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Author's Note: Written for snowballjane for the Ninth Doctor Ficathon. Beta'd by queenofalostart, doylesb4, and giglet each of whom did her very best to make it not suck, for which I am grateful.
Not a Busman's Holiday
by Tara O'Shea
Rose found the Doctor sitting in the pilot's chair in the console room, feet up on the edge of the hexagonal console, eyes glued to one of the screens as he played with a cricket ball.
It was exactly where she had left him eight hours earlier when she'd finally fallen into bed, unable to keep her eyes open any longer.
Rose hated sleeping.
Not because the bed in one of the many TARDIS bedrooms she'd chosen for her own wasn't comfortable (it was). Or because she was lonely (she honestly hadn't missed Mickey nearly as much as she'd thought she would—which gave her a twinge of guilt, but only a twinge). But because she was convinced the Doctor was having fun without her, and she didn't want to miss a single second.
It was almost comforting, the idea that he was waiting for her before beginning their next grand adventure. She'd learned the hard way that he almost never slept. She'd tried to keep up with him at first, sneaking cat-naps between jaunts, until he'd finally noticed her swaying slightly in the corner of the console room after Christmas in Cardiff, done the maths and taken her off down a corridor (third right, fifth on the left, past the swimming pool, fourth on her left) and showed her to the living quarters.
She still didn't know where—or when—he slept. One of the great mysteries of the TARDIS and her owner, Rose had gathered since she'd begun travelling with him. He'd admitted to catching an hour or two in the weeks since she'd joined him, but professed that was more than he needed, even boasting to her that he'd gone weeks or months without sleep in the past.
She'd be jealous, except that there was something lovely about waking up when one felt like it, rather than because a clock-radio was blaring in one's ear, and one had to grab toast and a cup of tea on one's way out the door for fear of having one's pay docked. So far, life-and-death situations notwithstanding, Rose's time with the Doctor was the best holiday she'd ever had, and all the better for having no return ticket looming over her head.
She rested her chin on his shoulder, staring at the screen that held his attention, but to her it was all just swirls of colours and shapes—like some fancy screensaver, rather than any kind of information feed she could comprehend.
"So, what do you want to do tonight, Brain?"
He tilted his head to the side, a bemused smile playing about the corner of his lips as he raised a brow. "Brain?"
Rose smiled and moved around so that she was leaning against the console, facing him.
"You're supposed to say 'Same thing we do every night, Pinky,'" she prompted him.
"Am I?" he asked as she took the striped cricket ball from his fingers, turning it over in her hand. It was obviously well-loved, if the cracks and scuffs were any indication. But she had a hard time picturing him actually playing. Football, sure.
She'd caught him eying a Manchester United game on an ancient black and white telly behind the corner shop counter, the last time they'd stopped off on Earth to pick up the basics (milk, tea, eggs, and blackcurrant jam which was apparently one of those things one simply could not get in any galaxy except hers). Granted, it was a game from 1977 the outcome of which she was fairly certain he already knew . But that seemed to make little difference to the Doctor as he muttered to the fuzzy black and white players on the screen beneath his breath while she shelled out pounds and pence for breakfast fixings.
But cricket seemed a stretch.
"Yes," she said as she tossed the ball in the air and caught it again. "It's from the cartoon. Two little white lab mice? One of them's got a huge head and the other one—"
He snatched the cricket ball from the air before it could hit her fingers. "Do I look like I watch cartoons?"
Rose shrugged, tilting her head toward the screen. "Well, you've got telly. Mickey's got them all on tape—"
He gave a long-suffering sigh, eyes cast heavenward as he crossed his arms. "Do I look like Rickey?"
"You're the one who said the TARDIS gets all the channels. Haven't you ever watched telly?"
He thought about that for a long moment.
"I liked MASH," he said with great conviction.
"Was that the one set during the war?" Rose frowned, racking her memory. "With the doctors who were drunk all the time?"
"Tell me you're joking." He looked faintly horrified. "Do you even know which war?"
"Um... one of the ones with Americans in it?"
He pulled a face.
"You can poke fun at my lack of culture and A-levels in history later, if it will make you happy."
"Right, then... What do you want to do? We can go anywhere, any time. The entire Universe is out there, just waiting for us. Do you want an adventure with camels? Because we can do that."
"Everyone likes camels," he said with a shrug. "They spit, though. Just to warn."
"No camels," Rose said quickly, then bit her bottom lip when he actually looked crushed. "But I do think I want to go someplace warm. Relaxing. Like, a popular intergalactic tourist destination. You know, where they have fruity drinks and the worst danger we have to face is running out of sun cream, and sand in our shoes."
"Jaded already? Bored with adventure?"
"Not bored... just curious what aliens do for fun. Non-lethal fun," she was quick to amend.
He looked thoughtful a moment, then broke into a wide smile. "I know just the place. You go on and get changed for sun and sand."
If Rose ever doubted that the TARDIS had a mind of its own, the wardrobe room would have convinced her. The first time she'd set foot inside (first left, second right, third on the left, under the stairs, past the rubbish bins—green for recycling, fifth door on her left) it had been to find a dressmaker's dummy in a black and ruby gown that fit her exactly. She'd felt like Cinderella, even if it had taken her the better part of an hour to figure out how to get into a corset that laced up the back on her own.
This time, there was an assortment of bathing costumes to choose from—from the sort of thing she'd only ever seen in photographs of her great-gran in Brighton back before women got the vote, to skimpy swatches of material that would have made a Brazilian blush.
After careful deliberation, Rose chose a green bikini that was modest by comparison to the Brazilian selection, and quite daring when held up opposite the 1920s collection. Unsure of what the etiquette might be like wherever the Doctor might be taking her, she grabbed an over-sized button-down white cotton gauze shirt off a wooden hanger. Eschewing her baggy jeans, she chose a colourful tiered peasant skirt that hung low on her hips, belted with a scarf. The overall effect was a bit more bohemian than usual, but she supposed if every planet had a North, then every planet might have hippies as well, and she might blend in just fine. And there was something about playing dress-up that always made her smile. She almost never got out of jeans and hoodies at home, and she and Shireen had spent long nights at the local making grandiose plans about holidays in Ibiza or the South of France that they'd never had the money to take.
She wished Shireen could see her now, as she jammed a straw sunhat on her head, her hair done in two plaits tucked behind her ears. She stopped by her room to grab a pair of sandals to top off the ensemble, and then wound her way back to the console room. Her grand entrance went completely unremarked upon. Rose began to wonder if the Doctor would have noticed or even said a word if she'd shown up starkers.
"Well?" she asked, spinning around in a circle just to see the skirt bell out around her legs.
"Very tropical," the Doctor said, but his eyes were fixed on the console screen as he threw the last lever.
"What's it like outside?" she asked as the TARDIS console shuddered to a halt, lights blinking the all-clear.
"Blue skies, about 34 degrees, give or take. Light breeze." He stuck one of the fallen post-it notes back to the edge of the screen from where it had fallen during their landing. "In short: a perfect summer day."
"Aren't you going to change?" she asked, raising a brow. He was still wearing his habitual black trousers, v-neck burgundy top beneath the leather jacket.
"What? I've got shirtsleeves on." He pulled one arm from a sleeve to demonstrate.
She plucked at the collar of his leather jacket. "You'll roast in that thing."
"Nah. I can handle extreme temperatures."
"What about sunburn?"
"Radiation doesn't bother me much."
"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"
"Yep." He grinned as hopped off the chair and offered her his arm gallantly. "Come on then—we're wasting a perfectly lovely day, hanging about here."
When they stepped out of the TARDIS, the first thing Rose noticed were the colours.
They were at the edge of a city—she could see gleaming towers of glass in the distance tinged with faint hues of coral, pale blue, and bottle green, but every building seemed almost garish in its decoration. Brilliant crimson and saffron awnings, green roofs, billboards that turned out to be giant flat screens with commercials scrawling across them adding to the cacophony of visual stimulus. Birds circled overhead, their cries mingling with the rush of air cars casting their moving shadows along the pedestrian walkways below. The sky was indeed a brilliant blue, faint wisps of clouds hanging along the horizon, and Rose closed her eyes for a second, turning her face towards the sun.
The streets were immaculate, and a median strip ran down the centre of each wide cobbled street, trees and flowers rising from the lush grass. She could smell the sea in a good way (as opposed to the stink of rotting fish and seaweed she associated with trips to the pier back home), and all around them were throngs of people of every colour and shape, and it finally dawned on her that none of them were blue or had tentacles.
Rose turned to the Doctor, who was leaning against an ornate lamppost, watching her with a bemused expression. "This looks like Earth."
"That's cos it is Earth," he replied, blue eyes twinkling. "Australia, in point of fact."
"I thought we'd go someplace... foreign." Rose couldn't keep the disappointment from her voice, even as her skirt was lifted around her ankles by the warm sea breeze.
"Have you ever been to Australia?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Then it counts as foreign," he said with authority, and she rolled her eyes.
"I always thought Australia was just like England, only with Vegemite instead of Marmite."
"Don't let any of the natives hear you say that. You'll have a riot on your hands." He cringed comically, and she stifled a giggle. "We're actually in the Coral MegaPlex, about three hundred kilometres off the coast."
"But I thought..." Rose trailed off, frowning as she took in the very human crowd. "How can Earth be a popular intergalactic tourist destination? Aren't you always going on about how it's just a backwater?"
"Well... yes," he admitted, hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket as they walked. "But don't people go to out of the way, primitive places to take sun all the time? That's part of its charm. At any given time, there's a hundred to a thousand aliens here—disguised, of course. Tour groups, mostly."
"What, like caravans?"
"Think of Earths as sort of like... Torremolinos, except for aliens. They come, complain about how the food is different, no one speaks their language, and take in the local equivalent of Flamenco dancers before they toddle off home again with sunburns and novelty tee-shirts and snow globes."
"I guess I was just thinking of something more... exotic."
He laid his arm across her shoulders, grinning broadly. "It's a floating city, Rose. It's a floating city where hundreds of thousands of people from all over the Pacific Rim live in perfect harmony. There hasn't been a murder here in decades. People don't even jaywalk. They don't even litter. There's food, and music, and the cleanest ocean beaches you'll find in this part of the world without having to go back a millennium or two. Isn't that exotic?"
"Yeah," she admitted, then began to warm up to the idea. "Yeah, it is. So when are we?"
He glanced down at his wristwatch. "Late twenty-second century."
"Are you sure?"
He looked affronted. "What do you mean, am I sure?"
"It looks like the 1980s," Rose said as she took in the teased hair-dos and layered tee-shirts, frilly mini-skirts and jelly shoes of a group of teenagers as they walked by.
"Yes, well, trends do come around again. And to be fair," he said half under his breath, "I'm not entirely sure Australia ever left the 1980s."
"Look at that girl—that's Cyndi Lauper hair. She's not an alien, is she?"
"How would I know?" he shrugged.
"I thought you knew everything."
"Cheeky." They continued on, past shops where the smell of food cooking made Rose's stomach rumble, and she wished she had some pocket money. "Earth hasn't had a proper first contact yet—the Slitheen don't count," the Doctor continued, eyeing a cart selling fresh fruit but passing by without buying so much as a banana. "So you wouldn't be able to tell aliens just by looking at them. Bipedal life-forms are quite common—very sturdy. Most races wouldn't even have to alter their appearance all that much. A little make-up here, a hologram there..."
"That's a good point. And I never would have took you for an alien, when I first met you."
"Is that meant to be a compliment?"
She ignored him, instead peering curiously at the people and buildings. "Twenty-second century?"
"S'funny, I always picture futuristic cities as being all grey and cold and raining all the time. Like in Blade Runner. Not... so colourful, I guess."
"Oh, trust me, Earth goes through phases. Not too long ago—fifty, maybe eighty years back—you'd have seen the acid rain and all that."
"People, if you can believe it." The Doctor chuckled at the look on her face. "Of course, it took almost destroying the planet to get there. But yeah—this whole island started out as kelp farms. Feed the starving masses, all that. Then it just... grew." He grinned, obviously delighted as two kids on what looked like hovering snowboards whizzed past them on their side.
"Yeah, when we went to Station 5, the whole planet was just one big city."
"That's still a ways off."
"I'm glad. I can't imagine Earth without trees and mountains and all that."
"See a lot of mountains in London, did you?"
She elbowed him gently. "You know what I mean."
"So, you're on holiday for the day. What d'you want to do first? Parasailing? Snorkelling? Don't say shopping—"
"—you never let me go shopping—"
"No money!" he replied a little too gleefully. "And anyway, what you need shopping malls for anyway?"
"Sometimes a girl likes to pick out her own clothes, instead of the TARDIS doing it for her, you know."
"TARDIS seemed to do all right today."
"Is that a compliment? La."
"Seriously—it's early yet, plenty of fun to be had. Where to do you want to start?"
"There," Rose said, and he followed the line of her pointing finger to the beach.
"Sun and sand it is."
She glanced down at his lace-up shoes, and then the stretch of pure white sand, eyes practically watering at the glare. "You ought to have changed. You'll get sand in your shoes."
He gave her a look, and then sat down on the side of the walk and began unlacing his shoes.
"You're going to go barefoot?"
"I'm on holiday, too." He stood, shoes with socks tucked into each toe dangling from their laces in one hand, the other reaching for hers reflexively.
They wandered down to the edge of the sand where a line of benches stood. Rose sat down and began going through her bag, pulling out a rolled up towel and a tube of sun cream. Feeling faintly self conscious, she slathered it on every bit of fair skin she could reach, acutely aware of how pale she was compared to the crowds. Sweat was already trickling down her sides and from the hatband into her eyes.
The Doctor, as always, looked maddeningly unaffected by the temperature even though she was broiling just looking at him—all in black, still cocooned in his jacket.
"Right—help me put some on my back." She held out the tube and tied the shirt around her waist. He frowned. "Unless you want me moaning cos I've gone all pink and peeling for a week. Not all of us are impervious to radiation."
With a sigh, he began spreading the cool lotion across her back. Her eyes strayed to a bunch of kids building castles at the edge of the water. They decorated them with shells and bits off kelp that washed ashore. Kids always did that—it didn't matter where, or when. They were too far away to hear what they were shouting and laughing about, but just the fact that they were laughing made Rose grin reflexively.
"There you go—safe as houses," the Doctor said as he handed her back the tube.
"I'm just going to swim a bit."
"You go on—I'm fine here."
"Go on—careful of the undertow." He waved her off, and she worried for a moment he would be horribly bored. But he just grinned, leaning back against the bench, and buried his toes in the sand.
The salt drying on Rose's skin made her feel pleasantly tight as she pulled her skirt up over her hips, and tied the shirt loosely around her waist.
As much as she enjoyed going off and meeting blue aliens (though she could live without the spitting) there was something relaxing about being surrounded by every-day humans as they went about their business. She'd chatted briefly with a couple from Singapore who had come over just for the day, their little daughter in tow. Rose had been careful in her answers to their questions—who knew what London of the 22nd century was like, and she didn't want to arouse suspicions.
She'd had a panicked moment when they had complimented her on her Mandarin, until she realised the TARDIS must not just feed alien languages into her brain. She'd muttered something about being well travelled, and that seemed to have satisfied them. But just knowing that even in the future, where day trips that crossed the international dateline were the norm, people still chatted up complete strangers on the beach somehow made Rose feel warm inside. She was in a completely new place—one that didn't even exist in 2005—but it was still Earth, and they were still human, and there was something comforting in that. The way people changed and didn't change. The proof that Cassandra wasn't the inevitable future of her race.
Still, she'd thought as she'd floated on her back, in the blue, blue water and listening to the call of gulls overhead, at least humans still existed (in one form or another) in the far-flung future. She thought of how lonely the Doctor must be, knowing that no matter where (or when) he travelled, he wouldn't ever run into another of his own kind. He'd tried to explain it to her, once, when she'd finally gotten up the courage to ask him why he hadn't just used his time machine to go back to his world before the war. Something about the Time Lords' home planet existing only in one place at one time, and time travel being forbidden, so when it burned...
He'd looked so empty, as he'd said it. Not just lonely, but alone. She hadn't pressed him for more. Tried instead to distract him by asking him to show her his favourite night spots, and before long, they'd gotten embroiled in a coup to overthrow a particularly oppressive monarchy. Ever since she had first set foot aboard the TARDIS, they'd been in constant motion—barely able to catch their breaths before they leapt off into the next adventure. So it felt so... odd, almost unsettling, really, to spend an afternoon sun bathing and thinking of nothing more dangerous than how to keep from burning her feet on the hot sand before she retrieved her sandals.
When she finally emerged from the sea, she'd worried that the Doctor would have wandered off, having gone mad from sitting still in one place with nothing to do for so long. She'd felt faintly guilty, wishing he'd at least brought a book, or something to occupy himself while she worked on her tan and did laps to cool off. He was, after all, used to saving the world on a fairly regular basis. And there wasn't so much as a fun fair in sight for thrills and spills.
However, as she picked her way across the hot sand to where she'd left him, she saw Doctor talking quite seriously to a small boy no older than seven, dressed in a bright yellow pair of swim trunks, sitting on the bench next to him.
As she shouldered her bag and wandered towards them, the kid, face buried in a giant ice-cream cone, waved at the Doctor before wandering back towards the knot of kids.
She looked down to see a melting cone on the sand near his feet, inquisitive insects already getting lost in the melting dessert, and grinned.
"I thought you didn't have any money," she said, poking him in the shoulder.
He looked sheepish. "I keep some for emergencies."
Rose raised a brow. "A kid dropping his ice-cream cone is an emergency?"
"Yep," he said with complete certainly. And, it suddenly dawned on Rose, for that little kid, it had been. And the Doctor, as always, was right there to save the world.
Pushing the hat back farther on her head, she looked at him with a new understanding of her travelling companion. "I think I get you, now."
"Really? Solved the conundrum, have you?"
She leaned closer to him, feeling as if her face would split from grinning. "You're happy."
"What do you mean?"
"Just sitting here, watching the world go by. I thought before you'd have to be... I dunno, running from crisis to crisis, getting off on the adrenaline rush." She thought back to all the times they'd heard a cry for help and he'd got that manic grin as they'd dashed off to each new adventure. But she'd been silly, she knew now. There was more to it than being a thrill junkie. Much more, and she'd almost missed it. But she'd twigged it now. "But you're perfectly happy, sitting here, watching the birds and the waves and the people. You actually like Earth, don't you."
"Why wouldn't I?" He looked at her as if she was off her head, and that made her smile all the more.
"First time we met—you said you were just passing through. But the TARDIS is always shaped like one of those old fashioned phone boxes you told me about. It always looks exactly the same. A disguise that only works if you're actually, you know, here. Even moaning about how small and useless we are, with our clay feet, there's no place else you'd rather be, is there? Anyplace and every place in the universe to choose from, and you always come back here."
He looked down at his hands, and then reached for hers.
"Humans amaze me," he said, sounding serious for once as he curled his fingers tightly around hers. "You're so fragile—your lifespans are miniscule compared to most races in the galaxy. You're outclassed and out numbered at almost every turn, but nothing stops you."
She just froze at the sheer wonder and admiration in his voice, but his eyes weren't on her. They were still on the kids at the waterline. No, not just the kids. All of it—every inch of it. The teeming crowds, the sight and smells. He was drinking it all in, as he spoke.
"You've got so much life. It's just... spilling over, reaching out to everything, good and bad. And you never change, really. You get smarter, you get more experience—but at the heart of you, you're still each these little whirlwinds that get caught up and keep on spinning until there's nothing left to spin. You only stop when you've worn yourselves out completely with living every moment.
"You can do horrific things to one another, but you also have this innate gift of compassion and empathy. You'll fight over land, you'll fight over money, you'll fight over the different names of your gods. But even with all that nonsense, there's such hope. Such simple joy in simple things. Like sun, and sand, and ice-cream."
She gave his fingers a squeeze.
"Well, I've had the sun and sand. What do you say about some ice-cream?"
"All right, Pinky. But you're buying."
"No money," she reminded him with a grin, and he groaned as he picked up his shoes by the laces.
"Somehow, I think we'll manage."