Rose instinctively rolled to the side, clutching her head, and narrowly avoiding the heavy pipe as it struck into the roof. Gasping, she quickly got to her feet and spun around, whipping out one of the Nitro Nine grenades.

Her stomach clenched as she recognized her attacker. It was the Duke. The real Duke, she thought. He was bleeding a bit from a cut on his cheek. Robots didn't bleed.

But she was. She could feel it dripping down the side of her head, and down her cheek.

Brandishing the grenade, she yelled with more force than she felt, "Back off!"

She backed slowly towards the roof entrance, but he matched her step for step. There was a crazed look in his eye. "It's all your fault," he panted, "you're cursed. If I kill you, it'll stop."

"It won't ever stop," Rose yelled. "It won't ever end because you can't treat people like this, like you own them! The more you try to control them, the more they'll rise up and they won't ever stop until they're free from you! Ever!"

But it didn't look like heard her. He kept advancing on her and suddenly he jumped at her, brandishing the pipe.

She screamed and threw the grenade, leaping backwards to avoid the pipe. She turned and bolted for the door, and managed to make it through before the explosion, but a weight crashed into her and knocked her to the ground.

Struggling, she threw the Duke off her and scrambled to her feet. He let out a cry of mad rage and leaped at her again, his hands closing around her throat.

She stumbled backwards against the wall so hard it knocked the breath from her. The Duke's fingers tightened like an iron vice and she couldn't get breath. Panicking, her instincts took over and she clawed at his face, her knee coming up to hit him hard in the groin.

The combination of her kicking and scratching stunned him momentarily and loosened his fingers. From somewhere inside her head she heard Jack's voice telling her what to do, and she brought her fists down hard on his elbow joints.

His grip fell away and Rose dived away from him, falling down onto her hands and knees. She saw the length of pipe he'd dropped and grabbed onto it, swinging it upwards as he moved to attack her again.

It hit him in the side, and she heard a sickening crunch of bone. But her survival instincts had taken over, driving the fear out of her. She remembered Amara's dead body in her arms, remembered the young stupid guard who'd been given orders to kill without question. She remembered the tales Amara told her of women kidnapped out of the streets, no one bothering to look for them because they weren't human; no one caring that those poor women were doomed to a life of misery, slavery, and rape.

Wildly, she swung the pipe again, catching the Duke's legs this time, and knocking him onto his back.

Rose stood over him. She could end it. She could bring the pipe down on his head. This floor would be caught in the explosion. No one would ever know she'd killed him. History would write him off as dead in the explosion.

She wanted to, so badly. She wanted to end it. She had to end it.

Unbidden, a memory flashed in her mind. The Doctor, standing there, pointing a gun at Van Statten's Dalek, telling her to get out of the way. "I've got to end it, Rose," he'd said. She'd looked at him like he was a monster, and asked him what the hell he was changing into.

And now…what was she, Rose Tyler, changing into?

Rose dropped the pipe and staggered backwards, a sob clawing its way up her throat. What had she almost done?

………………………………………………………………………………

"Rose? Rose!" the Doctor yelled, running through the hallway choked with dead revolutionaries. There were two more bodies at the end of the hall, near the explosion-damaged door.

But they were still alive, he realized with relief. One was lying on his back, groaning in pain. The Doctor spared him the briefest of glances, registering who he was and the fact that he really didn't care if the Duke was in pain, then turned his attention to the other form.

Rose was crouched with her back to the wall, head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. He knelt in front of her and gingerly took her hands in his. "Rose?" he said softly, then inhaled sharply as he saw blood on the side of her head. "Rose, are you alright? What happened?"

"Doctor," she sobbed, reaching for him.

He pulled her tightly against him. "It's alright, Rose, I'm here. I should never have left you, I'm so sorry," he whispered against her hair. "Oh, Rose."

After a moment, she stopped crying enough to speak. "It's not that," she said, her breath still hitching. "It's…I…oh, God," she moaned.

He tilted her face up. "What is it, Rose? What's wrong?"

"He attacked me," she managed, waving towards the roof. "I…I fought back, but I almost killed him."

"It's self defense, Rose, it's not your fault."

She shook her head, then winced in pain from her wound. He caught sight of the angry red finger marks on her neck, and felt a sudden desire to kill the Duke himself rather than wait for the revolution to do it for him. Her next words stopped him cold, though. "No. I didn't stop at defense," she said. "I was so angry, I wanted to kill him. I almost killed him, Doctor, because I wanted to."

He knew how she felt, and he ached for her. Holding her gaze in his own, he said firmly, "But you didn't, did you, Rose? You didn't kill him."

"No."

"That's right," he said. "You had the choice. You had his life in your hands, and you chose not to take it. And that," he said, turning her face back to his when she tried to look away, "that, Rose, is what makes you different from people like him. You chose not to kill."

She wrapped her arms around him, and he hugged her again. "Come on," he said, pulling her to her feet. "Let's get out of here."

"What about him?" she gestured weakly to the prone figure of the Duke.

"Leave him to us," said a voice, and they turned to see a group of women standing in the hall. A few of them were gently moving aside the dead bodies of the revolutionaries, one woman saying some sort of prayer over them.

As the explosion-damaged lights flickered on again, the Doctor saw that the women were mostly alien, only one or two looking vaguely human. Suddenly, he knew who they were.

The lost women Neera had told him about. The kidnapped alien women the Duke had taken for his harem.

Beside him, Rose opened her mouth to say something, but the Doctor squeezed her hand gently, and she turned to look at him. "You made your choice, Rose," he said gently, brushing her cheek with his hand, "now let them make theirs."

She swallowed, then looked at him again. "Okay," she said. "Let's go."

He let Rose walk ahead of him, and he caught the arm of the woman who'd spoken as he passed her. "There's a bomb on level forty-seven," he told her. "It's set to go off in twenty minutes. It'll take out all the levels above it, including this one."

"I understand," she said.

"You have a future," he told her. "I know you've been through so much that it might not seem that way, but all of you have a future now. Don't let it be tainted," he finished softly.

With that, he turned away from the woman and joined Rose at the end of the hall, taking her hand in his and leading her out of the palace.

………………………………………………………………………………….

Stiff and sore, Neera Vasuda opened her eyes, blinking rapidly to clear them. She was in a room of some sort, architecture she half-recognized surrounding a load of medical equipment, only some of which was familiar to her.

Struggling, she tried to sit up, then gasped and gave up the effort.

"Easy," said a familiar female voice, and Neera blinked as Rose Tyler's face came into her field of vision. "You're still hurt. The Doctor's got you on some sort of tissue regeneration thing," she said, "but it'll take some time."

She noticed a bandage on the side of Rose's head. "You alright?"

Rose blinked, then felt her head. "What? Oh, yeah. I can probably take this off now, I think."

She tugged what Neera had mistaken for a bandage from her head, and pointed to the new, fresh pink skin beneath. "See?" Rose said. "I had a head wound, and this fixed it up. Tissue regeneration thing."

Neera raised an eyebrow. "Is that it's proper name?" she asked, her voice hoarse.

Rose handed her a glass of water and tucked a few pillows behind her head so she could drink easier. "It is now," she grinned.

Feeling rejuvenated by the water, she looked around again. "Am I in the TARDIS?" she asked, finally recognizing the style of architecture.

"Infirmary, yeah," Rose said.

Neera blinked. "How big is this ship?"

"Very," said the Doctor as he strode in, placing his glasses on his face. "Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to explore."

What did that mean? Neera opened her mouth to ask, but the Doctor stuck some instrument in her mouth. "Close your mouth around that for a second," he said, "and lift up your shirt so I can see your stomach."

Neera lifted the hem of the twentieth-century hospital scrubs she was wearing, and mumbled something around the instrument in her mouth.

The Doctor removed it, glanced at a reading, then handed it to Rose and told her what to do with it. "What'd you say?" he asked Neera.

"I said, last time someone told me to put something in my mouth and lift my shirt up, it didn't hurt as much."

The Doctor rolled his eyes as Rose snorted with laughter. "Yeah," Rose said, "you're a fifty-first century girl, alright."

He sighed, and poked around the large white not-bandage (which sounded better than tissue regeneration thing). "Almost done," he said, when she winced. "If it still hurts after that, I'll give you something for the pain."

"So, what," she said, peering at him, "you're really a doctor?"

"Oh, yes," he grinned. "Of many things."

Rose laughed and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. He smiled warmly at her. "It's all healed," she said, pointing to her head, "so I'm going to go wash all this blood out of my hair. See you in the kitchen in a bit, 'kay?"

"Righto," he said, kissing her briefly as she walked out.

"Oh," Neera smiled at the Doctor, "so more than friends, then?"

He smiled back. "Yeah."

She tilted her head at him. "So how's that working out for you?"

"As it turns out," he said, taking off his glasses, "absolutely fantastic."

Good. She was glad for them. She remembered all that time ago, finding the Doctor on that horrid abandoned moon colony, all broken and half-mad with regeneration sickness. He had been so wounded, so empty, like a shadow of himself. Neera looked at him now, and saw that he wasn't the same person he'd been then, both physically and psychologically.

She bet a good part of it was due to Rose. She smiled again. They intrigued her, this Time Lord and his human lover. It was a shame she couldn't stick around to find out more about them, but she had things to do. Things that had to be done.

Neera eased herself into a sitting position, wincing as she did so. The Doctor placed a hand on her arm. "It'll heal," he promised, and as she met his eyes, she knew he wasn't just talking about the gunshot wound.

The image of Jaren's dead eyes staring at her as he fell onto the dusty street flashed in front of her, and she closed her eyes, willing it to go away. Tears leaked from the corner of her eyes, and she felt the bed shift beside her as the Doctor sat down and took her hands in his.

Neera opened her eyes and he caught her gaze in his own. He'd taken off his glasses, and his warm, sympathetic brown eyes felt like a life-preserve that she clung to. "You're in pain," he said softly, squeezing her hands gently. "Pain can do awful things to a person. It can force them to make rash decisions, and rush head first into danger simply because if they die, then they won't feel pain anymore."

She felt her eyes sting with more tears as he continued, "Pain also doesn't let a person think clearly. They may think, for example, that they've lost everything in the universe they could ever have cared about. They don't stop to think that there could ever be more; that there could ever be something, or someone, else waiting out there, ready to fill the void inside their hearts."

She couldn't stop the tears from falling, or the sobs from being voiced. The Doctor held her gently as she cried onto his shoulder, never lying to her and telling her that everything would be alright, but instead just comforting her with his silent presence.

When she recovered enough to pull away from him and wipe away some of her tears, he smiled gently at her. "I'd be neglecting my duties as a doctor if I let you suffer through all that pain on your own, don't you think?"

Neera blew her nose on the handkerchief he handed to her. "What does that mean?" she asked, though she could guess at the answer.

"Travel with us," the Doctor smiled. "We're going to help you solve this mystery, Neera. Rose and I both want to find out who's manipulating the Time Agency."

"You'd be willing to do that? To put both yourselves at risk?"

He shrugged. "We do that on a daily basis anyway. And I don't think we have much of a choice in the matter. Something's threatening humanity's future, and I seem to somehow have made a habit of saving you lot, so…y'know, old habits die hard and all that."

He grinned at her and Neera found herself genuinely smiling and even laughing slightly. "So what do you say, then?" he asked.

Her smile widened into a small grin. "Alright, yeah," she said.

"Fantastic!"

……………………………………………………………………………..

Rose stretched out her legs and placed her feet on the kitchen chair opposite. She hadn't bothered to change out of her big pink fuzzy bathrobe and big pink fuzzy slippers. Her wet hair hung around her shoulders, still smelling refreshingly of herbal shampoo. The mug of tea in her hand was nice and warm, and the strong brew slid down her throat and seemed to relax her from the inside out.

Finding a moment to breathe and relax in the TARDIS was a rare thing, and Rose was enjoying every second of it.

The door opened and the Doctor walked in, going first to the teapot on the stove and pouring himself a cup. He sat down opposite Rose, draping his suit jacket across the back of his chair, undoing his shirt cuffs, and loosening his tie.

"You look comfortable," he smiled, taking a sip of his tea.

Rose was about to reply when she was suddenly struck by the odd normality of the scene. Just a regular couple, saying hello to each other over a cup of tea. Only, one of them was a nine hundred year old alien with two hearts, and they were having the cuppa inside a time-traveling spaceship.

She snorted into her tea, then began to laugh uncontrollably. "What?" he said, frowning at her, which only made her laugh harder. "What is it? What did I do? Have I got something on my face? Rose?"

When she could speak, she shared the joke and he laughed as well. As his chuckles subsided, she stood and poured them both another cup. "So," Rose asked, "what'd she say? Is she going to stick around?"

"Yep," he smiled.

She smiled back. "Good. I think I like her. So, we're going to find out who's behind this whole Time Agency thing?"

"Yep," he nodded.

"Does that mean we'll find out why Jack's memories were stolen?"

"Hopefully," he mused.

She paused, then asked the question she really wanted to ask. "Doctor, does that mean we can find Jack now? I mean…if we're investigating this whole Time Agency thing, doesn't that, I don't know…make us part of his events or something?"

He frowned in thought. "I don't know yet, Rose. He got locked into events in 200100 after what happened on Gamestation. He wasn't supposed to make it off that satellite alive, but…"

"But what? What happened? Every time you start to talk about it, you stop. I don't remember what happened after I came back for you, and it's driving me mad, Doctor."

He looked at her, weighing something in his mind. "We'll talk about it, Rose. I promise you, we'll talk about it soon. Just…not right now, okay?"

She wasn't about to let him get off that easily. "When?" she demanded.

"As soon as we can find Jack. I'll explain to you before we go after him, okay? I just can't do this right now, not after…not after what just happened on Sunisa. I don't think either of us can deal with it right now."

Rose reached across the kitchen table and took his hand in hers. "Okay," she nodded. "I trust you. It's just…I miss him, y'know? He was just so…so Jack."

He smiled. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

She ran her thumb across the back of his hand and smiled up at him. "Right, so where are we headed now?"

"Well," he sighed, "I thought we'd make a quick pit stop at Elluria."

Rose lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"

He grinned and laughed. "Yeah, but not for that. Though," he added, "I wouldn't argue against it." He stood, taking both their teacups to the sink. "The point of the excursion, though, is to give Neera a bit of a breather. I gathered from Inurid that a lot of people from all over the universe come to Elluria for a bit of healing, whether physical, mental, or spiritual."

Rose thought over what she'd seen of the Ellurians. "Doesn't surprise me."

"Besides," he added, opening a cupboard and taking something out, "I've got a gift for our hostess, Inurid. Remember how I promised her an exotic plant?"

"Yeah?" she looked at him as he sat down opposite her, cradling a large metal cylinder.

He pressed a button on the side of the cylinder and it parted, revealing what it contained. Rose gasped in awe as she took in the plant's golden beauty. "What is it?" she asked, reaching out a finger to touch it. The leaves turned silver where her fingers brushed it, then changed back to the molten honey color.

"It," he said, taking out the sonic screwdriver and holding it above the plant, "is one of Sunisa's most rare and beautiful treasures. It responds to all sorts of light spectra. Watch."

As he altered the frequency of light emitting from the sonic screwdriver, different color tones rippled across the flower's intricate petals. The leaves shifted from deep gold to red and back to gold, but the flower petals swirled in different combinations of color.

He lowered his hand and smiled at her reaction. "It doesn't have a proper name," he said, "but everyone calls it the desert rose."

She looked at him. "Oh, yeah?"

The Doctor nodded. "Yes. It's a symbol of peace, friendship," his eyes locked on hers, and he added, "and of love."

Her smile widened. "Desert rose, huh?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Good name."

He grinned at her, the warm tones of the plant reflected in his face. "I think so, too."

…………………………………………………………………………….

END