Eventually, they made it to Barcelona.
Rose scuffed her feet in the sand as they walked, across a vast empty beach with one blue box stuck up in the middle of it, and the sea, if that far-off blue smudge was the sea, miles away. New Doctor—that was how Rose distinguished them in her mind—shrugged out of his brown jacket and slung it over his shoulder. Barcelona, like its Earthly namesake, was hot, but even that wouldn't have prised Old Doctor out of his leather jacket. Even when she wasn't looking at him, Rose could tell it was New Doctor, but each time she turned her head, she half-expected Old Doctor to be there. She was tongue-tied with shyness, far more so than she would have been with a real stranger. Every few minutes she made some overly bright comment. If Jack had been here he would be busy flirting by now.
Rose didn't want to think about why Jack wasn't here.
She kept thinking of the stupidest things; the way the Doctor said everything was fantastic, and how they's met Charles Dickens, and how Jack pinched her shampoo and then complained loudly that it smelt of flowers, and dancing in the London Blitz. Most of all she kept remembering Jack saying, "See you in hell," and herself, stupidly, "He'll be all right, won't he?". Stupidly, because even then she'd known that they were in major trouble. None of them had come out of it the same. Rose felt like she'd lost part of herself: part of her memory. Now she knows what it feels like for Jack. She has to stop thinking about that, the black hole in her mind that bewilders her.
"Regenerations are disorientating," New Doctor had said on the way to Barcelona. "For one thing, my memories are all floating loose, nothing in its right place. And these teeth are weird."
Rose thought she knew how he felt. About the memories, not the teeth.
"So when do we get to see the noseless dogs?" she asked, and thought she sounded like a seven-year-old on a trip to the zoo.
And it was a few minutes after that when they met a girl, a little younger than Rose, walking with three dogs with no noses.
"Aw, they're so sweet!" Rose cried.
"You're tourists?" the girl asked, sounding bored.
"Yep!" said the Doctor. Rose thought that for the inhabitants of time and space they must be like intergalactic Japanese people taking photographs of Buckingham Palace.
"You want the Happy Ghraukl. Over the dunes, street on your left, third along. Best place for tourists," the girl said. She whistled to her noseless dogs and walked on.
"It probably belongs to her father or something," said the Doctor, grinning at Rose.
"And the prices will be sky-high."
"Could you expect anything else?"
The Happy Ghraukl was apparently the Barcelonan equivalent of a pub-restaurant, but the aliens all over it reminded Rose of the bar in Star Wars; the year it was re-released, she and Shireen had spent their summer holidays pretending to be Princess Leia and fighting over who was fitter, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker, and she'd wanted a Millennium Falcon of her own to go flying across the galaxy...She had preferred han who was a bit like Jack when you came to think of it: shoot it if you couldn't flirt with it. She bit her lip.
New Doctor was peering at the window, which had a menu stuck tot he inside of it. Rose couldn't make any sense of it.
"The hair is a bit...large," he said after a while, and she realised that he'd been looking at his reflection.
"It's, it's...tousle-able," said Rose. The first word that came to mind, actually, was 'cute', which was not a word she would have associated with the old Doctor, more 'ruggedly handsome', maybe, but for New Doctor the overall word was 'cute' with a side of 'boyish', possibly...
"Still not happy with the teeth, though." He gnashed them.
"On the other hand, the ears are a definite improvement," said Rose comfortingly. Suddenly she remembered Old Doctor looking in the mirror at her flat, and she realised that he must have, what was it, regenerated just before she'd met him. The thought that she'd been there for the beginning as well as the end of Old Doctor was somehow incredibly sad, and she jammed her fist in front of her mouth to stop the sob that choked its way out.
The Doctor turned around.
"Rose, are you all right? You're crying?" He took a step closer and then, as though he had forgotten how, he put an arm around her and patted her shoulder. A not-human, not-friendly voice behind her said, "Are you two lovebirds going to stand here all day, or are you going to let other people through the door?"
The Doctor let go of Rose and looked down at his arms as though he expected them to sprout feathers. Rose sniffed back her tears and tried to grin. "It's a whatsit, a metaphor. Let's get out of the way, yeah?" she said. The stranger, who had eye like a hammer-head shark, pushed past them.
"The clientele here is deteriorating," New Doctor said, sounding miffed. Rose, with sudden embarrassment, dived into the Happy Ghraukl.
"There's a table, look," she said. "By the door to that patio thing."
It was stupid to be embarrassed by someone who, after all, was the Doctor, but them he wasn't her Doctor. And it would be stupid to cry in the middle of the restaurant.
The waiter, or possibly waitress, had tentacles. "Two human menus okay for you?"
"I'm not human," the Doctor said. Well, that hadn't changed anyway. Still stubbornly alien, no matter if he looked like the teacher at a posh school the third-year girls would fancy.
The wait-person blinked at him, sideways, like a Slitheen. "You look exactly like a human. Do you eat human food?"
"So what are you complaining about. Do you want a silicon-based menu?"
"No," the Doctor said grumpily, and the waiter marched off.
"That's what Shireen used to be like when she was working down the caff," Rose said, starting to laugh. "Could you actually grow wings or something in your regen-thingy?"
"I hope not," the Doctor said, his expression somewhere between amused and alarmed. "It's never happened yet."
"Have you done this many times, then?"
He counted on his fingers on the edge of the table. "Nine. This is my tenth body."
Rose wanted to ask what his friends at the time had thought of it, and how you got used to the same person having the wrong eyes and voice and teeth, but she didn't know how to word the question, and in a minute he leaned over and started recommending things out of the menu to her, and she couldn't ask him after that.
This is pizza," Rose said when their meal arrived. "Pizza with super-weird toppings."
"It's Barcelonan grabish, famous planetary cuisine," the Doctor said indignantly. "Pizza!"
"Oh, come on, this is just alien pub grub, innit?" Rose said. She took a mouthful, cautiously. "Nice, though," she added indistinctly.
"Told you so."
Rose swallowed, took a breath, and said some of what had been bursting inside her for hours. "I wanted to fix everything. To make it the way it was before."
The Doctor was wolfing down his grabish as though he'd never seen food before, which he hadn't really, Rose supposed. it was a minute or two before he was fit to speak, and Rose watched his agonised chewing expressions with some interest.
"Rose—I—look, you did save my life. I—I couldn't—" He waved his hands in the air. "I can't tell you how much I wish I could undo the Time War, but it's impossible. You can't just reset history. I could be my last regeneration now, but you'd be dead. The Time Vortex can't be contained in one body. it's too big, too powerful. It was killing you, Rose. I—tell me, how could I let you die after what you did for me?"
"You never used to talk about the war if you could help it," Rose said, looking down at the table. Perhaps new Doctor had got over it a bit, which was a good thing, of course, but— And what was a Time Vortex, when it was at home?
"I know," the Doctor said. He reached across the table for her hand, but didn't hold it this time, just put his own on top of it. His fingers were long and warm and a little too thin.
"You lovely brave little girl, Rose," he said quietly. "I should've told you before, given you a bit of warning. I just didn't expect it to happen so soon. I'm sorry."
"'S all right," Rose said awkwardly.
It was starting to get dark when they went back to the beach. The Doctor suggested that they should light a fire, so they gathered driftwood from the sand, and the Doctor lit it with the sonic screwdriver.
"Jack wouldn't like this much," Rose remarked, piling up seaweed at the edge of the flames. It burned blue and green. The fire blazed up, and showed her how stricken the Doctor's face looked.
"I thought you said—" her mouth was very dry, and that sentence didn't seem to be coming out right— "Are you certain? Couldn't we go back and get him just before—"
"No, Rose!" His sudden anger made her start. "Didn't you learn anything when you tried to stop your father's—oh, look, Rose, I'm sorry, please don't cry."
""It's not you, it's just everything, really," Rose said, hunting through her pockets for a tissue. The Doctor put both his arms around her this time, and she buried her face in his shirt, hearing the weird but familiar sound of his double heartbeat. Through the tears, it could have been Old Doctor holding her. She put up her hand to feel one pulse beneath her fingers and one at the heel of her hand, because that at least hadn't changed. He was a good person to cry on; he didn't say stupid things like "it's all right" when it wasn't, he just held her and rubbed her back in circles, untangled the back of her hair with one hand, and mopped her up when she'd finished.
"Listen, Rose, I'm sorry," he said eventually. "If I could go back, turn the clock back for you and Jack, I would. But I can't. Some things have results no-one can undo. Some consequences you can't escape from."
Rose sifted powdery sand through her fingers, her head lolling wearily against the Doctor's bony shoulder.
"Huh, only at birthday parties," she said after a long pause, because she was in an exhausted edgy mood when even something as feeble as that was funny.
"Birthday parties?" said the Doctor, sounding utterly wrong-footed.
"If you have a pencil and paper on you, I can show you."
He produced them from his jacket pockets, still looking bemused. Rose wrote They met: Outside the TARDIS on the top of the paper, and folded it back.
"Now, you write 'what she said'," she order, handing the Doctor the paper, "and then fold it so's I can't see it and give it back to me, and I'll write 'what he said'."
A few passes later,
and Rose drew a line under 'the consequences', with a flourish. She
flattened it out, cleared her throat, and read aloud, "They met:
Outside the TARDIS
She said: I have no idea what I'm meant to be doing
He said: Did I mention it travels in time?
She was wearing: Some clothes
He was wearing: A dodgy jumper
What they did: Ran away from aliens and went off in the TARDIS together
The consequence: They kicked arse, saved the world, and went to Barcelona."
"Was the jumper really that bad?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh, admit it, it was," Rose said, laughing. If he remembered all that, then he really was the Doctor.
And then the ground shook. The Doctor pulled Rose to her feet and ran for the TARDIS, the sand around their feet seeming to flow. They both grabbed at the door at the same time, the Doctor with his other arm crooked protectively over Rose's head. They stumbled into the TARDIS, together with a lot of sand that made a gritty crunch as the Doctor slammed the door shut.
"Was that an earthquake?" Rose asked breathlessly.
"Barcelona doesn't have earthquakes. It's famous for not having earthquakes."
"I thought it was famous for noseless dogs," Rose remarked flippantly, pushing her hair out of her eyes.
"That, too. And I thought we could have a nice quiet holiday."
"Don't be silly. It's us." Rose grinned. "Normal life is a crisis."
The Doctor smiled back, took hold of her hand and opened the TARDIS's door.