If Found Please Return

Disclaimer: Russell T. Davies still has not hired me. Therefore, no portion of Doctor Who belongs to me. More's the pity.

The TARDIS diverted from her set course (as usual) and settled in with a very shaky landing (as usual) on some inexplicable planet (as usual) in some place the Doctor hadn't really ever thought about visiting (as usual). A great cheer erupted from outside the blue box the moment the materialization sequence was completed (as... no, wait.)

That wasn't usual at all. That was abnormal, strange, bizarre, and suspicious. It was weird, odd, and distinctly off. It was... seriously, it was a full thesaurus worth of unexpected.

The Doctor looked at his companion, then realized once again that she was off visiting. He'd been meant to be picking her up, instead of landing on...

He checked the controls. Greater Laperia. Bugger, what was this about? He set the scanner to give him a view of the cheering crowd. Probably just landed in the middle of some religious ceremony and he was now, officially, some High Priest's sign from god or something.

Bugger bugger.

The crowd outside did look as if they'd been in the middle of a religious ceremony, actually. A bacchanal, to be specific. Most were half dressed and quite a few were holding large earthenware jugs that probably contained whatever passed for strong spirits around here. There were musical instruments scattered through the crowd, winds and strings and lots of tambourines. Everyone was wearing bright, beautiful colors and some of the crowd were still dancing around a large bonfire in the midst of all of this.

They were still cheering for him, but he was too busy trying to place them and make sure he didn't have to run for his life or disappear as quickly as he'd appeared to even consider opening the doors. Checking randomly through the nearest time traces, since the viewer could only tell him so much, he found nothing even the slightest bit alarming.

One of them, as he brushed it, was screamingly familiar. But he didn't have time to check it closer, because there was a knock at the door. He pulled reluctantly away from the tug of that thread... oh, it hurt, it was so, so... something.

The door was still being pounded upon.

Right. He flipped the toggles to open the door and walked up to it, pulling it open. The cheers rose to deafening proportions and then one of the men, dressed in a bright vest and brown leather trousers, with a wrapped scarf for a belt, stepped forward. He inclined his head and the Doctor returned the gesture, grinning widely, since he at last recognized them.

They were Eru, intergalactic gypsies, a large band of happy travelers who had no homes and no responsibilities, save with and to each other. He had run across them from time to time, bought spare parts, rescued them from danger, repaired their ships, or stolen a bag of jelly babies. Theft was standard operating procedure for them, of course, and he had occasionally helped them and occasionally liberated their stolen goods. They wandered with a feckless will, merry and shiftless, and the Doctor had to admit that he adored them.

"Ah, and here's our Doctor, then!" exclaimed the man who had greeted him. "You've been long from home this time, boy, and you're sorely missed each day."

His grin, if possible, widened. He'd forgotten. They considered him one of them, wandering, homeless soul that he was, and perhaps he was a bit of a gypsy at heart.

"I am called Koah," the man continued. "I'm Elected at this time. Everyone, it's our Doctor, come home again at last!"

He laughed out loud as their joyful music and cheering swelled around him. Two young girls bounced forward and snatched his hands, dragging him into a children's dance, and he let it all wash away. Dozens of little bodies bounded around him, treating him rather like a maypole, without the ribbons. He was grateful for that.

A hand reached out and snatched him from the cluster of children, pressing a jug into his fist, and he tilted his head and gulped down the heady, sweet Eru wine, only realizing this minute how much he'd missed that strange, evocative flavor. Oh, but it was wonderful now, with the heightened sense of taste he had in this body, and he drank rather more deeply than he'd ever done before.

The crowd cheered for him, laughed at him, laughed with him, welcomed him. He passed the jug on to the next Eru and, just for fun, dragged a bloke who reminded him too much of Jack into the center of the circle for a dance. Maybe the man had a bit more Jack in him then even the Doctor thought, because he stepped closer, shifting into that dance of theirs that was all sex and eroticism and sensuality, grinding their hips together, grinning and green-eyed and wolfish. The Doctor swirled away from him on the next pass, into the arms of a blue-eyed woman with a seeking smile.

He was passed from partner to partner, his thoughts shifting constantly from hazy to ecstatic to absent. The blur of color and motion, the flow of the aged wine in his head, the rush of adrenaline, the glory of long missing joy all thundered through him, erasing more of his Time Lord restraint with every throbbing beat of his hearts.

Winded a bit, he stepped out of the dance and found himself in a crowd of musicians. "Good enough," he shouted out, and they all invited him to sit in. Well, what the hell. He snatched up a violin, obviously stolen, given its quality. With a grave wink at the oldest of the group, he set his stance and tucked the instrument carefully into place. He wiggled his fingers, flexed the bow twice, twitched it over the strings to adjust it.

Drawing the bow across the strings, he made the instrument wail out a single, lonely, solemn cry, and then burst into a giggling spill of tumbling, ecstatic notes. It was said that violin was the instrument that most closely duplicated the sound of the human voice, and he was good enough - better than good, actually - that he could make one duplicate any sound in its range that he had ever heard. That was the most obvious, the most perfect, the exact same tune as her laughter.

He turned the notes into a song, shifting into something from Earth, a wild, wayward Irish tune that had everyone clapping and tapping the tambourines in time. It had been too long since he played anything but, though he knew he would probably pay for it with sore fingers tomorrow, he didn't stop. He let the notes cascade ever onward and the bow flicker over the strings, faster, wilder, happier, like both he and the instrument were on fire.

When the song was over he was snatched back into the dance, which he let happen with a quick, "save that for me, won't you," to his fellow players. He was twirled and dizzied and given more wine. It wasn't long, not really, before he knew for sure that he was drunk. His chaotic romp through the camp had kept him from concentrating on his physiology and the alcohol had worked its way through.

He knew he was drunk, because he kept seeing her. A flicker of blonde here, a perfectly shaped hand, there. A brush of a well-known thread, the familiar scent that lingered in the air as he moved aimlessly through the ever calming crowd. They were all slowing down now, as the night fell down and stars began to peek out one by one. They partnered off, hands in hands, hips brushing hips, lips tasting, eyes shining, and crept into the bushes and the tents. He'd had several offers himself, but he wouldn't take them tonight. Couldn't, with the memories so near. Instead, he had more wine, and made his way back to the musicians.

As he'd requested, the violin still waited for him. The music was soothing now, and softer. There'd be more sensual dances even closer to bed time, but for now, he thought he might play a little something. He nodded to the other players and they nodded back, encouraging.

The strains of an old mountain tune fell gently from the strings as he caressed them, closing his eyes, thinking. Not his point of view, really, but it was how he felt, gone away, and if he could, oh if he ever could, he would go back - ten thousand miles or eleven million, or the Universe divide even, if he only could, even that would never have stopped him.

A voice twined itself with the violin, singing the words in such clear, perfect melody that it took him a moment to realize that the other sound was more than an echo. He kept his eyes closed, grinning. A woman's voice, perfect for the song, and she knew the old lyrics. If he kept his eyes closed, he could imagine that sound he heard really was familiar. The voice was honey sweet and he used to hear it through the TARDIS in the mornings, shining and sparkling along the still corridors, making the living ship sing extemporaneous, loving harmony. The time machine had loved that voice almost as much as the wreck of her operator who would listen for it every morning, his ears as desperate for that sound as his body was for oxygen. It meant he had survived another long night alone with his memories, it meant yet another day of grace had come to him, for him, and he would get to spend it being alive and holding her hand.

The voice came closer and he played on, losing himself in his memory and his imagination. When at last it came to a close (and you will kiss my ruby lips when you come back...) he set the violin down, his eyes stinging with unshed tears. The crowd was a blur, and the singer was approaching. He couldn't see her through the haze in his vision, but if he closed his eyes a little longer...

Her hand brushed him. He took it on instinct, and it felt right. Just... right. He kept his eyes closed, the illusion too precious to shatter.

The musicians struck up a song of love and heat and unspoken passion. The girl swept him into the dance and he went willingly, this time, so willingly, looking down at the top of her golden head and pretending with all his might. They moved together, their bodies imitating the song's suggestions, hands brushing, bodies twisting, hips moving in ancient rhythms described by the music and the beat of their hearts.

He couldn't help the smile, he couldn't. His partner was an exquisite dancer, but so shy. Well, she would be. He was responding as he was supposed to, and yet not. The dance was designed to get them both hot and bothered, after all, and he had more than enough control to do anything to her at all while feeling nothing himself in return.

He might never feel again, though, so that was fine.

He reached down to tuck a hand under her chin, to tilt her head up and apologize. She wouldn't get what she wanted from this dance, after all. Her sleeping pallet would be cold if she stayed with him.

She finally looked up at his gesture. Brown eyes full of wonder and star light locked with his own. He stopped moving, he just stared. The other's face gazed hesitantly back at him. He summarily ejected the alcohol from his brain, but the apparition stayed. He closed his eyes and opened them again, this time seeing everything.

No wonder there had been familiar traces. The body in his arms was wreathed in them, her own personal nimbus of endless golden light.

It might have been a dream, but he was living it and he didn't, couldn't, wouldn't find it within him to care. Or stop.

He would never stop now.

Life and sensation and emotion and wonder suffused his body in a single rush, more heady than all the Eru wine in the whole Universe. He gave her a wolfish grin and, despite any better judgement he might have had before he started, angled his hips just so. The sensation as she arched against him, a completely natural gesture that was not part of the dance, but felt like it, tingled and burned along his skin.

He locked his hands on her hips, splaying his fingers wide, and led her on. She followed, matching him step for step, turn for turn, touch for touch. So perfect, just like it had always been.

Now he was hot and bothered, and so was she, but that was fine. They moved together as they had always been meant to move, perfect tandem, her human fire to his Time Lord ice, and all other things were equal. Passion to passion, joy to joy, want to want, love to love.

Oh yes, even that. It was there in her eyes and it would always be there in his hearts, and she would always have been forever to him. She created herself for him, after all. Even if it took losing her to remember that, even if he had never deserved her, it didn't mean that he couldn't spend the rest of his life trying to make up for it.

When the dance ended, he didn't want to pull away from her, but he really had no choice because every single member of the group who wasn't otherwise... erm... occupied was applauding for them. He shook his head and she laughed her glorious laugh and he turned to face Koah, who had come forward to congratulate him.

"How did this happen?" he asked the Eru who was grinning quite smugly at him.

Koah chortled. "We found her. She's been unconscious for weeks. We tried to send you a signal but, Doctor, you're a hard man to get hold of."

"How'd you know to get hold of me?" he asked with certain wonder. He looked over at her, and she was chewing her lip in that oh so familiar, precious gesture.

"She bears your name upon her flesh. Your woman is loyal, Doctor. When she woke tonight, we knew it was a sign that her loyalty was returned. Come, boy, stay the night with us. We have a tent set up for you."

He glanced at "his woman" and she shrugged. "Your own bed tonight?" he suggested.

She beamed and nodded. He told Koah they'd try to stay tomorrow and then, just because it needed to be done, he grabbed her hand, turned it just so in his, and said one word, just one. He found himself laughing out loud again as her voice rang out at the same time.


Along about morning, he drifted slowly awake, running a curious hand along the length of her fair, bare body. "Rose Tyler," he murmured, "I love you."

"Quite right, too," she said softly.

He grinned. "'Bout time, too," he added.

"Yeah." She blushed a little as she considered him in the dim light the TARDIS had left on for them.

He smiled. "What was Koah on about?" he asked. "You having my name?"

She rolled her eyes and blushed, a beautiful, sweet blush that curled across her face and over her cheeks, along her throat and down her chest. He watched it with undisguised fascination, feeling a stirring in his groin just knowing the kind of flush that blush echoed. "It was stupid, actually. Not like anybody thought it would actually work."

"What?" he insisted, reaching out with inquisitive fingers to trace the soft line of pink from her collar bone down her cleavage.

She rolled over and pulled the sheet away from her hip. He pouted at her a moment until he realized what he was looking at. Her backside was delicate, shapely, exquisite, and decorated with a familiar blue shape and a bit of small, stylized writing. "It was a joke," she said. "Bunch of us got really smashed one night after work and we all decided to get a tattoo. This one was Mickey's idea."

"I love Mickey the Genius," he announced ecstatically, staring at the mark that may have just saved his soul. Ah, brilliant. He leaned over and ran his tongue across it, just to make sure the ink was permanent.

She squealed but didn't move away. "Stop that," she chided.

"Nope," he replied indignantly. "That's mine. Says so, right there." He ran a finger tip carefully along the lettering, listening to her breath catch as he did.

"Not exactly," she corrected.

He reconsidered. "You're right," he agreed. "We'll have them add another line. Bet Koah's got someone who can do it for you."

"Do you know how drunk I'll have to be to agree to it?"

"Then we're in luck, because Eru wine's the best stuff you can get."

"Later," she said firmly, reaching behind her and snatching at his lazily drifting fingers.

He grinned, then caught sight of her face. "Yeah," he agreed breathlessly. "Later." He caught her lips with his and kissed her, burning it like every kiss they would ever have into his memory permanently.

When they separated, he ran his lips across her cheek and then along her jaw, following the line of that sensual flush. "I should have thought of it ages ago, though," he murmured after a moment.

"What?" she demanded.

"Yeah, think of how much easier it would have been, all those places you wandered off. Would have eased my mind considerably."

"So gonna kill you," she laughed.

"No, I'm serious. It's brilliant, Rose Tyler, and I love it." He frowned. "We should put it somewhere more obvious, though."

"Oh hell no," she murmured as she trailed burning little kisses up his chest. "I'm not wearing that where it can be seen."

"Fine," he agreed. "I'll have it embroidered on all your clothes, then." He grinned and moved to seize her lips again. "Think how easy it'll be for me to get you back, if everyone can see it. 'If found, please return to the Doctor, care of the TARDIS.'" He crushed her to him and kissed her soundly. "I love it," he whispered.

"Me, too," she agreed.