They spent some time exploring San Girolamo and its sights. To avoid straining his leg on the longer excursions, the Doctor used a single crutch. He had realised that it was a good idea if he didn't want to overstrain his leg. As they walked the city wall they had the most amazing view of the town and countryside, discovered charming little squares and impossibly narrow alleys and small gardens secreted in courtyards. But more often than not the Doctor was unable to get past the little book shops tucked away in the shady alleys of the town and the bookstalls in the market. Where ever they went, they would eventually end up back in the market square. The memory of the mediaeval market was nearly overpowering and Rose was grateful that the Doctor was holding her hand
He let go of it, of course, while he was browsing the books. Rose would stand, holding his crutch, trailing her fingers across the spines searching for a book in English, but they were few and far between and what she did find rarely caught her interest.
She glanced at her watch. She would still be able to make it to the concert, provided, of course, it wasn't sold out. "Doctor?" she said, touching his arm to get his attention.
"Look at me," she said, smiling.
When he did, Rose smiled. "What?"
She pulled the spectacles off their perch and kissed the tip of nose. "You already look like a history teacher."
"I do not!" he protested.
"A sexy history teacher?" Rose suggested, ducking. But he caught and kissed her. "I'm not."
"Well... I was wondering. Would you mind terribly if we met back at the hotel? I'm a little bored, and there's something I've seen that I'd like to do."
"But what about..." He gestured for the expanse of spines in front of them.
Rose smiled, lowering her eyes. Trust him not to notice. "Italian's not really one of my fortes."
"Oh." He sniffed. "Ah. Right then."
"See you back at the hotel. I'll bring lunch," she added as an afterthought. "Have fun."
"Yeah," he said, kissing her.
Rose was glad to leave the bustling market. She still felt ill at ease in the constant ebb and flow of bodies, voices and smells. Although the smells were much more pleasant than those of the mediaeval market, the odd unwashed body being the exception rather than the rule. The culture shock had just been too much for her; it shouldn't have been, what with her background and training. But she had been completely unprepared for the experience and that had made it quite a shock to her system.
She had tried to tell him, too, but he had been so busy fussing over her that he hadn't been listening, bless him. He had obviously been sorry, and not a little embarrassed, and she'd been unable to bring herself to tell him what had caused her reaction. There will eventually be a time and place to tell him.
Rose turned to look back at him before she left the square. The Doctor was so engrossed in his treasure hunt that he was oblivious to the world around him. Seeing him out and about in his short khakis and his new favourite shirt was still so unusual. More often than not Rose caught herself looking for him in a blue or brown suit, or his long coat. Rose smiled. He looked so calm, and totally at ease with himself and his surroundings. As if he had always been there. She knew that if that was anything to go by she should be happy, but... She knew him so well. He – they – still had a long way to go.
She checked her watch again. She would have to hurry if she wanted to make it to the concert. She hurried off towards the small Romanesque church they had discovered the day before. Retracing their steps, she found it easily enough. Luckily, the concert wasn't sold out, so she got a ticket, wrapped the shawl she had brought around her bare shoulders and found herself a seat in the back of the church. It was small, there were no aisles or transept, but it was famous for the original painted rafters and the excellent condition of the frescos. Sitting at the back gave her the best vantage point to appreciate the artistic details, as well as the way the sunlight filtered through the high windows exposing the dust dancing through the beams.
A grand piano had been set up on a dais in front of the altar, and as the pianist stepped up to it, bowed and sat, the audience fell silent. He began to play and as the first bars of music filled the spacious nave Rose relaxed and gave herself over to the music.
The pianist began to play one of her favourite pieces and Rose felt tears well up in her eyes. It was one of the few pieces of music that had touched her after she first came to this world. She had discovered it among Pete's collection, and from what he had told her about the composer, Rose was pretty sure that he had not existed back home.
She wiped her cheeks surreptitiously. It had taken her quite a long time to accept this place as her new home. She had learned that home was a concept rather than a place. Of course she considered her flat her home, her retreat from the world, but she had only ever felt at home with her family and friends. And even that had taken her long enough. Only when she had stopped mourning the Doctor had she started building a new life for herself.
And then the dimension cannon, an improbable theory, had become reality, and what she had deemed scars turned out to be barely healed wounds. The dream of going back to her old life was quickly becoming a possibility. A possibility that she had made reality. And at the end of a very long day the Other had returned that home to her. She knew that now, and she also knew what it had cost him to leave her behind, again, even when it was in the arms of Another Him.
Rose let her tears flow freely. They were good tears, and she decided not to be ashamed of them. They came quietly, and yet they were liberating. They were for the Other. Finally, she could mourn him, and feel for him. The loneliest man in the universe.
The concert was over all too soon, and as she stepped outside into the brightness of the summer day she took a deep breath. This had been a cathartic experience and she felt so much better now. She had finally been able to release the emotions she'd bottled up inside and her mind was free to call her feelings what they were, sympathy for and loss of a man who meant a lot to her. She was glad she had come alone. Her silent tears and the fact that she didn't need – or want – to be comforted would have broken the Doctor's heart.
She smiled and slipped on her sunglasses, ready to face this wonderful town. On her way back to the hotel she bought a wooden, three-dimensional jigsaw for Tony; he was still a bit young for it, but she knew he liked a challenge. For Pete she found half a dozen bottles of the local wine she had been enjoying so much, hoping that it would taste just as good beyond the Alps. For her mother she found a ridiculously luxurious silken dressing gown. Realising that it would be difficult to carry all of it with them on the train, especially the bottles of wine, she arranged for it to be shipped to her flat.
She would have almost passed by the shop selling artist's supplies if it hadn't been for a reflection in a window. When she looked a second time, she saw a selection of soft pastels on display, and Rose fell in love with the intense colours and the beautiful wooden box in which they came. She bought them, hoping the Doctor would be as struck by them as she, that he would like drawing with them.
Then she remembered she had promised to bring back lunch. She had already bought some cheese and fruit, and was waiting for the loaf of ciabatta – still warm and dusty with flour and soot – to be wrapped for her when, again, a brief glimpse of something caught her attention. It was a flash of chestnut and gold, and a whiff of tanned leather, and when she turned around she saw the most beautiful satchel. It was the size of a briefcase, but could hold quite a few books. It was perfect for the Doctor. She had to have it, of course.
She should not have left him alone. When she returned to their hotel room with their lunch and the bag and the pastels, she found him sitting on the floor, surrounded by books. They came in all ages and sizes, and probably in just as many topics, too. He had arranged them in piles around himself, devising some system or other, and was leafing through them, still totally oblivious to the world. He was fast becoming a walking cliché.
She bent to drop a kiss on the crown of his head. "Hello, my love."
The Doctor snapped the book shut and jumped to his feet to pull her into one of his wonderfully crushing hugs. Rose returned it with all her might.
"Hello," he said, kissing her. Rose wondered if he had any idea what his laugh-lines did to her. Probably not. Not consciously, at any rate. "I've been missing you."
Rose sucked her lips in and then pursed them. "I needed some time to myself," she said, opting for the truth.
He took a step back, never letting go of her. "You look... relaxed."
She smiled. "I went to a concert. It worked wonders for me. It was beautiful. Remember that small church we found yesterday? That's where it was." He looked at her with curiosity, and she felt warmth wash over her. He sometimes knew her too well, and she had the oddest sensation he knew she had needed a good cry. Rose bit her lip, trying to shake off that thought. She was being ridiculous. Pulling free of him, she went to the door, where she had dropped her shopping, and produced the satchel from the paper bag. "You know, when I saw this, I thought you might have use for it," Rose said, holding the bag out for him. "It's not bigger on the inside, but it might just do anyway," she added self-consciously.
"Oh, but it's beautiful!" the Doctor beamed, accepting the satchel. He gave Rose a proper thank-you kiss. As he was examining it, he found the soft pastels, and once he realised what was in the wooden box, his grin became even wider. "You are amazing, Rose Tyler."
"I just saw them, and thought how perfect they were for you. Colours and bag," Rose replied. It was true, too, and while she had enjoyed giving him those gifts, she had not thought them that special or personal. But now that she had given them to him and seen his reaction, it struck her that these were things from which he could build his new, human life. Rose swallowed.
Their lips were only an inch or so apart when there was a knock on the door.
"Room service," Rose whispered, pressing her lips to his in a quick kiss. "That'll be the drinks I've ordered for lunch." On her way to their room she had ordered a bottle of wine and some water, and had asked for plates and cutlery to be sent along. She opened the door for the waiter, who managed to carry the ordered items out onto the loggia and leave without tripping over the Doctor's library scattered across the floor.
The Doctor watched in wonder as Rose unpacked the food she had brought. The bread had cooled, and his hands became black and white as he cut into its crust with a knife. There were cheese and fig jam, olives and Parma ham, and fruit for dessert. It was a simple, hearty meal, perfect for a long morning spent exploring, and together with the wine, the lunch left them contented and drowsy. The Doctor stood, finishing his wine, and curled around Rose on the sofa once he had got rid of the unnecessary cushions. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his head on her chest, draping a leg across hers. Rose's hands were magically drawn to his unruly mop of hair. She raked her fingers through his thick brown locks, enjoying the sensation of his hands caressing her through the material of her shirt.
"You really need a haircut," she said, chuckling.
The Doctor just hummed, too drowsy for a proper reply. A heartbeat or so later, his breathing had become deep and regular. The sleeping Doctor was something she still needed to get used to. For a while she didn't mind his his weight, and she was content to listen to his breathing and to caress him.
The man in her arms might have been born in battle, as the Other had said, but he had been born to save a life, and the TARDIS, not full of blood and anger and revenge. Not to commit genocide. That had been a decision he had made, just like she had what seemed like ages ago now. This was a scar they would share.
When his weight and warmth became uncomfortable in the cramped space of the sofa, Rose slipped gently out from underneath him, settling his head on one of the smaller cushions. Then she pressed a kiss on his temple. The Doctor mumbled something, but she shushed him softly, running her knuckles across the freckles on his cheek, which the sun had brought out nicely.
Three hours later she decided that the Doctor had had enough sleep. He hadn't found his sleeping rhythm yet. His body was probably still confused by the metacrisis, accommodating a Time Lord mind, essence, whatever, in a human body. He had shifted on the sofa so he was lying on his back, and his shirt had ridden up, exposing the pale, even plain of his stomach. Rose bent to breathe a kiss over his navel, and she smiled as he shivered. She knelt and began to kiss and lick his exposed skin, and when she looked up every now and then she saw the pleasure in his face, even when he was pretending to be asleep.
She undid the buttons of his shirt one by one, kissing and nipping the skin she uncovered, trailing her fingers through the hairs on his chest. Then she pushed the fabric aside and closed her lips around a nipple. The Doctor positively bucked under her. She gave the nipple a quick peck, then looked at him.
"Hey there, sleepyhead," she said, a twinkle in her eyes.
"I've had the most wonderful dream," he said, his voice gravelly with sleep and desire.
"Is that so." She rested her head on his chest and trailed lazy patterns on his skin with her free hand. His hand went to the back of her head.
"You were kissing me."
He looked at the neglected nipple.
"Liar," she whispered, but moved to kiss him there anyway. He moved his chest to meet her lips and sighed contently. When he cupped the side of her face, Rose turned her head to kiss his palm, the little mole that nestled in it, and the blue pulse-point on the inside of his wrist. Then she sat back and just looked at him. How could she possibly ever show him how much she loved him?
"And a million miles away," the Doctor said, propping himself up on his elbow.
"No," she said, stretching to kiss him. "But I am. I am here. With you. Wondering."
Rose shook off the sentiment. If she didn't it would do so much damage. And they weren't ready to deal with that yet, not strong enough, not enough of a They Together. "What it was like making love to you in the shower," she said instead.
"Oh. That. Well, now that you mention it," the Doctor said, running his free hand through his impossible hair, "I can't seem to remember it that well either. Maybe, if we went to the bathroom, you know, the memories might return."
Rose nodded, a serious expression onto her face, and stood. She held out her hand for the Doctor, and when he grasped it, she pulled him up.
In the bathroom, memories returned, the most recent ones first. Of a screaming, crying Doctor, who wouldn't calm down until she drew him into her arms under the cold water. The Doctor squeezed her hand. They didn't need telepathy to know what they were thinking.
"No, not that one," he whispered.
"What about this one, though?" he asked, grabbing the hem of Rose's shirt and pulling it over her head. Rose lifted her arms automatically to help him.
"Nah, beats me," she whispered, pushing his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms.
"Hm." Off came her bra.
Rose shook her head, undoing the fastening of his khaki shorts. A few unsuccessful attempts at remembering later, they stood facing each other, naked, both of them ignoring the hard evidence that betrayed their memories. "We could, you know, turn on the water," Rose suggested, as the Doctor was opening a condom packet.
The Doctor closed the distance between them as the water started to cascade down on them, trapping his erection between their bodies, and removed her hair slide. He ran his fingers through her locks as the water soaked through them.
"I—" Rose squeaked, "I seem to remember now." She ran her hands up and down the wet skin of his back, over his bum and down the sides of his thighs.
"Yeah, it's... oh Rose," he said, bending to nuzzle her clavicle. He gripped her thigh and made her wrap her leg around his.
"Doctor," Rose gasped, letting her head fall back so the water washed over her face. Their game ended when she wrapped her arms around his neck. He lifted her up and as she settled in his arms, he slipped into her in one fluid motion. Rose buried her face in the crook of his shoulder, feeling his groan reverberate in his throat. She locked her legs around him to help him as she felt his grip around her tighten.
He moved them towards the wall, and Rose shuddered as her back touched the cool tiles. Her lips were close to his ear, her fingers were digging into the muscles of his back, leaving white marks. "G... go on, please, Doctor."
He set a rhythm, and almost from the beginning it was more forceful and needy than all the other times they had made love, but neither of them wanted this to last. Rose tried to meet his thrusts as best as she could, and each of them left her more breathless than the one before. She opened her mouth to cry out, but the sound got stuck in her throat, and she became light-headed far more quickly than usual. The Doctor's moans seemed to come from a distance, and she wanted to reach out for him, to tell him that she was okay, when something in her pulsed and spasmed, and with one forceful movement the world went blank around her.
There were fingers in her hair, and something warm around her back. Her cheek was being showered with kisses. "Rose, love, are you all right?"
"'m here," she thought, feebly, unsure if the words had actually been audible. What had just happened? Her throat was so dry. What was... oh. She swallowed hard. "I... I think I remember now."
The Doctor laughed as he held her to him. "Yeah, me too. That was... brilliant. In it's own way."
When she had regained her senses, she noticed that they were sitting, warm water still cascading down on them, the spray caressing them in their daze. She flexed her muscles experimentally. He was still buried inside her.
The Doctor groaned, still a bit breathless. "Rose Tyler." She rose awkwardly, her limbs a bit sore, to clean him up.
"A shower would be nice now," she said, holding out her hand for him. To make up for the lack of foreplay, they took their time caressing each other as they washed. The Doctor rested his hands on her hips as he bent his head for her to wash his hair, and he sighed with pleasure as she massaged his scalp gently. After he had returned the favour, Rose made him wrap a towel around his waist and sit on the toilet seat.
She felt him watching her as she rooted through her sponge bag. She remembered seeing a pair of scissors at its very bottom, tucked away in the folds of the lining. They were haircutting scissors, and Pete had entrusted her with them. They were her mother's, really, but he'd made them disappear when Jackie wouldn't leave his hair alone, insisted on trimming it herself, even when they were more than well off enough to afford it having done. By the best, too.
"What are you up to?" he asked a bit warily.
"I'm going to give you a haircut."
Rose smiled as she found and fished them out of the bag. She slipped her fingers into the handles and moved them experimentally. She hadn't cut anyone's hair in ages. Not after she had met the Doctor. Before that, she had occasionally earned a little extra money that way. Nothing fancy, mostly just cutting ends. But it would do for the Doctor's hair.
Or so she thought.
The Doctor looked at her, embarrassed, and dragged his fingers through his damp hair. "It is a bit long, isn't it."
Rose nodded, and set to work. But his Time Lord hair seemed to have a mind of its own, and no matter what she did to smooth it down or trap it between her fingers, there was always at least one wilful lock.
"Doctor," Rose sighed. "Trust me. Relax."
He sighed, and from then on, his hair proved less bristly. Rose actually enjoyed trimming his hair, marvelling more often than not at how silky his damp locks were. The Doctor seemed to enjoy what she was doing, too, his eyes closed and she heard the occasional sigh slipping from his lips. Nevertheless, the Doctor stepped in front of the mirror when she was done, in mock-hesitation. He turned his head this way and that, bottom lip sticking out. Then he ran his fingers through his much shorter hair. "Yeah," he squeaked, "quite good, too."
Rose slapped his bum. "Quite!? It's bloody brilliant."
Two days later, they were on the train to Paris. They had booked a compartment with bunk beds and a tiny lavatory, to be more comfortable during the long journey. If the porter and the conductor were rather surprised by their comparatively small personal luggage and the enormously heavy box that contained the Doctor's books, they didn't comment on it. The Doctor had grinned and commented on the Agatha Christie feel of it all, which had lead to him telling Rose about the author's mysterious disappearance.
Rose lay on her back, her head resting in the Doctor's lap, watching the landscape flit past the window upside down. Sometimes she'd just stare at the blue sky and the clouds, pretending she wasn't moving at all. The Doctor was reading, smoothing back her hair with his free hand every now and then. She turned her head to look up at him, and smiled, tucking her tongue between her teeth in the corner of her mouth. Rose reached up to cup his cheek.
She removed her headphones. "Penny for your thoughts," she said softly into the monotonous beat of the wheels on the steel of the tracks. His eyes had been resting on the same page for a while; longer than it usually took him to read a page.
The Doctor settled the book on her stomach, took off his spectacles and looked at her. "I'll need a name. When you... you know, tell everyone who I am at your Garden Party."
"You don't need to be there if you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you should get settled in properly first before facing the press," Rose suggested, despite her initial plans. The press could be very demanding, and intimidating. But then again, the Doctor had faced worse opponents.
The Doctor shook his head. "I'd rather get it over with as soon as possible."
Rose nodded. That way, they'd leave them alone, and the Doctor would be able to really settle into his new life. "What's wrong with John Smith?"
"I don't feel like John Smith," he replied, stroking her hair with his thumb. "Not any more. It's... so Him."
"Did you have anything particular in mind?"
"Well... I was thinking of, maybe, but I'd have to ask Donna first. See if she'd mind," the Doctor said.
Rose suppressed a smile. He was so adorable when he was embarrassed. It was a side of him that was very Donna. Not that she'd seen Donna embarrassed very often, either. "I think it'd suit you. And she did bring you into this world, after all," she said.
"D'you think?" he asked, grinning that little boy smile of his.
"John Noble." Rose sat up and straddled him, wrapping her arms around his neck. His hands came to rest on her hips.
"John Noble. Doctor John Noble."
"Pleased to meet you, Doctor Noble," she said softly, then lowered her lips to his in a languorous kiss.