"Wait, hold on, no." Rose caught at his sleeve, pulled him back from his attempt to scurry off. "You're not making any sense." First things first. "Why can't we go outside here?"
The Doctor was still moving down the hallway, absently trying to brush her hands off without looking at her. "Bugs. Bugs, Rose, I already explained-"
"No you didn't," Rose interrupted, taking his hand, hard. He still wasn't looking at her and Rose tried to move in front of him. He turned his head away but didn't drop her hand. "You just rambled something and said 'see you in six hours'."
"Oh, right, did I?" he babbled. "Oh yes, I did. See you in six hours then." He tried to pull away again, adding a quick, "The effects should be over by then."
Rose's stomach lurched as she changed her grip to the cloth of his sleeve. "The effects of what?"
No doubt picking up on her tone – he'd have to be deaf not to – the Doctor looked at her. His mouth open for answering, his expression stuck and held, the Time Lord rendered abruptly silent.
His pupils were huge.
"Doctor . . . ?"
A struggle played across his face, raged behind those dilated eyes he'd tried to keep her from seeing. He'd stopped trying to move, to pull away, the lack of motion as unnerving as his earlier retreat. His lips moved soundlessly, the words welling up in his throat and trying to break free.
"Bugs," he managed at last. As the one syllable breached whatever dam was holding him back, so much more broke through. "Bugs outside. A swarm. Kakothrips cogitatio, the brainstorm bug, the fixation fly, the one-track tick, the learning leech." He pointed at his neck, pulled down his collar to better show her the angry red welt there. "Mental mosquito bite."
"Itches for six hours?" Rose guessed, one hand reaching out as if to touch. She pulled it back halfway through the motion, not sure what would happen if from contact.
The Doctor bobbed his head. "Latches onto the current thought. No, not latches. Makes you latch. Fixate. One thought. Six hours."
"So, you were thinking about . . . ?" Rose asked, unconsciously leaning forward, watching the play behind dark eyes barely rimmed with brown.
Rose blinked. "What?"
"TARDIS repair," the Doctor repeated. "Stepped out, thought, bit – not bit, bitten, TARDIS repair. Six hours." His words spilt out in a rush as if he was afraid he wouldn't remember how to finish a complete sentence.
"Oh." Once pieced together, it made almost sense. Almost. "What about your eyes?"
In a confused attempt at an answer, the Doctor pulled out his glasses, held them up. "They're fine."
Side effect, Rose reasoned. "S'not dangerous, is it? Not going to hurt yourself or anything?"
"Um," said the Doctor, a reply that was far less than reassuring.
"Doctor," Rose restated slowly, nodding with each word and tugging on his hand when his attention started to wander. "Is the bite dangerous? Is it going to hurt you?"
"That was very condescending," the Doctor commented dryly.
"No?" Rose asked, wondering. If it had been really bad, he would have really tried to focus, wouldn't he have? So she would have gotten a proper response, yeah? Maybe?
"Yes it was," he argued. "It was distinctly, one-hundred-percent . . ." He trailed off distractedly, scratching absently at the mark on his neck.
By the basic rules of bug bites that she knew, that looked like a bad idea. "Doctor, don't." Rose reached for his arm, pulled his hand down. "No scratching."
"No scratching," he agreed easily, looking at her intently. "Don't you think I know that?"
A sudden impulse made Rose ask, "Know what?"
The Doctor blinked and, for a moment, looked very confused. "Um," he said once again. "It'll come to me."
"Six hours and you're back to normal, yeah? Just six and you're all better," Rose stressed, willing him to say yes, nodding as she spoke to encourage this.
"Yup," he said brightly, popping the "p." He smiled at her, gave her hand a squeeze as he leaned forward. "I feel fine."
"You're not acting like it," she countered, squeezing back, pleading for the coherency to continue.
He looked down at her, his soft expression fitting all too well with his bedroom eyes. "I'm all right," he assured her, cupping her cheek in a way he hadn't done in ages, his hand cool and tender.
"Anything I can do to help?" she offered, unable to believe him for one moment.
Once again, the words stuck in the Doctor's throat, were dammed up in there and unable to get out of his mouth. Speechless was not a state the Doctor was supposed to be in, not ever. In the end, he shook his head, pulling his hand away self-consciously.
"I," he started to say, then stopped. He shook his head again. "No."
"Are you sure?" she asked, trying to stop him from pulling away once more.
"Oh, absolutely," he agreed. "What about?"
Looking up into his face, listening to the complete lack of worry in his voice, Rose opened her mouth only to shut it again.
When he tried to wander off again to tinker with his beloved ship, she let him with no small sense of misgivings. Even if she dragged him to the library, she'd have a hell of a time keeping him in there. She'd be searching for a cure by herself anyway, she told herself. Just in case. One thought for six hours, in a brain the size of the Doctor's, clearly meant his head was going to implode.
She'd solve this on her own, if that's what it took.
One not-so-stray thought that had not-so-strayed from his mind in what was approaching an hour. He'd worked, he'd tinkered, he'd done everything he could think of to distract himself but he was gradually losing the ability to do so. As for convincing lies, there was little chance of forming another. Mustering up the one about the TARDIS had been difficult enough. Far too soon, he'd be left with one thought and one thought alone:
Sex with Rose Tyler.
Fortunately, this was more of an entire topic than a single thought and had yet to get remotely repetitive in its merry little dance around the insides of his cranium. For instance, along with the concerns of how one went about having sex with Rose Tyler, there was an entire list of vastly unpleasant other details to mull over.
Such as the persons who had already had sex with Rose Tyler. And the people Rose Tyler was considering having sex with in the future. If they existed. They might not. Was that good, if they didn't? If "they" included him? He thought about that for a little while, perhaps five minutes worth of lengthy pros and cons which boiled down to one simple point each. Pro: no one else would have sex with Rose Tyler. Con: he would not have sex with Rose Tyler. Conclusion: wonderful and tragic, respectively. Overall . . . he'd have to think about it some more. Not like he didn't have the time.
How many people had Rose had sex with, anyway? The Doctor shuddered at the thought of Mickey, pulled his mind away in horror from the involuntary mental image of two human bodies entwined in Rose's old bedroom. Not thinking about that. Not not not. No. Bad.
Rose couldn't have enjoyed it that much anyway. Not that much. No. Obviously not. Rose would want . . . . What would Rose want? In bed. Or in the shower. Possibly on a table or against the wall. Ooh, a couch. Or a hammock. That would be difficult. Possibly worse than a waterbed. What would that be like, sex with Rose Tyler on a waterbed? Bouncy, but fluid. Molding. Or what if she was on top? If he bucked – if he could buck – would she fall off? No bucking, then.
His mouth slowly went dry, his breath coming out in shallow exhalations through parted lips. He'd been staring at the same bit of circuitry without seeing it for at probably ten minutes, but as he wasn't paying attention to that, he couldn't have said the exact time. Fixated on something else, that was him. Fixated.
Rose Tyler. On top of him. Molding herself around him, hot, tight, wet and only-for-him. Her human-hot hands pressing on his shoulders, fingernails scratching skin. Her hips circling, shimmying, grinding as she suddenly clenched down. Her eyes falling shut, her mouth falling open, her head falling back as a wanting murmur fell from lips too distant to kiss. Her hair spilling over her shoulders, sticking to her face from sweat, urging him to touch. Her breasts bouncing as she rode him, taut peaks begging for his tongue. The strange, rolling slosh of a water-filled mattress rocking him back up under her, into her. Her hooded eyes drawing him in until all he was, all he ever could be was drowning, drowning in her.
The clamor of metal made him blink and look down. Though having dropped it, he didn't think to pick up his sonic screwdriver. The noise identified as something safe to ignore, he safely ignored it, wandering absently away.
His feet took him to Rose's bedroom, his mind already inside, listening vaguely to a conversation about mosquito bite treatment of all things. He could see her there in perfect detail. She'd tossed herself down on the bed to feel it bounce; she'd wriggled around a bit to get comfortable, mussing the duvet as she did; her top had ridden up, exposing a line of skin that would much rather be covered by hands and lips than cloth anyway. And as her hair tumbled over the edge of the bed, she'd taken out her mobile and called home.
The thought of Jackie barged its way unannounced into the Doctor's musings on sex with Rose. The result was not good. Or actually, due to the doubtlessly humiliating reaction he might have otherwise witnessed as Rose realized what was going on in his head, the result was very good. Very good in that it was very preventative.
There would be slapping. And screeches of rage. And she would try to badger Rose into leaving him. So by having sex with Rose, he would . . . stop having sex with Rose.
The Doctor stood there for perhaps too long, puzzling out whatever logic it took to make that sentence make sense. Long enough for the door to open, Rose blinking at him.
"Thought you were gonna be fixing the TARDIS for the next five hours," Rose might have said. Even staring at her mouth as he was, he couldn't have been sure.
"I need help," the Doctor finally admitted.
She'd forgotten the name of the bug almost as soon as the Doctor had said it, too preoccupied with his growing incoherence to memorize it. Her rummaging through the library had turned up next to nothing relevant and absolutely nothing helpful. She'd even been desperate enough to phone her mum and ask for a quick internet search. She wasn't looking forward to explaining why, either. As it was, that mental mosquito bite had a lot to answer for. She had half a mind to get a load of bug spray and go wreck havoc outside. The worst thing that could happen would be her getting completely focused on killing the things. Maybe she'd try her hand at it, after she got this taken care of.
"Am I doing this right?" Rose asked, mostly to get him talking again, concerned at the Doctor's silence. "Too tight?" She glanced up at his face, found him looking at her with eyes somehow both blank and alert at once. "Doctor?"
He blinked, the effort of it screwing up his face. "Yes, Rose," he managed.
"Should I go tighter?" she asked again, carefully articulating.
"Uh," the Doctor said, clearly not following the subject.
In reply, Rose yanked the strap through the buckle hard enough to get his attention. "Restrain you so you don't damage the TARDIS," she reminded him. "S'what you told me t' do."
"Did I?" he asked, no interest at all behind the question, no recollection. She could answer and he wouldn't pay attention.
Fighting the urge to shake him, Rose shivered, unnerved by the distance in his voice and eyes.
"Cold?" Suddenly fascinated, he shifted on the infirmary chair, the one like a dentist's chair except with optional restraints. His unfastened hand reached across to touch her cheek. She'd only gotten the one wrist down, the Doctor willing to sit still but unable to help. "I could-"
Catching his hand, Rose shook her head. "'M not cold and I'm not going to let you loose to play with the thermostat." The way last him had switched moods had nothing on this.
He turned his hand to better hold hers. The motion must have been automatic, something that all the rampant higher brain function couldn't interfere with. An involuntary smile tugged at her lips at the thought. A glance up to his eyes found them bright and focused, something soft in his gaze as he smiled back at her. His pupils were still hugely dilated, but there was a part of Rose more than willing to rationalize that symptom away. For a moment, he was all right. He was better than all right. He was perfect, save for the red mark on the side of his neck, a jarring physical reminder of his condition.
"Did you start scratching it again?" Rose asked, trying to get a closer look, not sure if it was redder than before.
He turned his head to watch her as she moved, hindering her efforts to see. "Scratching what?"
Rose bit her lip, realizing now why he must have been in such a hurry to get away from her before. Seeing him like this, so completely clueless . . . . It was like some fundamental rule of the universe had been broken, the Doctor turning into an idiot.
Instead of answering him, she dropped his hand, unable to hold it and go around the chair to the other side at the same time. The first time she'd seen the arm restraints on the pseudo-dentist chair, she'd been unpleasantly surprised. Having to actually use them, however, was not something she'd thought she'd ever need to do.
Continuing to watch her, the Doctor gave her back his hand the moment she reached for it, surprisingly cooperative again. He was having a better moment right now, Rose was sure. Even looked like he'd be able to hold up his end of a conversation.
He held still for her as she unbuttoned his cuff and pushed the sleeve of his shirt up, fingers brushing what he liked to refer to as the manly hairs on his manly hairy arm. It occurred to her that she'd never seen it before, had never seen him even remotely shirtless. She shook her head to herself, focusing on the task at hand instead of her hormones.
The restraint strap was padded on the inside and she was fairly certain that it would be more comfortable on him than having his shirt grind into his wrists for five hours. Once again, Rose was distantly thankful the Doctor had retained enough sense to take his suit jacket off before hopping up into the chair. Less to deal with, anyway. Even if he always looked distractingly naked when only wearing one layer.
As she pulled the strap out from the simple buckle, the Doctor's free hand rose as if to touch her shoulder or to point at something behind her. Rose caught it quickly and brought it back down. In a stroke of brilliance, she stuck her own hand through the open restraint to take his hand. Contact made, fingers tightened and he smiled at her again.
Like threading a needle, Rose pulled her hand out of the strap and, in the same motion, brought the Doctor's willing hand through it. With her free hand, she pulled the strap back through the buckle and fastened it clumsily, trapping him by the wrist. As gently as she could, she tested to see if the Doctor would be able to pull out, pushing at his arm, shoving at it a bit.
"Rose, what are you doing?"
Rose looked up at his question. His complete sentence about something unrelated to the TARDIS. And that wasn't confusion in his voice; that was bemused condescension, like he thought she was off being an idiot human, a stupid ape, but couldn't fully bring himself to care.
That had been absolutely coherent.
"Hugging you," Rose answered and did. The angle was awkward, Rose having to lean over the chair a bit, her arms around his neck. Her hip bumped against the back of his bound hand. She felt the tension in his shoulders, felt his hand move unsuccessfully as he tried and failed to reciprocate. At least she knew she'd done the job properly.
Pressing the side of his head against hers, the Doctor chuckled, a wonderful sound of both surprise and amusement. "Well, then," he replied, sounding entirely like himself. "By all means, carry on."
Rose giggled with helpless relief into his shoulder, holding to him tightly until she was nearly gasping for air. "Stay," she told him when she was fit for talking once more. "Don't – don't go off like that." She'd barely been able to stand an hour. Five more of that would have been – she didn't want to even think about it. There was that so-called superior Time Lord physiology, breaking down toxins the way he'd always claimed he could.
"Who said anything about going anywhere?" he asked her playfully, the back of his bound hand pressing against her upper thigh as a reminder to let him go.
She drew back at the touch, a surge of heat flooding through her from the cool contact. Alien git, getting himself into this mess, touching her like it didn't matter. She was acutely aware of the blush spreading cross her features, feeling the burn across her cheeks. The way he grinned at her wasn't helping any. And his eyes were still huge, all dark with barely a ring of brown around the edges.
Rose blinked, realizing what that meant. "You didn't metabolize it?" But he was coherent, he was fine, he-
"Metabolize what?" the Doctor asked on automatic, nothing behind those dark eyes to imply even vague interest.
Just like that, he was gone.
Shaking inside, Rose did the only thing that made sense. She slipped her hand into his, threaded their fingers together and held tight. She held with both hands, almost clutched at him.
And just like that, he was back.
Five hours left, Rose thought and looked around for a chair. She could hold his hand for five hours.
It took him a while, but eventually he realized that she wasn't leaving.
Some time after that, it occurred to him that this was a problem.
His brain was practically whirring with the effort it took to stretch the subject, to keep up the connections of logic. Sex with Rose Tyler. Not letting Rose know. Conversation to not let Rose know. Controlling reactions to not let Rose know. Controlling thoughts to control reactions. Not the actual act of Rose Tyler. Sex with Rose Tyler. Repercussions. Bad repercussions. Rose leaving. Jackie slap.
Thoughts tumbled like a house of cards, fell like two bodies onto a waiting bed, impossibly intertwined and entangled, unwilling to pull apart.
"Doctor, my hand isn't part of the TARDIS," Rose said, something hearts-wrenchingly hesitant in her voice.
His fingers stilled on her palm for a moment only before resuming their exploration purposefully. "No, it's not," he agreed, categorizing this as foreplay, using terms to build those connections, to keep those thoughts together.
Sweat slowly gathered on the whorls and mounds and lines, each traced, touched, stroked. Human, sweaty palms, Rose. Good or bad? Flight-or-fight response byproduct. Was she nervous? Upset? Randy?
He should hold her.
The motion was halted before it could fully begin. He looked down, saw at his bound wrists. Looked at Rose and forgot. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I can't seem to . . ." He shrugged helplessly, ineffectually, unable to put his feelings into words. He was now firmly resigned to the fact that sex with Rose Tyler did not simply involve sex with Rose Tyler. It involved making love to Rose Tyler.
"S'okay," Rose told him, holding his hand, putting an end to his study of her palm by pressing it against his. "You're trying."
He'd do more than just try. He'd pull her against him, relish the way they fit together, a match of bodies too flawless for only platonic embraces. He'd taste her, coax her lips to part, lap into her mouth as she sighed into his, her clever fingers working at his tie. He'd dip his hands between them, lower the zipper of her jeans with all the deliberateness of a very, very deliberate man. And she'd smile at him as he did it, half-sultry, half-shy.
"You should go," he told her, almost pleading as he felt an all-too-familiar Rose-related reaction begin to take place. "You- you should. You should really go."
Her grip on his hand tightened. "Not gonna leave you," Rose insisted. "You know, you could talk about whatever bit of the TARDIS still needs fixing. Be less boring."
"Um," said the Doctor, trying, straining to remember why she thought he could talk about that. Oh, right, lying. Repercussion-prevention giving way to more repercussions. Lovely.
. . . She was, wasn't she? Lovely. Very.
"Yeah?" Rose asked, prompting nervously.
Had he said that aloud? He couldn't tell. Had – no, nonononono, he hadn't. He was sure. If he'd started, he wouldn't have run out of adjectives already. Couldn't have started.
Rose stood up from her chair, stood close, stood over him. He wiggled his eyebrows at her before he could think out the reasons why not to instead of only the rationale which made it all right. Just a little hop up and she could sit on his lap. Just sit across his lap, maybe put an arm around his shoulders. Get a little comfortable and lean against him. Maybe squirm just a little. Only a little. Or, ooh, she could straddle him. Sit on his lap and rock, gently at first and then harder. Press against him and bring her mouth to where he could get at it. No, her neck. Nuzzling and nipping, licking and sucking, making up for his inability to touch her any other way. He'd do that. Until she gasped or breathed his name or-
His respiratory bypass seemed to have kicked in. He took in a normal breath of air and said what needed to be said.
"You're not helping," he told her, not so much blunt as completely rude. "You're really not helping, Rose." She was going to speak, she was going to do something, she was going to make this utterly impossible; he did what he had to. Unable to pull his hand back, he released hers instead, hoping that would make the point clear. "You're sort of . . . making it harder- worse," he corrected, realizing the obvious innuendo as soon as his mouth had opened to say it. He wanted to pull his legs up instead of simply letting them stick out on the long leg-rests of the chair, to do something – anything – in the vain hope that he could stop her from noticing what was going on directly under her nose.
Now there was a mental image he really didn't need at the moment. That, directly under her nose. Which would mean her mouth would be-
Rassilon, no. Stop it. Right now.
Even if it would be absolutely-
"Could you leave me alone? Now?" The words fell out of his mouth just the way he'd wanted them to. Abrupt and rude and very likely to get her to do as he told her to. She'd leave and stay away and he could apologize later – well, sort of apologize, but she would understand what he meant – and then they could continue on without him making a complete mess of things.
One look at her face, and he wanted to curl up and die.
"Fine," Rose said, taking a step backward and very much away. "You've got four an' a half hours left to obsess over your frankly magnificent ship."
With all the effort he could muster, he kept his mouth shut, stopped himself from calling her back as she stormed off, leaving him trapped in the infirmary, completely alone. Vaguely, he remembered this being part of a plan, a way of stopping the outright molestation of his companion.
It was working depressingly well.
Inwardly fuming and hating it – he wasn't in his right mind, she couldn't blame him, not really – she went back to the library. Picking up where she had left off, Rose quickly realized why she had actually resorted to calling her mum for help. Staring down literally countless rows of shelves, books piled high in semi-translated alien languages, Rose winced at the sheer magnitude of what was in front of her.
This was hopeless.
Rose shook her head out of habit more than anything else. Not hopeless, never hopeless. She just hadn't found a way around it yet. Okay, think. No more running around panicking. Looking up "mental mosquito" in the database – provided she could find the database – still wasn't going to give her an answer. Not the answer she needed, anyway. Loads of answers, but all in books she had to track down and search through if she actually managed to find them.
So, stepping back. Looking at the basics.
What planet were they on? Had the Doctor said?
Unable to remember, Rose trouped out to the console room to stare at the monitor for a bit. The oddly geometric characters of the Doctor's language shone clearly on the display. "How about some subtitles?" she mumbled to the Time Rotor, glancing up at it as if it would actually respond when all she really needed to do was listen.
The TARDIS's hum changed pitch, something sounding slightly apologetic in it. Or maybe worried.
The console was warm against her hand, reassuringly solid beneath her palm. "So am I," Rose admitted, having a small moment of communion with the ship.
An unpleasant thought occurred to Rose. "Did the Doctor tinker with the translation circuits?"
The question was addressed to the ceiling this time. The answering hum wasn't one Rose could understand, which in itself might have meant yes.
Okay, so much for the name of the planet.
After a moment of glaring at the monitor, Rose fetched some bug spray. At least, she was fairly sure it was bug spray.
. . . Would it work on these things? Let her through whatever insect-infested patch of land they were sitting on long enough to find someone and ask a few questions? The Doctor had said there was a swarm out there, hadn't he? Too big for her to fight off?
Or she could simply try to hold a thought and get out there. One thought, one thing for her to focus on. That was simple: save the Doctor.
The TARDIS hummed a warning as Rose approached the doors. Looking up, Rose stopped, a can of the spray in each hand. If that was the only help she was getting right now, she should probably listen to it.
Leaning against the railing, she puzzled this out some more. So she went outside, she sprayed the things, got the name of the planet or better yet, a cure, and then she came back. The things that could go wrong were, just for starters: the spray not working, the spray not lasting long enough, and ending up being bitten by the bugs. If she got her thought wrong, if she couldn't control her mind in that moment of panic . . .
The Doctor would spend the next six hours trapped in the med bay, spend almost two of them wondering where she'd gone, why she'd left him there. And that was only if humans reacted the same way Time Lords did to the bite – unlikely. For all she knew, she could be at her topic-of-choice for days. The Doctor would have to gnaw himself free from the restraints and Rose wasn't sure he could even bend enough to do it.
With a guilty sort of resignation, Rose set the bug spray down, the cans ringing out on the metal of the grating. Now that she'd thought about it, the odds of finding someone in swarm territory who hadn't been bitten weren't high at all.
That left her with no name for either the bug or the planet it was found on. About half a dozen nicknames for the bloody thing, but with all that alliteration, the Doctor had probably just been babbling. Besides, there was a world of difference between a "fixation fly" and a "learning leech," Rose was willing to bet. One flew, first off.
Sitting down heavily in the captain's chair, she sighed, propping her chin up on her hand, her elbow on her knee. Fat lot of good she was. At this rate, he was going to have to go through the full deal, just sitting there like his brain had been taken away from him.
Not gonna happen. She'd just have to work with what she had.
Returning to the library, Rose grabbed a sheet of paper and the closest writing utensil. It looked almost like a pencil, but the bit in the middle was green and smelled a lot like cheese. Feeling a like she was writing with impossibly fine-tipped chalk, she jotted down the depressingly short list of what she knew.
Obsession bug, fixation fly
Six hours for Time Lords
Handholding makes it better
Red mark – itchy? one thought Time Lord allergic reaction?
Bit the neck – blood-sucking? physic/telepathic energy eating?
Mulling it over, Rose tapped the cheese pencil on the paper, leaving little dots speckled about the corner of the sheet. Nothing she could do about the first one until she knew the proper name. As for the second one, well, that proved once and for all that the Doctor really didn't think when he was talking.
Wait, no. The Doctor had been able to tell her to restrain him somewhere, to stop him. He'd been able to think of that. There was no possible way that those words could have fallen out of his mouth in a mere ramble. So he'd been able to think of that, even with the one thought deal.
An idea striking her, Rose eyed her list. That was all one thought, in a way. Underline the top line, make it a title, and the rest followed as a continuation of the thought.
The Doctor was thinking of TARDIS repair, yeah? So take that and keep going with it. He realized that he couldn't fix it in the state he was in, and he was able to realize that because it was still about fixing the TARDIS. And because it was a thought about damage to the TARDIS – damage that would require the ever-important repair – he was able to realize that he had to be stopped before that damage occurred.
A smile tugged at her lips and turned into an all-out grin. She knew what to do.
When she returned to the med bay, the Doctor didn't seem to realize he'd been annoyed with her, having forgotten it well within the past twenty minutes. There'd been a complete reversal, such a quick one that it would have unnerved her if she hadn't known him like she did. As it was, it was still jarring.
Of course, she always got that lurching jerk in her stomach when he smiled at her like that, out-of-the-blue. And sometimes when she expected it, too.
"Hello, Rose," the Doctor said brightly, pleased and proud and grinning away at her as if he already knew she'd worked out the solution.
"Hello," she replied automatically, taken aback at his focus. Was it cycling through? Giving him really bad periods and then letting up so he could be like this? Almost with her, but not really there at all.
Giving her a hopeful look, he brought her attention to his hand, wiggling his fingers in a clear prompting for her to take it. Rose laughed a little despite herself, going over to slip her hand into his. Running from aliens, trapped in dungeons, tied to a chair; no matter what happened, the Doctor was always out to hold her hand. Not that she minded.
He must have realized it helped, Rose thought. If he was branching out far enough to do that, maybe it wasn't so bad after all.
Despite that development, one thing remained the same. Although the Doctor was able to look at her intelligently, focus on her and seem to take in what she was saying, he still wasn't up to talking. As the silence stretched between them, it was all Rose could do not to shudder, to clasp his hand as tightly as she could. But this was going to be over soon. It was going to be all right now.
"Doctor," Rose said, purposefully drawing his gaze up from their clasped hands, "if you cure yourself, you can go repair the TARDIS."
He looked at her, not even trying to understand. Just looked at her, his mind somewhere far, far away from her and what she had to say. His thumb rubbed absently over the back of her hand, a vague smile touching his lips.
"D-did you hear me?" Rose asked. "Doctor? Are you listening?"
"Yes, Rose." A dreamy murmur. Not helping her fight the urge to snog him.
"TARDIS repair," she restated for him, putting her other hand over his. If his mind kept him in TARDIS-stroking mode much longer, she wasn't going to be responsible for her own actions. "Lots of stuff to tinker with. Fix this first, and you can go off and play with your sonic screwdriver for the next four hours."
His gaze flickered between her eyes and her mouth, a promising strain evident in his face. He was thinking, making that connection.
"Y'know what?" Rose realized suddenly, latching onto the line of thinking that would solve all of this. "When you were sick from regenerating, the TARDIS wasn't working right. Couldn't translate, yeah? 'Cause she needs you to be all right. So by fixing yourself, you're fixing the TARDIS." She looked into his darkened eyes and searched for any sign of light behind them. "D'you understand? Doctor?"
"Understand what, Rose?" A blank and automatic question.
Her heart froze. ". . . You're not interested." Sitting placidly, he'd paid as much attention to her words as he did to the bindings around his wrists. "You're not interested," she said again, trying to wrap her mind around this.
"Yes I am!" the Doctor immediately protested, squeezing her hand for emphasis.
"Interested in what?" There was the real question, the one she was kicking herself for not checking.
He leaned away from her and came back to her in the same instant, pulling back physically as he returned mentally. "Nothing," he replied quickly, the speed of his retreat alarming. "Nothing you need to know about," he hurriedly added. "Not important. At all."
He was embarrassed. The Doctor was actually embarrassed.
"Doctor, it can't be that bad," Rose assured him, not sure whether she wanted to hit him for lying or just to laugh at the face he was making. No wonder she couldn't get him to focus, throwing the wrong subject at him.
"It can't? Oh good." What would have previously been simply an inane comment was now an ineffective verbal sidestep.
"There's no way what you're thinking about can be more embarrassing than being tied up and babbling," she continued.
For the first time in all the months – years, even – she'd known him, the Doctor turned red. It could be worse, his very body was trying to tell her.
"Hold onto that thought," she told him cheekily, letting go of his hand to pull her chair up closer to him. She sat down and, grinning, leaned forward to interrogate. "What're you thinkin' about?"
"I won't say," he replied, amazingly articulate. His gaze kept straying from hers as if letting her see his dilated eyes would be letting her see into his head.
Rose ran through what she knew of General Doctory Thoughts. "S'not fixing the TARDIS. Or anything to do with the TARDIS, 'cause you wouldn't lie about that." As she spoke, she watched him carefully, part of her ready to stand up and cheer. She had his attention all the way through. Clearly, the threat of revealing what he was thinking of was on-topic enough to fit until the one thought rule. "Not a book or music or somethin', 'cause then you'd be readin' or listen'," she reasoned. With a solution tentatively in sight, this was almost fun. "Not some historical event or amazing place, 'cause then we'd be there already."
"You're very clever," the Doctor said, smiling at her in that way he did when he wanted something.
"Clever and continuing," Rose replied, keeping her hands very determinedly in her lap. His hair had been in the same state of ruffle for close to an hour now and the urge to play with it had returned with his attempt at distraction. Good thing he didn't know how effective it was.
Especially when he pouted like that.
"Tryin' t' think of what you'd need to be restrained for." She tapped the buckle of the strap for emphasis and managed to distract herself. "Are your wrists all right? Still got feeling in your fingertips?"
A remarkable amount of thinking went on behind those newly clear eyes. Or so Rose wanted to think, unsure of what she'd seen in his expression.
The Doctor twisted his hand in the restraint, turned his palm up and wiggled his fingers. "You could check," he suggested, looking hopeful.
How a person could change his mind with only one thought in it was completely beyond her. "If you had a reason for the restraint, you still have a reason for the restraint, even if you can't think of it right now. Not letting you out."
He looked at her as if she'd missed some vastly obvious point.
Rose stared him down and, for once, won. "You're not thinking about . . . I dunno, eating something, are you? This was to stop you from putting yourself into a jam coma or something. Bursting your stomach. Stomachs, sorry." No, that wasn't it.
Now, what was a random, impulsive thought that could occur to the Doctor?
Rose groaned and the Doctor positively twitched. "What d'you want to put in your mouth?" Rose asked. "There's something stupid and probably dangerous you want to lick, yeah?" Judging by his reaction, she was definitely onto something.
She had never seen the Doctor look so embarrassed, or so completely appalled.
"Uh," the Doctor said, and it wasn't for the lack of thinking about it.
"Fine," Rose told him, getting up purposefully, "have it your way."
"Rose," he started to protest, but Rose cut him off with a wave of her hand as she moved towards his discarded suit jacket, the article of clothing having been tossed on the counter before the Doctor had sat down.
Looking through the pockets, Rose shook her head. "Whatever you're thinking about, I bet I can link it to finding a cure for your condition. Let me know, and I can help." She'd found his glasses: not what she was looking for.
"Rose, no. Really. I'm fine. I'm perfectly fine. Look at me, fine and tied up. Couldn't be finer." The babble was back, an encouraging sign. "What are you doing?" And that was the best sign so far, possibly because of the slight note of panic in his voice. He was focusing again.
Ah, there it was. Holding her prize behind her back, Rose returned to the Doctor's side, ready to jump the next-to-final hurtle and put this behind both of them. He smiled up at her in a way that said more than words ever could, a smile that both pleaded and threatened slightly, that asked her to be reasonable and called her a stupid little human.
Rose took his hand and put his slightly psychic paper into it, the pad already flipped open.
She read the four words on the paper, four words written all in capital letters.
Too late, too slow on the uptake, the Doctor dropped it onto the floor.
Silently, Rose shut her mouth, feeling a needy twinge between her legs, hearing her own words of mere moments ago echo in her ears. "There's something stupid and probably dangerous you want to lick, yeah?" Something stupid, that was her. Stupidest thing alive. Numbly, she sat back down, her hands gripping her knees. "Doctor . . . ?"
"I can explain," he said quickly before shaking his head and reversing his position. "No I can't. I really can't. I can't make it sound right. I've been trying, mind you. Not much choice about it."
"So for almost two hours," Rose began slowly, chasing the shreds of her mind down and pulling them back together, "you've been thinking about having sex. With me." Her gaze kept trying to drop and it was only with a determination born of severe awkwardness that kept her from glancing down.
"Well, not the having, per se," the Doctor corrected. Despite being unable to find the ceiling suddenly fascinating, he was doing quite the talented impression of it. "More like a broad overview of the general subject."
"How general?" she couldn't help but ask, her cheeks feeling as if they'd caught on fire.
"Increasingly less so, but it is a surprisingly large topic if you think about it for, what, almost two hours?" At her nod, he made a considering sound. "Didn't feel that long."
Not knowing whether to be worried, flattered or . . . something else entirely, Rose settled on an unequal mixture of the three. "Your time sense isn't working?" When the reply failed to come as more than a vague look, Rose pushed on through the mess of her emotions. "Why'd you think about it?" she asked instead, her eyes falling to her hands in her lap, her voice falling soft and quiet. "You opened the door, saw a swarm of mind-altering, airborne ticks and thought 'What does that remind me of-'"
"No," the Doctor interrupted, the word harsh and hard. He shook his head slightly, repeated himself in a gentler tone. "No. That's not- no. No."
"Just a random thought then," she carefully said, offering him this, giving him a chance to blame it on simple misfortune and bad timing.
His eyes meeting hers, the Doctor didn't answer, neither nodded nor shook his head. He merely gazed at her with eyes dark and vulnerable, expression both closed and open at once. His light shirt spoke silently of armor heedlessly discarded and something in her shook to see him so exposed.
Rose took his hand.