Finding Their Feet
A/N: Written to fulfil a series of prompts after I asked a friend to just throw some words out at me. The italic words at the beginning of each section are what she came up with. The poetry quoted is from Siegfried Sassoon's Slumber-Song.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
The rain was different in Pete's World.
Donna and Martha return from a shopping trip dripping wet, causing little hisses and sparks under the grating in the console room where the water dribbles from their shoes and half-folded umbrellas. Donna squelches over to where Rose is watching the Doctor fix things that probably don't need fixing and warns them not to go out until they've landed somewhere less wet – "Somewhere less British, then," she adds.
The Doctor hops up and dusts himself off, preparing to land them all on a nice, warm, safe beach for a while (because really, no-one wants to see Donna's grumpy side), but before he's even reached the controls, the door creaks shut and he realises that Rose has gone.
Even though he knows she's just outside that door, even when he's raced down the ramp and yanked on the handle to reveal her laughing and spinning around in the middle of the deserted residential road they had landed in, he can't help the bitter panic that twists in his stomach for a few, startling seconds. It hasn't yet been long enough for him to be entirely comfortable with letting her out of his sight, and they all remember only too well what happened last time they thought they were safe in the middle of an ordinary street.
She's going around and around with her arms wide out in steadily less perfect circles, her hair curling at the edges as the rain hammers down, and when he comes along and grabs her hands to stop her, she's still grinning like she hasn't even noticed.
"I missed this," she tells him, before he can warn her about the delicacy and inadequacy of the human immune system when faced with British weather, and he knows the happy tracks of water on her face aren't just caused by the rain.
After that, he fixes it so that she can hear the soft pitter-patter of rain on the TARDIS roof wherever in the ship she might be, and Donna and Martha suddenly seem to have cause to complain about Earth weather a lot more frequently than before.
"When you were in Pete's World, what did you do?" he asks, as she sits drying off by the fire in the TARDIS' smallest library.
Rose doesn't even look up from the flames. "Spent all my time trying to get back to you," she says, simply and honestly, missing the genuinely bewildered look on the Doctor's face while she continues to watch the crackling wood.
She turns around this time, smiles at him and his adorable silliness. "Missed you, didn't I?"
"Oh," the Doctor says, and Rose laughs softly at him, uncurling her legs and climbing out of her chair into his. Her hair is still damp when she leans on his shoulder, but he doesn't complain. "Good," he tells her, swallowing as though his hearts are going as fast as hers is. It's been a long time since they could sit and talk like this, and they are both so very afraid of saying the wrong thing and chipping away at this wonderful second chance the universe has granted them. "Me too," he admits, voice slightly hoarse, before seeming to consider this statement. "Missed you, I mean. I didn't miss myself, I was right – "
"Shut up," she says, and kisses him.
He wishes she'd wake up.
She's fallen asleep on the captain's chair in the console room, his coat draped over her like a blanket, and he can't remember what colour her eyes are.
He'd had such trouble remembering, after she'd gone, exactly what shade or colour they had been. They were always changing so he'd never bothered to take proper note, really, whether they were green or brown on that day she promised him forever, or somewhere in between when she kissed him in New New York. And he never forgets anything, he can remember everything, and it's so stupid and so trivial but he's terrified that he'll lose her again with this incomplete picture of her in his mind, without ever knowing what colour her eyes actually are.
He takes to crouching in front of her in an attempt to develop x-ray vision and see through her eyelids (or perhaps he's waiting for her to wake up, whichever happens first), jolting her awake when he accidentally knocks the chair and her foot falls off the end.
They're a soft, browny yellow today – or are they just brown? And when he moves and lets the green light of the time rotor fall on her face, he thinks they're almost grey. She smiles sleepily, one of her hands moving to his knee, and closes her eyes again before he can spot some green.
The only colour he can be sure of is the gold of the vortex while she burnt.
For once, he is asleep and he has no idea they're watching him.
The events of the past few days have clearly taken their toll. Convinced they shouldn't wake him up (he'd only insist he's not tired, and they all know he needs the rest), Rose sits on one side of the open panel of floor grating, Donna on the other, and between them they manage to put a rolled-up jumper under his head and tuck his glasses neatly away in his pocket. He's fallen asleep with the screwdriver in one hand and a bit of wire in his mouth, oil smudged on his nose.
Donna carefully puts the screwdriver on the floor next to him and grimaces at the wire, leaving it to Rose – "He's your alien, you can deal with his spit."
While she's at it, Rose also gently wipes the oil from his nose (he wrinkles and twitches it, and she freezes for a second, thumb an inch above his face, suppressing the ridiculous idea to kiss the tip of his wriggling nose, until he sighs and goes still again) and settles his hair down a bit.
She hadn't been lying when she'd told Donna he had great hair in that parallel universe. When she was lucky, she'd dream of his hands, of fingers gripping tight against the pull of the Void and never letting go. Sometimes she'd slept with the duvet pushed down to the bottom of the bed in winter in an effort to remember what it was like to hold his cold body while he dreamt of Gallifrey and she couldn't bear to leave him all alone. She'd chased men in suits down the street before realising they were an inch too short, or their pinstripes were green or they were carrying a briefcase, but she'd never been able to substitute that hair of his.
Another TARDIS key is halfway out of his pocket and into her hand before she realises what he's doing and shyly pulls her own chain and key out from under her tshirt.
She'd always kept it in her pocket while she was travelling with him, finding the metal of the necklace and the key itself too cold to wear around her neck. After she'd been trapped in the other world, though, she'd grown petrified that she'd finally find him – that she'd turn a corner in another universe and see the TARDIS standing right there, glowing softly through the words at the top, only for them both to disappear into thin air because she'd left her key in her other jeans and couldn't get in.
"You kept it," he says, realising he shouldn't be surprised.
Rose just smiles. "Never knew when I was gonna need it again."
He knew there was a reason he'd always liked hope.
Donna and Martha are of the – probably correct – opinion that it's about time the Doctor and Rose learn the universe isn't going to fall apart and swallow them up to separate dimensions again as soon as they spend more than two waking minutes apart. And so Rose's superphone has been left firmly in the TARDIS while Jack distracts the Doctor with shiny, broken wires and melted fuses and the three women wander around a 2070 shopping centre. Martha, who probably had the least TARDIS trips for fun out of them all, is startled to realise that robot till operators are the only thing that's changed in over 60 years until Donna points out the "noughties revival" sign above the women's clothing section.
Travel between parallel worlds doesn't exactly leave much time for packing a suitcase, and there might be an entire TARDIS wardrobe full of clothes at her disposal, but Rose reasons she cannot go around wearing 19th century corsets and the Doctor's old cricket trousers for the rest of her life. There's her own wardrobe in her old room, too, but she's lost weight and changed ever-so-slightly in favourites and style since she was last aboard the time ship. There's also something rather sinister about the dust-laden, silent, shut-up bedroom that means she's never quite ventured in there since she came back and has taken to sleeping in the library while the Doctor reads instead.
So the only solution is, of course, shopping.
Unsurprisingly, for the first time since Rose came back, the Doctor's actually not too impossibly reluctant to step back and let them get on with it on their own. "We're going to 40th century New York later. Buy something fancy," he'd said, chucking Donna a Martian Express credit card. "All of you. With… you know, frills and sparkly bits."
The Doctor tugs on his ear awkwardly. "Or…not. That's alright too."
When Rose takes a TARDIS blue dress up to the robo-till, Donna can't help but laugh. "You want something old and borrowed to go with that?" Martha, handing over a dress that isn't frilly but is rather sparkly, pretends she's not listening.
They used to deny it, to dismiss that they were a couple, pretend they weren't in love. But what's the use now? She can't quite bring herself to confirm it – she's not entirely sure what she'd define their relationship as, anyway – but they've spent too long making excuses.
So Rose says nothing, but her cheeks – spending a full minute blushing the colour of her name – have a habit of betraying her.
They've been sitting here, stretched out on his coat over the mossy grass beneath the stars, for a time neither of them can measure. Words – meaningless and forever – have been passing almost constantly between them until now, this first peaceful lull in the conversation, so late at night that the soft and springy grass is starting to freeze over with frosty white tips.
Her head is pillowed on his shoulder, her knee-length blue dress and kicked-off heels matching the colour of the ship parked not far behind them. His eyes are on the moon, full and round and white. His gaze drifts down, flicking once between her and the orb, before he mumbles something in a language long since dead, a fond yet wistful smile tugging at his mouth.
It's enough to make her turn her head. She raises a soft hand to his face, fingers tucking neatly under his jaw, surveying him with calm, sympathetic eyes for a long moment before softly touching her lips to his. He reciprocates a little more eagerly, kissing her slowly, almost lazily, taking his time, and her eyes flutter closed. In this moment, they have all the time in the world.
Then he's reaching for the hem of her dress and tugging it carefully over her head, his hands trailing absently up her sides as she shivers into his kisses, the rush of cold air hitting her suddenly. She manages one, two, three of his shirt buttons before he tilts forward and she falls back onto his coat, using his tie to tug him down over her again.
She hides another shiver in the roll of her shoulders, wrapping her legs around him as his lips trail down her neck and across her collarbone, his body carefully heavy over hers, and all she can think is how this should be so new and frenzied and finally, but the two of them are as unhurried as lovers who have been this close since the very beginning.
The only thing that betrays them is their shyness. She finds she doesn't quite know where to put her hands as soon as she starts thinking about it, and he's not quite managing to meet her eyes when she opens them and searches desperately for reassurance in his. How long has it been for him, she wonders?
He's kissing words into her neck, sorry and Rose and please, and, emboldened by his earnestness in starting this but difficulty in going on, one of her hands moves to his chin, tilting his head back up towards her lips until he has to look at her again. He goes very, very still. She wants to tell him that when he buttons his shirt back up and she kicks her heels back on and they go back inside the TARDIS and pretend to everyone that they've had a very interesting conversation about the relative position of Mars tonight, nothing will have changed, but the words don't come out and they'd never mean enough anyway. She finds one of his hands at her side and squeezes his fingers tight, pulling him down closer to her with her other hand on his back.
"It's OK," she whispers somewhere between his ear and the corner of his mouth, fingers still clutched within his. "It's alright. I'm not goin' anywhere."
Skin on skin, then, and she wants to laugh because, adorable and silly thing that he is, he's left his woolly grey socks on. But his trembling fingers trace down her side again, coming to rest on her hip, the tips digging in slightly when her own fingers run down his back and she finds that she's gasping into the cold night air, tiny clouds visible every time they breathe out. Even he is warmer than their surroundings, and she struggles closer, trying to burrow her way inside him, straining up to him every time he moves away. They're not close enough, never close enough, and this rhythmic rocking only serves to pull him away every few breaths.
"To your soul that sinks from deep to deep through drowned and glimmering colour," he whispers, voice strained, breath not coming easily, and the words are so lyrical that she knows he's using poetry to say what he cannot. "Time shall be only slow rhythmic swaying; and your breath; and roses in the darkness; and my love."
Even after she moves into his room she has occasional nightmares, clutches him at night, wakes up crying and dreaming of separation. He shuts that part of his brain off, or he knows he'd be doing the same. Years ago, when they both felt so much younger and thought they knew it all, it used to be that she could have a bad dream and he'd come rushing in to wake her up and, given a few minutes with a good cup of tea, she'd be alright. Sometimes he'd offer to stay with her; sometimes she'd fall asleep on him there and then and he wouldn't have a choice, but she'd always remember that her dream was simply another adventure completed, another monster gone. Another something that could never hurt them again.
But his presence isn't enough to stop them anymore. She cries into his pyjama shirt, claws at the fabric and bunches and bundles it in her fists, leaving smudges of lipstick and trails of mascara from a day pretending everything is alright all over the front, and it's like she's given up, like she no longer believes in fate or the kindness of the universe or his promises that everything will be OK. Even when she knows the dreams aren't real, what has gone before and what could be yet to come is plenty enough to weep for.
The clock – which she had once insisted upon having as a reference to Earth time when she was younger, sillier, didn't understand – ticks too loudly at night, and she takes it out and hides it away because she can't bear to lie awake thinking about time passing and the few moments they have tick-tocking away with every movement of those two little metal hands.
He never asks where it went.
Aside from a few trips to restaurants and some quick dashes out to feel the rain or see the stars, they have all been inside the TARDIS for far too long.
Unfortunately, despite the quickest of Rose's words after stepping on board almost two weeks before being, "So, where are we going first?", when they finally do exit the TARDIS, they go somewhere safe. The sort of place with grass and a distinct lack of megalomaniac aliens trying to take over the world.
Funny, that. Rose sort of misses them.
She might be suffering at night – they both are, she knows, he just hides it better than she does, finds it easier to evade sleep than her human body ever could – when sleep leaves her hope and relief at their reunion in tatters, but she wants to prove she can still live the life she fought so hard to get back to.
They both know that their new-found fear of every world that could offer an opportunity for separation is only going to increase as they spend day after day in too-safe, too-quiet holiday resorts and tourist attractions and indoor exhibitions. He takes them all somewhere safe (because it's not just about Rose anymore; he has three others to look after who were equally shaken up by Davros' attack, and though they're all as fiercely independent as Rose is trying to once again be, he would be the only one to blame if anything happened to them) and none of them have the heart to argue. How do you suggest danger to a man who lost his entire world to it, twice over?
Oh, it's only getting worse the longer they avoid it, and they know, they know. It's just acting on the knowledge that's the problem.
"They're going to develop pneumonia," Martha says, arms folded with all the severity she can muster in the face of two lovers dancing in the rain.
Rose's arms are looped over the Doctor's shoulders, her head bent down and face screwed up with delighted laughter at something he's said – probably something inane about bananas, Martha thinks. They are soaked, the Doctor's hair falling ridiculously down towards his eyes, Rose's mascara smudging down her cheeks, but they're looking at each other as though there is nothing but them, their feet and the rain she has grown to love so much.
What with being a group of three girls and two men, they'd come dancing with the intention of swapping partners at the end of every song. The music, however, stopped for a long interval almost twenty minutes ago, and still the Doctor and Rose are circling around and around one another in the rain outside. Quite apart from not having the heart to break them apart and make them dance with other people on the proper dance floor inside, neither Martha, Donna nor Jack particularly want to ruin their hair (or dress or coat respectively) by venturing out into a thunderstorm to swap dancing partners.
In the end, the music starts up again and Jack takes it in turns to spin about the room with Martha and Donna. Eventually he gives up, dancing with both of them at once in a highly improvised version of the Tango that shocks the locals' sense of dignity so highly that they're forced to run for their lives once again. They're all clicky-slippy heels, trainers in handbags and dresses that change colour with the rain, coats that are supposed to billow out impressively but actually just wrap around their legs and hinder their running, and when they all link fingers and run laughing through the night like an outer space five-a-side football team it's almost, almost like old times.
Maybe it's even better.
It's Christmas, and this time the snow is real.
They're all sitting around the TARDIS kitchen, cross-legged on the floor, dangling legs off work surfaces, leaning against fridges like the great big dysfunctional, mismatched family that they are.
"It's like This Is Your Life," the Doctor exclaims, beaming around at the room, "with Torchwood instead of Michael Aspel."
Luke is staring delightedly at the Martian toaster, flipping it upside down and fiddling with the wires while Sarah Jane explains the story of how they acquired it. Martha is listening in, her family outside with Sylvia and Jackie, who had gone off shaking their heads at the sight of so many bewildering people looking so very happy about aliens and spaceships.
Huddled up at one end of the table and clearly planning something they shouldn't be, Jack and Donna are shooting out suspicious, laughing glances at various occupants of the room, finally both settling on Ianto and Gwen before looking back at each other, grinning and high-fiving. The Doctor watches apprehensively from the doorway, not entirely sure he wants to know what they're plotting, grinning all the same when Rose and Mickey bound up to him laden with crackers and presents.
"Love the tie, Doctor," Jack sniggers from the table, and the Doctor looks more than a little alarmed at the thought that he could be the next victim of one of Jack and Donna's jokes. He twitches his Rudolf tie nervously, looking at Rose for reassurance.
"I like it," she tells him, keeping an impressively straight face.
She bursts into laughter, an apologetic hand on his arm. "Honestly? No, it's horrible. Come on," she nudges him with her shoulder, drags him over to the table. "Come and have some turkey, yeah?"
Within five minutes, Donna has confiscated his tie and Luke is trying to think of a way to burn it with only some sprouts, wine and fancy napkins at his disposal. The Doctor supposes he'll have to get used to companions ganging up on him from now on.
He grumbles, but he secretly suspects he might rather like it.
Thunder cracks above their heads, a side-effect of the Doctor tampering with the TARDIS and the weather, and she pushes sleepily closer into his side, wearing the ticklishly fluffy pyjamas her mother had given her earlier that day.
"Do you want me to change it?" he asks, ready to jump up and switch off the new circuit he'd built for her to hear the rain, but Rose simply shakes her head, nose brushing his neck, and makes a small noise of dissent.
She's not afraid. She never has been frightened of thunderstorms, but she's not about to correct him if that's what he thinks. She likes it better when they have to squeeze into a small space to sleep. He doesn't sleep often, but sometimes he'll just come and watch her or lie with her or read to himself without a book, and when he does, they're never not touching. Even if it's just the back of her hand brushing his side or the tips of his fingers on her wrist, there is always contact. Perhaps it's needy, but she just likes to think of it as a sign that even after all this time, after all these kisses, she has never grown tired of the feeling of lying next to him. She's not going to waste a single second when she could be touching him. Not anymore.
"Oi, you! You, with the… spikes!"
The Doctor smirks, watching Donna grab the arm of a passing stranger. Perhaps not the best way to persuade one of the locals of Pollux to take a picture of them all, he thinks, but it certainly seems to be working – even if it is only because the seven foot, spiky green man seems pretty terrified of the shouting red-head waving a Kodak under his chin.
No-one says no to Donna Noble.
She shoots a defiant, slightly nervous glance at him at she hands the camera over, expecting a lecture on changing the technology of alien races, but it doesn't come. Perhaps he's finally learning to appreciate time without the rules.
He grabs Martha's arm and pulls her further into the picture, watches Rose laugh and blush at something Jack whispers to her, and turns to the front, grinning. "Everybody say Raxacoricofallapatorius!"
They end up with a picture of the alien's left nostril.
Martha is the first to notice the softly growing curve of Rose's stomach under her dress. After that, it all seems to fall into place – the whispered conversations in corners of unused corridors; the two of them springing guiltily apart and the Doctor shoving his hands into his pockets whenever anyone else walks into a room; the way she's stopped eating cheese and taken a sudden liking to mint sauce.
She doesn't say anything – it's their news to tell, and they'll tell it when they're ready; and anyway, how do you ask the lover of a man you once idolised whether or not she is carrying his impossible baby? – but the knowing arch of her eyebrows when the Doctor's hand next sneaks towards Rose's middle is enough for them all to know that a secret on the TARDIS is never a secret kept very long.
When Donna walks into the console room the next day with her hands behind her back, a pair of tiny red Converse dangling from her fingers, Martha realises that perhaps she hasn't been quite as perceptive as she'd thought. She's known for weeks, Donna says, just look at your faces. "You've been glowin' alright," she tells Rose, "glowing green. I didn't wanna say anything before in case you thought I was calling you fat."
There's a tense moment where Rose seems to be considering asking whether or not she looks fat now and that's why it's alright for Donna to confess she knows, but then she hugs her and cries and there are protests from Jack when he realises he's the only one who hadn't been told or figured it out, and the Doctor stands by the console smiling at them all, nervously, quietly elated.
Thinking of Tom and the Doctor and missed chances and opportunities yet to come, Martha turns to him and opens her mouth but no sound comes out. She swallows and tries again. So, you're going to be a dad! Congratulations, she says in her head. "How many hearts is he or she going to have, then?" she manages.
The Doctor just laughs.
"You could do with some flowers in here," Donna says, looking around the room. "Brighten this place up a bit."
Rose leans against a nearby wall and pats it softly. "The TARDIS is bright enough," she says fondly.
"Not exactly… homey, though, is it?" Ever since she'd confronted them about the baby, Donna had gone on something of a campaign to make the TARDIS more child-friendly. She'd put curtains up in the kitchen, even though there was no window, and started complaining about low-hanging wires and unfixed holes in the floor.
"Donna thinks we need flowers," Rose informs the Doctor as he walks in with his nose buried in a book. "To make the TARDIS prettier."
He frowns, shutting the book and putting it away inside a pocket that definitely doesn't look big enough to hold it. "The TARDIS is pretty already, thankyouverymuch," he protests, patting a wall as Rose had done. "Aren't you, old girl?"
The TARDIS hums in a way that suggests yes, she is, but she'd like some flowers anyway, if that's quite alright. A bunch of them appear in Rose's hands, and Donna folds her arms triumphantly. "See?"
"It isn't anyone's birthday, though," the Doctor says, bewildered. "Why would we have flowers?"
Rose shrugs at Donna. "He's got a point."
Donna's look of victory shifts to one of long-suffering patience. "Doesn't he ever just buy you flowers?"
The two of them stare at her, utterly blank, and she reflects that they've spent far too much time together. Very slowly, the Doctor asks, "Why?"
Donna shakes her head and sits down in defeat. "Nevermind, alien boy."
Slightly panicked, he turns to Rose. "Is this something I'm supposed to do? Buy you flowers when it's not your birthday? Do humans do that?"
"Um." She looks at Donna, who nods encouragingly. "Yeah, a bit, I s'pose."
The Doctor looks slightly stricken. Donna nudges him with her foot. "It's romantic, dumbo. Don't tell me you've spent all that time on Earth and never picked that up."
"It's alright. You don't have to buy me anything," Rose says quickly, but it's clear that she's only just realised that he never has bought her flowers, and in her current highly hormonal state, that only serves as a reminder of how dysfunctional and different from the normal human marriage she'd dreamed of as a child their relationship can be.
When she and Donna come back from visiting Wilf and Sylvia later that afternoon, he's created an entire garden out of the spare rubber-duck storage cupboard in the TARDIS.
Far away in the depths of the ship, Captain Jack Harkness lies in bed listening to the opening strains of a wonderfully familiar Glenn Miller song floating through the corridors. Had it been the song he'd introduced Rose to Big Ben with, he'd've had no qualms about jumping up and joining in. This, however, is their song, so he simply rolls over and smiles and leaves them to it.
In the morning, he finds the two of them uncomfortably asleep on a bench in the brand new garden, Rose's feet tucked up under her and her hand bunched in the material of the Doctor's shirt over his second heart. They're getting better, he thinks, noting their peaceful expressions and recalling the tears they thought they'd hidden in earlier nights. He pulls the Doctor's coat down from a nearby coral construct disguised as a tree and drapes it over the two of them, taking a moment to brush the tips of his fingers over Rose's tiny growing bump.
They're getting better, and everything's going to be alright.
He's peering around a corner, holding a hand out behind him to stop her following. First real trip out, first time they have all stepped out of those doors without knowing exactly where they are and what sort of malevolent world domination plans could be waiting outside for them, and they manage to get themselves locked up and sentenced to execution for insulting the King.
It's just like old times, really.
A few years ago, this would have been a laugh, a quick side-trip, something to giggle about later and not to worry about right now. But they have spent so long being cautious, getting used to one another again, remembering what it was like to be so recklessly and easily and foolishly in love that they can't quite figure out how this used to go.
Separated from the others, sans sonic screwdriver and with every exit surrounded by giant, angry purple aliens with poisonous darts for fingertips, they are well aware of the dangers. They don't want it to end, feel like this opportunity for separation has come far too soon, but they both know they have to get out of this rut and enjoy whatever time they have while they have it. It's been blissful, but they're not living.
"Run?" he whispers in her ear, feeling her pulse throb faintly through the hand clutched tight in his. It's a question, not a statement.
Scared as she is, she turns her head and grins at him, her other hand on the stomach that will soon make running rather more difficult. "You bet."
So the universe wants to take her. Let it try.