the towel around his waist. He paused before the bathroom mirror to try to fashion his damp hair into its usual artful disarray. But he didn't feel like taking the extra time to dry his hair and mess with product to pull it off. In the end, he just pushed it back off his forehead and called it good.

The Doctor headed back into his room to search for a pair of pyjama bottoms to slip on so he could set off looking for Rose. He imagined she'd be in her room so that's where he'd look first. This thought was still rebounding though his mind as he crossed the room to his wardrobe. He was so distracted that he didn't notice that he wasn't alone in his room until the sound of a clearing throat stopped him in his tracks.

"There you are," Rose's voice purred at him. "I thought you were going to keep me waiting all night."

The Doctor turned his head to see her sitting right in the middle of his bed, wearing a soft looking and rather skimpy white dressing gown and, he hoped, nothing else. She smiled at him and crooked a finger to beckon him closer.

Chapter 12

Chapter Summary

The Doctor and Rose finally come together.

This is definitely an adult chapter, so be warned if that's not your thing. Thanks to fogsblue for her encouragement and littlewhomouse for the help with the banner and to everyone who has cheered me on.

As Rose slipped her dressing gown on after her shower, nerves jumped excitedly in her stomach. She suffered no delusions about where this night was headed. This had been coming between her and the Doctor for a long time, actually. And it would be different from that day in the console room. She was sure of that much at least.

She hurried down the corridor towards the Doctor's bedroom. She wanted to make sure she was there, waiting, before he came out of the en suite. Considering how vain he was about his hair, she figured that would buy her a minute or two.

Rose let herself into his bedroom and smiled at the warm hum of the TARDIS. "Thanks, girl, I feel welcomed," she murmured as she crossed the room to the bed that dominated the space. It was awfully large and ornate for someone who didn't even sleep all that much, but she also imagined he'd had it for centuries. She wondered if it had come from Gallifrey, which made her wonder how much of the rest of the furnishings in the TARDIS came from Gallifrey. She'd have to ask him sometime. She was quite curious about the planet he'd called home and while she knew he was reluctant to dredge up painful memories, she also knew that having someone to

share them with could be very helpful.

The bed looked to be about a king size, maybe a bit larger. And she didn't dare dwell too long on why he would need such a large bed. Maybe she would need to ask him about more than just the origin of his favourite furnishings. There was an enormous canopy with intricately carved bedposts, head and footboards. The wood was dark and shining and certainly not anything from Earth by the looks of it. The bedclothes were richly hued in deep reds and oranges and golds and were made out of something that looked like satin, but when she touched it, felt more like silk.

Rose toyed briefly with the notion of removing her dressing gown and waiting for him in the nude. Flushing, she didn't think she was feeling quite that bold yet. So instead, she crawled up into the middle of the bed and reclined back against the fluffy pillows to wait for him.

She wasn't kept waiting for very long. It was only a few moments before the Doctor came strolling out of his en suite, towel cinched around his narrow hips, humming a tune she didn't recognise. He clearly didn't see her yet and she smiled fondly as she watched him. With his lean body, hard lines and firm muscle, he was gorgeous. She felt her mouth begin to water.

When it became clear that he wasn't going to notice her very soon on his own, she cleared her throat. He jumped almost a foot in the air and she chuckled. "There you are," she said, grinning. "I thought you were going to keep me waiting all night."

The Doctor stared at her, his mouth hanging open and his eyes vaguely glazed. She lifted a hand and crooked a finger at him, beckoning him forward. He walked over to the bed as if pulled in by a tractor beam. His gaze traveled over her figure, starting at her toes and moving up her legs to where the dressing gown hit at the middle of her thighs, up to where the gown gapped at her neck revealing a fair bit of cleavage, and finally coming to a rest on her face. He smiled, but it wasn't his usual manic grin or even a flirty smirk. It was a genuine smile and it lit his eyes up from within.

He carefully sat on the bed next to her and took her hand. He stared down at her fingers as he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. "I know this probably sounds a little trite," he said, his voice low, "but I believe that you and I were destined for each other."

Rose blinked. The Doctor was the last man she ever would have thought would talk about destiny. "I didn't think you'd believe in that sort of thing."

He shrugged and kept his eyes on where their hands were joined. "I've had a lot of time to think about this. And how we met and how we grew together… Bad Wolf and the parallel world and how you came back and… I just feel like there's something larger at work here. I feel more myself with you here. Without you, I'm at a loss. I think we were always meant to be here, like this, from before you were born. Maybe even before I was born."

She hadn't even considered that. "Do you think it was Bad Wolf?" she asked, her own mind now

racing with the possibilities.

"Maybe. Bad Wolf did say she could see all of Time, all that was, all that would be. You scattered words through time and you gave Jack immortal life. Is it such a stretch to believe that maybe you orchestrated us as well?"

Rose thought about that for a moment. "I wish I knew. But… it would make sense. Still, destiny or not, we're hardly perfect. You and I are a right mess most of the time. You drive me crazy, you know that?"

The Doctor chuckled and now he looked up and met her eye. "The feeling is mutual. I can promise you, you drive me crazier than anyone else ever has."

"Can you promise me that you won't try to run my life, Doctor?" she asked him. "It's important to me, I need to know that you'll let me take care of myself."

His eyes softened and he brought her hand up to his mouth so he could plant a kiss on her knuckles. "I will try not to tuck you away," he promised, "but Rose, I also need you to understand that I'm going to always be concerned about your safety. Weren't you worried about me today, when I went back to deal with Toffam? How about when you found me in the alley?"

He was right, she realised with a bit of a start. "Maybe we just need to work on using our words," she mused. "We can want to protect one another but we need to be able to do it in a more… constructive manner."

"I'll need you to keep me in line," he told her, his eyes twinkling. "All of it, Rose, is because I can't bear to lose you again. I've seen my life without you there and its rubbish. I do dangerous things. I know now that I need you with me. If you want?"

Rose's breath caught. The Doctor looked nervous and unsure and he was asking her what she wanted. Her head swam. "Yes," she blurted before her mind could even catch up. "I want, Doctor."

His mouth was on hers an instant later. This wasn't like any of the kisses they'd shared in the library. It was urgent, insistent, and his lips moved across hers as if he wanted to devour her. She was more than happy to let him, provided she got in some devouring of her own. His teeth nipped at her lips and he pushed forward until she was laying back against the pillows with him hovering over her, kissing her as if his life depended on it.

The Doctor pulled back a few inches and studied her face. There was such a look of concentration in his eyes, complete with the crinkle in between his eyes, that she asked, "What?"

"Is this just us now? You and I?" he asked, sounding unsure and hopeful and quite breathless. "It's just… I can't do this and then share you."

Rose touched his face, feeling the strong line of his jaw. "I don't want anyone else, Doctor," she assured him. "Is this about the bond?"

"Not entirely," he murmured, turning his head to press a kiss into her palm. "We can talk about the bond later. No, I'm just talking about me. I don't want you with anyone else. I– I couldn't bear the thought of it."

"Me either," she admitted. "I don't want to think of you with some other woman."

"No other women," he promised her, kissing along her jaw. "Never again."

"Just you," she agreed, plunging her fingers into his hair and holding his head as he worked the spot just under her ear. She could feel his teeth grazing the sensitive skin there, his lips pulling, his tongue soothing and her eyes threatened to roll back into her head.

"Want you," he mumbled against her neck.

"Then have me," she answered, arching her back so her chest pressed against his.

The Doctor groaned and pulled back again but this time his gaze was focused on her body, or rather, where the dressing gown covered her body. He sat back and plucked at the knot that held the dressing gown closed, then slowly peeled back the edges to expose her to him. She flushed but it wasn't with embarrassment. Instead, she was responding to the heat she saw in his dark eyes as they scanned over her curves hungrily. They hadn't been like this with each other yet.

That time in the console room, the both of them had been half clothed and desperate and there hadn't been time for exploration. It wasn't the way she'd ever imagined how they would finally come together, but as much as she wished their first time together could have been, well, more romantic, she didn't regret what they'd done that day. She'd lived off those memories forseventy-five years, after all. But it was high time they made some new memories.

"You're incredible," he murmured, and he stroked a hand from the top of her leg, up past her hip and along the edge of her ribcage, brushing the edge of her breast before caressing along her shoulder. Rose couldn't fight the shiver that his words and his touch inspired in her.

She let her eyes travel down across his exposed chest, seeing the muscles and hard lines that she felt so many times when they hugged. She lifted up on her elbows and considered him thoughtfully. She leaned on one elbow as she reached out to trace the edge of the towel that still covered him from her view. Feeling the heat building in her, she lifted her eyes to his.

"Rose," he breathed and it sounded like a plea. Keeping their gazes locked, she took ahold of the towel and pulled, dragging it from his hips and then tossing it on the floor next to the bed.

He moved back, settling further down on the bed and she mirrored his movement, sitting up. She shrugged her shoulders, letting the open dressing gown slip from her shoulders. Shifting, she

pulled it away from her body and tossed it in the same direction as the discarded towel. They sat like that for a moment, both bared to one another, looking their fill.

The Doctor may have though she was incredible but he was absolutely gorgeous. Rose had always known that, of course. But seeing him here now without his pinstriped armour, she was struck by just how gorgeous he truly was. And he was all hers. She lifted her hand towards him and he slipped his fingers against hers. She gripped his hand and pulled him towards her and he came eagerly. She lay back against the pillows and he lay next to her, his face hovering over hers.

Instead of kissing her lips like she'd expected, he kissed down her neck, across her collar bone and down to her breasts. Rose trembled as he reverently cupped a breast with one hand before brushing his lips across the swell. His breath was hot against her flesh as he opened his mouth to let his tongue trace around the nipple. She tried to arch closer to his mouth but he used one hand to press down on her abdomen.

"Please, Doctor," she gasped, fisting her hands in the duvet and trying to keep herself still under his ministrations.

"Patience," he whispered as he continued with gentle touches and tastes.

Rose groaned, letting him know her opinion of having patience. The way he was laying and where his arms were situated was trapping her torso. She couldn't turn her body or even do anything with her legs, other than kick them in the air. But, she could fight back with her hands. She drew the hand nearest him down, brushing over the muscles in his chest and abdomen and his pace as he continued the exquisite torture on her breasts faltered.

Finally, she reached her goal and with sure fingers, she took ahold of his hardened length. The Doctor gasped against her skin and thrust his hips towards her touch. Rose was about to readjust her grip when he lunged back towards her an engulfed her nipple and as much as of her breast in his mouth as he could. His tongue moved over and around her nipple as he suckled and nibbled. She cried out and pushed her hips up, meeting only air but entirely unable to control the urge.

Rose flexed her fingers on his erection and brought her thumb up to swipe across his swollen head and she felt his jaw go slack as he released her breast. He groaned, long and low and her blood fired again. She expected him to resume the assault on her breasts but instead he began to move down her body, forcing her to release his erection, nipping and kissing at various patches of skin on his way. After a particularly sharp nibble on the jut of her hipbone, she gasped and called out.

"Rose," he mumbled, and she could feel his lips moving against the sensitive flesh where her abdomen met the tops of her thighs. "Tell me what you want."

How he expected her to form a coherent thought when he was running his tongue along the crease of her thigh, Rose had no idea. But he stilled all movement and looked up at her expectantly.

She licked her dry lips and struggled to think.

"You, Doctor," she finally croaked out. "Just you. Surprise me."

He chuckled darkly. "I'm sure I can do more than just that," he promised her. The Doctor readjusted his position, pulling her legs apart gently with his hands before settling down between them. She tried to watch him but she found the sight and the anticipation of what she was now sure was going to happen to be too much and she had to squeeze her eyes shut, lest she start feeling even more lightheaded.

He teased her mercilessly and she thought dimly that she should have expected that he would. He nuzzled at the soft skin of her inner thighs until she felt the heat begin to arrow directly to her centre. Rose writhed beneath him and he used one of his hands to grip her side, holding her still. Just when she was sure she could bear no more of this torment, she felt his nose brush against her curls, ever so lightly. The Doctor used his other hand to lightly caress her folds before drawing her flesh apart so he could investigate her more thoroughly.

Rose felt more self-conscious than she had in more years than she cared to think about. She hadn't had an overwhelming number of sexual encounters but she'd had enough that she'd always felt secure with her sexuality and her body. But there was a few key differences here. The first being that most of her encounters were largely casual and less exploratory and passionate. The second was that this was the Doctor and, yes, she'd always been in love with the git. And his opinion of her body, particularly this most intimate part of her body, mattered greatly to her.

The Doctor hummed a little and Rose was about to ask him what he was thinking when she suddenly felt him lick the length of her folds before circling the tip of his tongue around her clit. She tried to arch her back but he held her down effortlessly as he began to explore her with his tongue and lips and teeth. All those years, she'd imagined what it would be like when he finally put that oral fixation of his to good use and now here it was and it shattered all her expectations.

Rose had had men go down on her before, of course, but never before had the bloke seemed to so thoroughly enjoy what he was doing than the Doctor did just now. He was content to just devour her, his lips pulling, his teeth brushing gently, his tongue probing and flicking and swirling. She felt the heat in her groin grow hotter and the waves of coiling sensation began to lick along all her nerves, stoking her higher and higher. Her thoughts all flew away as everything she was became focussed on the sensations he was creating for her. She heard someone crying out and she knew it was her but her mind was no longer connected to her mouth.

When she felt his fingers slip inside her, it all became too much. Her quivering became shaking and when he curled his fingers just so, the shaking erupted into pure sensation as her orgasm ripped through her. Her thighs clamped down on his head but she barely registered the feeling of his sideburns dragging against her skin as she convulsed and cried out. The Doctor continued to stroke her gently, bringing her down from her climax and slowly, the world began to return to her. Rose finally lay panting against the pillows, staring up at the underside of the canopy in shock.

"Wow," she breathed at least.

The Doctor moved up her body again, wiping his chin on the back of his hand and grinning smugly at her. "That was gorgeous," he told her, his eyes sparkling as he hovered over her. "Your taste, your scent, the sounds you made, the flush on your skin and the way you flew apart… Rose, I want to do that again sometime."

She let out a breathless laugh. "I think I might just let you!" Rose looked at him speculatively, taking in the sight of his mussed hair and his swollen lips and his flushed cheeks. "But first, I think I need to turn the tables." Before he could brace himself, she pushed against his chest and flipped their positions so she was laying atop him.

The Doctor looked up at her, wide-eyed. "Rose?" he asked.

"Shhh, just let me do this," she murmured, wiggling down his body and dropping kisses along the hard planes of his chest. She brushed her fingers through the soft trail of hair that led down from his naval.

"Do what?" he gasped, lifting his neck so he could see what she was doing.

"You'll see," Rose teased, dipping down and biting at the flesh of his stomach. He gasped and she grinned against his skin. Before he could recover, she grabbed at his bobbing length with one hand and licked him from the base of his scrotum clear up to his sensitive head, swirling her tongue around at the top. His groan echoed through the large room and she glanced up at him briefly to see his hot gaze trained on her. Then she leaned forward and engulfed the tip of his erection with her lips and mouth and bobbed her head a little, swirling her tongue all the while. Her eyes held his and she saw him flushing and trembling in a way she'd never seen him do before and it made a fresh spike of heat course through her veins. With her right hand, she encircled the base of his cock with her fingers, tightening them just enough to have his breath catching. With her other hand, she caressed his scrotum, knowing just the right amount of pressure to exert to drive him to an exquisite edge. The sounds he was making were incredible and she suddenly knew just what he'd been talking about before, about watching her come undone for him.

Rose continued to work his length, using her hands and fingers and her lips and her tongue, even letting his tip touch the back of her throat a time or two and she was rewarded with the most gorgeous sounding groan each time. She'd never particularly enjoyed this act before but somehow doing this for the Doctor made all the difference. She wanted to worship every inch of him and being able to reduce him to the babbling mess that he was right now was the most amazing thing.

"Rose, wait, stop," he suddenly blurted, grabbing desperately at her head but not pulling.

She released him with a soft pop. "What is it, Doctor?"

"I– I want to come… in you," he groaned and his hips moved restlessly underneath her.

"I want that too, Doctor," she admitted in a husky voice as she moved off of him to the side.

He growled and was over her in an instant, kissing her so deeply that she saw stars behind her closed eyelids. She could taste their essences mingling together as their tongues brushed and stroked against one another. Then he drew his tongue back and she tried to chase it but he changed the angle of the kiss as he plunged his tongue back into her mouth. And then he did it again. Rose realised, dizzily, that he was mimicking the movements he was soon hoping to enact with her, in her body. She groaned loudly and he answered with a groan of his own.

She tore her mouth away from his and nipped at his ear as he sucked on the skin beneath her jaw. "Now, Doctor," she gasped. "I want you now."

"Rose, yes," he moaned. He shifted over her and she widened her legs to accommodate him. He reached down between them, taking his cock in hand and lining it up with her entrance. He paused for just a moment and Rose pushed her hips upwards, encouraging him on.

On a gasp, he began to push into her. He was large, larger than she even remembered him being but her memories of those heated moments in the console room were fuzzy with time at best. They'd been so quick to get at one another that day and now they were both taking their time and he seemed impossibly aroused. As for herself, Rose was clinging to his back, her nails digging in and surely causing him some discomfort but she couldn't help herself. It felt like being filled, properly so, and in a way that made her regret ever being empty to begin with. The Doctor was taking it slow, accounting for his size and apparently not wanting to cause her any discomfort.

It was laughable really, especially considering how wet and ready she was for him. With an upwards thrust of her hips, Rose quickly joined their pelvises so that he was fully sheathed at last. He groaned and bit down on her shoulder, the muscles in his back trembling. He was holding himself back, trying to take it slow but Rose was done with slow.

"Let go," she murmured softly in his ear. His fingers flexed on her hips and his breath came in sharp pants against the sweaty skin of her neck.

"Can't–" he gasped. "Too much!"

She stroked at his hair with one hand while the other reached down to grab at his bum. "Doctor," she said in a low voice, "I want this."

The Doctor lifted his head from her shoulder to gaze into her eyes. His hips pushed shallowly against hers, and he grit his teeth, clearly trying to control something that was nigh uncontrollable. "I wanted this to be… guh," he grunted. "I wanted to take my time. Rose."

"We can take our time later," she promised and she pushed her hips up again, making him moan

again. "Please, Doctor."

"Rose," he muttered, his voice strained and warning.

"Please," she repeated, circling her hips this time.

Biting back a curse, the Doctor let go of the control he'd been so desperately clinging to. He pumped his hips, exhaling noisily on each thrust and Rose enthusiastically met his movements. It was incredible to behold; he was a wild thing above her, moving and groaning. His one hand continued to grab her hip and the other reached down to hook her leg on his elbow, allowing him a deeper penetration. They both cried out at the new sensation and it was all Rose could do to just hold onto him and vocalise her encouragement as he moved faster and harder.

"Rose… this… feels so good, so tight and hot and oh," he gasped. "I can't… not yet… please come."

He kept muttering please into her skin as he thrust his hips and the sound of his voice, rough and deep and full of lust was nearly enough to be her undoing. She could feel her release coiling again, low in her belly, tighter and tighter until she could almost not bear it any longer. The Doctor seemed to sense her tension because he released her hip and reached between their moving bodies to find her clit. He rubbed in time with his thrusts, pressing and pinching just right. She was almost there…

"Come for me, Rose," he growled in her ear and as much as she hated doing what he told her to do, his hot breath in her ear and the incredible pressure on her clit and his length sliding in and out of her centre were all quite enough to send her hurtling over the edge. For a frightening moment, she thought she might actually just break apart right there underneath him. The spasms of her climax were so intense and so all-encompassing that her vision filled with white and gold and the sound of her own hammering heart filled her ears. She was sure she cried out for the Doctor when she felt his arms hold her even closer to him, coaxing and keeping her through her orgasm until the shudders finally began to subside.

No sooner had Rose finally caught her breath but she could feel the Doctor's arms shaking as he held her, still keeping his rhythm as he loved her body. He was straining and close and she wished for him to reach the same bliss that she had. She caressed one hand down his back and the other over his cheek as he pressed desperate kisses along her jaw. She angled her neck so she could speak into his ear.

"I came for you, Doctor. Because of you," she breathed. "Now, please, come for me."

He opened his mouth but incoherent syllables were the only things that came out. His rhythm faltered and Rose clenched her inner muscles around him. "Rose!" he cried, throwing his head back as he thrust inside her once, twice more, before emptying himself into her. Finally spent, the Doctor collapsed on top of her but she was glad for the comforting weight of him, so real and sure.

Rose held him just as he'd held her, whispering soothing things in his ear as he shuddered and eventually stilled. He rolled away but pulled her with him so she could curl against his side. She was just as unwilling to be away from him at the moment, throwing a leg over his and nestling her head against the crook of his shoulder.

"That was…" Rose began but trailed off, unable to find a word to adequately describe what had just happened between them. To call it shagging was almost offensive. Even making

love wasn't quite right as it hadn't been gentle and tender but rather powerful and heated.

"Brilliant," the Doctor finished for her. He tightened his arm around her and turned his head to lay a kiss on her forehead. "That was completelybrilliant."

Rose drew little circles in the smattering of hair on his chest and he hummed happily. "This changes things, doesn't it?" she murmured.

"Yes," he replied. "At least, I hope it does."

"What about the bond?" she asked. "I never got a chance to bring that up when we were talking before. What does it mean? And did we… do anything to it just now?"

The Doctor cleared his throat and shifted a little underneath her but didn't dislodge her. "We didn't change the bond, if that's what you're asking. I… made a point to stay out of your head this time. Well, I hadn't meant to go in before and I didn't, not really. It's just… it's a little hard to explain."

"Can you try?" she said, angling her head so she could look up at him. "I'd like to know."

"I don't make a bond with just anyone. It doesn't happen every time I… shag someone," he explained. "There has to be intent, I guess is the best way to phrase it. Generally, when I indulge in that, it's a casual arrangement. I think you can probably understand that."

Rose smirked. "Yeah, I can." Casual arrangements were about the only way to do it when you were blessed (or was it cursed?) with longevity, while the rest of the universe was not. She certainly could not fault the Doctor for occasionally seeking out these sorts of connections and she got the impression that he didn't really fault her for it either. She knew he didn't like it, he'd made that much clear that one day so many years ago over chips, but that was just his jealousy showing itself. Even then, he'd wanted her for himself.

"But when you and I finally joined, for lack of a better word, it was different," the Doctor continued. He was combing his fingers through her hair idly as he spoke, feeling the strands between his fingers. "I was in love with you. I had been, at that point, for so long already. And we never… you and I had never had a chance to really explore that. There was, erm, a considerable amount of build up."

Rose couldn't hold back the bubble of laughter that built in her chest. "That's putting it mildly!" she said, still giggling. "So when we shagged, and we were both feeling… well, the way we felt… it just happened?"

The Doctor nodded. "It was the natural outcome of something that had been coming for so many years," he murmured. "Remember what I said earlier, about us being destined? I do believe that, and I think the bond might have always happened for us, regardless of when we finally gave in."

"Hmm," Rose muttered. "What if we hadn't given in? What would have happened?"

He shuddered against her. "I don't want to think about that," he grumbled. "Besides, like I said, destined. No matter what, I think this would have always happened with us. It was just a matter of when."

She reached up and tweaked his nose affectionately. "You are a bleeding romantic, you know that?" she told him.

He grabbed her wrist and kissed her fingers, causing a shiver to chase down her spine. "Only about you," he told her.

"So back to my original question," she reminded him, "what does the bond mean, actually?"

"Well," he drawled, "for my people, it was a sort of way to connect mated pairs. When there's a full bond established, no one else can move in on that pair. Even non-telepathic beings would have inexplicable physical aversions to a person in a mated pair. And if they were a telepathic being? The mental pain would be unbearable. The pair themselves would also experience pain. I used to hear rumours, when I was young, about one or other of a mated pair actually dying when a bond was broken."

"It's serious business then," she said thoughtfully. "But hold on, we both went on to have… dalliances with other people after this bond was formed. Why didn't you or I or anyone else have a reaction to it?"

"It's not a fully formed bond. Plus, since you weren't aware of it, you probably dismissed the slight aversion you felt as nerves or hesitation or guilt or any number of reasons. That's what I did, even though I knew about the bond. It wasn't painful, but it was definitely there."

"So why is it half formed then?" she wanted to know.

"We never went through the full bonding ceremony. Gallifreyans were steeped in tradition and ceremonies and there was a process for it," he told her. She raised her eyebrows expectantly when he glanced at her and he sighed. "There was a formal courting process, after which arrangements were made between the families. Then the bonding ceremony, which took place in a special temple. There were formal robes worn and formal words spoken and it wasn't entirely

unlike a hand fasting, by Earth standards. But then the pair would initiate a telepathic connection. That could go on for hours and hours and it involved each person getting to know everything about the other. More intimate than sex. More intimate than anything, really. Or so I hear. After that would come the bonding sex and that would be when the bond would be cemented. The minds would come together at the same time as the bodies and that would be it."

Rose regarded him thoughtfully. "Did you ever go through a bonding ceremony?" She remembered him saying once that he'd been a father so it stood to reason that he'd maybe had a wife.

But the Doctor shook his head. "No, ceremonies like that were a thing of the past by the time I came along. Thanks to Rassilon and his reformations, they were all but extinct. Marriages were entirely business propositions. You showed up at the registrar's office on the appointed day and you and your spouse signed a paper and voila. Married. That's how everything was handled back in ol' Modern Gallfrey. Clinical and detached. Procreation was the same. You and your spouse would go to the Looms and have your biological data extracted. It would then be joined together by the best Gallifreyan scientists and inserted into the Loom, to create a child."

He looked at her then and the expression on her face must have been completely horrified because he threw back his head and laughed. "But that's awful!" she sputtered.

"That's Time Lords for you. Stuffy old lot, they were," the Doctor said, smiling softly now that his laughter had died down.

"I bet you were just as stuffy as the rest of them," she said, tucking her tongue into her grin.

"I was actually something of a rebel," he growled and his eyes twinkled.

Rose didn't doubt that either. She believed it even more after he rolled over onto her and proceeded to show her just how un-stuffy he could be.

Chapter 13

Chapter Summary

The Doctor and Rose spend a lovely Christmas with their friends and thoughts turn towards the future.

Thanks to fogsblue for keeping me on track, littlewhomouse for her help with the banner and to everyone who encouraged me, without whom this wouldn't exist!

Rose woke up a few hours later, feeling a moment's disorientation as she blinked her eyes open. She was on the TARDIS; she could feel the hum of the engines as well as hear them. But this wasn't her bedroom. She didn't have a canopy over her bed. And her bed most certainly didn't come with a naked man in it, like the one that was currently pressed up against her back.

The Doctor was spooned up to her, his arm around her waist, his nose buried in the nape of her neck. His legs followed the curves of hers so that her feet rested against his shins, the light hair there tickling her soles. She hummed contentedly as the memories from before washed over her. Her toes curled unconsciously and he shifted behind her, just slightly. Just enough to tell her that he was now awake too, and very aware of her.

Still, she wasn't ready to break the moment by speaking or turning over to face him. Instead, Rose rocked her hips back against his, slowly and gently. In response, the Doctor rubbed his nose into her nape, his lips brushing against her skin there, his breath tickling the little hairs and causing a shiver to chase down her spine.

There wasn't much she could do from this position, but she reached back to his hip and stroked the skin there, wanting to encourage him. Lucky for her, the Doctor had always been a rather perceptive sort of guy and was nothing if not easily encouraged. He pushed his hips into hers and this time she felt him, hard, against the small of her back. There was no mistaking where this was heading now.

Neither of them spoke a word as they moved together with soft touches and deep sighs. Rose reached back to stroke him, finding him already incredibly hard. The Doctor found her centre with his fingers, stroked her, inserted a finger and found her wet and wanting. After that, it was a matter of lining him up with her entrance and him pushing in while she lifted her leg up over his for adequate leverage. She bent a little at the waist so he could reach deeper, hit that spot inside of her that turned her into a babbling mess.

It was gentle and slow and the best way Rose could think of to wake up in the morning. She reached down to press on her clit so that her muscles began to squeeze around him as he sped up his thrusts. She gasped his name as she gave into the sensations. He groaned, the loudest noise either of them had made yet this morning, and his cock pulsed as he spilled inside her.

He held her afterward and she wrapped her arms around his. Rose was already too keyed up to fall back asleep but she loved the feeling of being held in his arms, and knowing that he loved holding her just as much.

"Thank you," she murmured, breaking the silence.

She could nearly hear his eyebrow arch. "You're welcome," the Doctor replied, his voice rough still. "But what are you thanking me for?"

"'S just…" she began and trailed off, looking for the right words. "Last night and… just now… with you. That was…"

Rose turned in his arms to face him and found him grinning at her, amused with her struggle to speak. "Incredible? Fantastic? Mind blowing?" He drew out the consonants and waggled his brows. She decided he looked entirely too pleased with himself.

"Weeellll," she said, drawing out the word the way she knew he liked to do. His face fell in such a comical way that she almost giggled. She couldn't bear it and leaned up to plant a kiss on his pouting lips. "It was all of that and more," she assured him honestly.

The Doctor returned her kiss, gratefully and leisurely. Rose might have let him keep kissing her like that all day long but she drew back after a few moments to fix him with an amused look. "But that's not what I was going to say," she told him.

He looked intrigued. "What, then?"

"I wanted to thank you for listening to me. Last night."

"Same goes," he murmured. Then, he sighed and stretched out next to her. "I'm feeling pretty darned fortunate today."

She knew exactly how he felt. For so many years it had been just her, on her own. She'd begun to accept that life. Then, she'd been brought back here and she'd had Jack and while she'd been estranged from the Doctor, she'd thought that her life was about as good as she could have expected it to be. And now… now it seemed like she had everything she could have ever wanted.

A glance at the Doctor's face told her that he was deep in thought. A crinkle appeared between his eyes that she wanted to smooth away with her thumb. "What are you thinking about?" she asked.

His face cleared and he looked at her, his eyes wide and innocent. "Nothing!" he exclaimed, a little loudly. "I was just wondering where we should go next."

Well, she could hardly expect him to be an open book overnight. Sighing, Rose sat up and reached down to retrieve her dressing gown from where she'd tossed it the night before. As she shrugged it on, she said, "Actually, I was thinking we could go do Christmas with our friends, like we were planning before everything went sour on Jelspar."

"Oh. Oh! I'd nearly forgotten about that. Sure, I suppose we can do that," he replied, looking a touch disappointed as she stood up and tied her dressing gown closed.

"But can we go back to Jelspar first? I had some, er, shopping to finish up and I'd gotten interrupted." She paused and winked at him and he smiled back. "Just… maybe we can try another year. One that isn't so exciting."

The Doctor chuckled. "I'll try my best."

Despite wanting to keep Rose tucked safely to his side, the Doctor let her go out into the marketplace on Jelspar alone. She promised to be back quickly and the mischievous glint in her eye told him that she was just as reluctant to leave him as he was to let her go.

Rose was true to her word and was back in the TARDIS almost before he had a chance to miss her. She had a bag that she held out of his reach and she scolded him gently when he tried to take a peek. After she deposited the intriguing bag in her room, presumably in a place she thought he wouldn't find, she returned to the console room. With his arm around her waist, the Doctor input the coordinates to take them to Christmas Eve 2013. As the ship shuddered while they spun

through the Vortex, the Doctor nuzzled his nose into her hair and hummed happily. He caught her grinning widely, clearly just as content their newfound closeness as he was.

The TARDIS landed with a gentle bump and as soon as they stepped out onto the snowy landscape, they were surrounded by their friends and everyone was hugging and talking loudly, exchanging greetings and introductions in some cases. Rose hadn't yet met Donna's girls, Fiona and Gemma and the Doctor noticed the easy way with which she interacted with both them and with Mickey and Martha's one-year-old son, William. She caught his curious eye and as they were all walking into the house that Jack had secured for the lot of them, she nudged his shoulder with hers.

"What are you looking at?" she asked.

"You. I thought you once said you didn't like kids. Called them 'beasts', if I recall correctly," he told her.

Rose rolled her eyes and smiled at him indulgently. "I think we can both agree that I've had time to change since then," she reminded him.

As the group that included Donna, Lee and their girls, Mickey, Martha and their son, Sarah Jane and her son Luke, Jack, Sylvia and Wilf, gathered around the enormous Christmas tree that had been set up in the living room, the Doctor mused about this particular change. He watched as Rose bounced baby William on her hip, cooing at him and laughing with Martha over a silly face the baby made in response. It stirred something within in him that he hadn't been expecting.

The Doctor reminded himself that it was more than a bit presumptuous to think that Rose might want children just because she enjoyed interacting with their friends' children. Still, a small hope that he'd thought had died long ago with his planet began to burn in his heart. He would definitely have to bring this up with her later.

The next moment that caused him to take a moment and consider happened a few hours later. Gemma and William were both down for naps and Luke had taken Fiona out to sled on the hill behind the house. Sarah Jane, Wilf and Sylvia were preparing some snack trays inside the house and the other women were building snowmen and watching the kids sled. The men, on the other hand (himself included), were constructing snow forts and the Doctor was enjoying directing everyone on the best manner in which to construct an indestructible snow fort. Lee seemed willing to accept his orders but Mickey and Jack rolled their eyes at him and began constructing a fort a few feet away, occasionally sending himself and Lee challenging looks. The Doctor knew what that meant. A snowball fight was about to break out.

Rose and Donna were chattering to each other and didn't see what was going to happen until it was too late. Martha, thanks to her UNIT training he imagined, saw what was going on and dove behind the fort that he and Lee were constructing just as the first snowballs began to fly. Seconds later, the sky was white with flying snow and shouts filled the air. Rose ducked behind Mickey's fort and the Doctor began to devise a way to steal her to his side. He always wanted

her on his side, after all. Donna tried to shout at them to stop acting like children. Lee stood up, starting to stammer an apology and was rewarded with a snowball in the face a moment later. Donna cackled with glee at catching him off his guard.

The snowball fight became more of a free for all after that. The girls, as it turned out, didn't fight fair and used their womanly wiles against the men. Finally, Mickey called a truce just as Martha was stuffing snow down his jumper. The Doctor finally had Rose pinned beneath him in the snow. She looked amazing, her hair fanned out and her cheeks pink with the cold and exertion. He simply couldn't resist ducking his head down to kiss her, her lips cool against his in a delightful turning of the tables

They snogged for a minute, completely lost in one another, until Donna spotted them. "Oi! Knock it off you two! There are children present!" she shouted.

The Doctor reluctantly pulled away from Rose and rocked back onto his heels, pulling her up with him so they were sitting in the snow. Rose gestured to Martha and Mickey, who were standing nearby with their arms around one another, nuzzling each other and smiling dopily. "How come they don't get yelled at?" she asked.

"Because they're married," Donna said, as if that explained it all. "They're allowed."

Rose made a face at Donna but then grinned at the Doctor as she got to her feet, pulling him up with her. He was watching Martha and Mickey and thinking about what Donna had just said. Rose looked unconcerned, but he saw her also steal a glance at the couple who were now walking hand in hand up to the house. Did Rose ever wish she were married? Would she want to marry him? Blimey. This holiday was going to be the death of him, what with all these domestic reminders. The worst bit yet was the way his hearts would twinge when he thought of it. It was as though he himself wanted it. That was a silly notion, but… maybe?

The evening was spent nibbling on snacks, watching Christmas movies on the telly and playing board and card games together. After the children were put to bed, the women gathered around the kitchen table to drink wine and talk. The men were shooed out of the room and collected in the living room. Wilf helped Lee and Mickey play Father Christmas, wrapping gifts and assembling a new bike for Fiona. The Doctor sat in a chair next to the fireplace and gestured for Jack to sit in the chair next to his so they could talk.

"What's up, Doc?" Jack asked, settling into the chair and taking a sip of his scotch. He grinned.

"I wanted… well, first of all, I wanted to say I was sorry," the Doctor told him. Jack looked surprised.

"Sorry about what?"

"About how I've treated you. Leaving you behind after Satellite Five and then the whole Year That Never Was with the Master… I know you said at the time you understood, but I could have

handled all of that much better than I did," he said regretfully.

"It took me a lot of years to come to terms with how you and Rose could have left me behind," Jack replied.

"Rose never would have left you there, if she'd known. That was my fault," the Doctor explained. "And then there was the way I acted to you on the Dalek Crucible. I was upset by what Davros had done to Rose. I wasn't thinking clearly."

Jack smiled a little ruefully at that. "I wasn't terribly pleased with the whole lot of them either, if you couldn't tell," he remarked. "They had to be stopped, Doctor. Someone had to do it."

"I know," he said. "If it hadn't been you, Jack, then I would have had to do it. So it wasn't fair of me to say those things to you, to make you feel like you'd done something wrong."

Jack sat back and looked at the ceiling. He blinked a few times and took another sip of his scotch. The Doctor watched him and finally, Jack spoke. "I needed to hear that, Doc," he told him. "Rose had told me, all those years ago, that you hadn't meant it to hurt me. That you hadn't stayed away when the 456 came in order to punish me. But you know how it is."

The Doctor nodded regretfully. "Yes, I do. Guilt is a familiar friend of mine. I didn't stay away to punish, Jack. I stayed away because I was punishing myself. I'd left Rose and lied to her and I was a mess. It was inexcusable of me, I know. I'm so sorry."

There were tears shining in Jack's eyes and he was clearly trying to bring himself under some sort of control. The Doctor pushed to his feet and stood before his old friend, gesturing for him to stand up as well. Jack blinked a little confusedly but stood up next to him. Then, he leaned forward and pulled other man into a hug.

Jack was stiff with surprise for a minute before he hugged back, murmuring, "Thanks."

The Doctor released him. "Are we good now?" he asked hopefully.

Jack nodded and grinned. "Are you taking good care of Rose?"

He laughed. "I'm not giving you the details, Jack."

"I've seen you two together today. You can barely keep your hands off each other. So, I take it that means that everything with you two is… good now?"

"Yeah, I think we're going to be okay," the Doctor said, tugging on his ear. He might have opened up to Rose but he was far from comfortable talking about his feelings with anyone else.

Jack sat back down and the Doctor sat as well. "She's already done you good, you know."

"How do you mean?"

He shrugged a shoulder and picked up his scotch for another sip. "There was a time you never would have had this conversation with me. And now here you are."

The Doctor hummed thoughtfully. "Okay, I'll give you that. That's probably true."

"Probably nothing. I know what I know." Jack set his now empty glass down on the table and then leaned forward towards the Doctor, resting his elbows on his knees. "So, tell me, Doc. What are you and Rose doing next?"

He swallowed nervously. "What do you mean? Where do we plan on visiting? Hadn't actually thought that far yet. Maybe we'll go meet Clark Gable. Rose mentioned wanting to meet him once."

Jack gave him a bland look. "I meant with you and Rose. Are you a proper couple now? Does that mean you'll get married?" He paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Do Time Lords even get married?"

The Doctor gaped and wondered how Jack had so easily tapped into the thoughts that had been circling around his mind all day so far. When he realised Jack was cocking an eyebrow at him, he snapped his jaw shut. "I– I don't know, Jack."

"You don't know if Time Lords got married?"

"No! Of course they did. I meant, I don't know if Rose… wants that."

Jack snorted. "I think its probably pretty likely that she does. Listen, why don't you ask her. Aren't you and her trying to work on your communication? This would be an excellent opportunity to do just that."

The Doctor felt unsure. Not about wanting Rose with him for as long as they could both manage; that he was very sure about. Plus, if she was open to a Gallifreyan bonding ceremony, the formalisation of their psychic bond would be… well, more than he ever would have thought to hope for. But he didn't want to project his wishes onto her. Maybe he'd start simple, present her with a ring as human custom dictated. Wasn't that supposed to be romantic? And

it was Christmas, perhaps presenting the ring as a gift as well as a proposal would be something she'd enjoy.

"I can see the wheels cranking away there, Doc, what are you thinking?"

He took a deep breath and then decided to just tell him. Maybe Jack would have some insight, after all he had spent quite a bit of time with Rose over the years. The Doctor told him what he was thinking, about the half-formed bond that Rose knew about now and what a full bond would entail. Jack listened patiently, asking questions when he had them but reserving his opinion until

the Doctor was finished.

"But now I'm wondering if I should just give her a ring, propose to her, do it proper. Do you think she'd like that?" he asked, genuinely wanting to know.

Jack took a deep breath and pursed his lips as he thought. "It sounds pretty cheesy. But that doesn't mean I don't think she'd like it. I mean, certain things are cheesy for a reason.

They work for a reason. And I do think Rose would love to get a ring from you on Christmas morning. Especially in front of everyone here. It would be the statement you're making to her and to all of us that would please her the most, I think."

Well, when he put it that way, it made quite a bit of sense. The Doctor thanked Jack for his advice. After that, Wilf and Mickey and Lee finished with their Christmas duties and wanted to go shoot some billiards in the game room. Jack and the Doctor were more than happy to join in, though the Doctor beat them all handily with his natural ability to quickly calculate the angles in his mind.

Eventually, Rose showed up in the game room, with a sleepy smile and the Doctor excused himself for the night. Everyone else agreed that they were getting tired as well, knowing full well that the kids would be up in the morning, excited to open gifts. The two of them trooped out the back door and through the snow to where the TARDIS was parked. Rose was just about asleep on her feet, exhausted from the day filled with fun and friendship and also feeling the effect of several glasses of very nice wine. She was giving him bedroom eyes now, as he opened the doors and led her inside, but he knew what she needed was a good night's sleep. Besides, he had work to do while she was sleeping.

Just as he expected, once Rose was changed and ready for bed, it was only moments before she was fast asleep. He lay next to her, watching as she fell into deeper and deeper sleep. Her hair was spread out on the pillow, her lips parted and her hand tucked up under her cheek. She looked like an angel and he wanted to spend as many years as possible just watching her sleep like this.

"My precious girl," he murmured and he leaned forward to brush his lips over her forehead. She stirred only a small bit. The Doctor reached down and pulled the duvet up over her shoulder and then eased off the bed to go do what he needed to do before morning arrived.

When Rose opened her eyes in the morning, she found a pair of warm brown eyes staring at her. She rubbed her eyes and looked again. More of the familiar face came into focus this time. The Doctor was hovering over her, a grin spreading across his face and his eyes twinkling with excitement.

"Good morning, Rose! Merry Christmas!" he exclaimed.

Rose fought a grin as she rolled over and buried her face in her pillow. It wasn't accurate to say the Doctor was a morning person. He was an all the time person. And, apparently, he was a Christmas person too. She felt a little thrill run through her; this was the first Christmas she'd actually allowed herself to look forward to and enjoy in so many years and it was easier than she'd anticipated to allow back in the childlike wonder she'd felt so long ago.

Still, she couldn't let him know that. After all, she was doing her best impression of a woman who was wanting another five minutes of shut eye. "Five more minutes," she mumbled into the pillow.

"Rooooose," he whined and she had to fight a grin, "the kids are waking up in the house. You don't want to miss Christmas morning, do you?"

She definitely didn't, but she wasn't quite ready to give in or join the rest of the world yet. Rolling over, she fixed him with a half-lidded look, complete with suggestive grin. Predictably, his eyebrows shot up into his fringe.

"Can't you just give me my present right here, Doctor?" she asked coyly.

A wicked grin slipped across his features. "Oh, I don't think we have near enough time for that right now," he breathed as he leaned down to kiss her.

This kiss was brief, but long enough to deliver a promise of more similar activities later. Rose's heart jumped excitedly in her chest and if she didn't know any better, she would have

thought his kisses were laced with caffeine. As he pulled away, she grinned at him. "Better than a cup of tea, you are," she told him.

The Doctor winked knowingly and stood back from the bed, holding out a hand for her. "Ready to get up now?"

She accepted the hand and let him help pull her out of the bed. "Just give me a mo' in the loo and I'll meet you in the console room."

True to her word, she met him a few minutes later. She wore a dressing gown over her pyjama bottoms and cotton vest top. The Doctor was dressed in his usual pinstripes but Rose suspected that was because he'd never undressed for sleep in the first place. She hefted a large canvas bag filled with wrapped gifts for everyone on her shoulder and gestured for the doors.

The Doctor took the bag from her and fit his hand into hers, beaming at her. Together, they walked up to the house and let themselves in the back door. Already, they could hear the excited chatter of voices in the living room. The kids were already wrapped up in their gifts from Father Christmas, giving the adults a moment to gather their tea and coffee and rub the remaining sleep

out of their eyes.

They were greeted cheerfully and space was made on the sofa for them to sit next to one another. Once everyone was settled, the gift exchange began. Rose had been excited for this, and the reality far surpassed what she'd anticipated. Everyone was happy and smiling and together. She might not have a proper family any longer, but these friends of hers were now a sort of family and she found she was treasuring that.

Sneaking a glance at the Doctor, she saw him smiling at everyone with a twinkle in his eye. She realised that it was much the same for him. He'd lost his family and his whole planet, but here was this group of humans that were happy to welcome him into their lives as if he were one of them. That had to mean the world to him. Smiling contentedly, she snuggled against his side and he wrapped an arm around her, holding her there.

Gifts were exchanged and everyone seemed to enjoy watching everyone else open their gifts. Some of the gifts were meaningful and special, others were silly and caused everyone to laugh. Rose's gift of dancing banana boxers to the Doctor was the latter variety. As she'd expected, he blushed and the tips of his ears turned delightfully pink as he held them up for everyone to see. Jack laughed the hardest, of course, though Donna was hooting and wiping tears from her eyes as well. Mickey nudged the Doctor in the ribs and asked if he was going to model them for everyone later.

The Doctor regained his dignity and grinned, informing everyone that he would be modelling them but Rose would be the only one in attendance when he did. She smiled and kissed him softly while everyone's attention turned to Wilf opening up a set of books on astronomy from Sylvia.

Rose was working on her second cup of tea by the time all of the gifts were finally exchanged. She surveyed her haul, which included a lovely jumper from Mickey and Martha, some sparkling hoop earrings (her favourite style) from Donna and Lee and a beautiful watch with a celestial scene on the face from the Doctor. As the excitement died down, everyone set to either cleaning up the discarded wrapping paper, or wandering off to watch American football on the telly or heading into the kitchen to work on preparing the holiday feast. Rose was about to get up from the sofa to help out in the kitchen when the Doctor grabbed her hand suddenly, holding her there next to him.

"I need to go help," she told him, leaning forward to brush a kiss on his cheek. "And you should go pester the men about the history of American football."

"I have another gift to give you first," the Doctor said. Rose looked at him, puzzled. He seemed almost… nervous. That wasn't like him at all.

"Why didn't you give it to me before?" she asked, turning on the sofa to face him better. "Did you forget?"

He shook his head and looked down to where he was still holding her hand. "I wanted to give this one to you alone. Without an audience."

That piqued her interest. Was it exciting lingerie? No, probably not. He'd more likely give her something like that later when they were alone in the TARDIS. "Tell me?" she asked.

He took a deep breath and then looked up to meet her eyes. "We haven't talked much about this but it just feels right to me. You know that I want you with me forever. And, after the other night, I'm pretty sure you want me with you too. But I've been thinking and wondering if maybe… I'd like to make it official. If you want," he said, stumbling a little over his words.

Rose's heart thumped in her chest as she tried to make sense of his halting words. "Doctor, what are you– Are you saying…?"

With the hand not currently holding hers, he reached into his trouser pocket and withdrew a small velvet box. All she could do was stare in disbelief as he set it on his knee and opened the lid. He picked up the box and held it in front of her so she could see the ring that was nestled into the satin inside.

Rose felt all the air leave her lungs as she took in the sight. The ring itself seemed to be made of white gold or platinum though she knew it could have been any alien precious metal. Tiny white diamonds glittered in rows along the sides before splitting off into forks. At the centre was a large blue diamond, surrounded on either side by smaller white diamonds. She'd never seen a cut quite like it before, nor had she ever seen very many blue diamonds. The ring was dainty and feminine, but also spoke of strength.

After a long moment spent staring at the ring, she dragged her eyes up to meet his. He squeezed her hand. "Would you marry me, Rose?"

"Oh, Doctor," she murmured and she brought up her other hand to lay it on his cheek. She was surprised to find him trembling a little under her touch and her heart twisted fondly. "I would, I am, I will."

His eyes were shining and a small tear slipped out but before she could brush it away, he leaned forward and kissed her. Rose was all ready to sink into his embrace but then he was pulling away and smiling sheepishly at her. At her confused look, he lifted up the box and raised an eyebrow. "May I put this on your finger?" he asked.

She found his formality very charming and nodded as she presented him with her left hand. He grinned and plucked the ring from its satin nest. He regarded it for a moment and said, "I was lucky to have just one of these Gallifreyan diamonds left. The TARDIS led me right to it, in Storage Room #8, of all places. The white Earth diamonds were a logical addition, a marriage of Gallifreyan and Earth gems. The metal is platinum, but it's from the fifty-third century, so its even stronger than your twenty-first century platinum."

"You made this?" she squeaked, surprised.

The Doctor nodded solemnly. "I wanted it to be special. Just for you. And as beautiful as you are to me."

She hadn't even been aware that her eyes were tearing up before she felt a few tears slip out and down her cheeks. "You precious man," she said. "I never in a million years would have thought you'd propose to me like this."

He chuckled and took her left hand in his, holding it steady. Before he could slip the ring onto her finger, he said, "I wasn't entirely sure it was something you'd want. Jack set me straight."

He pushed the ring onto her finger and fit perfectly, resting against her knuckle as if it were meant to be there. "I never would have asked you for this, you know," she told him. "I don't need this from you. I know you love me."

The Doctor smiled at her and brushed a hand down her cheek before reaching around to cup the back of her head, twining his fingers into her hair. "I know. And we can discuss all the details and how you want to do it. But I wanted to give you something that you could… well… that you could show off."

Rose giggled and flung her arms around his neck. "Besides you, of course," she clarified.

"Yes, of course," he replied and then he kissed her again. This time, she did melt into his arms and they didn't come up for air until Donna's little Fiona jumped onto the sofa to ask them what they were doing.

"Aunt Rose! What's that pretty thing on your finger?" the little ginger haired girl exclaimed. Rose had to laugh. Fiona had been calling everyone who wasn't her mum, dad, grandma or great-grandfather "aunt" or "uncle". The look on the Doctor's face when she'd first called him "Uncle Doctor" had been priceless.

Before either of them could answer (and they were both feeling a little gobsmacked at being confronted with the reality of telling other people so soon), there was a pair of shrieks and a clatter from the kitchen. In seconds, Donna and Martha were pelting into the room, squealing and making a beeline towards Rose.

The Doctor reacted instinctively, flinging an arm in front of her protectively. Rose appreciated the gesture even if it was ineffective as Donna batted his arm aside while Martha grabbed Rose's left hand. Their renewed shrieking threatened to deafen her, but as she was pulled into a tight hug from Donna, Rose couldn't fight back a huge grin. This was definitely a good Christmas then.

Chapter 14

Chapter Summary

The Doctor and Rose talk weddings.

Fluff alert! Thanks to everyone for sticking with this. There's one more chapter to come after this (I wouldn't leave you hanging here!), and as promised, I made the fluff equal to the angst. Thanks for believing in me!

And also, thanks to fogsblue for her inspiration and littlewhomouse for her help with the banner.

After the holiday meal dishes were cleared and the goodbyes were made, the Doctor and Rose returned to the TARDIS and he sent them into the Vortex. Rose wouldn't have minded staying with their friends until the next day, when everyone else was planning to leave, but the Doctor was never one to stick around and she knew the fact that he was willing to indulge in goodbyes at all was an enormous step for him.

As soon as the TARDIS stilled in the Vortex, he was taking her in his arms and nuzzling into her neck. They hadn't had much time alone together the whole day. Everyone had been very excited by the proposal and almost right away, the women had whisked Rose off to pepper her with questions and ideas for the ceremony. Her head was swimming with everything and all she'd really wanted to do was bury herself in the Doctor's warm embrace. He'd been cornered by the men, however, given a cigar and bottle of lager, and she'd heard a regrettable amount of chortling and teasing coming from the male-dominated game room.

"I missed you today," she murmured into his shoulder.

"I missed you, too," he admitted hoarsely.

"That was all wonderful, brilliant even, but it was kind of…" she trailed off, not sure how to put it gently.

"Overwhelming?" he supplied and she heard a grin in his voice.

Rose chuckled. "Just a bit." She drew back so she could look at his face. "All Sylvia and Donna and all of them could talk about was wedding plans and dresses and flowers and music and… Oh, Doctor. Is that really us?"

He swallowed visibly and shifted his grip on her waist. "I want to do what you want to do, Rose. I'm a Time Lord, I don't have preconceived notions of weddings like humans do. I'm perfectly willing to follow your lead here."

"That's just the thing," she admitted. "I don't know if that's what's right for us. I can't picture us in a church or something, with hundreds of guests and bouquets of flowers and organ music and birdseed."

He lead her over to the jump seat and she sat while he settled onto the seat next to her. "But, surely you had dreams of a fancy wedding when you were wee, Rose Tyler. Don't all human girls?"

She shrugged. "Maybe, once upon a time, long before I met you I did. But when I met you, everything changed. My whole focus changed. I haven't even thought of anything like a wedding for years and years."

"Well," he drawled. "What do you want then? I just want to make you happy."

"I kinda like what you said to me the other night, about how it used to be done on Gallifrey," she told him, feeling a little nervous about how he would react. What if he didn't want to talk about his planet or his people? But she had to ask anyhow. "Could we maybe do something like that?"

The Doctor stared at her, his mouth hanging slightly open. "Really?" he squeaked. Then he blushed and cleared his throat. "Just the ceremony or– or the bonding too?"

She could see the idea pleased him and it gave her renewed confidence. "Both. The whole thing. I want to learn more about your customs, and the ceremony you described sounds far more meaningful than a traditional Earth ceremony."

He beamed at her, his brown eyes shining. "I would like that, Rose. I would like that a lot," he said, his voice thick with emotion.

Touching his cheek with her fingertips, she leaned forward and kissed him gently. He leaned into the kiss, stroking her lips with his. She heard him sigh contentedly as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. Their lips moved together for several long moments, just tasting and enjoying one another, sighing and humming.

Rose pulled back and smiled into his eyes. "Well, what are you waiting for? Let's get to work."

She got up from the jump seat, taking his hand and pulled him up behind her. Then, he led her down the corridor to the library, walking directly to the section on Gallifrey that was so often hidden from his companions. He pulled several thick tomes off the shelves and took them to a nearby table. They sat there for the next several hours, going over the ridiculously complicated texts. It was all in Gallifreyan and the Doctor had to translate for her. But as he spoke, she took notes on a notepad of the things they wanted to be sure to remember and include in their own ceremony.

They spent the rest of the next day like this, working together and reading and writing and learning. Rose went to the galley and brought back a tray of sandwiches and tea when they were both feeling hungry and they held hands as they nibbled and drank and talked. As she brushed her fingers lightly against his palm, she mused that they felt like a proper couple now and regardless of how this ceremony turned out, she knew she could never be happier than she was right now.

As she arranged her hair into an elegant up-do, Rose thought that she should probably be feeling more nervous than she did. Her hands weren't shaking and a herd of butterflies were not rioting in her stomach. She felt sure and calm. She used a light hand as she applied her makeup, wanting to retain a little naturalness in light of her elaborate dress and accessories.

She'd woken up this morning, the day of their bonding ceremony, to find garments laid out for her in her room. She knew the TARDIS was responsible, as she'd felt a reassuring hum in her mind as she'd stroked the luxurious fabrics. Rose wondered if the Doctor was finding clothes set aside for him in his own room and felt a thrill of excitement when wondering what those clothes might be. They'd spent the night apart, a nod to Earth tradition. Plus, it heightened the anticipation, which she was finding utterly delicious.

With her hair curled and pinned up at last, Rose turned to the garments and smiled. They were all a deep red with shimmering gold accents. Gallifreyan colours, the Doctor had told her. The gown itself came first and she pulled it on over her underthings, feeling the soft brush of silk against her skin. The colour looked rich and luxurious against her pale skin and she admired the piping and embellishments embroidered into the fine fabric. Her shoulders were left bare before

the sleeves caught around her elbows, then fanned out at her wrists, the fabric hanging down past her waist. The bodice clung to her skin, the gold, swirling designs there accentuating and complimenting her natural curves and the narrowness of her waist before flaring out at her hips. The voluminous layered skirts brushed the tops of her still-bare feet and the floor. The dress was filmy and elegant and feminine and sensual and completely unlike anything she'd ever worn before. The fabric felt so amazing and moved in such a way that she spent a few moments just turning in front of the floor length mirror just to watch the way the it moved as she swirled.

Rose knew the Doctor would love it.

She sat on the edge of her bed to lace up her sandals. She was hesitant to even think of them as shoes since they wouldn't serve any purpose that shoes normally would. It was a flap of soft leather, trimmed in gold and tied over the tops of her feet and laced up her legs with red silk ribbons. It would keep her feet from the cold floor of the TARDIS, she supposed, and again, she had a feeling the Doctor would appreciate the way the ribbons looked against her calves.

Lastly, she pulled on a hooded cape. It was heavy and made of a shimmering fabric. The inside was golden and the outside was the same dark red as the rest of her dress. It fastened around her shoulders and flowed clear down to the floor. She pulled the hood up over her fancy hairdo and took one last look at herself in the mirror.

Rose barely recognised herself. She looked… regal. She was reminded of pictures of fairytale princesses and goddesses. Briefly, she wondered what her mum would think if she could see her now. Fighting back the automatic prickling of tears, Rose knew that her mum would be proud. She might have had a thing or two to say to the Doctor (when hadn't she?), but she thought overall, Jackie would have been happy for her daughter and the man she loved. Rose pulled that certainty into her heart and held it there as she turned and left her room.

The TARDIS lead her down corridor after corridor, humming happily in her mind as she made her way to the room the Doctor had promised her would be the perfect setting for their bonding ceremony. She was excited to see it, to see what he'd done. Of course, she realised that the TARDIS would have done most of the hard work and on the heels of that thought, she heard a trilling noise in her mind that sounded very much like a delighted chuckle.

She was finally led to a great archway that opened into what looked like a lush garden. If she hadn't known any better, she would have assumed that she'd stepped out of the TARDIS and onto a beautiful alien planet. The sky was a soft periwinkle colour with fluffy white clouds and a gentle breeze blew through the trees that resembled Earth's birch trees with their white trunks but had broad lavender leaves instead. The ground was covered in teal coloured grass that tickled at her ankles and calves as she walked through it. Wildflowers grew all around in all the colours of the spectrum. It was dazzling and easily one of the most beautiful environments she'd ever seen.

The sound of ethereal music guided her steps and soon she saw a structure through the trees. It was a small, open building, similar to a gazebo but made out of polished white stone. An orange

plant that strongly resembled ivy climbed up the pillars of the structure and pink flowers hung down from hanging pots mounted into the ceiling. In the centre of the structure, stood the Doctor.

He was wearing much simpler clothing than she was. He had on the same hooded cape on that she wore, but underneath that, he wore a dark red button down shirt that he'd left open and she took the smallest of moments to appreciate the lines of his toned chest and abdomen. He also wore matching trousers that sat low on his hips and were embellished down the legs with golden embroidery. His feet were bare. Rose was overcome with a sudden urge to say sod the ceremony and skip right to the shagging. He grinned at her as though he could read her thoughts.

She grinned back, remembering that very soon, he would be able to do just that.

The Doctor held out his hands to her and she stepped into the small structure, taking his hands in hers. He beamed at her, happiness radiating off of him. "Hello," he said softly.

"Hello," Rose replied, trying to keep the giggling tremor out of her voice. She was definitely shaking now but not from nerves. She was excited.

He released her hands and reached up to push her hood off her head, smiling warmly at her as he did so. She mimicked his move, marvelling at how his hair managed to retain its anti-gravity properties. He reached across a small table off to the side, and picked up a length of cord, handing it to her. It was pink and gold and made of fibres she wasn't familiar with. It was soft and strong and heavy in her fingers. She fastened the one end of the cord around her left wrist as she'd practiced the night before. She picked up a similar cord from the table, this one dark red and orange and handed it to him, watching as he fastened the end of the length around his corresponding wrist. This was to be their hand fasting.

The TARDIS began to sing in her mind and she knew the Doctor was hearing the same song in his mind. He closed his eyes for a moment, and she watched him as he let the song wash over him. Then, opening his eyes again, he gripped her left wrist with his left hand and spoke.

"I've lived for a long time and most of that time has been alone. I thought it was for the best, that it was easier and safer. But it was meaningless and I was drifting. Then I found you. If my life has any meaning, it is because of you and the love I feel for you. I tried to deny that love and it hurt both of us. I have finally given up the fight and am ready to join my life to yours. Do you accept?"

Rose squeezed her hand on his wrist and replied, "I accept your life with open arms. I haven't lived as long as you, but I have seen and experienced enough to know that love enriches our experiences. There is no one in the universe better suited to love me than you. I am happy to join my life to yours for as long as we both shall live."

The Doctor smiled, his eyes shining. "Then today, we shall bind ourselves to one another. The universe will recognise and celebrate our bond and it will stand for all time. It takes moments to say the words 'I love you', but I believe it takes a lifetime, several lifetimes even, to show it.

This ceremony is just the beginning of the many ways I hope to show my love for you over the years to come. I want to bestow you with all the gifts I have to give you: communication of the heart, mind and body, warmth of home and passion for you, commitment of my soul to you, and a foundation upon which we can both rely on our love and our lives together."

Rose blinked back her tears at his beautiful words. "I wish to give you the same gifts. I will always come to you for what I need; comfort, passion, communion and home. I promise to listen to you when you need me to listen, love you when you need me to love you, nurture you and when you need to be nurtured. I want the universe to recognise and celebrate my promise."

He met her eyes then and she was swallowed by their solemn, brown depths. "I may cause you pain, but that is not my intention," he said, reciting the words they had found during their research.

"And I as well may cause you pain, but that is never my intention," she responded.

Then they spoke together as one. "From now on, we will share each other's pain and seek to ease it."

With their left hands still clasped, they each reached down for their own cord with their right hands. Rose draped her pink and gold cord across his hand and he did the same to her with his.

"I will share my laughter with you," the Doctor continued.

"And I will share mine with you," Rose answered.

"We will find laughter together," they both finished. Then they each wrapped their cord around each others hand again, binding them further together.

"I will burden you, but that is not my intention," he told her.

"And I will burden you, but that is also not my intention."

"We will share each other's burdens so that our spirits might grow stronger together."

They repeated the wrapping of their respective cords, pulling the cords gently tighter around each others hand and wrist. The Doctor smiled into her eyes and she returned the grin, unable to remain sober.

"I will share my dreams with you."

"And I will share mine with you."

Again, they spoke together, "We will dream together and create new shared realities."

Once more, they wrapped the cords around flesh and Rose could feel the warmth emanating not just from his hand but from the cord itself. The TARDIS continued to hum happily in her mind.

"I will cause you anger," the Doctor told her and his eyes twinkled with mirth.

"I will do the same."

"We will take the heat our anger and use it to temper the strength of our union," they both recited in unison.

The cords were wrapped again and the TARDIS hummed louder.

"I will honour you."

"And I will honour you."

"We shall endeavour to never give each other cause break that honour."

They each made the final wrapping of the cord and once in place, the cords both glowed a brilliant white. Rose had to look away from the sight, but she could feel the warmth pulsing along her skin. There was almost a tingling pain but the TARDIS sang in her mind, calling her attention away from the mild discomfort. When she was finally able to look down to where their hands were joined, the cords were no longer the colours they had been, but were silver and gold and glittering.

Then, just as suddenly, the cords disappeared in a cloud of glittering dust. What remained resembled a tattoo on their skin, outlining the path of the cords. On her skin, the lines were traced in silver and a phrase was written on the inside of her wrist in Gallifreyan. On his, the lines were golden and on his wrist was an elaborate rose. With a gasp, she realised that the Gallifreyan symbols must be his name. His actual name.

Rose looked up and saw him regarding the tattoo on his own hand, wrist and forearm. The Doctor looked up and met her eyes and smiled beatifically. They each let go of each other's wrist and Rose was surprised to see the tattoo fade and disappear. With a furrowed brow, she felt for it with her fingers and at her touch, the silver lines reappeared. She gasped again and the Doctor chuckled.

"Its touch sensitive," he told her. To demonstrate, he presented his forearm to her and she touched his wrist, watching as the golden scrolls reappeared on his skin.

"Its like the One Ring," she murmured thoughtfully. "From Lord of the Rings."

The Doctor threw back his head and laughed at that. "Yes, I suppose it is."

"How did we get these tattoos? Was it the cords?"

"I don't really know for sure," he admitted a bit sheepishly. "Like I said before, bonding ceremonies like this weren't really done during my time on Gallifrey. The TARDIS provided the cords so I think it's just as likely to say that the TARDIS is the one who gave us the tattoos."

Rose considered that as she traced the delicate lines on his skin with a fingertip. "'S beautiful," she said.

"It is," he agreed. "You are." Tracing his fingers along her jaw, he reached behind to cup her head and pull her to him for a sweet and gentle kiss. They kept the contact light and tender. There was a faint buzzing in the back of her head.

"Did you feel that?" he asked her, when he pulled back.

She nodded. "Was that the bond?"

"Yes, it was. Are you ready to complete it?" His voice was dark and promising and the look he gave her made her knees feel a little weak.

"I am," she replied and she reached down to twine her fingers with his. He brought their joined hands up to his mouth and brushed a kiss across her knuckles before leading her out of the structure.

Rose looked around at their amazing surroundings as they walked. The only thing that gave away that this wasn't actually outside on some planet somewhere was there was no noises, just the sounds of the breeze blowing through the grass and the trees. There were no birds or insects. If there was one thing she'd learned on her many travels, it was that that no matter the planet, there were always birds and insects. Or what passed for birds and insects on other planets, that is.

Shortly, they came to a small clearing. Laying on top of the teal grass was a large, fluffy, white, pillow. Or maybe, since it was the size of their bed, it was a mattress. Strewn atop it were several pillows and blankets, all of them white. Rose flushed as she surveyed the setting and chanced a look at the Doctor. He was smiling broadly at her. He led her to the centre of the nest (for lack of a better word for it) and knelt down. She mirrored him so they sat opposite one another.

"Okay, take a deep breath and try to relax," the Doctor instructed her. "This will be a little different, but I promise that if you are relaxed and open, it will feel… well… good."

Rose grinned and nodded. She took a lungful of air and held it for a moment before breathing it out, willing her excited nerves to settle.

"It's easier, I think, if we do this while we're… intimate," he told her. "The telepathic connection will come more naturally to both of us and we'll have an imperative to complete it. We won't be able not to."

His words caused a shiver of desire to course through her. "May I undress you?" she asked.

His smiled dawned across his face like the sun rising in the east. "Oh, yes, Rose Tyler," he murmured. "You most certainly may."

Chapter 15

Chapter Summary

We finally get our happily ever after...

I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me on this story. Without YOU, who have read and reviewed and encouraged me to keep going... this story wouldn't be here. This ending is for you guys as a thanks for trusting in me to "fix this" and being with me every step along the way. You guys are the BEST.

BIG thanks to littlewhomouse and kelkat9 who helped me get through this last chapter and from whom I snatched large amounts of text. You guys ROCK.

And a special thanks to fogsblue who was the inspiration for this story and to littlewhomouse who leant me her graphics expertise on the banner!

It wouldn't take her long to undress him, Rose mused, seeing as how the Doctor wasn't wearing all that much. That was quite the turn of events. Usually, he was the one wearing five layers and she was the one bordering on indecent. The idea of it stimulated her unexpectedly and she felt a hot flush creep across her chest as she eased the cape off his shoulders and ran her hands up under the fabric of his open button-down shirt.

Leaning forward to place a soft kiss on his collarbone, she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and he wiggled his arms out of it until he was sitting before her in just his trousers. She wouldn't be able to undress him anymore until he changed positions and he was looking at her rather hungrily.

"My turn," he murmured. He pushed her cape off as she'd done with his so that it fell onto the mattress behind her.

Rose brushed his hands aside and got to her feet. "Let me," she said, reaching behind her to the hidden zipper in the bodice of her gown. The bodice came loose and she made a show of drawing it down, pulling her wrists loose of the flowing sleeves and letting the gown pool at her feet before kicking it and the discarded cape aside. The Doctor was gaping up at her, his eyes shamelessly traveling her curves from her calves, where the ribbons were still laced, holding the leather onto the soles of her feet, up past her knickers and her waist and her bra, finally coming to a rest on her face.

She grinned at his dumbstruck expression and he held out a hand for her. She took his hand and he tugged her back down to him. Before she could get her bearings however, she was pushed down into the mattress and he was pressing down over her, his hands tightly gripping her shoulders. The Doctor kissed her long and deep, his lips moving over hers, encouraging her to open for him. His tongue licked into her mouth, brushing against her teeth, her palate, her tongue, tasting and flicking and mimicking what she sensed he would like to do to other parts of her. With other parts of him.

Dimly, she realised she knew this because his mind was brushing against her mind in much the same way his tongue was brushing against her tongue. It was slow and gradual; she was becoming immersed in everything that was him, much like walking into a pool, but she was pleased to find that she wasn't being overpowered. No, if anything, she felt a surge of her own power and pride as she realised he was experiencing the same thing in his mind.

Rose pushed on his shoulders and he took the hint, rolling them over so that she was above him. Lifting up, she grinned at him again as she reached behind her to flick open the fastening on her bra. He reached up to grab the cups as they fell forward, drawing the flimsy garment away from her body and his eyes traced her curves lovingly.

She could see by the way he was licking his lips that he would like to perhaps lavish some of that oral fixation of his on her breasts, but Rose had other ideas. She moved down his body to the waistband of the loose trousers he was still wearing. He was watching her intently as she tugged playfully on the edge of the fabric before he lifted his hips and she drew it down and off his body. Her eyes devoured the sight of his naked form as she sat back and began to unlace her sandals.

In a flash, the Doctor was sitting up, stilling her fingers with his own. "Please," he murmured as he began to stroke at the skin of her calves. "I want to."

Rose leaned back on her elbows and watched as he unlaced each sandal, letting the satiny ribbons slide through his fingers. He pressed soft kisses to the skin of her ankles as he drew each sandal off, inflaming her desire further. But he was taking his time, maintaining eye contact as much as possible, his irises dark and fathomless. Once the sandals were removed, he moved

quickly, grabbing her knickers and whipping them down and off her legs.

She could see he was hoping to regain the upper hand in this seduction so she took advantage of his hesitation while he gazed at her nude form to push him back down onto the mattress and straddle his hips once more.

"Rose!" he squeaked, his eyes wide but still dark with lust.

"You're mine, Time Lord," she growled and she reached for his erection, stroking it firmly. She was delighted to notice he was completely hard and briefly entertained the notion of taking him into her mouth. But, she reminded herself, she would have time for that later. First things first.

Rose lowered herself down onto him, groaning as he filled her. She kept her eyes open and watched a myriad of expressions cross the Doctor's face as she settled into place.

"Okay, Doctor, this is the physical side of our bonding," she said softly, straining to keep her hips still even as he squirmed beneath her. "What do I need to do next?"

Rose could see the way his chest moved and knew he was breathing hard, straining for control. She loved that she could provoke this reaction in him. He reached up and took her hands in his, bringing them forward to rest against his temples. Then he did the same with his hands. "Close your eyes," he instructed and his voice sounded thin and a touch desperate.

Do you hear me?

Her eyes flashed to his. She heard the words spoken in her mind, as clearly as if he'd spoken them aloud. After a moment's shock, she nodded her head in answer.

Good. Follow my voice.

She felt completely enveloped by him, his presence soothing and exciting her as she closed her eyes and she let her mind follow his voice as he beckoned her forward. It was like a warmth dancing across her skin, a subtle silken feeling that made her shiver with anticipation. The spot in the back of her head that often felt so prickly was now pulsing warmth and invitation and she moved mentally towards that spot at his urging.

Outside of her mind, she unconsciously squeezed her muscles around his length, a sudden reminder that they were intimately joined. The Doctor groaned, causing ripples of colour to dance around her mind deliciously. He spoke both out loud and in her mind, encouraging her, and his voice was like a caress, touching something deep inside of her. It was erotic in a way that she hadn't experienced before and Rose wanted more. She felt her mind reach out towards him and he met her half way. They came together like the way they held hands, fingers lacing together. Their souls laced together and it felt so much like coming home that she wanted to weep with relief.

Meanwhile, the Doctor was nearly vibrating underneath her. "Rose," he groaned, and he shifted one hand from her temples to grab at her hip. "I need… we have to complete this. Please."

"Yes," she answered, circling her hips just once and causing him to moan.

"You don't understand," he said, his voice gasping. "Being so close, like this… I feel you opening to me and you're so welcoming. Your mind is embracing me, Rose and feeling you touch me this way, inside my mind– This is more erotic than anything I've ever done. It's incredible. I'm having a hard time… going slow."

"I know, Doctor," she told him. "I feel the same."

Rose, he called to her in her mind.

She pushed forward, further into his mind, into the haze of colours. The closer she got to that pulsing centre that was the beginnings of their bond, the more the pressure between her legs grew. She rocked her hips and they both cried out at the rocketing sensations. Good grief, at this rate she was going to come without having to do more than rock forward another time or two. She tried to distract herself by thinking of what the Doctor had told her about this process the day before.

"Telepathic bonding sounds advanced," he'd said to her while they were studying the numerous texts and taking notes. "It sounds like something that more evolved species chose as an intellectual way of mating. But in reality, it's far more primitive than that."

"Primitive and slightly lazy," Rose had teased him.

Now, nothing about this felt lazy. It was taking everything she had to control the urge to plunge ahead. She could tell, from the ways the veins were standing out on his neck, that the Doctor was struggling just as much as she was. He shifted just slightly beneath her and oh, just that tiny movement was such exquisite torture.

Not lazy, his voice in his mind said, echoing her thoughts. This isn't all we have to do, Rose.She could see his smug grin in her minds eye, without even opening her eyes to check the expression on his actual face.

She realised right then what he was doing. He was stroking the bond in her mind, pouring in his feelings of devotion as he did so. She knew that she could do the same thing and reached out, feeling for that pulsing bond. Rose gasped as she felt her body react to his emotions cascading through the bond and through her mind. She saw images of what she looked like when she orgasmed and how he felt when he watched her. She saw how he intended to make her look again and a sharp spike of lust coursed through the bond.

They were learning each other from the inside out. Each touch she made on his consciousness made him shiver and he would mirror the movement. Rose bit her lip and shifted on him again,

leaning down to grip his shoulders as he began to thrust up into her welcoming heat. The tension on his face from trying to hold back began to melt away and the most gorgeous smile spread across his features. They stared into one another's eyes, with him driving into her and her grinding down against him, bringing with them a tsunami of lust and desire that swirled in their minds and pulsated along their forming bond.

They were fully ensconced in one another now, their bodies moving in tandem. Telepathic caresses and images of sweat-slicked bodies entwined with one another melded with the reality of her riding his hips and the delicious push-pull of their coupling. She could taste his sweaty skin even as she arched her back over him, she could feel each silken strand of his hair even though her own hands were now on his shoulders. She could smell the intoxicating musk of their joining and it blossomed in her mind, imprinting on her psyche.

Rose's senses were heightened and she shivered with the decadence and power of it. She did feel powerful as the Doctor gazed up at her, his eyes telling her that she was the most precious thing in his universe. Just like he was the most precious thing in her universe. She pushed that emotion along their bond, wanting him to know how she felt and his hips jerked hard as he groaned with the knowledge.

Rose leaned back down over him to press her lips to his, running her tongue across his smooth, soft lips. He opened beneath her and she slipped her tongue into his mouth, tasting the strawberry jam he must have gotten into before the ceremony and that taste that was uniquely the Doctor. He responded enthusiastically, his tongue meeting hers and twining with it. This kisshad started off sweet and languorous but as the Doctor's hands came up to hold her head to his, it became altogether needy and desperate.

A moan bubbled up in her throat and that seemed to flip a switch in the Doctor. Growling, he grabbed her shoulders and quickly reversed their positions without withdrawing from her body. Positioned above her, he took her hands in his and pinned them on either side of her head as he began to thrust into her. Rose arched her back into his body and hooked her legs around his narrow hips, altering the angle just enough so that he was hitting a new spot and oh god, it felt so good.

Just when Rose was finally getting accustomed to the delicious friction that his pumping hips was creating, she became aware of his mind reaching out to hers again. He wasn't even touching her temples this time; the bond must be more fully formed now. She pushed her own feelings back to him and he groaned, releasing her hands so he could hook her knee under his elbow and push deeper.

Rose was overwhelmed but in the most wonderful way possible. She could still feel him thrusting into her but she could also feel him in her mind and surrounding her consciousness. Her pleasure was stoked higher and higher and she could feel his pleasure climbing just as if she was feeling it herself. It was… incredible. She had to close her eyes to keep the sensory

overload at bay and behind her eyelids she could see exploding stars and swirling plasma clouds and galaxies forming and dying and it was everything, all at once.

Her throat was sore and she realised it was because she was crying out, over and over. With his other hand, the Doctor reached down to press against her sensitised bundle of nerves and when he thrust again, she finally fell apart after hanging on the edge for what seemed like an eternity. Her mind let go and spiralled away but she felt the presence of the Doctor's mind catch hers and hold her to him so that she wouldn't be lost.

Rose had just about caught her breath when she felt the Doctor shake and tense above her, his fingers digging into her flesh as he emptied into her, his mind washing over hers, bathing her with his own pleasure which she fed back to him. He called to her with a hoarse voice and she answered, holding him tightly to her as he finally settled and calmed above her.

The Doctor lay atop her, collapsed and breathing hard and she enjoyed the security of his weight on her as she floated back to reality. They breathed together for several long moments. Finally, he rolled off of her and pulled her against his side so that her head tucked into the crook of his shoulder. She sighed happily.

"I love you," he whispered into her hair, tightening his arm around her shoulder.

Rose squeezed her eyes shut, just trying to hold onto this moment for a little while longer. He loved her and he was telling her that he loved her. He'd just brought her to the most amazing orgasm she'd ever experienced and they were married. She wasn't sure if this meant that everything she'd gone through since that second time on Bad Wolf Bay had been worth it. There had been many years and a heart broken over and over and over again since that day. But Rose was starting to realise that the past was just that. Everything that had happened still mattered; the good and bad times had both shaped her into who she was now. Her time with the Doctor before was still a very important part of their story.

But what mattered was what was happening right here and right now. Their future together was the important thing and she had her eyes trained on it. Rose turned her head and pressed a soft kiss to the Doctor's chest.

"I love you, too," she murmured.

EPILOGUE

Not much changed over the next few weeks. They were still Rose and the Doctor, the same people they ever were. They visited every resort and pleasure planet the both of them could think of, drawing out their "honeymoon" into a two month tour of lush suites, luxurious dinners, romantic dancing, and more time in bed than out of it.

Rose accused the Doctor of being addicted to sex now, just another horny bloke like the rest of

the "stupid apes" out there. In retaliation, he had chased her down and tickled her until she was gasping for mercy. Then he'd reminded her that it was her that he was addicted to. And if they had five hundred more years together, he would never get tired of discovering her body and the many ways she could make him feel.

It wasn't all domestic bliss. The Doctor was rubbish at remembering to keep his wet towels in the bathroom picked up off the floor and had a centuries-old habit of leaving the toilet seat up. Rose was downright grouchy in the morning and often took out her annoyance on him, even when he wasn't the one to blame for whatever she was annoyed with. He sometimes needed reminding to not coddle her and to discuss things with her before making decisions for them both. And she sometimes forgot to tell him where she was going and she'd also forget that her wandering off tended to give him a hearts attack, especially when they were embroiled in a dangerous situation.

Which, honestly, they were often in a dangerous situation.

Jack came along with them quite a few times. The Doctor never stopped apologising for letting Jack down before and Jack never stopped teasing the two of them about how cute they were together. And about how he knew from the moment he'd first seen them together that they were headed for domestic bliss. Then, both Jack and Rose would throw back their heads and laugh at the pale, stricken expression on the Doctor's face at Jack's use of the phrase, 'domestic bliss'.

Still, whatever it was and whatever they chose to call it, it was definitely bliss.

The Doctor was once again hunched over the microscope in the med bay, comparing samples and consulting a rather large and dusty looking text. Their sleep cycles matched more these days, so there wasn't much time that the Doctor had to work on secret projects. It wasn't that he wanted to keep secrets from Rose, either. But he didn't want to bring up this particular subject until he knew a little more about what he was talking about.

It had been about six months since their bonding ceremony. They'd just dropped Jack off at home in Lake Tahoe and were currently drifting in the Vortex, taking some time to relax before deciding on their next destination. Truth be told, they'd probably be off and running for their lives by now but the Doctor was very close to the breakthrough he'd been working towards for the last several months and he was excited to share his discoveries with his wife.

His wife. Even now, just thinking about what Rose was to him now made his hearts twist and thud excitedly in his chest.

And now, he had even more reason to be excited. He just hoped that Rose would be excited

too. They hadn't talked much about their future together, it had been unspoken between them that they would just take each moment as it came.

And…. There. The answer he'd been searching for. The Doctor sat back in his chair and rubbed at his jaw as he stared. Oh sure, he'd had his suspicions and even an educated guess or two but the truth staring him back in the face was another level altogether. A sloppy smile spread across his face and he couldn't wait to share this with Rose. But first, he would have to set the scene appropriately.

He dashed out to the console room, doing a quick check along the bond for where Rose was. She was… happy and laughing and comfortable and… snacking. He could tell by the pleased pulse of her thoughts that she was catching up on her favourite telly show in the media room, munching on a bowl of popcorn if his mental senses were correct. That was just as well; he could pick their destination and make sure everything was perfect before involving her.

The Sixth Moon of Mariposa was the perfect place, he reasoned. Rose loved butterflies and they were the only indigenous species on the whole moon. Mariposa 6 was peaceful and beautiful and unspoiled and most importantly, some place they could talk about his discovery in private. He wanted this to be perfect. He input the coordinates and as the TARDIS materialised and he felt a question shimmer down the bond between them.

Everything's fine, he assured her mentally. something I want to talk to you about too.

But there's something I want to show you, Could you come out with me?

I'll be right there, she answered and once again, he marvelled at how easily she had taken totelepathic communication. His Rose was a natural.

A moment later, Rose emerged from the corridor. She was wearing cut-off track bottoms and a cotton vest; indicating that she hadn't expected to be going anywhere for at least a little while.

"Should I change?" she asked, noticing the way his eyes traveled over her figure.

The Doctor shook his head. "No, you look perfect," he told her, holding out his hand. She grinned and stepped forward to twine her fingers with his.

He pulled her out the doors and onto the soft, fertile soil of the Sixth Moon of Mariposa. He filled her in on the moon and its history and how it came to be populated entirely by butterflies in all colours of the spectrum. Rose looked enchanted as he led her to a small meadow clearing not far from where the TARDIS had materialised.

Shrugging out of his long, brown coat, the Doctor laid it down and they both settled down onto it, laying back to watch the butterflies flit around lazily above them.

"What did you want to discuss?" Rose asked at last.

The Doctor hummed. "How do you envision our future?"

"We're living it right now," she replied simply. "You and me, traveling the stars."

"What if it didn't have to be just you and me?" he said, testing the waters. Why did he feel so nervous about this?

He turned his head and saw her brow furrowing adorably. "What do you mean? Do you want to go back to get Jack? Maybe find a new companion? I hear twenty-first century London is a great place for companions," she teased, her tongue poking out of her grin.

"Actually, I wasn't referring to a new companion," he clarified and he cleared his throat.

"Then what are you on about?" she asked, lifting up onto one elbow so that she could look at him better.

"What about… children?"

As he watched, Rose's mouth fell open. Her eyes were wide on his and he found he couldn't read her expression at all. Tentatively, he checked their bond, but found it just as devoid of expression as her face. The Doctor swallowed nervously, feeling his adam's apple bob as he did so.

"Rose?" he said and his voice squeaked just a little bit.

"Did– Did you just say, 'children'?" she gasped, her eyes still wide on his.

He nodded.

"As in our children?"

Another nod.

"Us, having children, of our own?"

"Rose, yes," he murmured, now deeply worried that in fact this wasn't something she wanted at all and, oh bugger, he'd just made a tremendous mistake bringing them here and making such a big deal out of something she didn't even want.

Rose's eyes softened and she reached out to cup his jaw tenderly. With her thumb, she smoothed the dimple that he knew must be standing out on his cheek.

"Oh, Doctor," she breathed. "I never thought that'd be possible for us."

"Well, we never did talk about it before," he replied. "And I'd never really looked into the

science of it, to be honest. Never had a reason to."

"But you said, that one time, that Gallifreyan's 'loomed' their children. I thought that meant you were, you know, sterile."

He couldn't have explained it but he felt a little offended at the implication. "I am not sterile," he assured her. "No, it just means that looming was another way that Time Lords tried to control something that should have been at least a little uncontrollable."

"So, theoretically, a Time Lord could have children with a human?" she asked.

"That, I don't know. Maybe? I mean, I've said it before… Humans are the most biologically compatible species out there. They spread across the stars for millions of years. So anything is possible. But Time Lords are different on an even more fundamental level than humans. Our genetic code has three strands instead of a human's two strands. Scientifically speaking, that should mean Time Lords and humans aren't compatible for creating offspring," he explained.

Rose blinked at him and a line showed up between her eyebrows. "So, why are you bringing this up now?" She almost sounded… hurt. He hurried to reassure her.

"But Rose, you aren't human any longer. Not really. You are something else altogether. Your cells and your genetic code is, for lack of a better term, in flux. You are human plus. And I think that's very much intentional on the part of Bad Wolf and the meddling of the TARDIS. I think it was to make you compatible. With me."

Her eyes were wide again and she appeared to have stopped breathing. "What are you saying, Doctor?"

"I'm saying that you and I could have children. If… if you want?" The Doctor bit his lip as he watched her eyes fill with tears. In all those weeks he'd been researching and running tests and reading books, he'd never dared to let himself hope. But here, right now with the butterflies fluttering all around them, he was hoping. His hearts were nearly bursting with it.

"Doctor," she murmured and tears spilled out of each eye, trailing down her cheeks. Unconsciously, he reached up to brush them away with his fingers. "I would love to have your children."

His hearts did burst then, but with joy instead of disappointment. "Our children," he corrected tenderly.

Instead of replying, she leaned forward and kissed him sweetly. He could taste her tears and feel the giddy excitement now coursing down their bond as he pulled her closer to him.

After he pulled back, he kept talking. "Of course, we don't have to get started right away if you don't want. We have plenty of time for that and if you wanted to spend more time just you and I,

that's fine too. No pressure from me."

Rose pressed a finger to his lips, silencing him. "How about we just see where the future takes us for now, Doctor?" she suggested.

He smiled at her, amazed yet again at how Rose always knew the right thing to say. "That sounds brilliant, Rose," he said.

And it was. It was brilliant.