A/N: First of all, my sincerest apologies for the lateness of this chapter. To cut a short story even shorter, this is the last chapter, so I wanted to make sure it covered everything that was needed. It isn't perfect and could probably do with more work, but I won't get a shot at the computer for the next two weeks (exams, you know - bleargh), by which time it will be far too late. So, I've done my best and there we go. Wonderful thanks to all the people who have been following this so far, and all the reviewers, and generally people who make this site so enjoyable. I'm working on something else right now, but it probably won't make an appearance for a long while. Thanks for being so supportive everyone!
Chapter XI – Where to
The Doctor was pacing the living room with a hurried frenzy. Rose was asleep next door and he had only a few short minutes, if that, to make his decision. She hadn't been asleep for very long. The Doctor glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece: six hours and fourteen minutes. She had only been asleep for about four hours. What was he to do? He knew that what he had just seen, the cats and the raven, would be a clue to whatever was going on. The letters; the strange sights of stray cats; that apprehensive, worried feeling he always got in the pit of his stomach when something other worldly was going on. If he left, he would only be gone for a minute. And Rose was a good girl, she could fend for herself. He cast a last look at her bedroom door longingly. Why was he in such indecision about this?
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. Strange that the staff would be calling on him this early: even apes weren't stupid enough to serve breakfast at this hour. He crossed the room and pulled the door open assertively. It was quite surprising to find a piece of fabric lying on the floor in front of his room. The Doctor frowned and crouched down to it, his face knotted into a thoughtful frown. Now who on earth would leave this? It was a scarf by the looks of it, pink, and covered with sequins. Only, what was it doing out on the landing? Could it be another 'gift' from the mysterious letter writer?
Heaving a shrug, the Doctor reached out and took the scarf in between his fingers. His hearts skipped a beat as he was pulled in to an odd falling sensation. Pictures flashed before his eyes, but they felt more like memories... an alleyway... a man, the writer of the letters... Moreaux... leaving Rose behind... Getting captured... escape – The Doctor gasped when he recognised Avoria: how long had it been? – then there was pain as he realised she was Ebony... making it back to the present day... rushing to Moreaux... Rose's torture... Oh, God. Rose. His own little sweet Rose. The Doctor stumbled with the sheer weight and intensity of the emotion that overtook him, unbound tears forming in his eyes. His hearts felt as though they would rip themselves from his entire system. He panted, seeing yet more memories. A terrifying darkness chasing him through the streets... the safety of the TARDIS... and then finally, here, where he was now.
The Doctor opened his eyes, panting. He had stumbled back into the room and slammed the door and was now leaning against the sofa. His muscles ached, though he couldn't understand why. He gazed down at the scarf in his hands and realised that whatever he had just seen was something that might have happened. Did he... had he...? It was just too much to think about it. He licked his lips with apprehension and found them dry. His eyes stung with tears, but he sniffed them back. Rose wasn't dead. She was lying in the room next door. He hadn't lost her. But he knew, now, that he wouldn't leave her. He knew exactly who was behind everything that was going on, and he also knew exactly how to fix it. He shook his head, trying to make his thoughts of self-loathing disappear. The Doctor took in a breath, intent on steadying his breathing.
Slowly, he turned to look at the bedroom door where Rose lay sleeping. He wouldn't leave her, not now. She would be by his side of every second, and he would never let her out of his sight. But what if she wasn't behind the door, tucked up in bed? What if she was already gone, torn away from him? What if he couldn't protect her? He shuddered with the thoughts of his fear. But, slowly, he forced his way to her bedroom door and hovered outside it, bringing his knuckles up to knock at the wood. The hollow sound echoed around the room. He hoped she would forgive him for waking her.
He heard her groan from inside and opened the door.
"Wakey, wakey, rise and shine," he said softly with a grin, slipping inside the room.
"Doctor..." Rose groaned sleepily from under the covers. "I'm tired..."
It almost surprised him that she answered him. He couldn't help the grin that spread over his face as he walked over to the bed, crouched down on his haunches and peeled the covers away from her face.
There she was, looking back at him, with wide, tired eyes, bleary make up and frizzy hair. God she was beautiful. The Doctor couldn't stop himself. He reached out a hand to cup her cheek and then found himself pulling her towards him, crushing her to his chest in a desperate hug whilst he buried his head in her neck. Her scent, her breath, her hair... just her. He'd missed it all so much, despite the fact that in reality she had been here all along. She wrapped her arms around surprisedly him, which was quite difficult considering the angle he was sat at. Slowly he relaxed and let her pull back a little, before bringing his lips to her forehead in a desperate kiss, his eyes closed to keep out the tears and his breathing staggered.
"Doctor..." Rose mumbled, reaching a hand to his face. He pulled back and gazed at her, blinking slowly. His eyes were red with uncried tears.
"Oh, God, what's happened?" she asked, catching a glimpse of his expression and sitting herself up, letting the covers fall around her like a pool.
The Doctor cleared his throat with some embarrassment, letting his hands fall to his sides. He hauled himself up to sit beside her on the bed, but kept his gaze intently on the floor.
"Nothing," he replied a little heavily, not looking at her. "I just... missed you."
Rose frowned and let out a sigh; that wasn't like him at all.
"I've only been asleep for a few hours," she laughed half-heartedly. "How're you gonna cope when I fancy going home?"
His head snapped towards her, his eyes looking at her pleadingly, as if she'd just shot him.
"You wouldn't – " he began desperately, but Rose reached out and punched him playfully on the arm.
"Not like that," she grinned. "You know me better than that. Nah, I just meant when I wanted to pop home for a quick visit. I know how you feel about Mum and my 'domesticates'."
"Oh," he said quietly, and his voice sounded like he was ashamed. He turned his head back to the carpet. "Good."
Rose frowned again, with worry and confusion. "Doctor, what's wrong? You're acting like you've seen a ghost, or something."
"Maybe I have and maybe I haven't," he sighed, his shoulders shrugging. Then he looked back to her, his eyes sparkling. Rose couldn't read the expression on his face, but she knew it wasn't pleasant. "Rose, I want you to promise me something," the Doctor said slowly, reaching for her hands. She let him take them, enveloping her delicate fingers with his own. She looked at him gently.
The slight traces of a smile began in the corners of his mouth. "Promise me you won't let me leave you. Promise me you'll stay by my side, even when I tell you to go."
She frowned. "Doctor, I – "
His voice was so defiant that she knew she didn't have a choice.
"Yeah," she nodded, giving his hands a squeeze. "Yeah, I promise. 'Course."
He nodded and squeezed her hand back, his smile growing.
"Where's all this come from...?" Rose asked carefully, eying him with worry. What on earth had he done while she was asleep?
He shook his head and grinned at her manically, all traces of sincerity apparently vanished.
"You apes, always so inquisitive," he laughed, standing up from the bed and dropping her hands. "Come on. We've got some monsters to fight, so you'd better get dressed."
Rose looked down to the dress she had fallen asleep in, then pointedly back to the Doctor.
"I am dressed."
A pause as he looked at her, his eyebrow raised.
"Oh," he said, shrugging. "Okay then. Time to go."
He extended his hand, palm up. She didn't need any invitation other than that and accepted it in an instant, letting his strength pull her up from the bed and on to the floor beside him.
"Even half asleep, you're still more elegant than the rest of your species," he grinned proudly as he watched her ascent. She smiled at him sheepishly, before giving him a quick shove.
"Come on, then," she laughed. "Thought you said we had some monsters to find. I hope you didn't just wake me up for nothing."
The Doctor stumbled backwards and grinned. She had more strength than she looked, which was just as well. At least now he wouldn't lose her, and could put things right. He remembered, briefly, the scarf, which he'd stuffed into his pocket. As he led her out of the room and down the stairs, he promised that he would give it to Rose as a present, for being herself. As soon as they got out of this mess, however.
It was strange, Rose thought, watching the Doctor go through different emotions. He had been frustrated with the receptionist, Luc, for not handing over a letter the Doctor shouldn't know anything about – quite how he knew about it in the first place Rose didn't know, and he had been evasive when she'd asked – and had finally had to resort to threatening the poor man until he had handed it over. He later let slip that he didn't really need the letter, he just wanted to make sure he followed his actions exactly. Rose had questioned that, too, but again he'd been evasive.
Then he had suddenly become all protective and, if Rose would admit it, a little possessive, again outside the hotel, after he'd returned to the key to their room. He had held her by the shoulders and looked straight into her eyes, his blueness sparking like electricity. He'd made her swear to stay by him and let him protect her, no matter what. Rose had agreed somewhat sheepishly, wondering why he had changed moods so quickly.
Then he had caught her by the hand and for some reason the pair of them had run down the street into a little back alley, where he was now shouting pointlessly into the murky emptiness of it, his head craned against his neck as he looked up to the sky. There was something desperately angry in his voice.
"Moreaux, I know you can hear me and I know you're there, and I know that you're waiting until I leave the young woman here alone so you can capture and torture her to death. But I'm not letting her go, now way, no how, and if you don't show yourself right now, I am going to march to your house and personally destroy everything that ever meant any value to you. Starting with your Lady Rosaline!"
Rose tugged on the Doctor's hand gently, noticing his panting and his flashing eyes. He had become taken over by a rage she hadn't seen in a long time; not since the Dalek.
Reluctantly, he brought his head down to look at her.
"Sorry," he said softly, his eyes gazing at her. "Am I scaring you? I don't mean to scare you, it's just – "
"Doctor," Rose laughed quietly, shaking her head. "It's fine. Don't worry so much. I just don't see the point about yelling to an empty alleyway, yeah?"
He bit his bottom lip and turned his head back again, staring down the alley.
"It's not empty..." he said distantly, all too aware that Moreaux had laid a trap for him and was waiting until he could spring it. But the Doctor held all the aces now, and he just wanted to make sure that Rose was safe and that Moreaux got what was coming to him.
"Doctor," Rose said cautiously from his side, giving his hand a squeeze. He turned back to her immediately, with a soft smile on his face. "I know you're, like, an alien and you know all this stuff about galaxies and the universe, and all that... but last night you didn't have a clue what was going on and suddenly you're all yelling and running and confident. What's goin' on?"
He cleared his throat and then swallowed, his adam's apple quivering.
"I just... got a tip-off. That's all. A message."
"And this... 'message'," Rose replied, making the word 'message' sound rather intimidating in a husky voice. "It told you who's behind it all?"
"It told me a lot more than that," the Doctor muttered, walking past Rose and pulling her along behind him. "Come on. We're making a house call."
The Doctor hadn't let go of Rose's hands since he'd held it in the bedroom. If she were honest, her hand was becoming quite stiff now, as he had been squeezing quite tightly. She knew there was something he wasn't telling her and that there was some reason why he was keeping her close to him. Usually, she suspected, he would have gone off and done this on his own. He really was tricky to figure out; as soon as she thought she understood him, BANG, he came up with another way to startle her and keep her on her toes. Not that she really minded: it was quite nice to be the only one able – or at least partly able – to work him out. It added that extra 'oomph' to their friendship. Yes, that was it, she decided with a grin. He had the 'oomph factor', and it set him apart from every single one of her other friends. Or boyfriends. Not that the Doctor was her boyfriend, but she knew what she meant, and it was... Rose had managed to confuse herself more than she'd meant to, and her grin turned into a frown. It was only when she heard the Doctor chuckling at her side and realised that they'd stopped walking when she snapped herself out of her daydream.
"What?" she asked, with a small frown. He grinned at her, his blue eyes reflecting that of the morning's sky.
"Nothing," he beamed. "Just you. You're fantastic. You know that?"
Rose felt herself blushing, and bit her lips with a smile. "Yeah?" she asked bashfully, self consciously reaching to tuck her hair behind her ear. Her messy, unbrushed hair. That she hadn't looked at since last night. Oh God, she must look like a mess, she realised.
But the Doctor, uncaring in his gentle ways, gave her arm a tug, forcing her to step closer to him. "Yeah," he smiled, then bent towards her and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. What was with the forehead thing? Had he gone absolutely mad? He began walking again, down the narrow streets, and as Rose fell into step beside him, she questioned it.
She was amused to find that he blushed; or at the very least, his ears were tinged red. His face showed none of it, but Rose got the impression that he was more than embarrassed to be questioned about the way he treated her.
"Well, I dunno," he shrugged as they walked, the urgency in his step seemingly evaporated for now. "Thought that's what apes did."
Rose hid a smile. She was almost certain that that wasn't his reason, but she didn't push it. However, he ventured a further answer for her anyway as they walked, and she felt the grip on her hand tighten.
"Besides, you should know how special you are. Saves me having to remind you every time you ask."
Now it was Rose's turn to blush, though she grinned too. Something had definitely changed in the Doctor as she'd slept. It was almost as if he were a new man, unafraid to express how he felt about her. She couldn't help but feel slightly giddy at the thought that he cared about her so much; he had usually been vague and elusive in the past.
"Did you knock your head or something?" Rose grinned as they walked past an abandoned house.
"No," the Doctor replied, a small hint of hurt in his voice. "Why?"
"I dunno. You're just..." She trailed off, not being able to think of an appropriate word.
"Just what?" the Doctor persisted, leading her to the edge of a large square. He was somehow comforted to find that the TARDIS wasn't in it, remembering that he had left it there earlier. Or later, whenever it was. The fact that it wasn't there now showed that he was on a different timeline, right?
He wasn't about to let Rose get away with what she'd said now, even if he had only just got her back. Or hadn't lost her. Or wouldn't... he wasn't quite sure how he could remember something that hadn't happened yet and, by the looks of things, probably wouldn't happen, and it was beginning to give him a headache.
"Just... Different," Rose finished at last as they walked across the expansive square. There was a gorgeous statue in the centre of it and, as they walked past it, Rose felt herself strangely drawn to it. But the Doctor had taken to gazing up to the sky again, his eyes fixed on a black bird floating through the air towards the edge of the square and beyond.
"Come on," he said, forgetting their previous conversation and dragging Rose into a run beside him. "Time to put an end to all this."
Rose laughed as they ran across the square and up a wide, cobbled path.
"Don't think we've ever run towards the aliens before, Doctor," she laughed as their feet thudded on the ground. There were people setting up tables and stalls beside the way they were running, into what looked like a marketplace. The Doctor looked to Rose and grinned.
"If you think this is a surprise, you just wait until you see who's behind all this."
"You make it sound like some sort of terrible magic trick! How'd you know all this?"
"A magician never reveals his secret, Rose," he grinned back at her as they ran. His hearts were pumping again, with an energy he knew would aid them. The plan of escape was suddenly forming very clearly in his mind. Thanks to the information from that scarf – the origin of which he could guess but would never know – he knew exactly what to expect from both Moreaux and Ebony and also knew exactly how he would fix it. It was so good to have a plan.
"Rose, to cut a long story short, I won't have a lot of time to do what I need to do and I need your help," he explained as they ran.
"Whatever you need," Rose confirmed as they branched off from the cobbled path and across a flat lawn of grass, surrounded by a thick verge of trees.
"There'll be a man, quite tall, goes by the name Moreaux. There'll also be a woman, black hair and a really white face. Her name's Ebony. Rose, at all costs, I want you to promise me you'll stay away from her. Leave her to me. But as far as Moreaux goes, I need you to do something for me. He'll have a device, a small, copper capsule thing; I need you to lure him away from Ebony and get it from him, while I keep her busy. He'll think you're a woman – Lady Rosaline – and you need to pretend to be her until you get that capsule off of him. Understand? As soon as you've got it, do that wonderful disappearing trick you do and come and find me. I can tweak its settings with the sonic screwdriver and put an end to all of this once and for all. If everything goes right, this town should go back to the way it was before any of this happened. Moreaux won't remember a thing about Ebony and her knowledge and he'll go back to living his own, stupid, pathetic little life."
"R-right," Rose stuttered as they pulled up to the thick trees. The Doctor stopped running, as did she. He turned to look at her, his eyes intensely tracing hers.
"It's all very simple," he said softly. "Find Moreaux, find that capsule then come find me. If I'm lucky, I can rid this world – and an old friend of mine – of a power-hungry manic."
"Oh, the usual then?" Rose grinned, her heart racing. The Doctor smiled back. "Stupid, irrational, off-the-top-of-your head plan? High risk of failure? Death? Possible end to the world?"
"That's the one!" His hand tightened around hers as he looked at her softly, his grin suddenly falling away. "His house is just through these trees. Guess he wasn't clever enough to find an impenetrable base. Ready?"
Rose nodded and smiled. "As always."
"Good. Then let's go."
Moreaux was pacing the throne room impatiently. His plan set for the Doctor had failed, and he had no idea why or how. There was no way he could have known what was going on. Ebony was dealing her 'other half', so to speak, and had been less than impressed with his failure. She had made him swear that he would try again, and now he was trying desperately to come up with a new plan. Ebony had taken an instant interest in the Doctor; Moreaux got the feeling there was something going on between them that she wasn't telling him. There was a dot that wasn't being connected to the rest of the picture, and it was throwing the entire thing out of balance. What interest did he have with Rosaline anyway? She was perfectly content to be a part of his plan to rule France before, and suddenly she was almost a completely different person. Why had she betrayed him?
There was a loud crash from the foyer. Moreaux jumped and turned around, his eyes narrowing. He quickly sent the still guards around the room to investigate. After a moment or two there was another loud crash, and Moreaux had images of the table in the foyer being smashed. And then a loud, Northern voice rose up from nowhere.
"I had forgotten about the guards; you all right there Rose?"
The answer was strangled, as if she were fighting against one of the guards. Moreaux smiled; she had no chance.
"You – could – have – told – me," she panted, and this was then followed by another loud crash. Moreaux rushed out in time to see two people, the Doctor and what looked like Lady Rosaline, standing and panting, his guards nowhere to be seen.
"Where are the guards!" he demanded, surprised. The answer came from a slender woman who was descending the stairs with death in her eyes.
"Moreaux, you fool, it was a simple psychic brain pattern. No doubt the Doctor here adjusted it somehow, setting them free."
"That's right," he said happily stepping forwards and holding up his screwdriver triumphantly. He pointed to the front door, which was wide open. "Told them to run for their lives. Which I'd advise for you, too, but I don't think you'll listen."
Ebony let out a high, cold laugh.
"I don't know how you managed to make your way here, Doctor. But I assure you, no one can save you now." She turned on her heel to face Moreaux, her eyes narrowed. "Set the device how I told you. It should finish the Doctor nice and slowly as well as his tarty girlfriend."
"Oi!" Rose shouted, her eyes wide. "I am not tarty!"
She went to move for the woman on the stairs, but found that she couldn't. Her limbs wouldn't move. It was as if some sort of invisible glue had stuck her to the floor and she had no control. Moreaux, she realised, had revealed the capsule thing that the Doctor had been talking about. So much for his brilliant plan.
The Doctor didn't need his intelligence to tell him that Rose had been affected by Ebony's psychic control, and was thankful for the fact that his brain wavelength was different to hers. She couldn't hold both of them, he was sure. But he didn't have to time to release Rose as Moreaux was already fiddling with the various dials on the capsule that would surely kill him.
He grabbed for his sonic screwdriver and made a dive for Moreaux, wrestling the rounded capsule out of his hands desperately as he kept him to the floor. Moreaux shouted in anger, but the Doctor was fast and held his sonic screwdriver to the device as it kicked in to action. The capsule began to beep loudly and incessantly, its lights flashing hurriedly red, then blue, then red again.
He felt a cold hand on his shoulder as he looked up into the snarling face of Ebony, her features twisted into that of hate. She grabbed at him, making a desperate attempt to take the capsule and work it herself. Rose was stood helpless, being able to do nothing but watch as the Doctor wrestled against the two figures who were trying for the metal pod.
"Rose, shut your eyes!" she heard the Doctor shout desperately. She did so and, as soon as she had, the Doctor activated the switch for the device and prayed that he had set it right.
Rose kept her eyes shut as a blinding, white light filled the room. She felt a white hot pain burn through her with the intensity of an iron poker, and then a mass of writhing screams. She couldn't tell if the screams were coming from her, or from anyone else, but all she knew was that she had to keep her eyes shut. And then everything went dark, and quiet, and she sank to the floor.
Rose was flying. She was lighter than air and floated through a serene red sky, her heart fluttering at the height she was at. Spread out below her was a beautiful world, quiet in the early morning. She smiled to herself, happy to feel this free. And then, suddenly, she stopped gliding and was falling, down and down, the ground rushing to meet her in a new splash of colour.
She opened her eyes with an intake of breath, feeling herself shake awake as she landed. The bright, white lights of the medical lab in the TARDIS greeted her, as did a warm hand on hers. She blinked and turned to see the Doctor standing beside her.
"Didn't think you'd be out for that long," he admitted a little guiltily, stroking her hand reassuringly with his thumb. "How are you feeling?"
She sat up, her head pounding with a headache that split itself right across her temples.
"Okay, I think. What happened? Where's that man and that woman? Who was screaming?"
The Doctor chuckled, before helping her on to the floor.
"Everything's all right," he said, gazing at her. Then he opened his arms and pulled her into a hug. "I know it's all been a bit much. And I can't really explain, either, so you're just going to have to trust me."
She pulled back and smiled at him. "I think I can do that."
"Good!" he beamed, taking her hand. "Now, there's someone I want you to meet. She's an old friend of mine: haven't seen her in years."
"Who is she?" Rose questioned as they stepped out of the med lab and down the corridors of the TARDIS to the control room.
"Her name's Avoria. I saved her planet a long time ago."
Rose walked into the consol room and almost gaped at the beautiful woman standing shyly towards the middle of it. Her auburn hair was cut finely around her smooth, kind features, and her eyes danced back at her as if they had fires burning in them.
"Hello," Rose greeted with a grin, and stepped forward to her. "I'm Rose."
Avoria's eyes flicked to the Doctor before she answered. "Yes, I know. The Doctor has told me about you."
"Has he, now?" she asked, turning back to look at him with a pleased grin on her face. "Well, I wouldn't listen to him. He thinks I'm just a stupid ape."
Rose laughed, but stopped when Avoria didn't. Her eyes glittered on her slowly, and her voice was entirely serious.
"I assure you, that is not what he thinks. In fact – "
"Well, this is cosy," the Doctor interrupted loudly, walking towards the pair. But behind his grin, Avoria could see that he didn't want to talk about what she was about to bring up. "I guess I don't have to wonder if you two would get on."
Rose smiled between both of them before she noticed their gazes locking for a moment and then the Doctor looking away. She hid her discomforted frown. Instead, she touched Avoria on the arm and led her to a sofa, positioned towards the outside of the TARDIS' consol room.
"I don't mean to be rude," she said slowly as they sat, taking in the beauty of the woman the Doctor was obviously fond of. "But who are you?"
Avoria laughed, light and pleasant. She looked up to the Doctor with fondness. "Nice to you know you have been talking about me," she teased kindly. The Doctor offered her a smile, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. She turned back to Rose.
"I am Avoria. The Doctor and I met, many many years ago, on my home planet of Lithereal. He saved me and my people from... a threat. Without boring you with the minor details, he helped me confront a part of myself who wished to hurt others and cause pain, as well as saving our planet from certain destruction. We have him to thank for our lives."
Avoria looked to the Doctor fondly, who had began to tap at the controls needlessly, before going on with her story
"I was tricked in to coming to Earth, and that part of me threatened to do great harm. She would have managed too, were it not for the Doctor and his clever work with the Terathon."
"That's the... capsule thing that the Doctor wanted, yeah?"
"She's clever!" Avoria laughed, her voice kind. The Doctor looked up from his controls and let a fond smile fall on his face as he looked at Rose.
"Yeah, she is," he replied, his eyes on her. Rose felt herself blushing and looked away.
"Well, to cut a long story short: the Terathon is made to destroy beings who deal with time. Dangerous in the wrong hands, as it very nearly was. But the Doctor set it carefully to kill only those on a certain frequency of wavelength. When he activated it Ebony was destroyed, leaving only myself in her place."
Rose's eyes widened. "You mean, you're Ebony? You were the one who...?"
"Not quite, Rose," the Doctor piped up, heaving a sigh and watching the pair of them. "It wouldn't be fair to blame Avoria for what's happened. Two people in one body, I guess, though it's a little more complex than that. She had no control over Ebony's actions."
"Right," Rose said slowly, looking between the Doctor and Avoria. "So Ebony's the one behind it all, then? And now she's gone?"
The Doctor nodded with a grin.
"Moreaux, and everyone else affected by Ebony's work, won't remember a thing. Time will have continued as if she had never found her way to the planet in the first place, and they'll all go back to their mundane little lives while we get to roam the universe."
"Sounds about right," Rose sighed cheerfully. She wondered, idly, about the Doctor's implied 'we', but Avoria answered before she could ask.
"I shall be getting back to my own planet. It has been such a long time... I wonder, will they welcome me?"
"They'd better," the Doctor replied, almost darkly. "I didn't just rescue you from Earth to have you torn to shreds by revengeful relatives. D'you want me to escort you back? I'm living proof that Ebony doesn't control you any more."
Avoria smiled, shook her head and stood, her deep eyes on the Doctor. Rose cleared her throat and stayed sitting, somehow aware of being very much the third person. She turned her head to stare defiantly at the TARDIS wall while the Doctor took Avoria gently by the arm and led her to the door. She tried her best not to eavesdrop, but somehow their words found themselves to her nonetheless.
"I suppose this'll be something of a shock, then?" the Doctor asked and out of the corner of her eye, Rose saw him take her hand. She fought down the wave of jealously that rose spontaneously within her; she had no right to be jealous, after all.
"That depends. When did you bring me back?"
"If my timing's right, probably about two minutes after you..."
There was a pause, and Avoria studied him carefully.
"...Left?" she offered after a while. The Doctor pulled his manic grin.
"You could call it that." He let his eyes roam the face of the woman in front of him, the woman he had saved more than once in more than one way. He cast a small glance over to Rose, who was still sat on the sofa, and smiled shyly. "You know, if things were different, I would – "
"You don't need to explain, Doctor," Avoria cut across with a wise smile, before he said too much. "I had my chance, and I had my time. You know the path I chose all too well, though I won't say I would choose the same given that choice again. Our lives are what we make them, and I have learned to accept that. And now it's time for you, as well."
The Doctor gave her a frown and watched, confused, as Avoria slipped her hand out of his and walked back over to Rose. She jumped when Avoria touched her on the shoulder, then smiled and stood. She didn't complain as she was led by the hand over to where the Doctor was standing.
Avoria stood for a moment, between the two, her back to the TARDIS door, her eyes forward on the pair. Then, carefully, she reached for Rose's hand and the Doctor's, then touched them together, where they stayed held after she let go. She looked at each of them pointedly.
"You will have learned, Doctor, not to take anything for granted. Whatever choices you make will have consequences, as will the choices you do not."
The Doctor's hand tightened on Rose's, who squeezed back, but he was still looking with a frown to Avoria. Why did he get the feeling the Seer knew more than she was letting on? She smiled at him and gave him a small bow of the head. Then, she stepped towards him and spoke quietly in his ear.
"Be sure not to spend too much time learning the moves of the dance; it is not where you have stepped, or where you will step that it is important. What matters is the companion in your arms as you lead them."
She stepped back, her eyes sparkling with wonder. The Doctor's eyebrows rose and he cast a quick glance to down to his and Rose's hands before speaking.
"You had a peek at my future, didn't you?" he asked almost accusingly, though there was humour in his voice. A smile twitched at the corner of Avoria's mouth.
"I just see the paths that have been taken and the paths that are yet to be walked. It is you who chooses where to put your feet; I am merely advising you as to what is better suited to your shoes."
With that, she raised an eyebrow and turned towards the doors. She opened them with a wonderful grace, and a glorious, white light bathed the TARDIS consol room. Rose had to squint and put a hand up to shield her eyes from the light. Avoria bade them a last farewell, then disappeared into the hazy light and out of the TARDIS doors. Of their own accord, the doors swung shut, leaving Rose and the Doctor alone.
He cleared his throat and turned to look at her, a wonderful grin on his face.
"Seers, they're called. Wonderful people; but they don't half give you a headache with all their metaphors. Sometimes I wonder if they even know what they're talking about."
Rose burst out laughing, her laughter spreading through her like thick, golden honey. "Now you know how I feel," she teased, knocking herself against the Doctor's shoulder good-naturedly. "And what was she on about with all that 'dancing' and 'path' stuff?"
"Beats me," the Doctor shrugged, stepping over to the controls. Rose followed, her hand still in his. "I think she thought she was giving me advice."
"Seems to me like she was speaking a load of rubbish."
"Probably. But I think I know what she was getting at."
"Yeah?" Rose asked, hardly daring to hope. She wasn't entirely stupid: there had definitely been something to do with her and the Doctor in everything Avoria had said.
"Yup!" the Doctor confirmed with a boyish grin. He let his eyes fall on Rose for a minute and their gazes locked, the entire of the universe falling away around them. Then, suddenly, he blinked and frowned, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. "Oh, and, I got you this. Just a small thing from one of the stalls in the marketplace."
From out of his pocket, he pulled the pink scarf, decorated with sequins. Rose nearly gasped when she saw it, and pulled her hand out of the Doctor's to hold it.
"It's beautiful," she said with wonder, her eyes roaming the soft material. The Doctor took in her pleased face and was satisfied.
"Hand made," he added, with a grin. Rose looked up to him with a small smile. "Yup, sewn by the hands of a blind French woman who only had the tiniest bit of silk left. She worked for three days on that, I hope you know, working her fingers to the bone. She poured her heart and soul into that little piece of fabric, which you so easily wrap around you neck."
Rose caught his eye and snorted as she lifted the scarf up behind her neck and let it rest on her shoulders.
"You," she said affectionately, reaching for his hand again, "Are so full of it. D'you know that?"
"Only 'cause you tell me so every time I say something," the Doctor replied with a mock pout, letting their fingers link freely together. Their eyes caught each other like two lonely souls on separate horizons, bound together by impossible means.
The Doctor reached up a hand to Rose's cheek, his thumb caressing her smooth skin. He leant forwards and, for the final time that day, let his lips brush tenderly against Rose's forehead. She smiled. And then, before she could stop herself, before the words had even entered her brain, let alone her mouth, she heard herself say,
"One of these days, I'm gonna have to tell you where my mouth is."
The Doctor stood back a little, his hand dropping from her cheek, but his face was hiding such a laugh that Rose felt herself feeling it too, despite the blush that had risen to flood her cheeks.
"One day it is, then," he grinned, surprised by how easy he felt with his Rose. He looked up at the roof of the TARDIS and let out a heavy sigh, swinging their arms as he began to circle the controls excitedly. The grip on his hand tightened and he found himself looking at her again, his eyes shining with warmth.
"So," he said at length, echoing the words he had spoken which had led them on their adventure, "Where to now?"