"You wither and you die. Imagine that happening to someone you…"
Rose had spent a considerable amount of time pondering those words which had escaped the Doctor in a moment of emotional frailty. It wasn't the missing word at the end that concerned her. She was confident for the most part about what went unsaid. No, it was his view of things that shook her, and his refusal to discuss it later was only making things more difficult.
"There's no way you could possibly understand or comprehend what it's really like," he told her firmly, finally responding to her questions when she'd cornered him in the kitchen. Her lips pouted slightly and she looked to the ground briefly before looking back up.
"To date I have had seven hamsters."
"What?" In any other circumstance the Doctor's look of utter confusion would have been unendingly funny as he stared at her with wide eyes. He glanced at his cup of tea as if determining whether or not he'd been drugged or poisoned.
"Hamsters. Fuzzy little things about this big," she cupped her hands. "They usually live two or three years."
The Doctor looked at her tenderly as she tried to express her understanding. "It's not that simple. A hamster's just a hamster, it's not the same-"
"I know it's not, but the basic concept is, isn't it?" she implored. "Each one is different and unique. You love them and hope that on some small level they love you too. A hamster's a lesser species, but they're still important, just like humans are for you."
"You think I look at you like hamsters?"
"No, I know you see us as apes." She stuck her tongue out slightly, lightening the mood before continuing.
"Now, my first hamster was named Skippy. We had him when I was really young. He was kind of fat and had long white hair. I used to take him out of his tank and sit on the floor with my feet pressed to the wall so he could run around between my legs. We had him for years. Then one morning I went to feed him and he was dead."
"Old age," the Doctor replied knowingly.
"No, actually he burrowed under his wheel and got stuck... it choked him."
"So, after that we had a gerbil that one of my friends from school gave me."
"I thought you said they were all hamsters?"
"So I took a few liberties. Has everyone you traveled with been human?" she asked, honestly not knowing the answer.
She smiled, wondering just how alien some of the people he'd traveled with were. "Right, so I begged Mum to let me have this gerbil, and I even used my birthday money to buy him one of those cages with the tubes and everything. His name was Nutmeg 'cause his was brown and black and I thought it looked like someone had sprinkled spices on him. The first day we had him I went to feed him and he bit me so hard I started bleeding and Mum got rid of him. She said she gave it to Mrs. Miller over in Flat 62, but I think Nutmeg went to sow his wild oats out in the yards knowing her."
The Doctor chuckled and waited for her to continue.
"Got a hamster again after that since gerbils were so mean and hamsters were really nice. It was an orange one with curly fur that I named Chewy."
"After Chewbacca. My best friend was a big Star Wars fan. Chewy was really fun and would run around in my lap and play in the tubes and everything. But he learned how to climb up his wheel and he escaped his cage. We had a cat by then and I never saw him again."
"Then we got a mouse who was really boring and never let me pick it up. Her name was Lucky."
"After Lucky Charms, or...?"
"No, just Lucky. No reason really. But she got out too. Didn't see her for a few weeks and then she shows up in Mum's shoe. She nearly had a heart attack. I caught her, Lucky, not Mum, and put her in the cage. A week or so later she was gone, but she left a bunch of babies behind that I took care of. A few of them died but most of them lived and we let them go outside since they were wild.
"Rose. I understand. You don't have to-"
"Okay, I'll be quick. Promise. Then we had Rook, who Mum gave away to one of my cousins - without asking me. And last I had Mary Jane... she died because I kept forgetting to feed her."
Rose looked down at the floor sheepishly. "Don't exactly like remembering that one."
"But you still do."
She stepped forward cautiously, taking his hand in her own. "I know I can't stay with you forever. And I know that after I'm gone you'll find someone else."
The Doctor opened his mouth to speak but she cut him off.
"I know all of that and its okay. Just, don't leave me sitting in the cage because you're afraid of what might happen. We just have to make the most of it while we can. And," she paused briefly, lowering her gaze. "Just don't forget me."
She kept her eyes trained on the floor, too nervous to look back up. Neither of them were in the habit of speaking so frankly. Even the beginning of this conversation had been veiled (albeit thinly) in metaphors and speculation. Her heart was pounding and she realized she was holding her breath when her chest began to ache. Finally she looked up to find him staring at her, a wide smile on his face.
"Rose Tyler," he beamed. "I could never, in a thousand lives and a million years, forget you." He clasped his arms around her tightly. "Do you know why?"
Rose shook her head, not really caring to know the answer as she was content with all he'd already said.
"You," he whispered into her hair, "are my very favorite hamster."