Disclaimer: I own neither Doctor Who nor David Tennant, and Sophia Myles is getting very impatient with my offers of a threesome. I pout like a Ten over this.
The Smell of Safety
Rose hadn't planned to go down to the wardrobe. She'd been wandering the TARDIS, thinking about the change in the Doctor, and had somehow found it where she hadn't expected to. That's the TARDIS--you never quite know where you're going to get until you get there.
She didn't expect to be here, but she is, and she finds herself drawn into the racks of clothing, only half-conscious of the fact that she's looking for one particular item. As generally happens in the wardrobe, the item quickly presents itself: a battered black leather coat. She reaches out to touch it, a lump rising in her throat.
Come on, it's still him, she thinks. Just new clothes. Right?
Not quite knowing why, she pulls the coat a little closer and presses her nose to it, drawing in the scent.
There, that's it. Leather, a touch of wool, and a slightly metallic tang, like (blood) the TARDIS herself. Tears prick her eyes, and she can't even say why.
"I always knew you had a thing for that coat," says a voice she's only now getting used to.
Blinking and flushing, she pulls away, pasting on a smile. "I-I was just walking and ended up here." She realizes she's still holding onto the jacket and lets it go.
The Doctor walks over and contemplates the coat for a moment, leaving her to contemplate him. Slimmer, perhaps a touch shorter, thick brown hair, brown eyes--it would be hard for him to look less like his former self. He's cute now, the kind of cute that would have Rose checking him out if she saw him in the street or a pub.
But she liked his old face. She was accustomed to it.
"So, tell me, Rose Tyler," says the Doctor suddenly (and not in a Northern accent). "Why are you in here fondling and sniffing my old jacket?"
She flushes deeper still and backs away, not looking at him. "No reason. It's--I'm just being silly, is all."
"Rose." She looks up. He doesn't look offended or teasing. A little sad, perhaps. "It is still me."
"I know, I know," she says. "I understand that in my head, it's just . . ." She presses her lips together for a moment before plunging on. "Whenever I smelled that coat, whenever you'd hug me, it meant I was safe. Even if it was just for a moment, I was safe."
"Sense memory," he says briskly. "It's understandable. You associate a particular scent with an emotion. It's not something you can just turn off."
"Yeah, that's it," she says. "I was just used to the old you. Humans don't exactly do the same thing, so I guess it'll just take getting used to."
He looks thoughtful. "That's not exactly true, you know, the part about humans. Come over here and have a seat."
Improbably, there's a sofa off to one side. Rose grins and shakes her head. The TARDIS does like making her points, doesn't she?
"It occurs to me that we haven't really talked about this, you know. Regeneration. What it means." He lets her sit first, and then he sits beside her. "It's almost, though not exactly, analogous to the way you humans grow and change."
"Not followin' you," she says, confused.
He runs a hand through his hair and then stops and eyes his hand almost suspiciously, as if he's not used to that particular sensation yet. "Hmm, let's see--do you remember being fifteen?"
" 'Course I do."
"Are you the same person now that you were then?"
"Oh, God, I'd better not be!" Rose laughs. "You wouldn't believe what a little drama queen I was then, an' I was going out with this absolute--" She shudders.
"So you have changed, physically and mentally, in the past five years," says the Doctor. "Granted, the change wasn't as sudden as mine, but you have changed."
" 'S called growing up," says Rose. "Don't you do that?"
"It's more complicated for us Time Lords. We grow up somewhat similarly to you humans, even grow old, but it takes centuries. After a while, one simply stops changing." He looks to see if she's following him now, which she is. "When we regenerate, everything gets tossed about and shaken. Different personality traits come to the fore, you see. It's all a bit dependent on one's previous life or lives, how and why one dies, and even to a degree what sort of mood one is in upon regeneration. That would certainly go a long way toward explaining a bit of my persistent bad mood last incarnation. Hard regeneration, going into that life. Much worse than this one."
Rose blinks at him. "You were in a coma." He nods. "Last time was really worse?"
He looks at her, and there's a bleakness to his eyes that she finds all too familiar. "I regenerated in the wake of the Time War, Rose. I hadn't expected or wanted it."
Unconsciously, she reaches out and places a hand on his arm as the realization hits her. "There wasn't anyone to help you through it?"
He shakes his head. "No. I was alone."
"I'm so sorry," she says through a tight throat. "I can't imagine what it must've been like for you."
"Rose, it was a lifetime ago, quite literally," he says gently.
She looks at him, into his newly-brown eyes. "There's just so much I never knew about you--that I still don't know. How many times have you done this?"
He brightens a little. "Want to see my former incarnations?"
It makes her smile a little, and she is terribly curious. "Sure. How?"
He aims his sonic screwdriver into the wardrobe, and the racks shuffle around, letting a mirror through. She's about to ask him about it when the mirror suddenly changes its mind about reflecting and becomes a viewscreen. The viewscreen shows her an old, old man.
She blinks. "That's not--is that you? Was that you?"
"Near the end of my first incarnation, yes," says the Doctor. "I actually died of old age in that body. Good, long life it was." He cues the viewscreen again, and this time, a middle-aged man with thick black hair appears. "This is my second incarnation. I could play the recorder then. Maybe I still can." A third face and body appears, this one with curly white hair and a truly atrocious velvet jacket. Rose giggles. "What?"
"Your fashion statement there could use a bit of help," she says.
He looks vaguely insulted for a second, but then shrugs as if he can't bring himself to disagree. "My tastes do change. Sometimes I like kippers, sometimes I don't. Haven't tried them this lifetime." Another incarnation appears, this one with a poof of curly brown hair atop his head. He's wearing an oversized coat and an ugly, though comfy-looking, scarf. "Fourth incarnation. This was another of my longer lives, actually. I had lots of fun." He grins. "More than a few spots of bother, too, of course."
"Of course," says Rose. It's odd; this isn't getting any less bizarre, but she's growing more comfortable with it.
A new image appears, this one quite a bit younger than the previous ones. "This was rather nice," says the Doctor. "Younger body, not so many aches and pains. It was the only time I was a blond in all my lives. Don't you think I was fetching?"
Rose laughs again. "Not a bad face, though the hair could have used some help, and those clothes! Were you an obsessive cricket fan or something?"
The Doctor throws her a dirty look. "I'll have you know that when I got that suit, it was very fashionable." Rose snickers, and the Doctor changes the view again. This time, his hair is curly and light brown again, and his outfit is, again, rather loud. "Sixth incarnation," says the Doctor, as if daring her to criticize his fashion statement. Rose holds her tongue, though her nose twitches a bit. After a moment, the Doctor cues the mirror/viewscreen again. "Seventh incarnation. I liked that brolly."
"You looked a bit shifty," says Rose.
The Doctor winks. "You have no idea. Eighth incarnation!" The image changes to that of an aristocratically handsome man in more-or-less Edwardian clothing.
"Attractive," says Rose.
"I always thought so. I loved the hair."
"It's good hair."
"Took great pride in it. And now for my ninth incarnation." The Doctor cues the viewscreen--and Rose sees the man she still thinks of as her Doctor.
This time, the Doctor says nothing, but lets her look. And she does, recognizing just how different this incarnation looks as compared to the previous ones, or even his subsequent one. The color is all but gone from his wardrobe, the sometimes-outrageous fashions stripped down to three pieces, the head almost shaved. He looks raw in comparison to the others.
Like a soldier after a war, she thinks.
She looks at his new incarnation, his tenth, as she knows now; and she looks back at his ninth incarnation. "So different from the others," she murmurs.
"It was." The Doctor sighs. "It was different. Mind you, I was almost constantly in trouble with the other Time Lords. They thought I did everything wrong, and I thought they were far too hidebound with all their rules. Afraid to get involved, to get messy. Life's just no fun that way, and really, it's no way to protect the universe. If you don't get into it and meet the people, you never quite know what you're protecting, now, do you?" He stops. "I'm terribly off-track here. What was I trying to say? Oh, yes--I never got along with a good many of the other Time Lords, but when it came down to it, one can't throw out one's heritage. In the last great Time War, even some I thought of as enemies came to fight alongside me." He looks down. "You know the outcome, of course. No matter how I got along, or didn't, with the leaders of my people, to lose them all . . . and it wasn't just the Time Lords. It was all of Gallifrey."
"Gallifrey?" repeats Rose.
He looks at her, a bit startled. "Yes. Oh, I never told you that, did I? Gallifrey was my home planet."
"Gallifrey," she says once more. "'S a lovely name."
"It was a lovely world," says the Doctor, and his eyes hold an all-too-familiar sadness. "You'd have liked it. The sky was the color of tangerines."
She smiles a little, though feeling his sadness. "So the planet was Gallifrey, and the people were the Time Lords?"
"Well, no, not exactly," he says. "Not all Gallifreyans were Time Lords, though all Time Lords were Gallifreyan. Sort of like all English are British, but not all British are English. But the planet herself, with all Gallifreyans and not just the Time Lords, was wiped from space and time. I can never go back, because from our perspective here on the other side of the Time War, it never existed."
"You never told me any of this before," she says, a little shaken.
"I couldn't." Simple declaration of fact. "It was too much for me to talk about in my last life, and there's still a great deal I'm not telling you now."
She lays a hand on his shoulder. "I wish I could help, somehow."
He turns that intense gaze she knows so well on her. "But you do, Rose. Don't you see? What I am now has been influenced by everything I've experienced, and by everyone I've known. You're in here. I ended my last life in peace because of you."
"But I don't even know what I--"
He cuts off her protest. "It's immaterial. The fact that you cared enough and were determined enough to find a way back, no matter the risk to yourself--that's extraordinary, Rose. And just what my grumpy old self needed."
Rose presses her lips together. She's asked a few times about what happened on Satellite Five, but every time, the Doctor has rerouted the conversation and distracted her in such a way that it's only later that she realizes he never answered. She still wants to know, but she's afraid of what he might tell her, so she doesn't try to pin him down. Not yet.
She asks him a different question instead. "Why didn't you tell me about regeneration before? It would've saved me some worry."
He scratches the back of his neck. "Old habits die hard. It's not something any Time Lord discussed with outsiders. Besides, you might have asked me questions I wasn't prepared to answer."
She thinks about it for a moment. "Like, if you could regenerate, why couldn't the rest of your people?"
"Exactly that," he says. "There's very little that can kill a Time Lord completely. The Daleks had the knack, of course."
"How'd you survive?" she asks hesitantly.
For a long moment, he says nothing. Finally, he says, "Don't ask me for specifics, but understand that I was in something of a different position than the rest of the Time Lords when the Daleks and Gallifrey burned. I was the linchpin in a desperate last plan. It . . . worked." He goes silent for a moment, eyes haunted. "I thought I would die with the rest of my people, but the universe isn't that kind. It decided it still needed a Time Lord, so here I am."
Rose swallows a lump in her throat and brushes away a little moisture at the corners of her eyes. "I'm glad you're here," she finally says.
"I'm glad I got a chance to know you, Rose Tyler," he says, and smiles a little. "You know what?"
"I think in my next life, I'd like to be a girl," he says, changing mood with familiar swiftness. "Some Time Lords--and Time Ladies--swapped gender during regeneration. I always wondered what it'd feel like. I've never been ginger, and I've never been a bird."
Rose can't help but laugh. "Maybe in your next life, you'll be a ginger girl."
"Oh, I'd like that," he says.
On impulse, she reaches out and touches his face, running her thumb along his cheekbone. "You have freckles. They're very cute."
"Last life, I'd have bristled at the idea of being cute," he says. "This life, I must say I'm quite chuffed."
She shakes her head. "I think I'm starting to get it."
"You're the same, but you're different," she says. "I think I'm finally starting to figure out what that means."
"Rose Tyler," he says with great affection, and she's heard her name spoken like that before, exactly like that, but with a Northern accent. He picks up her hand from where it's lying on her leg. "To think of where you came from, clinging to the skin of that tiny planet. If we let go . . ." He drops her hand.
"If we let go," she says, grabbing his hand and tugging on it playfully, "that's when the fun starts."
He grins hugely. "Finally figured that out, did you?"
"Took me a while," she says. "You remember that whole speech you gave me?"
"I remember everything," he says, and presses a button on his sonic screwdriver. "Including how to dance." The room fills with the sounds of Glenn Miller. He stands up and offers her his hand. "Care to dance with me, Miss Tyler?"
She takes his hand, returning his smile. It falters a little as she realizes this is the song she danced to with Jack, standing on an invisible spaceship in front of Big Ben.
"He'd want us to dance," says the Doctor, understanding her expression.
"He'd want to dance with us," she says in return, a fond smile on her lips.
"That he would." The Doctor waggles his eyebrows, and Rose giggles.
She comes closer, wrapping one arm over his shoulder as they move into a slow step. He sets his hand on her lower back, moving closer still, until she's resting her head on his shoulder.
She breathes in. Linen and wool, clean, starched fabric, with just a hint of . . . Darjeeling?
"You smell like tea," she murmurs, amused.
"Wonderful stuff, tea," he says.
She rests her head on his shoulder again. Slimmer, brown-eyed, different in so many ways, but he's still her Doctor. He still smells like safety.