Disclaimer: Doctor Who and all related elements, characters and indicia copyright BBC 2005. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations—save those created by the authors for use solely on this website—are copyright BBC.
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Author's Note: This story would suck beyond the telling of it, were it not for the valiant efforts of my betas (particularly the UK folks, who constantly corrected my muddled slang, renn for corecting some of my muddled canon bits, and Queen of a Lost Art and Giglet for poking me with sticks when it came to pacing) to make it not suck. If it sucks, it is most likely because I ignored a key piece of advice. Originally posted 23 April 2005.
Ivory and Horn
by Tara LJC O'Shea
This is who I am. Right here, right now. All right?
All that counts is here and now. And this is me.
— The Doctor to Rose, "The End of the World"
Really, when you got down to it, Rose blamed Mickey.
The two of them had always used rough play to show affection, ever since school. Even when they eventually segued from friends to boyfriend and girlfriend, shoves and smacks and elbows in ribs had stood in for gentle words and sweet caresses. It became the only language Rose knew to express fondness, where a member of the opposite sex was concerned.
She was used to touching, and being touched.
From the start, she treated the Doctor just as she would have Mickey or one of her mates, and he had responded in kind. She would give his shoulder a solid whack when he was mouthing off, playing the arrogant know-it-all. He would poke her in the side with a stiff finger when he wanted her undivided attention, or grab her elbow to steer her in whatever direction he was headed. She would deliberately crowd him, and he would playfully push her aside with his hip or shoulder, pretending annoyance, but always grinning—within, if not without. She couldn't begin to count how many times, once the console had stopped oscillating, the Doctor had swept her up and spun her around in sheer joy at anticipation of the next death-defying scrape he was about to get them into.
Like Mickey, the Doctor acted like a big kid. Rose found it equal parts endearing and exasperating. 900 going on 5, she would always tease him. Then again, playing grown-up at the tender age of 19 to an overgrown adolescent was hardly uncharted territory. Her mum was always kitted out in some outfit better suited to a girl half her age, and making passes at Rose's boyfriends whenever she brought them home.
In contrast to her mother fiercely clinging to her long-forgot youth, the Doctor's youthful exuberance was natural, genuine. It sprang from a child-like sense of wonder, rather than a childish denial of age. It softened his features, which could—and Rose had seen this far more times than she'd ever expected—go stony cold in an instant, fierce and calm and deadly serious. Then she could believe he was hundreds of years old and the last of a nearly immortal race with mastery over space and time.
But when he was grinning over some mad plan, or a rare flower blooming on a desolate world, or because some seven-armed, three-headed alien had just offered him 20 of his/her/its newly-hatched offspring as concubines, then it was easy for her to forget. Easy to pretend he was 40 going on 5, and she was 19 going on 40, and they could meet up halfway on the sliding scale of maturity.
Like now, as they ran hand in hand pell-mell down the polished black marble corridor of the royal palace of Argos VI, guards hot on their heels. He was grinning like a madman as the skirt of her diaphanous gown kept getting tangled around her legs. She hopped ungainly on one foot as they turned a corner, tugging off the utterly useless shoes. She could hear her own breathing—a giggle caught in the beat of her heart—over the whine of the sonic screwdriver as he jerry-rigged the sliding door, then yanked her into the alcove as the heavy door slid shut.
Too much of the Princess Regent's wine made her cheeks flushed, and she buried her face in the Doctor's smoke grey lambswool jumper as they leaned heavily against the wall, listening to the guards run past. Her stocking feet slid on the polished floor and, dropping the shoes, she grabbed the lapels of his leather jacket to keep herself upright, aided suddenly by his arms wrapped tightly around her waist and shoulders.
The wine hadn't seemed to touch him. He glowed from the chase, the promise of a messy and public execution if they were caught, and elation at dodging that particular fate at the moment, and for a second Rose thought just maybe from her proximity as she got up on tiptoes, feeling his breath warm on her cheek.
He went very still, and then pulled back. All the light had gone out of his face. "Oh, Rose," he sighed. "That's never a good idea."
When they got back to where the TARDIS was squirreled away, Rose went off to her room to slip out of the tattered frock. She felt a bit more of herself again in jeans and a red top, and she pulled her hair back with an elastic.
The Doctor wasn't in the Console Room. Usually, he could be counted upon to be under the grillwork, tinkering and tightening and generally just arseing about. Sometimes because the timeship had gone wonky, and was refusing to serve up the when and the where they had requested. More often, she suspected, for the sake of getting grease under his fingernails and feeling useful. It reminded her of her great-uncle Maurice, who kept an ancient vintage jalopy in his garage. He never actually drove it anywhere—it hadn't run in forever—but he was always out there on the week-ends, messing about with spanners and soft clothes, while great-aunt Jean brought him thermoses of tea and an endless supply of bacon sandwiches.
Her trainers squeaking slightly, she wandered through the labyrinthine halls until she found him, finally, in the Cloisters. He was sitting on a stone bench, shoulders hunched slightly forward, wrists crossed atop one another. She sat down at the opposite side of the bench. He didn't even look up.
She broke the awkward silence. "Are we going to talk about it?"
He shrugged. "There's nothing to talk about."
"What if I told you it wasn't nothing?" she said softly, fingers itching to reach over and brush his. Instead, she turned the beaded ring on her left hand around her thumb nervously.
"Of course it was," he said. "Just got caught up in the moment, that's all."
She'd seen him like this before. On Platform One, when they'd gone back to the observation lounge so she could retrieve her jacket, he'd picked up the blackened husk of the cutting Jabe had given them. It had disintegrated to ash as he'd held it, and his eyes had that same bleak emptiness then.
That same look had been on his face as he'd told her how his planet had burnt.
"Just let it go, Rose," he sighed, sounding bone weary, like he was feeling every one of his 900 years. "Forget about it."
"There's only the two of us rattling around the place—I can't just forget about it."
He went from despondent to cross so quickly she couldn't have spotted the exact changeover. "Then maybe I ought to take you home."
"Don't you dare." Rose scowled at him darkly.
"So now I'm required to continue to show you my hospitality, is that it?"
He got to his feet angrily, and for a second she was glad to have managed to elicit any response other than that blank-eyed despair. But only for a second.
Pushing off the bench, she advanced on him, hands balled into fists at her sides. "You asked me to come with you, remember? You asked me, and I said yes, and I'm not going anywhere. Not unless you toss me out on my ear, and lock the door behind you."
"I've done it before," he said, and she gawped at him in open-mouthed shock.
For all he used the argument If you don't like it, then sod off, when they were having a row, he'd never once actually threatened to dump her back in 21st century London. Not seriously. Not the way he was now.
"I don't believe you." Her voice was a scratchy whisper. "You're such a liar. You're full of it. You wouldn't."
His silence was damning.
"So that's it? You'd just chuck me and swan off?"
"If it was what was best for you—yeah."
"And who gets to decide what's best for me?" Her voice rose. "You?"
His tone rose to match hers easily. "Yeah, me."
"No. That's not fair. That's not right. You don't get to make that choice for me."
"Don't I? Didn't I, then? I didn't have to ask you to come with me."
"I didn't have to say yes, but I did."
"Well maybe you shouldn't have. Maybe accepting an invitation from a total stranger was a right stupid thing to do." His tone was downright nasty, and if she hadn't been in such a state, she might have been cowed. But she'd seen enough of his tempers in the time she'd spent on the TARDIS, and she knew that when he was raging, the best chance she stood was to shout right back.
"Why are you doing this?"
A muscle twitched in his jaw, but he was silent.
"Do you think I'd trade it? Is that what you think? I would have spent my whole life working in a shop, and going round to the pub on week-ends, and hanging around with Mickey and Shareen and Derek and Tom—and never seeing a thing. Not living my life at all. Just moaning about how I never did my A-levels, and eating beans on toast."
"You might be better off."
"That's rubbish and you know it," she snapped. "I didn't go with you just to see the Universe. I went because I wanted to see it with you."
"It's not safe."
"Nothing is safe. Aren't you the one always telling me that?" She touched his arm. "You don't have to be alone, Doctor."
He stared down at her hand on the sleeve of his leather jacket, his expression unreadable. Rose had a moment where she thought she might have finally got through to him. Hopes were dashed, however, as he shook her hand off as if her touch burnt.
In an instant, sympathy turned to anger.
"You know, I used to feel sorry for you. You were so lonely, and I'm always falling for blokes what need looking after, every time. Picking up strays, my mate Shareen says. But I get it now."
"Really? Please, do share this epic insight into my character. Really, I'm interested."
"You want to be miserable. Because you survived, and no one else did. It's like you're punishing yourself, or something. I mean, I've heard of survivor's guilt, yeah? But this is ridiculous."
If he was hurt, he wasn't showing it. Instead he merely smiled at her disarmingly. "Now I'm ridiculous? And here I thought I was irresistible."
Rose scowled. One of his many ways of dealing with things he found unpleasant was to crank up the charm and try and dazzle the opposition into submission. However, Rose was getting wise to his tricks.
"Stop taking the mickey!" She smacked his bicep in annoyance, and he pretended it hurt. Perhaps it had. She wasn't exactly pulling her shots any longer. "You don't get to make a joke and be all smiles, and get the last word in that way. Not this time. You're acting like we almost died, instead of—"
"Leave it, Rose," he growled, and stalked out of the Cloisters.
She followed him all the way to the Console Room, where he was throwing switches and turning dials like mad.
The TARDIS lurched drunkenly, and Rose grabbed onto one coral-like support strut to keep from being thrown to the floor as the ship came to a shuddering halt.
"Where are we?"
"The ice fields of Kos."
"I'm going for a walk," he said, his voice sounding hollow. He glared at her. "Stay here."
The TARDIS door slammed shut, leaving her alone in the console room.
At first, Rose tried reading.
After meeting Charles Dickens, she hadn't been able to resist the idea of trying to find herself and the Doctor in the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood. She hadn't had a chance to get very far into it, as there was always some new and exciting planet to be explored, mystery to be solved, damsel to rescue, or whatnot. The book had sat on the table next to her bed for ages, a creased and crumpled shop receipt that she'd found in the bottom of her jacket pocket marking her place.
She'd gone over the same paragraph half a dozen times, and kept having to flip back pages because she realised she hadn't actually remembered a single word. She saw the words on the page, but she was hearing the entire argument played and replayed over in her mind. Her parts, his parts. Things said and now could never be unsaid.
They'd had rows before, but something about this one couldn't just be glossed over and forgot with a smile and gesture and a cup of tea.
Finally, she sighed and gave up completely.
Rose opened the door of the TARDIS, bracing herself for an icy wind. When none was forthcoming, she unzipped her jacket and tied it around her waist.
"Doctor?" she called out into the near-darkness, as her only answer was the strange calls of alien birds and the steady whine of insects she couldn't see.
This was not an ice planet. Far from it. The jungle was dense, more like a rainforest, with a canopy of trees blocking out the sun overhead. The air was so thick with humidity that it felt like she was having to fight her way through it as she followed the Doctor's boot prints across the black loam.
"Ice fields of Kos my arse," she muttered. "Can't even manage to land in the right spot to have a tantrum."
She walked for what seemed like ages, losing the trail and then picking it up again, intermittently calling his name. She swore as she tripped on a tree root, going down to one knee. The damp soaked her jeans, making them cling to her legs, and she had the distinct impression that she was going in circles.
"Doctor? Where are you?"
There was a crack, like branches breaking, to her left, and she froze. "Doctor?" she called in a fierce whisper. She almost expected him to leap out at her from the gloom, shouting "Boo!" Shifting her weight from foot to foot nervously, she peered at the foliage around her, looking for movement, anything to give away a hidden attacker waiting to spring. What she'd taken for the wind before now seemed to be a low moaning, so soft she could barely hear it.
There was another snap-crack, and she ducked as a vine dropped from the canopy overhead. Stumbling backwards, she landed with a bone-jarring thud amongst green, glossy leaves that were nearly black in the dimness. She put her hands out in to break her fall, and yelped as she came in contact with what felt like flesh.
Pushing the leaves aside, she found the Doctor prone on the ground, his blue eyes staring sightlessly up at her. Thick vines studded with long, needle-like thorns were tangled tightly around his limbs like fat snakes. His dark grey jumper had worrying dark stains from where the vicious thorns pierced his flesh.
"No no no no..." she chanted as she reached for his neck, pressing to fingers to feel for a pulse. She almost cried in relief when she found it, though it seemed faster than it should be. His skin was cool, almost clammy, but she realised she had no idea what "normal" for his kind of alien was supposed to be. His fingers in hers had always been cool and dry.
"Doctor, wake up!" She grasped him by the shoulders, shaking him, but he showed no sign of hearing her at all.
There was rustling in the leaves around them, and she gathered her feet under her, scanning the dense foliage for signs of life.
She caught a glimmer of movement out of the corner of her eye and turned, just in time to see a thick green branch studded with thorns like some kind of medieval weapon headed straight for her.
Rose woke up.
Somewhere, a gramophone was playing the Charleston. At least, she thought it was the Charleston. It was whatever song the BBC always seemed to use in adverts for dusty mystery series set in the roaring 20s that her mum ate up with a spoon, but Rose never actually watched.
She sat up, rubbing her eyes, and blinked as she adjusted to her new surroundings.
She was at some kind of garden party. Pavilions had been set up on the green, with silver and white pennants hanging from the tents, decorated with a spiral symbol she didn't recognise. The sky was all the colours of a sunset, gilding the entire scene like an aged photograph. Party-goers dressed in everything from long jewel-encrusted robes to school uniforms to leather tunics were milling about, chatting and laughing and, in some cases, even dancing. Beyond the tents, a cricket match was going on, and Rose could hear the laughter of children.
She wandered towards the party, eyeing the crowd for a familiar battered black leather jacket. A boy a few years younger than she was, carrying a plate piled high with food from the buffet, swanned past her and she plucked at his elbow as soon as he came in range.
"Hey, um... have you seen the Doctor?"
Mouth full, the boy gestured with a chicken wing towards the cricket pitch. There was a match on, but everyone seemed to actually be having a tea break. At the edge of the field, blankets and rugs had been laid down, and people were picnicking.
The Doctor was sprawled on a violently purple blanket, long legs stretched out in front of him. There was a cake plate covered in crumbs next to him, the silverware decorated with the same swirling patterns as the pennants.
"Doctor!" She didn't think she'd ever been so relieved to see him, even if only moments before she'd entertained vivid fantasies about pummelling him.
"Rose!" He grinned up at her, and patted the empty patch of blanket next to him in invitation. "So good of you to come. Have you met everyone?"
"Doctor, what's going on? Where are we?"
"Would you like some cake? Oh, and I think there are bottles of lemonade and ginger beer floating around the place somewhere, if you need something to wash it down with."
"Cake? Lemonade? Have you gone off your head?"
"Well, if you don't like cake, then there's just more for the rest of us, then, isn't there?"
"Doctor, those plants—"
"We're up two, but I don't know how long that'll last. The Castellan's quite a good bowler, as it turns out. And Borusa has a wicked googly."
"You want to talk about cricket? Doctor, the last time I saw you, you were knocked out—dead to the world, and bleeding all over from these... these things. And now we're here, only I don't know where here is, and—"
"Are you sure you don't want some cake? Growing girl like you, cake's just the thing for you. It's got lemon cream filling."
"Would you leave off about the stupid cake? What's wrong with you?"
"Me? Nothing's wrong. It's a lovely afternoon. Perfect, in fact." He turned his face to the sun, smiling contentedly.
"Doctor, haven't you heard a word I said? I don't know where we are, or where the TARDIS has gone, or who any of these people are—"
"I thought you said you'd met everyone? Well, that's easy enough to fix." He got up and grabbed her hand, pulling her over to the closest knot of people, which included a tall lady with dark hair, wearing a white flowing gown, and a smaller, slighter girl in a grey school uniform, long blonde hair pulled back from her face with a ribbon, and what appeared to be a silver robot.
"Rose, this is Romanadvoratrelundar. Don't call her 'Fred.'"
Flowing White Gown smiled and shook Rose's hand firmly. "Nice to meet you."
"Yeah, likewise," Rose muttered, not much in the mood for pleasantries. "Doctor—" Rose hissed, insistent.
Ignoring her, he presented School Uniform with a fond smile. "And this is Romanadvoratrelundar."
Rose frowned, looking back and forth between the two very different women with what sounded—to her untrained ears, anyway—the very same name. "Hang on—"
But the Doctor had already moved on, seemingly relishing his rose as host, as he presented his next guest. "And this is Kamelion."
Brassy sunlight glinted off the android's chrome head.
"It's just staring at me."
"He does that."
"Doctor, about these plants—" Rose began, The Doctor was already looking past her. She turned to follow the path of his gaze and saw another knot of people making their way across the green.
"Hang on a minute, Rose, there's someone I just have to catch up with."
"Why don't you get yourself some cake and lemonade, yeah?" He flashed her a distracted grin and patted her arm. "There's a good girl. I'll be right back."
"But Doctor!" Rose called after him, but it was no good. He'd bounded off again, like she was a gadfly, an annoyance. Not even worth his notice.
Rose sat down on the grass, chin in hand and shoulders slumped in defeat. She was used to the two of them splitting up now and then, but when things got sticky, he was always right there by her side. Not making polite excuses and scarpering.
A shadow passed over her, and she looked up to see a girl roughly her own age with tumbled brown curls, wearing velvet trousers and jacket with puffed sleeves.
"No, I don't want any cake—" Rose began pre-emptively.
"I'm Nyssa of Traken," the girl said, unfazed. "Actually, I'm a psychic manifestation of Nyssa, projected by the Doctor's unconscious mind."
Rose perked up. "It is so utterly wrong that that is the first thing that anybody's said to me since I got here that's made any kind of sense. What's a... a psychic manifestation? Like a ghost?"
"I represent a part of his mind that he's been able to keep shielded. We were very alike, in the end. I'm a scientist, we shared that. The never-ending thirst of knowledge, for answers."
"You travelled with him? In the TARDIS?"
"For years," she said with a gentle smile. "I joined him after my planet was destroyed. I had nowhere else to go. I'm the last of my kind."
"Are all the people here," Rose gestured to the milling party guests, "were they like me? Us, I mean? Sort of hangers on, hitching a ride?"
"Companions. Friends. Family."
"What is this place?"
"It's Gallifrey. His home."
Rose frowned, confused as she took in the clearly alien gold-and-orange streaked clouds and silver-leafed trees. "But I thought it was destroyed?"
"If it was destroyed, then how can we be here?"
"We're inside the Doctor's mind. This place is nothing but a memory of something that never happened. A dream of how he wished it could have been. Could be, if things had been different."
"The life-forms that have got you—they're carnivorous plants. Your bodies are being flooded with a neural toxin that paralyses you. It creates powerful hallucinations so that the prey will remain docile and not fight back while you're being, well... eaten."
"I'm being eaten?" Rose asked, alarmed. "Right now?"
"Well, eventually. It takes time for the digestive enzymes to actually break down protein—"
Rose shuddered, and held up a hand for her to stop. "That's enough. I don't think I want to know. I just want to stop it. Hang on, how comes you're able to tell me all this?"
"The Doctor's subconscious mind is fighting the hallucination, through me."
"How comes I'm not hallucinating?"
"You will. Soon. Which is why you have to act now, before you both completely succumb. You have to get through to him—physiologically, he can fight off the effects of the toxins. But he's being distracted."
"His hopes and dreams, blinded by longing for a life that can never be."
The Doctor was chatting with a young woman, her face elfin beneath her dark fringe. Two children, mirrors of her, ran up and tugged on the Doctor's sleeves. He laughed, gathering one up and swinging him around while the boy howled in high-pitched glee.
"Who are they?"
"Grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were never born. Wiped out by the war."
"The Time War?" Rose asked, seizing on any titbit of information she could, even if it was coming from an hallucination deep within the Doctor's unconscious mind.
Nyssa frowned. "You ask too many questions."
"Yeah, now you sound like him, all right."
Taking a deep breath, Rose marched over to the Doctor, who was wrestling with the kids while their mother looked on fondly.
"Doctor?" she asked hesitantly, almost hating to interrupt him. The children—a boy and girl—giggled and squirmed and Rose had a sudden flash of the last time she'd been over at Mickey's parent's place when his whole family had been round for Sunday roast. His older sister had kids, and Mickey had spent hours chasing them through the front garden, and letting them climb all over him just as the Doctor was doing now. Mickey may have been utterly useless, but Rose had always loved how he got on with kids.
The Doctor's smile was so full of light, Rose thought she might have to squint. "Oh, Rose. Have you met—"
"Actually, Doctor, I was thinking maybe some of that cake sounded nice." She tried to affix a smile as inane as the other party-goers' to her face, and prayed it looked convincing. "Would you mind showing me where it is, then? Won't take a minute. I promise."
He offered her his arm, and the weight of it felt solid to her, even if they were trapped in some kind of nightmare as he walked her over to the largest tent erected on the lawn.
"The, um... flora and fauna around here are really... different. From Earth." Rose gestured at the forest's edge, which seemed to be made up of trees something like birch, but alien all the same. "I mean, silver leaves, and all."
"What? Oh, yes. Well, it has to do with the light, you see. Colour is all about light."
"You know loads about plants, though."
"Well, that's not botany, actually—it's physics."
"But plants—you do know about plants, yeah?"
"I had green fingers, in my youth, yeah. I had this rose garden—"
"Say there was a really big plant," Rose said, cutting him off before he could get lost in yet another reverie. "Just really big, and it had all these vines with great huge thorns—what sort of planet would a plant like that be on then?"
"Not a very nice one, it sounds like," the Doctor said with a laugh. Having arrived at the buffet table, he hunted around for a cake knife. The cake was a huge icing-covered monstrosity with layer upon layer of blue icing. Half of it was gone, and the foil paper beneath was smeared with bits of yellow filling and clumps of white cake crumbs.
"But a plant like that—have you ever seen one before?" Rose asked, fingers tightening on his elbow as he tipped a giant piece of cake with icing onto a delicate china plate decorated round the edge with lilies.
"Here we are—a nice big slice for you."
"Thank you." She set the plate down on the table. "Look, have you ever been to a planet with plants like I was telling you about?"
"Now the cake we had at my graduation—that was a thing to see." His grey-blue eyes were fixed on the distance, a gentle smile on his face. "All decorated with silver and blue wossnames—oh, made out of sugar. You know what I mean. Lovely to look at—"
"Yeah. I'm sure it was great. But the thorns—what if they had poison in them? And you got all caught up, and these thorns were stabbing you—"
"Oh, there's the Lord High Chancellor! You've got to meet her, she's lovely, really."
And then he was off again. Rose swore, and scanned the dancers over by the gramophone, looking for dark purple velvet. Finding her quarry, she elbowed her way past two young ladies laughing as they tried out steps in time to the music.
Nyssa was chatting amiably with an older gentleman in a stiff grey suit, the high collar decorated with gold whorls. Not even bothering to pretend pleasantries, Rose spun Nyssa around to face her. "Oi, you have to help me. You have to tell me what to do."
Nyssa smiled at her.
It was a glassy, vacant smile akin to what you get at office parties where you know you've met so-and-so's girlfriend's sister twice before, but haven't a clue what her name was.
"Have you had any cake?" Nyssa-who-was-now-just-Nyssa asked, and Rose felt her heart plummet into her shoes. "I think there's still some left, if Adric hasn't eaten it all."
She reached out and grabbed the girl by the shoulders, giving her a firm shake. "Nyssa, tell me!"
But the girl was only perplexed, fine brows drawn together in a frown. "Tell you what?"
"Oh no. No, this isn't going to work." Rose let her go with a cry of disgust, and Nyssa went right back to chatting with the dodgy looking fellow with a beard and goatee.
Wondering how far the plant had got in terms of digesting her, Rose rubbed at her eyes with both hands, trying to wipe the illusion from them.
But the music remained, the entire scene lit with the frozen sunset hues.
In the end, Rose did what she would have done with Mickey.
Sneaking up on the Doctor—who was walking back towards the cricket game, hands thrust deep in his pockets and an idiot grin still on his face—Rose got up alongside him. Snaking a foot out, she tangled it between his legs.
"Rose!" the Doctor exclaimed in surprise as they both went down in a tangle of limbs. "What's got into you?"
She pinned him down with her weight, fully intending to pound some sense into that feather-filled brain of his. "You've got to listen to me! This place—it isn't real. None of this is real. None of these people are real. They're all just inside your head."
"Nonsense." He struggled, almost succeeding in flipping her off him, and she grabbed handfuls of his jacket to keep hold of him. "Oi, mind the jacket!"
"Bugger the jacket, you've got to wake up!" she shouted directly into his face.
He only laughed. "I am awake."
"You're not. You're dreaming."
"That's just like you, it is. Assuming I'd dream about you." He frowned, and Rose felt perversely like she was making progress. At least if he was being cross with her, he wasn't going on about cricket or cake.
"You've got to fight it, Doctor. You've got to wake up. You saw the fall of Troy, remember? Had a mate in Cleopatra's guard. Chased blue ghosts with Dickens. You've done stuff no one else has. You can't just give up and get done in by a giant weed."
"Everyone's staring! What are you going on about, giant weeds?"
"All that counts is the here and now, you said to me once, remember? Think about who you are right now. This second."
His thrashing limbs stilled, and she could only hope it was a true memory he was calling up at her words.
"You're always moaning about how you're the last. Well if you get eaten, then there won't be any Time Lords left at all. You'll all be gone. Forever. Is that what you want then, eh? Do you want to die like this, playing make-believe at some garden party inside your own mind? All those grandchildren and great grandchildren—they ain't really here. None of 'em. You're dreaming. That's all this is. Just a dream."
As she sat on his legs, pinning him to the ground, the orange sky began to fade to white, the sepia-toned genteel gathering fritzing, like a programme on the telly during a storm. Encouraged, Rose keep going.
"There was a war, and you fought, and you lost. And if you give up now, there won't be anybody left to remember. All this—it won't even be a memory, because you'll be gone. Are you listening to me?"
His eyes were bright with the sheen of tears, and Rose could feel a lump rising in her own throat. She shook him, furious that he was letting himself be drugged by some overgrown daisy with delusions of grandeur, and carrying her right along with him—just like always.
"You can fight this. Nyssa said—you can fight this, you can win. But you have to try. You have to try, Doctor."
The world around them faded, as if it had been left out too long in the sun. The murmur of the crowd, the laughter of the children, and the scratchy gramophone music trailed off into nothing but an echo. They were in a sea of white, and the silence was almost overpowering.
"Wake up!" Rose gave his shoulders one last shake, his face blurring and then coming back into sharp focus as she blinked the sudden tears away. "For God's sake, Doctor, you have to wake up!"
The Doctor woke up.
His first thought was that something heavy was crushing him with its weight. Lifting his head from the damp earth, he saw blonde hair spread across his chest, which was rising and falling rapidly as he breathed. Rose was sprawled half atop him, very red human blood smeared across her forehead.
Vines were tightly wrapped around them both, and the Doctor's breath hissed in his throat when he caught sight of the thorns piercing clothing and skin. Working one arm free, he clawed at them, hunks of green stalk getting under his fingernails, sticky white sap issuing from the wounds he inflicted like pus.
They were being very slowly dragged across the forest floor, and the Doctor, cradling Rose against his chest with one arm, turned onto one hip so he could get enough leverage to see their destination. He immediately wished he hadn't.
Less than three metres away was a nightmare bearing a passing resemblance to Earth's Venus flytrap, if a Venus flytrap was thirty feet tall and he and Rose were insects. The heart of the plant had rows upon rows of dagger-like teeth, and the maw of the creature was stretched wide, ready to start snacking as soon as its luncheon was close enough to nibble.
Working with renewed vigour, the Doctor ignored the pain as he tore at the vines with their spike-like thorns. His boots clamoured for purchase among the dead leaves and moss covering the forest floor. A vine thick as a human leg snaked towards him, and he kicked at it with all the force he could muster. A low keening could be heard from the core of the thing, which began to tremble in either fear or pain or anger. Which, he wasn't sure. One could never quite tell with plants.
Freeing both arms and his remaining leg, he fished his sonic screwdriver out of the inner pocket of his coat and turned it to its highest setting. The plant shrieked as the thickest tentacles were sheered off, gouts of milky-white sap spilling to the forest floor as he ruthlessly pruned it back.
Gathering Rose in his arms, vines and all, he stumbled drunkenly backwards, dodging liana that flew out from the centre of the plant like whips as he strove to put as much distance between the plant and themselves as possible. The Doctor didn't stop running until the familiar silhouette of the TARDIS greeted him, placidly waiting at the edge of the clearing, his favourite port in any storm.
Laying Rose gently on the floor of the Console Room, the Doctor set to work prying the tendrils from her limbs and torso. Her arms were covered in scratches, blood welling up from the puncture wounds as he tugged the severed vines free. The cut at her hairline looked worse than it was—scalp wounds he knew bled freely. He'd almost forgot how red human blood could be, even if it appeared almost black in the green glow of the console.
Her chest rose and fell with each shallow breath, but her eyes were closed, her features slack. The Doctor brushed her hair back from her face gently. "C'mon, Rose. Wake up. That's a girl."
He lifted her eyelids, worried she was in shock. Hazel irises were almost completely swallowed by her pupils, and her heartbeat was thready and rapid. He had no idea what the toxins from the plant might be doing to her system, and that worried him.
"C'mon. You've got to wake up," he murmured as he pulled the remains of her jacket from around her waist, using one sleeve to carefully wipe the blood from her face. "Wake up, Rose. Can you hear me? Wake up!"
Rose woke up.
There was the smell of plastic and disinfectant, and she could hear beeping from the bank of machines next to her bed. Her head ached, and itched near her hairline.
"Wha..." she said, and her voice sounded creaky, as if rusty from disuse. She looked down at her wrist, which sprouted an I.V. line tapped down, and a plastic hospital bracelet. A plaster was stuck to her forehead, and she could feel the shape of stitches beneath it.
She was in hospital. A curtain was drawn round her bed, but she could hear the sounds of people nearby. She half sat up in bed, the soft, faded hospital gown gaping at the back as she scanned the bed clothes for some sort of button that would call the nurse. Before she could find it, the door swung open and Jackie Tyler shuffled in.
When she saw Rose, she dropped the Styrofoam cup of tea she had been holding with a cry and enveloped her in a fierce hug.
"You look awful," Rose murmured as her mother threw her arms around her. Jackie was famous for going on about how she could pass for Rose's sister, but no one would have mistaken her now. There were dark circles under her eyes, and her blonde hair was lank, pulled back into a hasty tail with an elastic. Her mascara was utterly gone and her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she had been crying.
"You're one to talk," her mother laughed, almost smothering her with affection. "They said it was just a matter of time, but I got so worried. Days and days went by—"
"What's going on? What am I doing here?"
"Don't you remember?"
Rose shook her head and then wished she hadn't as a fierce headache blossomed behind her eyes.
"Henriks went up—the whole place burnt. They got you out, but you've been out of it ever since."
"Henriks? Mum, I wasn't in the shop..." Rose echoed weakly.
"That poor Mr Wilson, they found his body the next day. It's a wonder they got you out alive. Oh, they say it was the gas main. They say it was just an accident, but since when do shops go up like a roman candle? The police are saying there was something dodgy about it. I've got this document off the police that says you can get compensation. You know, Ariana got two thousand quid off the Council—"
"Mum, I wasn't in the shop," Rose insisted.
"You were, Rose. You were down in the basement, with the lottery money. They got you out before the whole place came crashing down, thank God. Infrastructure went, it was all over the telly. It's all behind barricades now, nothing left at all but rubble."
"I wasn't. I... I don't... It was the shop dummies."
"What're you going on about, shop dummies?"
"Don't you remember? They came to life, it was awful."
"There there, pet." Jackie patted her hand affectionately. "Your brain's just a bit of a scramble, that's all. The doctors said it might be like this. Anti Rograde amnesia, that's what he said. Post-Traumatic thingie."
"Might be like what?" Rose asked, confused.
"Rose, you were in a coma."
As soon as the doctors had given her the once over, Mickey burst into her hospital room and threw his arms around her.
"Don't make a fuss," Rose said pre-emptively, but it was no use. Under normal circumstances his concern with her well-being would have touched her. As it was, she waited impatiently for him to quit blubbering. Turning to Jackie, Rose gave her a weak smile.
"Mum? Can you run down to the shop? I'm dying for a Flake and a fizzy orange, and you know these nurses."
"Of course, sweet-heart." Jackie put down her magazine and picked up her purse. The second the door had swung shut, Rose sat up straighter in bed.
"Mickey, I need to find the Doctor."
"What for? Is something wrong? Are you feeling all right?" He put a hand to her forehead, as if she would have a fever. She batted his hand away impatiently.
"No—not that doctor. The Doctor. C'mon, Mum's gone, we can talk about it now."
"Talk about what?"
"The plastic—the living plastic. Underneath the Eye?"
"What're you going on about?" He only looked at her as if she'd gone spare, which was not the reaction she'd been hoping for. She could believe her mum would have come up with some elaborate explanation to gloss over the fact that every shop dummy at the mall had suddenly come alive and go on a murderous rampage. But she expected better from Mickey.
"Don't you remember? You got attacked by a wheelie-bin—"
He started laughing, and she punched him in the shoulder. Hard.
"Oi!" Mickey rubbed his arm, cringing away from her.
"It's not funny! I thought you were dead."
He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead, just below the bandage. "It sounds to me like you had a hell of a dream, knocked out for ages and ages. A wheelie-bin?"
"It wasn't just wheelie-bins. It was shop dummies, and toys—all the plastic in London. It was the wossname—Nesting Consciousness. It was under the Eye, don't you remember?"
"Blimey, that must have been some whack on the head you got."
"Mickey, I'm not messing. You don't remember?"
He grew quiet, fingers toying with hers absently. "I was down at the pub watching the match when it came on telly, about Henriks. I rang over to your mum's place, and she was frantic. Nobody had heard from you." He flashed her a wan smile. "When the police finally showed, your mum fainted dead away, I'm telling ya."
"But I wasn't in the shop. I was outside. I saw it go up. It was the Doctor—there was a transmitter on the roof, and he... he blew it up. It was the Doctor."
"Well if some bloke did blow the place up, you'll have every rag in town after you, for the story. Right now, they figured it was just dodgy wiring or something. You're lucky to be alive."
He didn't remember. He really didn't.
Rose plastered a fake smile on her face and gave his hand a squeeze before slipping her fingers from his.
"Yeah." Rose tried to swallow past the sudden lump in her throat. "Lucky."
The flat looked just as she remembered it, right down to the square on the wall marking where her parents wedding portrait used to hang. Her bed was made, a stack of fresh folded laundry waiting for her atop the duvet. The telly was switched on, giving the results of last night's match, and there was post scattered around the kitchen table, bills to one side. Everything was just how it was supposed to be. Except the coffee table they'd got at the week-end bazaar was still there, rings left on it from mugs of tea and dinner plates, and crowded with a month's worth of crap gossip magazines.
The coffee table had been utterly smashed when the plastic arm had come to life and attacked the Doctor and Rose the day she'd left Earth. She'd actually been dreading telling her mum what had happened. A small part of her had been glad to have been whisked off to explore the universe by a complete stranger just so she hadn't had to explain to her mum that a plastic arm had come through the cat-flap and wrecked the lounge.
Rose sank onto the sofa in front of the telly and picked up Heat. Apparently some famous former pop idol had split from her husband. Rose dropped the magazine back to the tabletop, unable to bring herself to care.
"Do you want some tea?" Jackie called from the kitchen. "Debbie on the end made a lovely lemon cake, and I've still some left in the fridge."
"Oh, God, please, no cake," Rose muttered beneath her breath. "No, Mum. I'm OK, really. I think I just want to go out for a bit. Just a walk. Spent too long in that bed, you know?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'll be back in a bit." She pressed a quick kiss to her mum's cheek. "Promise."
"Don't go far!" Jackie called after her.
It was going on nine o'clock by the time Rose reached Totters Lane. She had toyed with the idea of ringing Mickey up, getting him to drive her just as she had that first day. But he would ask questions and she hated trying to answer them as he stared at her with that blank look on his face—or worse, made cracks about how she'd gone all funny in the head since "the accident." So in the end, she'd taken the tube.
The house was one of those utterly ubiquitous terraced houses in a cul-de-sac with petunias and rose bushes in the postage-stamp-sized front garden. Walking slowly up the line, she grinned when she spotted the rose stained glass windows on either side of the door.
Clive would know what was going on, she was sure of it. He'd known more about the Doctor than anyone. She pushed the bell, having a distinct feeling of déjà vu. She could see the flickering of a telly through the sheer curtains in the bay window, and chewed on her bottom lip when she heard footsteps.
A grey-haired granny opened the door, two cats peering out from between her legs as she opened it just wide enough to see who was on her doorstep.
"Is Clive at home?" Rose asked brightly.
She stared owlishly at Rose from behind thick spectacles, blinking. "I'm sorry?"
"Erm... Clive? Clive Finch?" Rose's eyes darted to the number on the letterbox. "This is his house, isn't it?"
"No one named Clive here."
"Are you sure?"
"What kind of a question is that?"
"No, it's just... I mean, I was sure I had the right house."
"And you've made me miss part of Eastenders. I've got to see what's going on with Sonia, you know."
"But if you could just—"
She slammed the door in Rose's face before she could finish.
Rose walked up and down the lane, peering at each door. One man kept twitching open his curtains and staring at her as she passed his house—probably worried that she was up to no good.
With a sigh, she stuck her hands in the pockets of her jacket and started back towards the main road.
There was just one place left to go.
The London Eye glowed against the night sky.
When it had first opened, Rose had begged Mickey to go with her. It had been their first almost-date, to be followed by a half-dozen others until they'd officially started going out. The queue had stretched forever, and Rose had got more and more excited each step closer they got.
She'd been vaguely disappointed. The cars were enclosed, and air-conditioned, and clean and pristine and somehow antiseptic. And the wheel moved so slowly. She'd been looking for an adventure—a ride, like at a fun fair. Instead she got an impressive display of technology and Mickey grumbling about how expensive everything was in the shop.
She ran down the stone steps two at a time, and then stopped.
There was no access hatch. No submarine-like wheel to turn. No ladder descending into the lair of a creepy plastic monster hell-bent on taking over the world.
Just a grate covering a sewer pipe, empty crisp packets, and the sounds of London above as buses whizzed by and people laughed and chatted and lived their lives while she stood there looking for something that stubbornly refused to be where she had left it.
Angry tears sprang to Rose's eyes, and she blinked them away rapidly.
She got it, now. It had taken a while, but now she understood.
Not only had he dumped her here, back in her own time, but he'd somehow managed to erase any trace of his existence.
Clive and his website, the shop dummies, the monster under the Eye. All of it gone in a flash. Her mobile was just her mobile—no calls to or from 50 billion years in the future. No TARDIS barely hidden in the shadows. No one waiting to sweep her away to someplace new and exciting, some time she'd never experienced, some adventure filled with laughter and discovery and the possibility of certain death.
He was gone.
When the compensation cheque came through from the corporate owners of Henriks, Jackie had thrown an enormous party in their flat. Everyone from the estate was there to toast their good fortune, and make veiled comments behind their backs that it wasn't fair, getting half a million pounds for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rose had escaped to the roof, unable to bear all the questions and hugs and what was she going to do with her life now that it had all been sorted?
She sat on the low wall, just staring out at the whole of London as it stretched out in every direction. She hadn't wanted the money, but her mum had gone after it like a dog with a bone. Rose had reckoned that, at least if she was preoccupied with dreams of moving off the estate, she wasn't paying too close attention to the fact that her daughter was miserable. And Rose was, for her part, unwilling to correct her mother's vision. She wouldn't have been able to explain anyway.
Yeah, Mum, I've been to the end of the world, and alien planets, and met Dickens, and now I'm going to go down to the canteen for a cheese sandwich and some Fanta, and it's just going to be the highlight of my day.
She heard the heavy metal door clang shut, and didn't need to look back to know it was Mickey.
He sat down next to her, close enough to touch, but not touching. "Thought I'd find you up here."
"It was just getting a bit too... crowded in there."
"Yeah." He stared out over the skyline, taking a long sip of his beer. "Look, I know how this is going to sound, and all. Like I'm the world's biggest... Well, anyway, do you want to get a place together?"
Rose gawped at him.
"I'm not being a cadger, I swear. That's not it. It's just... I'm used to you being just right here, and I'd miss you if you went. I would. And I was thinking, I could go work with my uncle, he's got the shop and has been after me for ages, and—"
Rose shook her head. "Mickey, I... I can't. I'm sorry."
He looked as if she'd just kicked him. "Is there someone else, then?"
"It's me, Mickey," Rose said, hating how trite that sounded, but not knowing how else to explain it. "I just want something different. Something more. I don't want to work in a shop for the rest of my life, and never go anywhere or do anything, or see anything new. I don't want to just go through my life like I'm sleep-walking."
"What's that got to do with—oh. Oh, I get it now. You're dumping me, that it?" His jaw tightened and eyes grew hard. "You got the money, and you're just going to give me the kiss-off, because who wants a boyfriend on a council estate when you've got half a million, yeah?"
"Mickey, it's not like that. I just..." Rose sighed. "Everything's different now. I want things I didn't want, before. That's all. I'm different. I'm not who I was any longer."
He stared down at his feet, rubber heels of his trainers hitting the wall in a slow rhythm as a muscle in his jaw worked.
"I love you, Rose. You know that."
"Yeah. I do."
But she didn't say "I love you" back, and he marked that. She could see him withdrawing into himself, inch by inch until the space between them could have been as wide as an ocean.
She wanted to reach over and touch his arm and flash him a smile and make it all better.
But she didn't.
After a while, he kicked his beer can to the edge of the roof, and went back downstairs, leaving her alone with the sky.
Rose sat on the stool in her kitchen, listening to the radio and making non-committal noises as the scissors snip-snipped around her, long bleached locks falling to the newspaper spread out across the tile.
Shareen worked as a shampoo girl in a salon, and was always begging Rose to let her mess about with her hair. After two months of sharing a flat, Rose had finally given in and squeezed her eyes tightly shut as her best friend had attacked her with scissors.
"There. It's very now, don't you think?" Shareen asked as she handed Rose the green plastic hand mirror, her face dead serious. "If it's crap, you have to tell me if it's crap. No lying to spare my feelings."
Rose looked in the mirror. A stranger's face stared back at her.
The cut was ragged and the longer bits still were bleached blonde at the ends, but her hair had grown out and she hadn't bothered to touch it up. She shook her head experimentally, judging how the long pieces fell around her face, and the shorter bits poked out. It was definitely different, which was what she had asked for, when Shareen had questioned how far she'd wanted to go.
She didn't look anything like the girl who had worked at Henriks, four months earlier.
She didn't look anything like the girl the Doctor had asked to come with him, a lifetime ago.
Rose flashed her a grin. "It looks great, Shareen."
"Yeah, I really like it."
"We should go out and celebrate your utterly fab new haircut. And when everyone tells you how gorgeous you are, you can tell them it's me that's done it, and I'll have a fantastic career as London's hottest shampoo girl."
Rose laughed. Shareen would celebrate opening a letterbox with a trip down to the pub.
"C'mon! You can't stay cooped up in here studying forever. There is life, outside of revision."
"Yeah, I know, it's called my job," Rose laughed.
Jackie had been horrified when Rose had told her she'd gone out and got a day job, as it had completely gone against what she saw as the point of having money. But the truth was, Rose liked working as a receptionist at a tiny small press which mostly published collections of poetry no one ever actually bought. It hadn't been like Henriks, where you hadn't needed much in the way of a brain. All you'd needed was to know how to fold tee-shirts.
She liked having someplace to go when she woke up in the morning, and something specific to do. She liked doing it well. They were letting her muck about on the computer, learning all the software. She was becoming quite a good judge of which crap poetry was slightly less likely not to be purchased. All of the editors were darlings, and it gave her plenty of time to study in the evenings.
"All work and no play makes Rose a drag, says I," Shareen announced as she dumped the newspapers in the bin.
"Fine, fine. Where do you want to go?"
"Oh my darling girl, where don't I want to go?" Shareen got that look in her eye that usually meant they wouldn't be getting home until at least sometime the next day, possibly missing shoes, undergarments, or their dignity.
Five hours, two pubs, and one trendy wine bar later, it was Rose's round and she was feeling pleasantly merry. Shareen was hammered, but since Rose was the designated driver, she didn't mind. Fighting her way through the Saturday night crowd of Bright Young Things to place her order, Rose didn't notice him at first. It wasn't until he leaned down close to her, whispering in her ear "Love the hair" that she turned, a narky reply on the tip of her tongue which died in her throat when she looked at him and actually saw him.
"I mean it—it's a good cut," the Doctor assured her. "Different, but really very sharp. Very early 21st Century chic."
Rose had spent months accosting tall, lanky men in leather jackets only to be bitterly disappointed when they spun around and were utter strangers. Months stopping in the middle of the street because she'd thought she'd caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye, only to find she was merely chasing shadows. She'd finally given up. Accepted that he was gone. Accepted the fact that she might have actually imagined him, and tried to move on with her life. Tried to forget.
But he was there. Right in front of her. Real. Wearing that beat up old jacket, a black v-neck jumper, and cheeky grin—just as she remembered him.
Drinks forgot, she roughly dragged him outside by the elbow, Shareen's shout of confusion and surprise lost in the too-loud pop music blaring out of the jukebox.
Outside the summer night was warm, and the streets were thronged with people. He didn't protest as she shoved him into the mouth of the alley rather more forcefully than was probably necessary, but she was so angry she didn't care.
"You bastard, you left me! You lousy alien—" She pummelled his chest with balled up fists, and he made no attempt to ward of the blows.
"I didn't. Rose, I swear it. I didn't."
Her throat felt raw, as if she had been screaming, and she knew it had nothing to do with breathing in second hand smoke for hours.
"I woke up in hospital, and I thought I'd gone mental because nobody remembered anything, and Mickey and Mum—and Clive's website was gone, and you left me here! You were gone, like you'd never been. You just chucked me, like I was useless."
He grabbed her wrists at last, pinning her arms to her sides. "I didn't leave you, Rose. We're inside your mind. None of this is real."
All the fight went out of her at once. "What?"
"It's the neural toxins, from the thorns. Do you understand? None of this is real. It's all in your head."
The sound of London traffic was still there. The alley smelled sourly of refuse and urine, and it felt real. Too real to be a lie.
He was there, right in front of her. His hands locked around her wrists were real, his touch familiar.
"It's the stupid sodding plants?"
"Fears and hopes, that's all it is." He gestured to London with a wide sweep of his hand. "Dreams and nightmares."
"You're not a... a psychotic manifestation, or whatever? Not my mind playing tricks?"
He chuckled, his smile reassuring. "No, it's me. I'm here. It's me."
"It's really you?"
He nodded, and she buried her face in his jumper. His arms went round her as she cried, big wet sobs that get caught in her throat and blinded her. He stroked her hair clumsily.
"I didn't leave you, Rose."
She pulled back just enough that he could brush the tracks of tears from her cheeks with the balls of his thumbs. He tilted her chin so that she met his gaze.
"I never left you. You know I wouldn't, Rose Tyler." Hands cupping her face, he leaned forward to press a gentle kiss to her forehead. She closed her eyes, squeezing them shut tightly, tears still leaking from the corners.
He rested his forehead against hers, stroking her cheek fondly.
"It's time to wake up now, Rose."
Rose woke up.
She was in her bed, in her own rooms in the TARDIS, the duvet tucked up to her chin. She reached up and touched her forehead. Questing fingers found a sticking plaster, and she tugged on long blonde hair, laughing weakly.
He was sitting at her bedside, sprawled in a chair he must have dragged in from somewhere. She got the feeling that—although she had never actually seen him sleep—he had been in a light doze until she'd opened her eyes.
"Hey," she said sleepily.
"Hey there, lazybones." He smiled down at her. "Thought you were going to sleep your life away."
"How long was I...?"
"Thank God." At the look on his face, she swallowed a laugh. "Never mind. What happened?"
He scratched the side of his head, looking slightly sheepish. "Not the ice fields of Kos, as it turned out."
"Yeah. I twigged that bit."
"The TARDIS would have picked today of all days to deposit us in the screaming jungles of Esto VII, instead. You know, you wouldn't think the universe could offer this great a variety of giant psychic carnivorous plants."
"Good thing you have green fingers."
She sat up, peeking under the covers to make sure she was decent. There were half-healed scratches down both arms, and she could feel bandages beneath her tee-shirt. She shot him an alarmed glance when the implications of that set in.
"I am a doctor, after all," he said loftily, and she made a sound half-way between a snort and a laugh.
"Why did I sleep so long?"
"Toxins were still in your system. The TARDIS was monitoring your delta wave patterns."
"It gets in my head a lot, your ship does."
"Should I have asked your permission?" he asked with raised brows, and she swatted his arm playfully. He grew serious, reaching out to brush the plaster on her forehead with his fingertips. "We were lucky. I was lucky. Another few minutes..."
"And just my luck, I slept through our narrow escape... Completely missed out on all the fun."
He chuckled. "I'll be sure and make sure the next time we're almost digested, you're conscious and kicking."
"Tell me you didn't sit here for two whole days."
"I was worried," he said quietly.
She had a million questions she wanted to ask him. Instead, she tucked her hair behind her ears and swallowed. "I don't know about you—but I'm dying for a cuppa."
He grinned. "Good idea. There's not much in this life that can't be vastly improved—or at least made easier to bear—by a mug of sweet, milky tea. I'll just go and put the kettle on." He made a move to get up, but she caught him by the wrist.
He looked down at her fingers locked around his wrist, holding him there.
"Look, the things I said before... I didn't mean half of them." Rose felt a flush run up the back of her neck, making her ears burn, at the look he gave her.
"Well, all right, I did," she admitted. "But I shouldn't have said them, right? Not... not the way I did."
The bed dipped under his weight as he sat down, perched on the side.
"We both said things," he finally said, and it wasn't exactly an apology. But then, she hadn't demanded one.
It would have been so easy, just that second, to reach over and pull him close to her. It would hardly have taken any effort at all.
She didn't. Instead, she wound a lock of blonde hair around her finger, tugging it gently as if to assure herself it was real.
"It was months," she said softly. "In my head, I mean. It felt like months. I lived every second. I had half a million pounds. A posh flat. A good job. And A-levels."
"Are you disappointed, then?" he asked, some of his light dimming.
Rose was used to touching, and being touched.
She reached over and wrapped her fingers around his. Cherished the cool, familiar touch of his hand in hers.
His fingers tightened around hers.