Chapter 6, Cold Feet

The Doctor spent the rest of the evening, and into the next morning, pacing in his room on the TARDIS.

Ever since they'd visited the asteroid bazaar, and the Doctor had gone so far as to actully buy Rose a ring, he had been racking his brain trying to figure out how--and whether--he should give it to her. If last night had been any indication of what she wanted from him . . . he couldn't believe how far he'd let himself go, but she hadn't exactly been helping him to resist.

He could hardly fathom his situation. "The Doctor" pondering marriage--to a human! Yes, he knew she'd never live as long as he would, and that irrational sense of impending doom growing in the back of his mind didn't help matters, either. Or, maybe it did. Shouldn't they make the most of the present, especially if their time was short?

How he wished he could be sure how she'd react, but he wasn't about to invade her thoughts just to save himself some embarrassment. The key would be to put just the right amount of spin on what would obviously seem like a proposal, so that Rose didn't go running home if he were wrong.

Coward. Every time.

Just be casual, he told himself. "Oh, by the way Rose, I picked this up when we were at the bazaar," he said, pulling out the ring from his breast pocket and bouncing it in his hand nonchalantly. "Noticed you looking at it; you want it?" He scowled, putting the ring back in his pocket.

"Hey, Rose? Y'know how we got married back when we visited Stonehenge? Well, want a ring, too?"

"Rose," he tried again, "I know I said I didn't do domestic." He sighed.

"So, Rose, how long did you say you're gonna stay with me?" Insert her adamant refusal to ever leave or be left. "Well, then. You might as well have this." He pulled the ring from his pocket, and mimed holding it up for invisible Rose to see. "Yeah, just a little something that caught my eye back at the bazaar. Oh, you saw it too? Perfect! Would you like to try it on?" The Doctor stopped, considering. Then, he dropped to his knee, and reached out for invisible Rose's hand. "I'm not sure, but it looks like it'd fit fairly well on this finger right here."

The Doctor stood, pleased with himself. He tucked the ring back into his pocket, and headed out to find Rose. He had a magnificent alien sunset to show her, and a little question to ask.

The Doctor let Rose exit the TARDIS ahead of him. He heard her gasp as she looked at the landscape. He'd really done well, this time. Right planet, even the right moment. Beyond the graceful rock arches and the flying, giant manta rays, the sky was a deep, burnt orange as the setting sun hung just above the horizon.

They walked a few feet from the TARDIS, hand in hand, while Rose took everything in. "Amazing," she breathed. "What are they?" she asked, watching the creatures move through the air above their heads.

"Flying rays," the Doctor answered as if it were obvious.

Rose gave him a look that clearly said, "well if you don't know what they're called, you could just say so."

The Doctor looked out at the sky, remembering why he was so eager to bring her here. He could almost imagine he was standing on Gallifrey, as if one sun were merely hiding behind the rock formations, just out of view. Well, he thought to himself, if he was about to ask her to share her life with him, he might as well share a bit of his life with her. He cleared his throat. "See how orange the sky is," he ventured, "even more than you'd ever see on earth?"

"It's beautiful," said Rose, staring in awe.

"Reminds me of Gallifrey," he said, and waited for her reaction.

After a moment, Rose asked, "Tell me 'bout 'em?" Then, "What you said before, you've been a dad." She looked at him, and he saw her concern and compassion. "You can tell me . . . if you want."

So he did.

He didn't look at her at first. He couldn't. But he held her hand like a lifeline as he delved back into the memories, how much he had taken for granted, the immense joy, the unfathomable pain.

When he'd finished, Rose tugged him towards her gently and enveloped him in a hug. "I'm sorry," she repeated softly, as they stood together.

"Thank you," the Doctor told her, holding her close.

She pulled back slightly and smiled, wiping at the tracks of tears he hadn't even realized he'd cried. Then she kissed him. A gloriously sweet kiss, that he could have sworn made his hearts actually glow.

Rose eventually released him, turning away with a trace of a smile. The Doctor mimicked her position, hands in pockets, watching the incredible creatures soar through the air, as the sun drew nearer to setting.

He was ready. He could never have imagined a better companion; like, but unlike, she complimented him in the most unexpected ways. She was the one. "How long are you gonna stay with me?" he asked. She'd say her bit, then he'd take out the ring--

Rose looked over at him in complete seriousness. "Forever," she said, simply. She turned back to the vista, a beautiful smile on her face.

The Doctor nearly choked, but forced a smile. Forever. He turned unseeing towards the sunset. Of course, she'd say that. The one thing they couldn't actually have. He felt the ring as if it were burning against his chest. Forever. She could spend the rest of her life with him, but he--how could he ask her to? What was he thinking?

He'd gotten caught up. All of their familiarity, the hand-holding, the hugs, the touches, the kisses. It was bliss, for him. And Rose certainly seemed to enjoy it. But what made him think she even wanted more? She wasn't exactly soft-spoken, his Rose. If she'd actually entertained thoughts of anything like marriage, he would have heard about it by now, wouldn't he? Forever, she'd said. And yet, it was just travelling to her. Earth was boring. She'd found some excitement in her life, that's all. Her compassion for him, it was fantastic, but not unique. Her universal compassion and understanding were her most amazing qualities.

As the sun finally dipped below the horizon, his earlier sense of foreboding returned. A storm coming. Something to split them up, once and for all. It was all he wanted, to spend the rest of his lives with her. But her wants, and even more, her safety came first.

Rose's voice broke into his musings. "Ready to go, then?" she asked, turning towards the TARDIS and holding her hand out to him.

The Doctor just smiled, not trusting his voice at the moment. He took her hand and followed her into his ship.

The Doctor breathed deeply, taking in the familiar sights and sounds of the TARDIS, trying to clear the melancholy from his mind. "So," he said to Rose as he made his way around the console. "Where to next?"

She'd shrugged out of her coat, leaving it on the captain's chair. Walking up behind him, she casually slid her arms around him, under his arms, bringing her hands up to rest on his chest--one over each heart. He felt her rest her cheek against the his back, and just relished their closeness. How did she always know just what he needed?

"Actually," she said after several moments, as if just registering his earlier question, "could we stop back at my Mum's"

That certainly got the Doctor's attention, in a rather unpleasant way. "What? We haven't even been gone a week!" In the midst of his complaining, the thought occurred to him, she is her mother. Some people still have living relatives they care about. And here he was, trying to get her to obligate her to himself. Stupid, selfish--

"Yeah, well, I've still got laundry to do," Rose countered, pulling slightly away, but keeping her arms around his waist, obviously unaware of the Doctor's somber thoughts.

He kept up the banter, covering his mood. "How can you possibly have more laundry?" the Doctor asked. "We were at the most famous laundromat in all of time and space not three days ago!"

Rose mumbled something inaudible into his shoulder.

"Sorry, didn't quite catch that," said the Doctor, turning his head, straining to see her face.

She pulled completely away, swatting at his shoulder. "I said, I wasn't gonna trust 'em with my knickers!"

Oh. "Back to the Powell Estates, it is," said the Doctor, staring resolutely at the console while he input the destination.

The things he'd do for his Rose.

Anything for her.

Even give her up.

The end.

Look for "Ghost of a Chance" next, followed--unfortunately--by "Through the Gloom and Doom", a tag for "Doomsday"; but I promise I'll try and make it not as gloomy or doomy as the title implies. I'll try :)