"Rose, you in there?"
Rose jumped at the combined sound of knocking at the TARDIS door and Mickey's voice on the other side. She slapped closed the journal she had been reading, and unfolded herself from her seated position on the jump seat.
"Rose! Open up. I look daft out here pounding on an old blue box!"
"Comin'," she answered, and walked with stiff legs across the console room the door. She didn't know how long she had been sitting cross-legged on the jump seat, but she felt it now. Rose reached the door and yanked it open, letting Mickey in. She was already half way up the ramp again before she heard the door close.
"Your mum said she thought you came down here."
"Yeah," she said quickly, gathering the scattered journals from the floor and the jump seat. "I just… I was hoping to find somethin' to help him."
Rose looked down at the journals and shook her head. "No. Maybe. I don't know. I just know…" She shook her head again, still trying to sort it all out. She hugged the journals she held to her chest, looking at Mickey. "It's him, Mickey. That man… it's him. The Doctor. He's done this before. Lots of times."
"What'chu mean 'lots'?"
"At least nine times, including this time. Nine times, Mickey! I mean, he told me he was nine-hundred years old, but I just figu'd, you know, Time Lords aged really, really well. But, he said…" Rose blinked, sitting on the edge of the jump seat. "Just before he… he changed… he said it was the Time Lord's way of cheatin' death."
"If they do this kind of stuff so much, what happened?"
Rose shook her head. "I don't know. These are his journals. Mickey, there are nine hundred years worth of journals in the library!" She knew she was probably rambling, but the things she had been reading…they were amazing. Fantastic. "I don't think I ever really thought about it. Nine hundred years." She shuffled through the journals until she found the one she wanted. "Look here…
She grabbed the oldest of the journals, carefully opening the delicate pages. The paper was brittle, and the writing had begun to fade. "This journal belonged to the first him… and get this, Mickey. This TARDIS? He stole it! He bloody stole a junk TARDIS, Mickey!" Then she quickly looked up to where the center piston disappeared into the high ceiling. "No offense."
Before Mickey could say anything, Rose flipped to the back of the journal. The writing here was different, tall and thin lettering with the words pressed so close together they were hard to make out. Which was okay for now, she'd already read the important parts.
"He was fightin' the Cybermen—"
"Who are the Cybermen?"
"I think they're like robots, or somethin'. I saw the head of one in Utah."
"Utah… as in the States?"
"Yeah, but listen, Mickey," she said, raising her hand to get him to shut up. "That's not the important part. He changed! You can see it in his writing, and the words he uses, but he's the same."
"You just said he changed."
Mickey shook his head, and shrugged. "I don't get it."
"He was different, but he was the same. Inside. Mickey, I read these journals, and I can see him. My Doctor." She ignored the face Mickey pulled, and grabbed the next journal. "You know how I know? He completely ticked off this big, important council on Gallifrey. They broke the TARDIS and banished him to Earth for interferin' too much. Isn't that my Doctor?"
"I don't know, Rose. I don't know your Doctor the way you do. You tell me."
"The third time he regenerated, it was because of radiation poisoning. And the fourth time, he fell off a radio tower. But, that time, something when all screwy in his head and he wasn't quite right. The people he traveled with, um…" She tossed aside the journal she had been holding, and snatched up the correct one, flipping quickly through the pages. "Here! Nyssa and Tegan. They put him in this room called a Zero Room so he could recover because the regeneration didn't go right… just like now. I think maybe it gets harder to do the older they are, and the more times they've regenerated. This room was like… like this little void where the outside Universe doesn't exist. 'Supposed to help him get his head straight, let him rest."
"So, where's this Zero Room? Can't we just do that for him now?"
"No, he had to jettison part of the TARDIS after that regeneration, and lost it."
"What good does that do us, then? Rose, you've been down here for like five hours reading these books."
Rose just continued, because there was too much to say. Too much to tell him. "He was poisoned the fifth time, and he says here that he worried whether he was loosing his ability to regenerate. He almost didn't that time. He almost just died. And I guess he was kind of… nutters… when he came 'round."
"Nothing new there…"
She ignored his sarcasm. "And when he regenerated the seventh time, he was shot. Just shot stepping out of the TARDIS. He didn't know who he was for days! He was right here, on Earth. San Francisco in 1999. He was chasin' after another Time Lord, like an evil Time Lord. Called himself the Master."
"And I thought The Doctor sounded obnoxious."
She paused, laying her hand on the cover of the last journal, the journal with the torn pages and tear marks. The fascination with his multiple lives faded into the sorrow that emanated from the journal like an unseen force field. Rose cleared her throat, brushing her thumb across the cover, trying to somehow ease the pain lodged in the pages. She remembered the strained look that always pinched the Doctor's face, darkening his blue eyes, when he spoke of Gallifrey and the War that took his people. Sometimes, he told her about the War… sometimes, he told her about his home.
"Then there was the War."
Rose looked up, meeting Mickey's gaze across the space of the console. "He calls it the Time War. It was between Gallifrey — That's his home — and the Daleks. That's who we were fightin' on Satellite Five when he sent me back here. He thought they were all gone, thought they all died in the War with his people." She drew a slow breath, tamping down the rush of emotion that she had managed to forget for a bit while she read the journals. "We found one awhile back. A Dalek. But, it was dead before we left. Killed itself. He thought it was over."
"So, what's all this mean?"
She laughed, but not because anything Mickey said was funny. Because she had no answers, had no idea how to help him. How to save his life. All she knew, the one thing she was sure of, was that in that new body — behind that new face — was her Doctor.
"Doesn't mean anything," she said softly as she gathered up the journals and headed toward the door that led to the inside of the TARDIS. "Just means it's him, s'all."
She paused at the door of their bedroom, but decided to take the journals to the bedroom she had first slept in when she came with the Doctor. She wanted to keep the journals for a while, and worried that if he knew she had them, he'd take them back.
If he lives…
"Is it always this dangerous?"
And it had been… dangerous. But, it had been wonderful, too. She spent a lot of time running… from Gelth, Slitheen, Daleks, Jagrafess, Time Reapers… running, running, running. But in all that running, there had remained one constant.
The hand that held hers as they ran.
He promised her he would take care of her. Moreover, he promised her mum he would take care of her, and that was as good as a blood oath.
She's been scared… terrified… more than once. But, then she'd look at her Doctor, and he'd give her that pompous grin that said, "I'm the Doctor. I'm brilliant. No worries", and she'd know he would.
"You all right then? They didn't hurt you?"
She nodded. "I'm fine. Just scared."
"No need. You're with me."
Rose smiled and slipped one hand free to touch his face. His eyes shifted to look into hers again. The Doctor covered her hand with his, turning into her touch to kiss her skin.
"I promised, remember? I'll always take care of you, Rose. No matter what."
Despite what the journals said, and what the TARDIS had tried to show her, she couldn't ignore the feeling of abandonment when she looked at this new body… this new face… this new man.
The first time she let herself truly and honestly believe that this man was her Doctor, was when he forced himself from a near-comatose state to save her and her mother from a killer Christmas tree at her simple plea of "Help me".
And he had… then he collapsed again, and the small speck of hope she'd let bloom died. When Mickey asked her if she loved him, she couldn't answer. She did… she loved The Doctor with everything she was… but, the loss that smothered her like a down pillow on her face wouldn't let her breathe, or see, or accept.
So, she did what he had taught her to do. She kept going. She kept fighting. And she protected… protected her mum, Mickey, even him.
Rose Tyler had never known fear like the terror that made her heart pound, tainted her throat with the metallic taste of adrenaline, and left her insides trembling as she faced the bone-faced leader of the Sycorax.
"The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. That you don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away!"
She focused on those words that she had shouted at Mickey and her mother, before she had found the key to getting back to him. She hung on to everything he had taught her, everything he had give her. Rose remembered his exuberance when he danced around the console, shouting "Everybody lives, Rose! Everybody lives!".
Today, everyone would live if she had anything to do with it.
And then he was there. Different face. Different voice. Different body. Wearing striped pyjamas and a blue dressing robe instead of a beaten black leather jacket… but he was The Doctor.
He stood up. He fought. He won. Just as he always did. He saved her, and the whole bloody planet… just as he always did. And in that moment, when she stood beside him and he faced the entire Sycorax congregation, she knew without a doubt that he was Her Doctor.
"When you go back to the stars, and you tell others of this planet, when you tell them of its riches — its people — its potential, when you talk of the Earth, then make sure you tell them this. It. Is. Defended."
In the end, it was tea. Simple English tea, and it was nothing she did to fix him… it was her mum, whether intentional or not.
And when he asked Rose to stay with him… she said yes.
When he reached for her hand… she took it. If she closed her eyes, she still felt the same rustle shift through her, even though his fingers were longer and his skin was smoother. That was what mattered… the current that stirred beneath the skin, not the skin itself.
That's what she told herself, anyway.
When he looked at her with now-brown eyes, she tried to see the blue ones she missed so much. She smiled wider, laughed quicker, hung on tighter to his hand, hoping that she could hide the darkness that still sat in her chest, the place that missed him even though he was there.
The darkness was the part of her that missed the lines around his eyes and the way his lips became small and tight when he was angry or determined. The part that knew the cut of his body and the way his muscles felt beneath her hands, the way he felt inside her and beside her. The part of her that could still feel the brush of his angled cheeks and sharp nose against her neck and shoulders as he kissed her. The part that knew his voice, knew the weight and tone and feel of it. The part that missed the smell of leather, and secreted the battered jacket into her bedroom, sliding it beneath the pillow before he could see.
But, he did see. He stood in the hall when she came out of her bedroom, and the sad pinch around his eyes was almost familiar. Rose leaned against the doorjamb, her hands behind her and her chin down, not able to hold his gaze for too long. Instead, she focused on the trainers he wore – such a drastic contrast to the heavy, black boots he used to wear – and the rumpled hem of his brown pinstripe suit.
"I'm sorry," she started to whisper.
"Don't be," he said quickly, the weight and tightness in his voice forcing her to look up. "You don't need to be." The Doctor shook his head slightly, emphasizing his words.
Rose took a shaky breath as her gaze shifted down the hall to their bedroom, the one they had shared just days ago. Had it really only been days? She rested her head on the carved wood of the jamb, suddenly more tired than she realized. Sleeping in this bed again would feel strange, but it wasn't nearly as strange as trying to sleep in the bright pink fluff of a bed in her old bedroom where the walls closed in and the Earth air smothered her in the middle of the night.
"I'm just glad you're here."
Rose looked back to him, and the pinch was replaced by a wide smile, and despite herself, she smiled too. "Yeah?"
"Oh, absolutely." He held out his hand, wiggling his fingers, and before she could even consider not taking it, his fingers wrapped around hers. "Come on, then. Ready to go?"
Rose jogged behind him, having to walk faster to keep up with his long strides as they went back into the console room. He immediately began throwing switches and pushing buttons. The TARDIS engines revved to life, the center piston pumping with what Rose could only call glee. She felt it in the air; a happy tingling that tickled her skin and brushed at the nape of her neck.
"Don't thank me," she said softly. "Thank my mum and her bloody tea."
You fixed him.
"Did you say something, Rose?"
Rose shook her head, her eyes shifting upward to where the piston rose and fell within its chamber. "Nothin'."
"Hold down the Triphasmic Buffer Relay, will you?"
Rose blinked, and tried really hard not to say "Wha?"
The Doctor didn't pause, just took her hand and placed it on a small, round, green button before moving on to fiddle with more controls on his side of the console. The engines rumbled and the TARDIS shook, the light in the control room turning a beautiful blue.
"So, where are we going?"
The Doctor grinned, the tension of just moments before completely gone, and Rose released an excited breath a the tightness in her chest eased, giving way to the bubbling excitement that she experienced every time the TARDIS engines came to life.
"Further than we've ever gone before."