The Doctor was sitting in the TARDIS library with the copy of 'Gaudy Night,' the novel he and Rose were currently reading, resting on the side table. (Rose was a huge fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. 'Harriet and Peter remind me of us, Doctor, you know if we were earthbound and solving crimes and still denying our feelings.') Rose had developed a sudden craving for blueberry scones and had gone into the kitchen to bake up a batch.
They had been enjoying the nibbles at the harvest festival on Astiea when one of the bakers had overheard Rose commenting that she would love to know how to make the little spiced cakes. They had offered to teach her and, after her first lesson, Rose had decided that she absolutely loved baking and the TARDIS had had an abundance of freshly baked goods ever since. Not that anyone was complaining.
The fireplace was casting a gentle glow around the room as he sat silently and contemplated how his life had changed since meeting Rose Tyler. It was still amazing to him, after all these years, that he somehow hadn't known immediately in that shop basement, when he first took her hand, just how important she would come to be to him.
Admittedly, when looking back, he had fallen in love with her during that first adventure with the Autons, when her courage and cleverness made her shine; it was why he had gone back to ask her a second time after all. Although it had taken an absurdly long time for him to admit that to himself, let alone Rose.
He couldn't deny it to himself any longer, however, when she had absorbed the time vortex to save him and, in return, he had willingly sacrificed his life to save hers. After their near-miss at Canary Wharf when Rose had knowingly sacrificed everything to save the world and stay with him, he had been unable to continue keeping the truth from her.
That night they stayed together in the library, drinking tea and holding each other. She had been dozing off in his arms when he whispered, "I love you. I needed to say it. I thought you should know." Her eyes had opened and when she looked up at him with a soft smile, her eyes glistening with tears, and whispered the words back to him he had been unable to keep from kissing her deeply.
That was also the first night that he had initiated any sort of telepathic link with her. Holding each other, whilst always wonderful, hadn't been enough after nearly losing each other forever. So, he had asked her permission and she had eagerly granted it. It was only a surface connection that could easily be undone but it was enough for the Doctor to know that he wanted a permanent bond with Rose, as ever since that first night, they had both been basking in their telepathic link, neither wanting to close it.
The next few weeks they had spent in the vortex. He had been trying, in secret, to work out a way for Rose to say goodbye to Jackie for the last time and they had been getting comfortable in their new romantic relationship. That relationship, in actual fact, was the source of his ongoing confusion. The Doctor knew, or thought he knew, nearly everything about humans and their courtship rituals and he had made a point of studying up on the ones specifically from Rose's time but something still seemed to be off and he wasn't certain what to do about it.
They kissed all time; a soft good morning kiss, kisses to accompany their constant hugs, a gentle kiss before bed. They also still hugged and held hands and cuddled as much as they always did, if not more, but Rose never pushed for, or even so much as hinted that she wanted more. Granted he didn't either but that was because he didn't want to push her for too much too soon and he wasn't entirely clear on how to go about it anyway.
As a Time Lord, the Doctor could quite easily go his entire existence without ever having physical sex and really a mental bond was far more intimate and satisfying than human sex could ever even hope to be but Rose was human, or mostly human anyway (Bad Wolf could alter her basic biology and tie her life-span to his and also tie it to his – well, their – magnificent ship but it couldn't change the culture or time period she was raised in), and human relationships usually had sex as a component. Certainly there were exceptions to the rule, but on the whole, it seemed to be the norm.
With that frustration hanging over him, the Doctor had returned to his surprise for Rose and she had kissed him quite soundly when he told her about the supernova and a last chance to say goodbye to her family. After that there had been the sudden appearance of Donna Noble, followed by the hospital on the moon and a new companion joining them, Martha Jones.
One night he had overheard the two of them in the kitchen. Martha had been curious and she wondered what exactly what their relationship was and Rose had explained, "We're partners and best mates, soul mates really, as fairy tale as that sounds, and we're in love each other. We're us. I don't know what to label it really. It's everything. Just... everything."
Rose's confession had made him feel as though he was falling in love with her all over again but he still couldn't quite shake his doubts about how she viewed their relationship. He was never comfortable talking about personal matters but this was Rose, the love of his lives, and this was about them; for her and for their relationship, he could be brave. He wanted to ask her to bond with him permanently as he knew she loved the surface telepathic link that they shared but first he needed to be absolutely certain of her feelings, how she viewed the two of them together, and what she wanted and needed from their relationship.
He hated having these doubts. He knew Rose loved him, she told him all the time and even if she didn't say it, he could feel how much she loved him through their link. Still, things weren't progressing the way he believed they should and he needed to know why. The Doctor shook himself out of his thoughts when Rose came back to the library with the freshly baked scones and tea.
"Are you all right?"
"Of course I am. Why do you ask?"
"When I was in the kitchen it felt like you were getting upset about something. I wasn't sure if something had happened."
"I was thinking about the night we met and everything that's happened since."
Rose turned to look at him, "And that made you upset?"
"No, it's..." He stopped and ran his fingers through his hair whilst trying to gather his thoughts.
After a few moments of his silence, she tried again. "Doctor, is something wrong? You're making that face you do when you can't quite suss things out as quickly as you'd like to."
"I just... that is to say, I was wondering. About human relationships."
"Okay. What about them? Can only speak from my own experience, so hardly an expert on every human relationship, but I will do my best."
Instead of responding, he got to his feet and began to pace and tug at his hair in earnest.
"Doctor. Stop. Look at me. What is going on?"
"Sex," he blurted out whilst rubbing the back of his neck. "I mean, the research I've done on romantic human relationships include sex. We haven't had sex. Is there something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? I'm not talking about the hugs and holding hands, we've always done that and it's brilliant. But now we kiss and cuddle a lot more closely, we sleep in the same bed. We say 'I love you' all the time. I just, am I misinterpreting or... I don't know. I think I need you to explain this part to me because my research didn't cover it."
Rose stood up and took his hands. Kissing him gently, she said, "Let's sit down and have some tea. I'm sure the TARDIS will keep Martha from wandering in so we know we have our privacy." The TARDIS altered her pitch to express her agreement with Rose's statement.
The fireplace blazed merrily whilst the Doctor and Rose curled up on the sofa. "First of all," she began, "there is nothing wrong with our relationship. It is everything I could have ever hoped for so stop thinking you're doing something wrong."
"But then why," he began to interrupt.
"No, Doctor, let me talk, okay? It's my turn. Honestly, I thought you knew about me and I didn't think sex mattered to you. You never really acted like it did. But I mean, if you need or want the physical act of sex I'm sure we could come to some kind of compromise that we're both comfortable with. Right?"
"Rose, I don't understand. I don't need physical sex and I don't particularly want it. I can certainly enjoy it but when compared to the the mental aspect of it for me, the physical pales in comparison and, frankly, is a bit mundane. Really, I'd rather be doing almost anything else but I want you to be happy."
"Doctor, I am happy. I really thought you knew but I guess since I never said and, well, now I don't know why I thought you just knew."
"I identify as asexual. Specifically, pan-romantic asexual."
"What exactly does that mean to you and for us? I know what the words mean but I want to be clear on the contextual meaning for a woman from twenty-first century earth."
"Okay, again, I can't speak for every asexual woman from twenty-first century earth but for me it means that I fall in love with the person inside, not their body or gender, I guess is a fair way to put it. It probably explains how I was able to fall in love so easily with someone who isn't even human," she teased with a soft smile.
She paused for a moment before continuing, "It means, I want to hold hands and cuddle and kiss and curl up in bed with the one I love. It means, I have no desire to have physical sex with them, in the human understanding of it because that's the only way I know. It means that what we have, our relationship as it is right at this moment, is my dream romantic relationship, one I was never really sure I would get to have, and I honestly can't even imagine how it could be better."
"Does that mean you're okay with us not having physical human sex," the Doctor asked.
"Well, yes. When it comes to sex, I fall somewhere between neutral and repulsed. Basically, I can deal with a bit of it in films or in books but when I've reached my limit, I'm done. As for having sex myself, I'd really rather not. Ever."
"Oh. No, I didn't know that about you."
"For a long time, I didn't either. I just thought there was something wrong with me or that I was broken somehow; that I wasn't a real girl. But then I learned about asexuality and I realized that there wasn't anything wrong with me, I'm just a bit different." She took a deep breath, as though screwing up her courage, "It's okay, right? I mean, like I said, we could try and work out a compromise if it's really important to you."
His shoulders were shaking with silent laughter and a no small amount of relief. "No, Rose. It isn't important to me at all. I would honestly rather be doing anything else than having the human version of sexual intimacy. Not to say that I've never experimented in my much younger days but I always knew that particular part of human life was never meant for me."
She sent him a beaming, tongue-touched smile, and said, "So, does that mean we're okay? You're feeling better about us? No more doubts? Because I am so incredibly happy and I want, no, I need to know, that you are too. And, if you're not, I want to know what I can do so that you are as happy as I am."
"Rose, I am happier than I could have ever hoped to be. Especially, after the war, I never thought I'd feel anything but grief and anger again but the moment I met you all of that changed and now, well, I don't think I've ever been this happy."
"I feel silly asking this but what do we do now? I mean, this feels like we just had a major breakthrough."
"Now, we enjoy these amazing scones, drink our tea, and finish our current adventure with Lord Peter and Harriet. After that, we can go to bed and cuddle until the TARDIS tells us that Martha is awake."
She started to laugh then, she couldn't help it, she was felt as though she was overflowing with love and happiness and no small amount of relief. "I love you, so much."
'Tomorrow,' the Doctor thought as he found the page they'd left off on, 'tomorrow, I'll ask her to marry me. To form a permanent bond. Tomorrow.'
"I love you, too," is what he actually said though, as he picked up the book and began to read as Rose snuggled into his side and they became in absorbed in the mystery once again.