A tall figure, dressed in a brown, pin-striped suit under a trench coat, stepped out of the strange blue box occupying the far corner of the quiet alley. Looking skyward he breathed deeply, and grinned cheerfully in answer to the warm sun shining upon his face.
Turning back to the old-fashioned police box, he pulled the door closed, locked it with a twist of the key, then flipped the key into the air, watching the spinning metal catch and reflect the mid-day's light. He snatched it on the downward arc, slipping it casually into an outer pocket, while fondly stroking the smooth, wooden paneled box.
With a last friendly pat to his wonderful time machine, he began humming a bright tune, practically skipped from the alley, and found himself swept up into the busy afternoon's crowds.
Glancing briefly into each store-front window he passed, noting his boyish reflection gazing back, he at last stopped to tame a few wild strands of hair. Pleased with the results, he gave himself a wink and a crooked grin, stepping off once again and continuing on.
He strode purposefully with a slightly cocky swagger, exaggerated by the dark leather jacket he wore, hanging from his broad shoulders. His gaze darted over the shop signs he walked under until coming to rest on the particular one he sought. Folks hastily stepped out of his path, upon seeing the mask of hardened resolution, yet if one were to observe more closely, his steel-blue eyes betrayed the enthusiastic joy he was feeling.
Pushing open the intended door, he was met with a wave of cool air escaping the confines of the room, and an electronic noise as he stepped across the threshold into the dim interior.
His eyes took a moment to adjust to the lack of lighting, as the last vestiges of sunlight were slowly pushed out and hidden once more behind the tinted glass.
His eyes swept over the sales display case, stretching the length of the wall, and filled with an assortment of floral arrangements, then back to the teenage girl that had greeted him, standing with her hands folded and resting in front of her green apron.
"May I be of assistance?"
"Quite possibly," he let his eyes roam again; still not finding what he was searching for, and then turned and suddenly asked, "do you have any roses?"
She nodded politely, and lead him through a small maze composed of a variety of plants.
"Not just any roses, mind you. I'm more in the market for something genuinely special, out of the ordinary, exquisite." He paused, remembering a blond, as the shop girl came to a halt just outside a curtained doorway.
"Through here," she indicated the see-through vinyl slats, "is where we keep our selection of roses." The doorbell sounded, as he caught up to her. "You're welcome to browse, and I'll return shortly." He dipped his head in acknowledgment, as she skirted around him, walking back to the front of the shop. He parted the slat and stepped inside, feeling a familiar tingle in his head.
Rocking back and forth in his red trainers, hands thrust deeply into his pockets, the Doctor gave her an endearing smile that reached his eyes.
"Ahhhh, there you are. Glad to see someone about." Opening her mouth to apologize, he continued on. "Wonderful looking specimens these, reminds me of the outdoor market on Tanis Six."
There was something familiar in the air. Bending close to a Chrysanthemum, he buried his nose in the flower, inhaling deeply, and peered at the girl over the rows of slim orange petals. Slight warmth crept up his cheeks, seeing her expression to his behavior, and he stood abruptly, licking his lips.
Taking a step backwards, her eyes grew round as saucers, and a small gasp escaped when she bumped into the wall behind her.
Fumbling inside his coat hastily, he tried reassuring her. "No wait. Right, I've got," he pulled out a slim black wallet, and held it out to her, opened. "See? Everything's good, just a bit of research, in the name of science, really." He implored.
"You're a Doctor of Botany?" She stammered, not exactly sure what that was.
"Yes! Right. That's me. I'm the Doctor." He pulled the psychic paper back and offered his other hand. "And you are Miss--"
"Annie. Just call me Annie." She straightened up, feeling a bit foolish herself, taking his hand for a moment.
"Annie. A lovely name Annie, and," he turned, as if expecting someone else, then continued his close scrutiny of the other floral arrangements, "the Tanis Six market, quite a distance from here, southeastern Asia," spelled Aeshuh, sounded close to the same, "is actually quite beautiful in the spring," Again, failing to elaborate that 'spring' was an occurrence every seventeen or so earth years. "when the new varieties are introduced."
She still eyed him with skepticism.
"Have you ever been?" He asked curiously, "I'd highly recommend, if you're up for a bit of a travel." He beamed at her, and she responded with he's-quite-possibly-a-harmless-eccentric-and-if-I-smile-he-may-leave-more-quickly look.
Nearing the end of the display cabinet he stated, "You don't seem to have a very large selection of roses." as he picked up and replaced a thin glass vase with a single yellow rosebud.
Oh, she had completely forgotten about the gentleman in the other room.
"Right this way." She headed quickly to the doorway thinking; at least the first customer had seemed sane.
A few steps from the partition, once again the door announced mundanely, another customer was entering the shop. Pivoting, and unaware the Doctor was so close, she smacked into the startled man, finding herself firmly pressed up against his chest.
Yes, there was something familiar he thought.
"Eep!" squeaked the Doctor extricating himself, and quick as lightning, side-stepped and twisted, mimicking a hold-up victim with arms raised. "Sorry. Didn't see the abrupt stop coming."
He knew that smell. It was--
"S'ok." She waved it off, her crimson face and flustered movements saying otherwise.
"Lovely smell." A hint of vanilla and jasmine.
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Well, you smell good. That smell, I mean--" The Doctor waved his fingers at something only he saw in the air.
Rose's shampoo. That was it! He sniffed again.
"OH! No! Not, I meant the shop, the shop smells wonderful..nice. Nice, and you are standing in the shop--" There was an awkward pause.
"Roses?" He asked timidly, and then followed her pointing finger as she barely avoided tripping, in her haste to put distance between herself and this apparent nutter.
Running a hand across his face, he pinched the bridge of his nose. Focus, focus. He was here to find a rose. The perfect rose, to present to her, his Rose. He was impatient. After all, what if he ran out of time, again? No, don't think about that. Roses, yes, roses for Rose.
The Doctor brightened and pushed through the doorway. His face changing from blissful delight, to doubt, to incredulity in mere seconds.
He stammered, eyes widening in disbelief. Brow furrowing in puzzlement, "What?" He asked again, as he stood looking at himself.
"You gonna stand there gaping like a fish out of water?" The other chided.
Closing his mouth, his hand reflexively began rubbing the back of his neck, and looked on, perplexed.
"And before you ask," the man with short-cropped hair interrupted his thoughts, "yes, I already checked Tanis Six. Crops decimated by Grodock Beetles. This was the last of the shipment." He swung his arm in an expansive arc, taking in the entire room.
The Doctor nodded, slipping on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and seemed to regain his composure. "Best get to it, eh? Extra eyes make the job go faster. Or was that hands?" He shrugged, not really caring. "Humans have so many different sayings."
Nine went back to his careful perusal of the roses that he knelt in front of, letting his future self witter on, while he ignored him.
Several minutes passed before he noticed the only sound he was hearing, was the hum of the cooling fans. Glancing over at his counterpart, he watched as the mop of thick hair bent low to a flower; bury his nose in the center while rubbing a petal between his finger and thumb, then swipe the thumb over the tip of his tongue.
"Safely assume that it doesn't taste like chicken?" Nine turned his back; failing to see the put-out look Ten shot his way.
Drawing himself to his full height, he peered over his glasses at the crouching individual. "Analysis of the components to ensure non-toxicity to certain species. One human, in particular."
A derisive snort and the waving of a blue-tipped, silver cylinder answered him. "Also, it leaves no after-taste." He sniped back, and then muttered. "Keep looking."
The sound of plastic snapping back, marked the entrance of Annie and another customer.
The new arrival's jumble of curly hair, trying to escape from under the wide-brimmed hat, and a ridiculously long, colourful scarf, draped around his neck, lightly brushing the tips of his boots, usually caused a few stares, but this time only warranted quick glances from the other occupants.
Annie's voice was quiet. "Here is the specimen you were asking about."
Leaning forward, the stranger nodded vigorously.
"Yes! Splendid, that will do nicely. I'll take it, please." He stepped back, looping the scarf around once more, and allowing Annie to retrieve the rose.
Smiling brightly at the other two, he brought out a small paper bag from under his coat, popped a confection into his mouth and held out the crumpled container.
Ten zealously pounced on the proffered bag, grasping a handful of the tiny sweets. "Don't mind if I do. Haven't had one of these babies in years." He eagerly bit one in half, relishing the sugary taste. "Mmmph, yellow, my favorite."
Nine rolled his eyes at not only the bad pun, but the childish actions he was forced to witness.
Turning his attention to the newcomer, "Why are you here?" he asked, emphasizing the "you."
Smiling widely, and ever-so-gently accepting the rose in its prismatic bowl from Annie, his eyes met the steel-blue of Nine's accusing glare, steadfast stance with folded arms, and melting glare.
"I do believe, dear boy, I'm picking a rose, for Rose." Doffing his hat towards Ten, he then lightly directed Annie by the elbow, out of the room, towards the register.
Nine turned his hard gaze onto Ten. "You invited him." It was a statement.
Ten swallowed another of his treats, and attempted to look sheepish and chagrined at the same time.
"Who else would I ask? He's traveled between alternate universes quite recently, so it seems the only logical choice. I could use a few pointers."
Laughing, Ten tossed a sweet into the air, opening his mouth in anticipation, gaping in surprise at the large hand now encircling his morsel.
Puzzled, Ten dared look sideways, still waiting patiently for the jelly baby to drop.
Frustrated Nine was centimeters from his cheek. "We-- I. Took. Rose. There." Letting the words sink in, and watched as understanding slowly dawned on the other's face.
Nine continued. "They named a rose after her."
"Enchanting Rose." They declared in unison, blue eyes meeting brown in sudden realization as both heads turned to the empty display.
The two tore out of the room, a lone jelly baby falling to the floor, forgotten.