And now, the conclusion :)

Chapter 4, Drifting

"Where're we headed?" asked Rose as the TARDIS left the rocket and its crew behind.

The Doctor finished with the controls and took her hand again. "Just setting us adrift in the vortex for a bit," he answered. "Give the TARDIS some more time to recoup."

"So, ya gonna tell me what happened on the planet? Can't keep kissing me forever," Rose chided.

"Can't I though," replied the Doctor. At Rose's wide-eyed expression, he suddenly realized the implications of his comment. "Erm, ah." He felt himself actually blushing, but not from being misunderstood. In that instant, he imagined a lifetime's worth of kisses, without having to invent an excuse for each one. Of course, that only reminded him of the disparity between their respective life expectancies.

Rose just laughed it off. "C'mon," she said, swinging his hand, "what happened?"

The Doctor backed into the captain's chair, bringing Rose to sit beside him. He stared at the time rotor, trying to decide how much to tell her. He didn't want her to put too much faith in the beast's prediction. It had obviously shaken her--him, too, if he were honest.

"Ida said you fell into the pit," Rose prompted.

As good a place to start as any, the Doctor figured. He propped his feet up on the console, trying to appear casual. "Yeah, I did, sort of," he admitted. Rose bit her lip, but didn't say anything, so the Doctor launched into the story. "There was no way for us to get back up to the base in the capsule, so we rigged the cable to abseil into the pit. We couldn't see the bottom, but we had ten miles' worth of cable."

"So if you used the cable, why'd she say you fell?" asked Rose.

"Well, the pit was deeper than ten miles," the Doctor answered.

"You jumped. You let go."

Always the clever one, Rose, he thought. "We were stuck there, running out of air anyway," defended the Doctor. "I wouldn't even have gone down into the pit otherwise, curious or no." He remembered his almost-message to Rose, and resolved right there not to leave it unsaid or to someone else to relate. Of course, he had no idea how to go about telling her himself . . . .

"What happened?"

The Doctor snapped out of his musings. "I must have blacked out," he admitted. "But there was air below, a cushion of breathable air. I woke up at the bottom of the pit." He paused again, not wanting to impress her with the Devil-ness of the beast. "There were paintings on the walls of the cavern, made by whoever set up the whole planet and gravity funnel and all that. It depicted a battle, man against beast, ending with the beast's imprisonment. Now, as you know, the beast was manipulating a telepathic field, trying to find a way for his, well, essence to escape. What was imprisoned within the planet was only its physical form. I heard the rocket lift off and guessed that he was trying to hitch a ride."

"You were right," interrupted Rose. "It was Toby. It'd taken him over. He was all covered with the writing he'd found, and breathing fire 'n stuff." She looked as though she meant to say more, but stayed silent after that.

The Doctor continued, "Well, whether we ever escaped or not, I couldn't let something like that get away. Not after all the trouble folks had gone through to keep him locked up. So, I destroyed the trap—the gravity field that was keeping the planet in orbit, and the gravity funnel along with it." He recalled the contradictory emotions from that moment. Certainty that Rose would die; certainty that she'd somehow survive. And he'd acted on the more improbable of the two.

"I killed him," said Rose quietly, keeping her eyes downcast. "I realized it was all a trick to get us to save him from the planet. So I blew out the windshield, or whatever, and unbuckled him. Sent him out into space. Into the black hole."

Something occurred to the Doctor then. "I shouldn't have done it," he said, and Rose's eyes came back up to meet his own. "You'd gotten rid of him. I could have let you escape, instead of pulling you back."

"No," Rose corrected him. "He only showed his true colors after the gravity collapsed." She squeezed his hand. "Really, you did good," she said with a smile.

He smiled back at her. As usual, she amazed him.

"But that still doesn't explain how you got outta there," she observed.

"Right!" said the Doctor, getting back to the story. "Turns out the TARDIS had found its way down into the pit as well. So, I flew back up to get Ida, but when we got up to the surface, the base was already gone. I located the rocket, and the rest, I believe, is history."

"So, the TARDIS was down there the whole time, ever since the collapse?"

"Yup!" answered the Doctor.

"Wow, glad you went down there, then," she said.

"Definitely. Even if we'd escaped on the rocket, we'd still be stuck with a mortgage," observed the Doctor, lightly. A mortgage, he realized he'd said. Not mortgages. Singular. And it seemed to him that Rose had caught the distinction. But she didn't say anything, so he didn't bother taking it back or trying to explain his way out of it.

After a minute or so of comfortable silence, mulling over events, the Doctor realized that Rose hadn't gone into her side of the story. At least, he didn't know how they got away in the rocket, and why only three of them made it. He decided not to press the issue when Rose yawned widely.

"Oh, sorry," she said, belatedly covering her mouth. "I think I need some sleep, if that's alright?"

"Sure," said the Doctor, wondering why she thought she should ask permission.

"I just didn't know how long you were plannin' on driftin' here, or if we'd be goin' somewhere soon," she explained, as if she'd heard his thoughts.

"No, take as long as you need," said the Doctor, dropping his feet from the console and helping Rose to stand. "I'll just take a look at that washer while you rest."

Rose smiled as she turned to make her way to her room. "You're gonna have to see Mum again sometime, ya know, whether ya fix it or not," she teased.

The Doctor had been up to his elbows in washing machine parts for the past six hours, ever since Rose had headed off to bed. He'd managed two minor explosions, multiple electrocutions, and was fast approaching the point where he was going to ask the TARDIS to simply jettison the uncooperative piece of junk.

"Doctor?" came Rose's voice from behind him.

He stood, divesting himself of the cables he'd draped over his arms, and pocketing his sonic screwdriver. "Rose," he greeted with a smile. "Get enough sleep?" She'd changed her clothes and--braided her hair. It looked nice, but something about it was niggling at the back of his mind--

"Just about," answered Rose. She walked up to him, and brushed away a smudge from his nose. Up close, he noticed how tired she still seemed. "But it's Mum," she said. "She called back, and there's somethin' wrong. Someone's snoopin' around tryin' to get information outta her 'bout us."

The Doctor brushed his hands off on his trousers dramatically, and headed out towards the console room. "Just as well I decided not to fix the washer then, eh?"

"Decided, or were unable?" asked Rose. She was still standing in front of the machine, taking in its multiple pieces.

"Decided after being . . . un- . . . willing," the Doctor conceded. He wasn't quite ready to admit total defeat. He waited for Rose to finish laughing and regain her composure.

As she turned to him, she absently brushed her hand across her face and behind her ear. That was it! thought the Doctor. With her hair in plaits, there were no stray hairs to tuck behind her ear. Just a bit of fringe that didn't fall past her eyes, and an untroublesome bit on the sides. That's what bothered him. One less excuse to touch her.

Taking her hand--which was just as good, he mused--he led her down the corridor. "Now," he said, "let's go see Mum." At Rose's stifled giggle, he reassessed his choice of words. "Your Mum, I mean." She just grinned at him. "Oh, never mind."

The end.

Coming soon, "Love and Monsters"—real original title, don't ya think?